Location independence: Five things I’ve learned on the road

For the most part of the past three years I have been away from home; wandering the globe - laptop in hand, constantly seeking out the best coffee spots and the strongest wifi.

Yes, I’m part of one of the fastest growing travel communities: the digital nomads. This past year I’ve spent weeks at a time working from Spain so that I can immerse myself in the Spanish language, I’ve written communication strategies from a boat in the middle of Halong Bay in Vietnam and one could say I know the cafe scene in Medellin, Colombia like the back of my hand. And I’m not alone.

Pick almost any city in the world and you’ll find remote workers on client calls from beach side cafes in Bali to strategising and filing stories in nomad hubs like Berlin, Chiang Mai or Playa del Carmen to more unassuming makeshift offices in places like Marrakech and Costa Rica.

More and more workers - mostly millennials - are refusing 9-5 office slavery with predictions that some 50% of workers will be working remotely by 2020.

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learnt as a digital nomad:

  1. It’s nothing like backpacking: Gone are the days of 20-bed dorms I enjoyed as a young backpacker. Now, there are 8 hour work days to fill which usually means early to bed and early to rise. Not exactly conducive to all hostel night parties or being woken up at 4am by someone with an early flight who was too drunk to pack the night before. I remember when I was backpacking through Europe in 2012 I moved from city to city; country to country every couple of days jam packing as much as I could in each 24 hours. Now, a city I might have been able to do in a couple of days turns into two weeks (or more) because I’m tired of moving around every few days while trying to work and keep my energy levels up.

  2. Your family and friends won’t understand: I spend a lot of time explaining to folk at home that a) no, I’m not going on holidays again; b) I’m not a millionaire; and c) no, settling and buying a house isn’t yet on my list of priorities. Societal pressures are all about the great “Aussie dream” of owning your own home and climbing the career ladder - and you’ll have a hard time convincing some people otherwise. Some of my friendship circle don’t understand my ‘nomad’ lifestyle - and I know it’s frustrating for them that I’m not always physically around through the highs and lows of life. But thanks to the technology of 2018 we manage to continue the banter via various channels and usually when I return home, it's like I never left.

  3. Working remotely actually means you work more - and harder: We’ve all seen the pictures. The ones of travel bloggers or digital nomads sipping passionfruit margaritas while working on the beach… But in reality, the digital nomad life is not as magical as it might appear from the outside. When you’re working alone the lines between work and life become blurred. There have been days where I’ll work a full day in my time zone only to be told by my team that I need to be on an 11:30pm conference call with a client in their time zone. And in truth, I’m always conscious that I need to check in regularly with my boss and team since we’re often not working in the same time zone I find it important to check in often. Sometimes saying nothing could be perceived as not working. Always in the back of my mind is the fact that I need to drive measurable results for our clients (and my boss) in order to make a long-term remote working relationship viable.

  4. There’s the possibility you’ll get ‘stuck’: My fellow Aussie digital nomad friend got ‘stuck’ in San Cristobal, Mexico for eight months. Another found herself in Florianópolis (or ‘Floripa’ as it’s fondly known) Brazil and couldn’t bring herself to move on despite numerous attempts. For me it was Cartagena, Colombia where I was addicted to the laid-back Caribbean lifestyle and people I’d met there who made it almost impossible to move on. I say ‘stuck’ like it’s a bad thing but in reality, life as a digital nomad can be lonely. Finding a place where you feel comfortable and can build up a support network of friends (and a local gym or yoga studio) can make life of the road just that little bit easier.

  5. There will be days when you question whether it’s all worth it (it is!): Some days, things just won’t go your way. Finding strong wifi can be a constant and frustrating challenge, especially when you have clients waiting for you on the other end of Skype. Or you wake 3am and accidentally check your phone only to see a bunch of emails and messages from clients or colleagues that really need to be dealt with then and there. Other days it will be lonely as hell and you seriously consider booking that crazy expensive flight back home for the next day.

But, like anything - you take the good with the bad, and more often the not, the great. And I realise how lucky I am to be living my version of my best life - part of the ever-growing location independent tribe.

Jackie Hanafie