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The life of a digital nomad

Digital Nomad - Main Pic

You may have heard the term digital nomad mentioned recently, referring to someone who has eschewed the traditional 9-to-5 office job and taken to the road to work. Many such people leave behind their old life to find opportunities with the flexibility to work just about anywhere. Armed with a laptop, tablet and a smartphone, all that’s needed is an Internet connection and a few creative ideas.

So why wouldn’t you want to wake up every day in a place where the sun always shines, the cost of living is way cheaper, and you can work your own hours?

Digital nomads leave it all behind

Digital Nomad - Beach

There are few things as attractive as getting out of the rat race and finding alternative ways to make a living. For most people it remains just a dream, but there are a lucky few that manage to sell up, move abroad and make a living online, sometimes in unusual ways.

Nomads don’t always plan their lifestyle — sometimes they see an opportunity and just take the leap to live inspiring, productive lives, doing what they love wherever they want to be – Brennan Gamwell, oDesk

Many people find that technical and creative jobs can be conducted online just as easily as in an office, so it’s not surprising they prefer to work remotely with a few essential pieces of kit, and access to the Internet. Freelancer websites such as People Per Hour and Freelancer.net list thousands of flexible jobs which can be done online on an ad-hoc basis.

Many of these sites are populated by English speaking tech-savvy workers from countries such as India and the Philippines, who can earn more online from the comfort of their own home than in an office or other more menial jobs. That’s the beauty of the digital economy in that it levels the playing field – those with the skills and technical capabilities can compete with anyone around the world. The best man often gets the job, and it suits those who want to work part-time.

Some of the most common jobs that digital nomads find online include:

  • Software development such as creating mobile apps
  • Creative writing – especially travel related
  • Translation services
  • Graphic design and web site creation
  • Drop shipping and telesales
  • Search engine optimisation

The digital nomad’s arsenal

Digital Nomad - Equipment

So, is it as easy as selling your personal belongings, packing the laptop and booking a flight to some far-flung tropical destination?

It sounds simple, but in reality you need the right equipment and access to the Internet. Many countries simply don’t have the communications infrastructure necessary to work remotely, but many of the developing nations in South East Asia now have broadband and fibre connections to rival those in the west, as well as a proliferation of Internet cafés and shared workspaces where like-minded people can work while sipping lattés.

A laptop, modern smartphone and a tablet are the ideal travel companions to work remotely. Of course, it all depends on what that work entails – blogs and travel articles can be written on the fly using an iPad and emailed to the client, though anyone that does a lot of writing will know that a decent keyboard is essential if you’re spending all day trying to be creative.

Destinations that are popular with travellers and backpackers tend to offer free Wi-Fi, so getting online is simple (and usually free), though there are times when travelling to remote destinations means a cellular connection is the only way to get connected. Fortunately, 4G LTE networks are rolling out quickly in Asian countries such as Thailand (which has just given the go-ahead to 4G after successful trials over the past few years), so you’re never far from being connected. And it’s increasingly travellers and gap-year students who are finding ways to earn some cash by writing about their experiences online while they’re touring the world.

Shared, collaborative spaces in paradise

Digital Nomad - Hubud
At Hubud in Bali, Indonesia, people find they can work remotely in a collaborative environment.

 

Co-working community spaces are springing up all over Asia in particular. One such enterprise called Hubud (the Hub in Ubud) prides itself on changing the way that people are able to work when they’re on the road.

Billed as “a collaborative working space home to a diverse community of local and visiting creatives, techies, entrepreneurs and businessfolks, changemakers, downshifters and truth-seekers”, it caters to an increasing number of people who just turn up, get online and spend a few hours working before heading off to the beach or going surfing. That’s perhaps an exaggeration of the day-to-day realities of working in such places, but there’s no doubt that the flexibility and freedom is what attracts most people, besides a better work-life balance that is so often hard to achieve in our careers.

Digital Nomad - Hubud 2
Why not work among the rice paddies in Hubud, Bali.

 

For as little as $55 per month, the benefits on offer at Hubud include private Skype booths, meeting rooms, and access to events and workshops, as well as all the benefits of being in the company of talented like-minded individuals. Of course, many choose to work alone without paying for these services, but the fact that Hubud exists and is successful proves there’s a desire for professional, well-organised environments that help people work remotely.

Successful digital nomads often say that when possible they prefer to work from such accelerators and co-working spaces – there is usually reliable Internet access and printing facilities, plus the fact that it’s interesting to learn about the nuances of different cities and locations by talking with resident experts and entrepreneurs.

We have eight hours per day to work, eight hours for fun, and eight hours to sleep — plus the weekends for taking pictures and videos that make our friends jealous. This is slow travel – Sondra & Jeremy Orozco of oDesk

Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as it sounds for those who travel and work online. Internet outages, humid conditions that play havoc with sensitive electronics, and the difficulties of keeping to deadlines can mean that it’s often a challenge to make a living. Another complication is the question of work permits and whether this form of remote working is actually legal. Many countries see this as a grey area, while places like Indonesia and Thailand have so far not caused difficulties for anyone who genuinely works online – but problems can arise for those who are perceived as taking a job away from a local.

And do digital nomads pay tax, and what do they put as their official country of residence? For some, it’s simple enough to setup a company online in their home country and pay tax like the rest of us. But for some digital nomads, the question often elicits some rather vague responses, as many prefer to remain anonymous and work under the radar instead.

Freedom without barriers

On the whole, having the ability to work on the beach, under a palm tree or besides a paddi field sounds like an experience that’s too good to miss in today’s digital economy, where there are fewer barriers to where you work than ever before. Coupled with the desire to achieve a better work life balance and without spending 5 hours commuting every day is a draw that many can’t resist. So what are you waiting for…

Are you tempted to throw in the towel and take to the road? Or perhaps your company provides the tools and services that digital nomads can use to work wherever they choose? As always, to love to hear you opinions, so let us know in the comments below.

You may also like our recent article “Can you run a business from a smartphone?”.

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

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