Tap a button, and you can chat with someone in Shanghai. Email someone in Milan. Tweet to someone in Vancouver. And you can do this from anywhere; from your office in New York, from a beach in Thailand, or from a mountain in the French Alps.
As the world grows more connected, more workers are disconnecting—from their office—and going mobile.
Welcome to the era of the digital nomad. Put simply, that’s a fancy term for someone who’s able to work from anywhere.
It’s a little different from those folks who quit their 9-to-5 to travel. The key difference is work: digital nomads are not perma-vacationers. They’re location-independent employees who can do their work without being based in one office. (Of course, some people who leave corporate life to travel do become digital nomads.)
Some nomads are always on the go; others are based in one place but have clients all over the world. Travel is a big draw for many, but it’s not necessarily part of the job. It’s just often a perk that a mobile lifestyle allows for.
Who are these nomads? Sure, there are the travel bloggers—folks making a living by sharing, snapping, and socializing their adventures. But you’ll also find consultants, freelancers, e-commerce pros, web developers, IT specialists, and countless other professionals taking their work on the road.
How can I stay productive on the road?
You have to be disciplined. Remember: you’re not on vacation. Some nomads joke that they spend 75 percent of their time working, 10 percent of their time looking for Wi-Fi, and the rest on everything else.
One step to ensure a seamless work environment is to sign up for a shared work space (like WeWork) with locations in multiple cities. Knowing you’ll have reliable Wi-Fi when you arrive can save hours of Starbucks-hopping and internet testing.
Another trick is to set up the world clock feature on your Google Calendar. This lets you quickly scan other time zones, so when you’re scheduling meetings with clients overseas, you’ll know what time it is for everyone. And whether you’ll be waking up at 4 AM for the call.
What gear do I need?
It’s essential for nomads to travel light and not lug extra equipment or clothes. That said, a few basic pieces of gear can go a long way towards keeping you productive.
Since finding reliable internet is one of the biggest challenges for nomads, many recommend getting a SIM card with a data plan to use while traveling abroad. Sure, you’ll want to tap into Wi-Fi whenever possible, but if you need to look up a meeting location on a map, or shoot off a quick tweet or email, having that instant access without racking up your roaming charges is key.
Another must-have is a solid cloud drive. Keeping your files in the cloud means you don’t have to lug an external hard drive—or often even a computer—around with you. Simply log in wherever you are, access your documents, and get to work. Note: it’s a good idea to keep a copy of important docs—a copy of your passport or visas, for example—in your cloud drive in case you need a backup.
On the non-tech front, you’ll want to pack light, but always make sure you have a work-appropriate outfit available. You never know when a meeting might come up, whether via Skype or in person. If you’re working from that beach in Thailand and a new client wants to chat, you’ll be glad to have something to wear other than your swimsuit.
How to connect with others
Life as a digital nomad can be lonely. The freedom of not having an office comes with the isolation of not having daily coworkers. If you’re always on the move, it can be hard to keep a steady social or romantic life. Many digital nomads say the only way to date is to find another nomad.
The good thing is, digital nomads are, well, digital, so it’s an incredibly connected world. You have sites like Nomad Forum (from the creators of Nomad List), where people post questions on everything from working with clients remotely to setting up taxes. There are online communities on Reddit (open) and Slack (members only) where nomads can connect and share tips and job leads from various countries. There was even a digital nomad conference—the first of its kind—in Berlin this summer, with another meetup scheduled for Bangkok in February.
How do I make travel plans?
Most travel can be booked the same way you usually do it. Of course, last-minute travel is easier, because you’re not tied down to one place. Short-term apartment rental lodging options, such as Airbnb and Roomorama, are popular accommodation sites among nomads. Other options include house-sitting and home exchanges.
As more people take on this lifestyle, some businesses are starting to cater specifically to mobile workers. Operators like Nomad Pad in Austin and Nomad House (multiple locations) provide lodging, shared work spaces, and a place to meet similar travelers.
How do I find work?
Most nomads pick up work the same way any freelancer does: word of mouth recommendations, LinkedIn, networking, job boards, and more. There are also a number of sites that specialize in jobs for people based remotely, including Remote OK and Cloud Peeps.
And don’t underestimate the power of the location-independent community. If you’re an active participant, you can find job leads from other digital nomads.