Sever the Desk: The Trek to Become a Digital Nomad

Who exactly is the elusive digital nomad? This person sounds half Bluetooth, half tribal; walking between the old and new world, a suggestion of a sci-fi future.

We don’t meet too many digital nomads, probably because they are never in the same place for too long. I had imagined them to be the smartest of Silicon Valley, the ones who got away.

The truth is you don’t have to be in tech to be a digital nomad. It only implies the need to utilize technology (to some degree) to to live and conduct life independently. At this stage, most of us can’t imagine a world that doesn’t subsist on this technology.

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And yet the majority of us are still tied to location-based realities, greeting the same desk every day, taking the same commute…. even though these factors don’t add to our productivity or wellbeing.

So how to transition into the future? This field is so new and ambiguous (despite the hype) that there are no reliable statistics on how many digital nomads are operating internationally in the last or current year. But that doesn’t mean you can’t follow their path.

Use this 5-step guide to going global.

1) Start to downsize

Reduce your physical baggage. Most of us in developed countries are conditioned to believe we need a house full of “things” to survive. The things you would save in a fire will likely fit into a suitcase. Sentimental objects take second place over practical items, which in turn allow for the accumulation of new experiences instead of harboring past memories in objects. The lighter you become, the livelier you are. Not to mention the freed energy capacity from not attending to, and caring for, your “stuff”.

Put your “sacred objects” in storage, and reduce your essentials to one large suitcase and carry-on.

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2) Get a location-independent job

Location independence requires financial independence. If re-negotiating an existing job is off the charts, finding a new freelance or remote-friendly job is far more diverse than it sounds. According to Upwork, a job platform for remote freelancers, the top in-demand remote skills of 2015 ranged from graphic design and illustration to data entry and internet research… skills beyond what we consider to be strictly “tech”. Mainstream job sites like Monster, Indeed and Careerbuilder offer a “remote” option as a location option in the search bar. Specialized career platforms offer opportunities around lesser known jobs – The Muse publishes content on nomadic jobs in unexpected fields (such as fashion or marketing), and AngelList publishes location-flexible jobs for people that need the energy of a start-up.

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3) Stretch your piggy bank

In the early stages of your transition, choose a start country where your currency is strong… Southeast Asia, central South America, Eastern Europe are good options. Asia has risen as a top digital nomadic location in 2016, not only because of economic advantages, but also because of its stable internet infrastructure and variety of coworking hubs.

Before your move, make sure you swap to a bank account with no ATM fees, no minimum or account fees, and set it up across all devices before skipping town. Ally bank, Capital One 360 and Charles Schwab High Yeild checking account hit these points.

4) Find your rhythm

While “nomading” implies being constantly on the move, the current phenomenon is mostly semi-nomadic. Pieter Levels, who runs Nomadlist (which rates best cities for digital nomads), says “the fastest way to a mental disorder is becoming a digital nomad full time… freedom is great, but it’s also debilitating as you’re not part of anything.” Three month stints are optimal, and choosing places that offer co-working options allows enough time to form bonds and friendships that fulfill our need of belonging.

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5) Define your own style of productivity

Without the system to rein you in, you’ll have to discover your own optimal work style. Irregular hours and lack of consistent work spaces can be challenging to begin with. Co-working spaces can provide consistency, along with stable internet and printing facilities. High speed internet is critical for video calls, where reading face and body language can be critical in meetings. The social aspect of working in an office can be compensated with a co-working environment, but ultimately motivation must come intrinsically, instead of relying on the camaraderie of an office environment. As if location issues weren’t enough of a challenge, managing time zones can be another hurdle. Finding the balance of being “present” within the company without being physically present can add pressure if it isn’t managed correctly. Make sure you set boundaries so that you won’t burn out with midnight meetings across multiple time zones. The World Clock Calendar Widget is a great tool to juggle time variables in scheduling.

Once these new dynamics settle in, you can reward yourself by going on work-vacations anywhere in the the world, completely free of guilt.

Beyond the personal satisfaction and freedom that comes with this lifestyle, joining the nomadic movement is a historic cultural shift away from prescriptive society. As digital nomads demonstrate they can contribute to society while becoming happier, independent thinkers, they prove that living in integrity with oneself is attainable and not just a pipe dream. This model is the beginning of a new future where we really can have it all.

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Photography by Fipah Mipah via Behance

Make this life a wonderful adventure.

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