Should You Become a Digital Nomad?

By Liz Alton, Contributor, on December 5, 2016

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The term “digital nomad” likely evokes an image of someone leisurely typing on a laptop, fixed against a tranquil background. Luckily, if you’re among the 25 percent of Americans who telecommute at least part-time for their current job, or the 34 percent of the population that freelances, hitting the road while maintaining an income is a definite possibility.

The bigger question independent workers need to answer is whether becoming a digital nomad is the right choice for their lifestyle, and how to make the logistics work for an optimal experience. Working beachside, or from the top of a peak you’ve always wanted to reach, may sound ideal, but it’s probably not feasible. Here are a few areas to consider when deciding if the mobile lifestyle is for you.

Know Your “Why”

As Simon Sinek said in his iconic Ted Talk, know the “why” behind your dreams of becoming a nomad. Being location independent is vastly different than wanting time off or needing a short-term change of scenery. If your goal is to expose your family to other cultures, explore the world’s iconic cities or learn a new language, working while traveling is a great option. But if you just want to sit on the beach and relax, there are other ways to create flexibility in your schedule to get you the results you want — without the challenges of regular travel.

Your energy level, family situation, financial resources and personal preferences impact what your version of location independence looks like. For some, it means having the ability to pick up and seamlessly relocate to spend a year in London or the Caribbean. For those like me, location independence means heading to the Southwest for a few months each year to avoid Boston’s snowy winters. Others find themselves moving from country to country on a weekly or monthly schedule.

Define your version of location independence. From there, you can develop a road map to make it happen.

Enable Your “Where”

How you organize your business can provide you with a tremendous advantage when you work while traveling. Design your business with flexibility in mind by thinking about specific areas, including:

  • Client expectations and schedules. Do your clients expect you to be available during set hours, or does your work focus on deliverables? Are your proposed time zone differences workable?
  • Technology. What technology and software do you need to complete your work each day?
  • Communications. Can communications tools increase visibility into your progress and keep you connected? Some favorites include project management programs, like Basecamp and Podio. Programs like Skype and Slack make it easier to stay connected with your colleagues.
  • Financials. How will you invoice your clients? How will they pay you if they can’t easily mail you a paper check, and how will you access those funds?

This lifestyle demands that you balance work and travel. It’s different than working in a city where you’ve been based for years, because you’re hearing the siren song to go out and explore. It’s also different than a vacation, because you need to find time throughout your adventures to get work done. For many, a nomadic lifestyle means finding a schedule that fits client and personal needs, and exploring destinations after work, on weekends and during planned breaks.

It’s 100 percent possible to be successful while working on the road — with some strategic planning. For instance, will your accommodations have internet access strong enough to support Skype calls with a client? Does your destination’s time zone make it easy to collaborate with colleagues? Can you stay current with client demands while catching long-haul flights?

Plan Your “When”

Becoming a digital nomad means leaving your family, friends, local professional community and familiar places behind. On one hand, this level of freedom is intoxicating. On the other, it can feel terrifying. How will you stay in touch with the people you care about? How often will you plan to visit friends or go home to stay with family? What strategies will you use to make new friends and connections while you travel? Staying connected to the people you love and making new friends along the way will ensure being a digital nomad doesn’t become a lonely venture.

Ultimately, if you can complete your work from any location, you’ll have a range of choices in terms of lifestyle design. If the nomadic life calls to you, think about what you hope to achieve, what version of the traveling life fits with your dreams and how to logistically make it work. Who knows? In just a few short months, you could find yourself designing a client logo or writing a blog post from the California coast, a bistro in Paris or an internet cafe in Thailand.

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