I’m a bit of a digital nomad myself, but what does that even mean? Here’s my article, first published in Xposé magazine about the modern day digital nomad…
A 9-to-5 might be the dream for some people. Weekends off, routine, a regular pay cheque… ‘good pensionable jobs’, so we’re told. For some though, that pace of life could never be enough, but what’s the alternative? We meet the people chasing the sun for a living, refusing to settle in one place or one job – the modern day digital nomad.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]
[dt_gap height=”10″ /]As a freelance travel writer, I get it. The feeling when you hop from one place to the next with nothing but the bag on your back. You’re working, but it doesn’t feel like work. You forget about the real world back home; bills, responsibilities, the boring grown-up stuff, but you’re not a backpacker either, oh no. I speak to the people travelling the world, for free and being paid to do it.
Travel blogger, entrepreneur, social media manager and digital nomad Janet Newenham is one of those people, with the envious Facebook profile and passport full of stamps. She took the leap to quit her job and travel full time because she believes, “many doors open for you, but you have to be willing to go through them and take a chance or nothing will ever change.”
Many don’t seem to understand that it’s a real career choice though, these people aren’t dossing because they haven’t “settled down” or got a “proper job”. Twenty-nine year old Janet explains that it’s hard for some of her peers to get their head around the fact that, for her, travel is work “albeit very enjoyable work that I absolutely love” she tells me. “They also don’t understand that it takes a lot of work to get to this stage, with contacts built up over a long period of time. The number one question I get from people my own age is, ‘How do you afford to travel so much?’”. [dt_gap height=”10″ /]
[dt_gap height=”10″ /]It might look like we’re always on holiday, just because we’re not sitting in an office at a desk, but it’s still our job. Modern nomad Max agrees (just check out some of his ‘today’s office’ posts on his website livetothemax.me), he gets the money question a lot, but in fact has only paid for three nights accommodation so far this year. “Success isn’t measured by how big your bank balance is, for me anyway. It’s how much you smile everyday, the experiences and being able to surround yourself with amazing people”. He chooses the bus over an Uber any day and doesn’t really see the value of material possessions, except for his drone that is!
Max was working full time in Ireland for the European Rugby Cup, a “dream job” according to many, but just couldn’t settle into the 9-5 pace. He now travels the world, making it his mission to set foot on five continents each and every year. MCing for the Color Run (he’s just got back from Singapore), skippering lavish boats on The Yacht Week in Croatia and the British Virgin Islands, event managing après parties and torchlit mountain descents on The Ski Week, plus working at Morning Gloryville in his hometown of Dublin are just a few strings to Max’s bow.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]
[dt_gap height=”10″ /]Back to his ‘baby’ though, the one that gets priority seating in airline lounges the world over, the drone! He’s sponsored by a company called DroneFly who hire Max to film drone footage of cool stuff like luxury villas in Bali. While on a job, the news broke about the earthquake in Nepal. “We couldn’t stay in those kind of surroundings given our proximity to the disaster and not do anything to help”. After going on a jog with his friend and colleague, where neither spoke a word to each other, they immediately booked flights, started gathering supplies and set up a You Caring fundraiser page. They smashed their $10k target in days, eventually reaching just shy of $50k and were able to show people firsthand through social media where every penny was spent. Of course everyone wants to help in those circumstances, but not everyone has the flexibility or resources to just drop everything and go. “It’s all about making contacts”, Max says about being a digital nomad. “I’ve got a network of friends all over the world”. He caught the travel bug from his parents and backpacked throughout college when friends were doing J1s in the States. “My lust for adventure never quenches” is the response to my question ‘what motivates you?’. [dt_gap height=”10″ /]
[dt_gap height=”10″ /]Janet wants to see the world, “All of it. This really is my biggest motivation in life. I know how lucky I am to have the opportunity to live in so many incredible countries and I want to try to immerse myself in as many more diverse cultures as possible, to see the world from their eyes, and then to write about all my experiences. I used to be motivated by a never ending bucket list of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do, but these days I find myself returning to countries I have already been rather than always going to new places. I have been back to Kenya four times and South East Asia tempts me back each and every year”.
Having spent over 5 years living abroad in countries such as South Africa, South Korea and Australia, Janet returned to Ireland to do a Masters in Humanitarian Action, but just wanted to keep travelling. Trying to settle again earlier this year, she’d taken 24 flights to 10 countries by August and started to realise, yet again, that she wasn’t ready for life in Ireland. She finally decided that, like other modern nomads, she wasn’t meant to stay in one place, “A life on the road, and working for myself, seemed to be the key to my happiness.”
“My blog (journalistontherun.com) has opened up endless opportunities for further travel, and its’ continued success has spurred me on to become a full time ‘digital nomad’, which involves being location independent and working from your laptop from anywhere in the world. I plan to spend some time in South Africa in November followed by a move to Thailand, where there is a very active digital nomad community in Chiang Mai.”
It doesn’t all have to be go go go, though. Janet says she tries to travel at a slower pace now, “to see as much of the country as possible, to learn a bit of the language, to try my hand at cooking the local food and using sites such as CouchSurfing or MeetUp to meet local people.”[dt_gap height=”10″ /]
[dt_gap height=”10″ /]While working freelance and travelling full time might seem lonely to others, it in fact opens you up to a worldwide network of likeminded individuals. Going to the other side of the world and being able to meet up with friends you’ve made along the way is an experience you can’t buy, but it means you live everywhere. “Your suitcase becomes your home”, Max says. Other than a few sentimental pieces, he’s learned to travel light. “Pack in cubes”, he tells me (try eBay or TK Maxx for packing cubes) and he always carries a spare phone.
It’s not a holiday, you see. You can’t switch off and be out of contact for days. “The most difficult thing when you’re on the road is finding a café with a decent internet connection”, says Janet. “When your income is fully dependent on writing articles online, seeing the words ‘free WiFi’ in a restaurant in Kenya or in a hostel in Thailand make you jump for joy. I do have somewhat of a routine that I repeat each day. This involves checking emails from clients who have commissioned articles, replying to blog comments and messages, planning or writing a new blog post, scheduling social media updates for the rest of the day, and making future travel arrangements such as booking overnight buses or flights.”
Will they return to the emerald isle? Not right now. Both Max and Janet agree on one thing, that while Ireland will always be home, life is too short to stay in one place.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]
[dt_gap height=”10″ /]So what’s next for these two? “I’m going on tour with Oprah, working in the VIP department in Australia”, says Max. Janet’s plan is to set herself up in a co-working space in Thailand for a few months before heading off on an extended trip of Central and South America in 2016.
I suggest they each get themselves a ‘virtual assistant’…keep an eye on this pair, they’re making waves, virtual and physical.
[dt_gap height=”10″ /]First published in Xposé Magazine.