Become a digital nomad - work anywhere in the world
Not only for the artists
Working and living far from home has long been a time-honored tradition for writers and artists. The American writer Ernest Hemingway worked in Spain and France, and the French artist Paul Gauguin painted in Polynesia. Agatha Christie wrote several bestsellers at archeological digs in the Middle East. Good for them, you say? It could be your reality, too.
Thanks to smartphones, tablets, laptops, and video conferencing – and more liberal company policies over the past few years – it’s increasingly accepted that you don’t have to be in the office to get your job done. And with that, the concept of the digital nomad was born.
Loosely defined, a digital nomad is someone who uses technology to work remotely in a location of their choice, doing what they want, when they want.
Marie relocated to New Zealand
It was the long, dark, cold Swedish winter that got to Marie Hagén. The Stockholm native had previously lived in France, Germany, and the US. She longed to move somewhere “that was not only warmer, but also a place with less stress, and more balance and joy in life.”
When she became a mother six years ago, she realized that her previous careers as a musician, designer, and owner of an import company were not giving her the work-family balance she wanted. Step one of Hagén’s life-change process was going back to school. She took accounting.
Step two? Hagén talked to her husband Niklas about relocating.
“While I’m the type of person who could easily sell everything and just go, my husband and son are not, so we needed to find an option that met all our needs,” she says. “We found New Zealand, a child-friendly country with beautiful nature, happy people, and good schools.”
When Niklas found a job opportunity in New Zealand, Marie approached her employer.
“I told them that they wouldn’t need to replace me because I could easily manage my work from New Zealand,” says Hagén, who does accounting work for a large Swedish company.
Her employer went along with the plan, and in 2015 Hagén moved to Auckland with her family. Now she is enjoying less stress and more life.
Less stess and more life
“Many Swedes live with a big amount of stress due to the Lutheran work ethic instilled in us,” she says. “We had all our material needs met in Sweden, but no time to enjoy life. I had to make plans with friends months in advance, whereas here in Auckland we make them from day to day or for next week.”
The digital nomad life isn’t without its downsides, of course.
“Working for a big company remotely, I feel a bit like an outsider and that I don’t know what my co-workers are doing,” she says. “I have had to learn to accept that and be OK with the fact that I don’t have all the information about the company.
“It can also be hard to participate in meetings due to the 12-hour time difference between Sweden and New Zealand,” she adds.
She’ll take that, though. “Now I work part time, have more free time, and can pick up my son from school. I don’t have to commute and can instead take long walks on the beach, have coffee with my girlfriends, and play the guitar.”
Matt made a nomadic lifestyle into a career
Hagén is a newcomer to the nomad life compared with Matt Kepnes. He decided to quit his job after a trip to Thailand in 2005. He wanted to finish his MBA and head off into the world on a trip was originally supposed to last a year.
More than 10 years later, the Boston-born traveler is still on the road and has turned his nomadic lifestyle into a career. He runs the award-winning budget travel site “Nomadic Matt” and wrote the New York Times bestseller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. He regularly speaks at travel shows, leads group tours in Europe and Southeast Asia, opened a hostel in Austin, Texas, and just launched a nonprofit called FLYTE (the Foundation for Leadership and Youth Travel Education) that will help send kids abroad to bring their classroom experience to life. When not traveling the world, he divides his time between Austin and New York City.
With his unique perspective, Kepnes explains some of the changes going on now for digital nomads.
“Companies have realized that through the Internet they can hire the best person for the job, not the best person in their town for the job,” he says. “This is a huge shift in thinking. For example, the guy who built my website lives in Australia, and I didn’t see him face to face throughout the whole process.”
“Social media, writing, photography, videos, blogging, graphic design, and computer skills are all careers you can take on the road,” Kepnes says.
Also, companies are realizing that remote workers are happier and cost companies less in overhead.
“Co-working spaces [shared working environments] are a great option for digital nomads and are popping up in lots of big cities,” he says. “WeWork, the co-working space I use, has locations all over the world. So anytime I feel the need to work around others, host a meeting, or make a ton of copies, I go there. I’m only committing to a desk and not an entire office, and it’s much more within my reach.”
A digital nomad becomes a state of mind
That flexibility and freedom to do what you want when you want is something that unites all digital nomads. Luis Suarez adopted this lifestyle in 2002 as he was fed up with commuting to the office.
“I would typically get up at 6:30 in the morning to arrive at 9:30 and then do the same commute on the way back home,” he says. “The energy and effort required just to get to the office was frustrating. So I decided to start working from home, at local cafés, and at nearby client sites to reduce my commuting time. This allowed me to maximize my productivity and availability to work with my colleagues on different projects.”
At the time, Suarez was living in the Netherlands and working for IBM as a knowledge manager. After getting his feet wet with working remotely, he decided to push things even further. While keeping his job, in 2004 he moved to Gran Canaria. In 2014, he set up his own advisory firm, and he now helps clients make sense of social and digital tools to improve the way they collaborate.
“When you’re a digital nomad, work stops being that physical space you go to in order to get your job done and instead it becomes a state of mind,” he says. “Work is tied more to what you can deliver to your clients. It’s an opportunity to empower yourself to regain ownership, responsibility, and accountability of the work you do.”
Freedom of choice to decide what your “workplace” should be like is perhaps one of the most fascinating journeys a digital nomad can embark on. It’s a personal transformation where you get to discover the things that matter to you most and turn that into a lifestyle, a philosophy, and a way of seeing things.
And once you take the leap, you probably don’t want to go back.
“The amount of freedom and flexibility you have, the stupendous work-life integration, and the ability to work remotely with multiple people from different geographies, cultures, and customs have convinced me that I don’t think I’d be able to go back to an office environment,” Suarez says.
“Remember, I live in Gran Canaria. I don’t think I’d change that for an office space!”
Text Sandra Carpenter
Published: March 22, 2016
Last edited: April 10, 2016