How travel and adventure awaits. Remote working from camper-van to Cancun;
Digital nomad life in the gig economy.
“People don’t take trips… trips take people.” If John Steinbeck is saying that travel will be life and perspective-changing; then I wholeheartedly agree. If he is saying a life of travel will be a rollercoaster, then that is true too. India has probably been my biggest rollercoaster so far. From the sheer bliss of a Varanasi boat ride on the Ganges at sunset, to the man with the snake outside Delhi insisting I roll down my window to tip for my tourist snap. Okay, only those that are afraid of snakes will understand how low such a moment can be. But indeed, India was life-changing.
The digital economy too has been life-changing on a global scale. Changes in IT infrastructure, the growth of e-business and e-commerce have taken hold in the 1990s and continue to evolve at breakneck speed. Along with all these advances have emerged digital nomads working remotely from all corners of the globe. Not so much the corners of the world with slow internet, but you can spot them in a cozy corner of a free-Wi-Fi coffee shop or blogging at a public library.
The most obvious advantage of life as a digital nomad is travel. New experiences. New cultures. The food. (I love Indian food). The people. Seeing fascinating uses of ping-pong balls in Thailand. You are more likely to delight your friends with tales of ping-pong balls than with stories of corporate strategy. “Do you come here often?” probably sounds better if you can say it in Spanish or Hindi. Tequila tastes better in Cancun. The city lights sparkle more captivatingly in Prague. Ice cream tastes better in Camps Bay sold by a man whose sales pitch goes “A lolly to make you jolly!”.
Then there is the flexibility of remote working. Wrap up your blog in the morning, siesta in the afternoon and party with the locals till the cows come home. I know, I am a fountain of clichés; but I answer to no boss who will edit away my lame jokes. You too can e-commerce as much as your heart desires. Well, not too little, that Tequila won’t buy itself. (Unless frugal living cuts some inches off your waist and the man at the bar buys it for you.) But another freelancing gig on fiverr need not be far away to give your cash flow a boost. And the cost of living in Bangalore and Colombo is cheap. Meaning few hours in front of the computer screen to trade for that optimal work-life balance.
That work-life balance is yours to strike. More time and more life: Or a bit more work and more luxury. Van living certainly falls in the more life camp. Especially if the van is past its prime and wild camping is your scene. I must confess, I could easily see myself following the cycling Grand Tours in Europe in a campervan. In France the aire de camping are municipal parking sites that are either free or charge a small overnight fee. Smaller camping vans or motorhomes will make your fuel budget stretch further and staying under 6 meters long will keep toll fees down too. Pity the Schengen visa only allows me 90 days in a 180-day period, else I would have my campervan already.
More digital nomads opt to travel the world from one AirBnB apartment to the next. You could try a shared room, private room or rent an entire place. Plus, many hosts will throw in a discount if you stay for 28 nights or more. I head straight for the mapping tool to see which apartments are close to the nearest metro station. But, in the absence of a metro, travelling by Uber shouldn’t break the bank as long as malls and beaches are nearby. I wonder what the more successful netrepreneurs out there splurge on? Nothing too big and bulky for sure. But some wonderful experiences I’d imagine: A day at the spa, some fine dining and the latest Apple everything.
It all sounds very dreamy, from the tip of your pedicured toes to your iPhone scrolling thumb. But Wikipedia does bring us back to reality and lists the following digital nomad disadvantages; obtaining health insurance with global coverage, abiding by local laws and work visas, maintaining long distance relationships and the delineation between work and leisure time. I’m surprised health and nutrition on the road doesn’t make the list.
Dealing with long distance relationships, work-life balance and your waist line are best left for now. But, my tip for overcoming visa restrictions, is to try one of the many affordable countries with generous visa entry rules that allow you to stay for 90 or 180-days visa free.
Budapest and Prague are right up there as popular and affordable destinations and US and UK citizens have it easy getting into the European Schengen area. UK citizens have freedom of movement, for now. (We will have to see how Brexit negotiations with the EU progress.) Whilst American citizens, according to the US State Department, can stay Visa free in all 26 Schengen states for up to 3 months. <Sigh> My South African passport doesn’t open as many doors for me as you lucky US and UK folk. But, when in Thailand, I will have to follow some advice from my Rough Guide and make a visa run to Malaysia to get a new stamp on re-entry for another 30 magical Thai days.
Yes, life as a digital nomad can be pretty schweet. New horizons. Flexibility. Sunny shores. Learning Hindi. Unsuspecting AirBnB hosts. And not forgetting Bangkok ping-pong balls in action. Wikipedia may be right about the challenges. But armed with enough knowledge, we shall overcome and prosper.