What does being a digital nomad or downshifter entail? And how to overcome the obstacles to a happy work-life balance
There are many ways to skin a cat, the saying goes. None of which appeal to cat lovers I’m sure. And many paths to being a digital nomad. But if you love your pet or your spouse, then you have already encountered your first obstacle in becoming a digital nomad. Sadly, society has groomed your spouse to value setting down roots. To be a responsible corporate employee, with all the shiny trinkets a steady salary can buy and having enough closet space to store said trinkets in. There is no time like the present to start wearing down her defenses though. Try asking her if she wouldn’t rather be lying on a beach in Bali when the London weather is at its gloomiest. Or to picture a ferry ride in Budapest whilst stuck in Atlanta traffic.
Single folks have it much easier, but how to deal with loneliness on the road being so far away from family and friends? Of course there is Grindr and Gawker, but you still won’t have a dedicated audience to tell your knock-knock jokes to. Still, there is the question of financing your globe-trotting lifestyle on an income of one. Plus, you have to tell Mom that despite many years and dollars spent in college, you don’t fancy the idea of a traditional office job.
Never fear, the internet economy is here. And many do choose the digital nomad life before being entangled in married life, kids and bonds. Fiverr has your freelancing gigs sorted. Your AirBnB host may crack a forced smile for your knock-knock jokes. And Mom is but a Skype connection away. So if you are single, you could mingle across the globe. Thailand and eastern Europe are the trendy spots to mingle for now. No wonder Thailand is popular, with furnished apartments from only $200 per month in Chiang Mai.
I’m not sure how the more family-oriented amongst us do it; the cost of flights will add up and the apartment in Chiang Mai will be a squeeze. I have heard tales of families hitting the road in their RVs, reducing the airfare costs for sure. Pity my folks didn’t fall in that camp. I’m sure there is a lot to be said for being house-proud and teaching your kids the most optimal way to mow the lawn (…away from where plugged-in for those using electric, never from the furthest point). But, I would have preferred life on the road and all the RV experiences, good and bad, that would have entailed. Granted, I didn’t have any argumentative siblings my age to torment me from the RV bunk bed above. Possibly the size of the family is key.
“But will my luck know where to find me if I am globe-trotting the world?” you may ask. It is tough to argue with logic like that; being a digital nomad may not be for you. It is possible though to experience a new lifestyle by downshifting. And if downshifting occurs in an affordable exotic location, you can still have the benefit of an improved work-life balance and new cultures to explore. Yes, you can downshift to a less trendy part of the city that you live in already. But I’m not sure where the fun is in that. My advice is cheap and cheerful; when luck finds you, your lotto millions will stretch even further.
Time is the currency of choice for downshifters. Time to take a walk on the beach. Time to binge-watch Game of Thrones. And for some, time to tend to the vegetable garden and fetch eggs from the chicken run. My folks left their legal careers for farming outside the city. Annoyingly, the cows would jump the fence on Xmas day and having the neighbouring farmer swear you as a result does ruin the festive cheer. I find myself more partial now to downshifting destinations with fast internet coverage and Chinese takeaways. But happiness can be found from many modest lifestyles with rich experiences and less stuff.
Passive income is just the solution to give you this work-life balance. The IRS defines passive income as coming from rental activity or trade in which you do not materially participate. If you can crack the proverbial passive income nut, then being a digital nomad or downshifter will be far easier to achieve. Options include rent from a property, dividend and interest income, royalties from a book or patent or internet advertisements. This former risk specialist will tell you: the more diversified your income stream, the better. I wouldn’t have been able to escape corporate without some rental income to cushion the jump.
The desire to make radical change and escape corporate may be a factor of life stage. You’ll be unlikely to become a digital nomad or downshifter if you are happy with where life finds you. A UK based study conducted in 2016 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that middle aged people between 40 and 59 are the least happy and most anxious. The downward slump in happiness starts at 35 and the trend only reverses after 60. Is this a good time to suggest investing in the alcohol industry to fund your new lifestyle?
Certainly, there are many reasons to be nomadic or to downshift and even more different lifestyles led by those making the leap. You may be under 35 and enjoying the city view from your office viewbicle, that flashy car and strategizing your next leap up the corporate ladder; but eventually downshifting will appeal to you.
Compared to downshifting, the appeal of being a digital nomad must be far broader still. What is not to like about travel and working remotely from a tropical location? As technology takes over the workplace, surely there will be many more taking up these lifestyles; you could soon be part of the movement. First, it will take some planning and thorough consideration and it is well worth connecting with other digital nomads and downshifters before following the dream.