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How I thought I wanted to become a digital nomad (alexp.github.io)
270 points by bartekurbanski 1111 days ago | hide | past | web | 200 comments | favorite



Having been semi-location independent for 4 years now, I have come to a similar conclusion.

The theory of decision fatigue -- that you get exhausted by making a certain number of decisions -- seems to be true to me. And the thing is that when you are in a new place, there is a large number of decisions to make about petty things like where is the nearest supermarket, where can I work out, how do I get proper internet etc. Whenever I've set up in a new place, my productivity suffers severely for a week or two. After that, I'm okay but if you travel a lot, that becomes a real price. And it's not rewarding the same way that other guilty pleasures are, it's just annoying.

I remember walking to the "office" in Bangkok one day, having been there for three weeks. I pulled out my iPod for the first time since I arrived. It struck me that this was a sign that I was familiar with my surroundings. I didn't need the full mental capacity just to navigate, I could run that process in the background and allow myself to listen to music. I am not sure what you can conclude from this but I think that it's likely that I had consumed a lot of energy up until that point, which I then didn't have for programming.


Oh man, yeah, decision fatigue. I've been a freelancer (web work and later technical translation) since 1996 and we've moved, kids and dog and all, from Indiana to Puerto Rico to Budapest, at will - and the one thing that makes it difficult is that you're always asking, "Should we be staying here or going somewhere else now?" It never stops. The kids are having allergy problems? Let's move to the Caribbean! The Caribbean is too relaxed and the schools suck? Let's move to Europe! Europe has horrible winters? Back to the Caribbean!

It gets old. And expensive. And the business takes a major hit every time we move just because of the distractions - and it's a continual stress when we don't move, a stress that normal people don't even think of having.


It seems like there is no perfect place. New Zealand or Australia? they are in a difficult time zone.

One alternative is having two fixed locations and moving on winter.


I don't like the idea to escape winter. I was like this years ago, dreamed about being able to move to a hotter place during the winter. Now when I can do it, I don't want it. Coping with winter helps you learn things and makes you stronger. And winter has its good sides too (especially for the busy homesteader). It's a time to relax from the hot season activities, to enjoy different food and drinks, and so on. I like it. It's not my favorite time of the year, but I see no point to run away of it. And kind of regret people who hate it so much.


You don't live somewhere with 6 months of winter, do you?


Oh yes, I do. And we have -15 Celsius / 5 F pretty often.


Cagliari, on the southern coast of Sardinia, a southern big island in Italy, is the perfect place: startups, astonishing sea, tens of beaches, hot summers, max 2 winter days at near zero (Celsius).

I live there, I know how it is ;)


Italy is corrupt and has serious economic issues. It's probably a nice place to live otherwise though, I guess they "just" need to completely replace their government.


Indeed. But not as much as one would think. There are people hustling for change. Also, if you can work from south pacific, you can work from Sardinia.


Corrupt and has serious economic issues. This statement applies to most countries, however I agree that Italy has it fairly bad. In terms if work/life balance, it has a few major advantages however.


As a Sardinian expatriate, I must say that this would be a practicable course only when you have a stable and steady cachet of clients; and then only if you are content with having almost "remote-only" technological collaboration. While I recon this was the premise of the article, I still feel that this "isolation", lack of support and lack of recognition for your professional figure stunts most of the excitement.

There is almost no technological nor entrepreneurial growth in the area; although pioneering in diffusion and disruption of internet technology (Tiscali), and although many well-intentioned, huge (and ultimately empty) technological poles graciously built in the area[1], there is little interest in investing, outside of just grabbing the inviting national/european development grants and then leaving the island.

There is no real service or attraction to speak of. The very few attractions (mainly wooden kiosks at the beach) have been made close down or subject to numerous certification delays for "sonic pollution" in maybe the most frequented beaches in Cagliari proper. Endless diatribes consume most of the land in similar way, even though you'd think this place could otherwise easily top many of the most famous places worldwide.

Sardinia is a dream place if you're a scholar, or like cities full of down-to-earth and warm people; it's a microcosm of influences and it's hard to take even just a few steps outside the most modern places, and not be able to recognize traces of the many cultures that walked that very soil. The tradition is rich, and every few steps you encounter a different dialect or new colorful customs. It's a magical place.

I would get back there in a moment if I could. But it's the epitome of Italian waste. I had been so angry at it, and everyone, but it also seems that the majority of the people really prefer to just soak it up, and then forget about it, or else spreading outside of the city to start the n-th unauthorized small town in the middle of nowhere, which is of course in a bad location that puts a strain on the few available transportation resources (almost entirely buses), with majors that play for power with/against neighboring towns, derailing the plans for highways (the "new" 125 anyone) which however is nothing compared to such jewels as the "A3 Napoli-Reggio Calabria".

Sorry for the impulsive rant but this touched a nerve. I would really, really love to go back to

[1]: I am happy for those. I worked there for some time, and these were nice, big buildings, with a nice internet connection, space for growth, and they were immersed in that classic beautiful bitter-sweet sardinian splat of vegetation. But while they were built for grandeur and all, no-one really came there, then various powers competed in the area, which resulted in this temple being connected to the rest of the world by a small dirt road which floods periodically with almost no public service to speak of.


Aha! This describes nearly everywhere I've ever lived and worked! The brilliance of working exclusively online is that you can live in places like this - you take your work with you. I would never have gotten to know Ponce, Puerto Rico otherwise - or reacquainted myself with my hometown of Richmond, Indiana.

From an economic standpoint, I couldn't have come to Budapest, for that matter. Finding a well-paying job here would be very difficult. (Not impossible, but difficult.)

If you do want a technical community around you in meatspace, I agree that these sleepier corners of the world are not for you. But they are definitely for me. I'll consider Sardinia. (I know a really nice Sardinian lady in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico - she loves it and hates it simultaneously, just like you.)


http://www.startupcagliari.it/ and yes, yours is a rant :)


This is really how it's done. But requires wealth. It's what super rich people do. Homes in multiple locations and chase the sun.


Well, we kind of have that planned. You don't have to be super rich, just have to know your places pretty well and buy smart, maybe something that needs a little work.

We bought a house in Richmond, Indiana (more or less where I'm from) for $8000 - that was actually a mistake because it needed too much work, but the principle was sound.

Now we're looking for foreclosures in reasonable neighborhoods in Puerto Rico, we're probably going to build a house here in Budapest, and maybe we'll find something in Indiana in a few years. If you have modest houses in your places instead of putting all your real estate money into a new garage and a pool, it's totally doable.

A lot of not-so-wealthy people have a house in the North and one in Florida, after all.


Or you could sub-rent your place for a few months in winter and rent a place in a warm country. No wealth required.


I always wonder if there is a website to organize this. I have my own house but would like to stay here only 3 months a year and move for other 3 places elsewhere (fixed places). It would be a good idea for a startup.


There's quite a few websites that handle house swaps. Airbnb is also a good option if you have someone to manage the place for you while you're away.


I know someone who runs a hostel in New Zealand in the southern summer and travels in southern winter. Totally doable on a budget.


> One alternative is having two fixed locations and moving on winter.

In the States, these people are called "snowbirds". They declare permanent residency in some low-tax state state, then migrate to the sun in the winter and the cool in the summer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowbird_%28people%29


Exactly. I thought this was what I wanted. Now that I'm somewhat location independent, I keep thinking about where I should move to take full advantage of my freedom. It's exhausting! I want to settle somewhere but can't decide.


Excuse me if I don't feel sorry for you. Don't you think that's a pretty good problem to have?


It's certainly a luxury problem, but it's also a tough problem. Think about it: If you are location-independent, how do you even start to come up with a good decision on where to live? What are the factors you consider and the metrics to see whether or not your decision was good or not afterwards?

I'm in a very similar position and just thinking about the endless possibilities of choosing a new place to live can be very overwhelming.

But if you haven't been in this position, you won't know how it feels I guess.

I figured it is very similar to everybody joking about how they want more free time to do "their stuff". And if you ask "So, what stuff would you do, if you had all time of the day and still get your monthly paycheck?", the answer is often much less clear. Everybody dreams of having all day off, but when it comes to that situation, too much leisure can be frustrating as well.


I do think this is an interesting discussion and question. For me the answer is simple and clear -- live where my family and friends are. It is interesting to me that other people take such different approaches. Of course one can make new friends and perhaps create a family, but I'm surprised at how little family and friends are even mentioned in the following discussion.


Been there, done that. My recommendation is, find your family. Think about your contribution to the future.


I can also relate, we should start a Moving Around Anonymous. I find that we don't always consider all the costs before choosing to hop off to the next location, cost in time and energy, but also financially. That said, it doesn't feel like we can settle.


> Moving Around Anonymous

or perhaps Digital Nomads Anonymous. I feel like it's in my DNA.


I'll be in Budapest for a week from the 8th of October with my wife. It would be nice to meet for a coffee and discuss our gypsy lifestyle problems :)


Hey, cool! That would give me a great excuse to go into town! My email is in my profile, so let's definitely hook up.

Neat venture you have there, by the way - social reservations, I like it! I just did the Craigslist thing in Budapest a couple of years ago (before we moved more permanently) and it worked out nicely - but I think we got lucky. A little more triangulation would have been nice, and it looks like that's what you're doing. Neat!


great! I sent you an email.

It's funny you label it as social reservations. Did you see this page? http://www.adormo.com because we also launched a test project (italan only for now) http://social.adormo.com/ where it's much more social. I just wonder what site you did visit :)


The main site (www) - I call that social, probably because I'm a dinosaur. But you've got a kind of ... well, curation thing going, and a personal contact locally. It's not just ads.


you are right. The local Manager visits most the apartments and meets most owners so he's able to help the guests and guarantees that there are not fakes/bad actors.


>>Whenever I've set up in a new place, my productivity suffers severely for a week or two.

The language you are using here - specifically the word "suffer" - is indicative of a certain type of (generally Western) mindset where productivity plays a big role in a person's happiness and satisfaction.

I went on a two week vacation to my home country of Turkey back in July. For the first few days, it felt really odd to not work. I would wake up in the morning, have breakfast, fire up my laptop on the patio of my parents' house, and then... stare at the screen. After screwing around on HN and other sites, I would realize that it was 2pm and that I had "wasted" half my day. And I would feel bad about that.

After a few days though I realized how absolutely ridiculous that mindset was. I was on vacation and I was not supposed to be producing anything. I was supposed to be relaxing. It was like flipping a switch - I made a paradigm shift and spent the rest of my vacation "doing nothing." It felt great!

If I ever find myself in the author's situation where I have sufficient savings and am sitting on a beach in Thailand, instead of trying to continue working and getting stuff done, I'll just check out mentally and enjoy life.


Well, there is vacation, and there is "digital nomadism" that kristian and bartek are talking about.

If you go for holidays, you can tuck away your laptop and just rest, but if you plan a year long work&life scenario where you work remotely from another country, your productivity matters.


This is why all my vacations are "zero technology". I bring absolutely no electronics except for an old non-smartphone in case of emergencies. This way I don't have to feel guilty, because I can't be "productive" anyway.


>>And the thing is that when you are in a new place, there is a large number of decisions to make about petty things like where is the nearest supermarket, where can I work out, how do I get proper internet etc. Whenever I've set up in a new place, my productivity suffers severely for a week or two. After that, I'm okay but if you travel a lot, that becomes a real price. And it's not rewarding the same way that other guilty pleasures are, it's just annoying.

It's almost like you should get together with a travelling companion who's job is to just figure out your new location and you'll pay for food, fun and expenses. Maybe they're an FWB too :) ? It's like a deluxe travel agent "arrangement" for nomad geeks. This could be a thing if it got going. I can see the 2015 New Yorker Headline now "FWB gets upgraded to Personal Concierge and Travel Agent W/ Benefits for wandering nomad supergeeks in surprising new trend".


"Boy you guys, wouldn't it be neat if a software development career entitled you to a concubine on top of everything else?"


Not just a concubine, but a personal assistant and housekeeper, too.

Frank Reynolds is not supposed to be a role model, people: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1028239/quotes?ref_=tt_ql_3


There is a word for a friend-with-benefits for hire, and it's illegal in many places. For good reason.


Programming (for me) occurs at the apex of an extended Maslow's type hierarchy, and traveling often destroys the very foundations of it. The code I write when sleep-deprived, hungover, hungry, sunburnt, and sitting on a bumpy Thai train wondering if I missed my stop and wishing there was internet & coffee, is strongly inferior to what I write in a well-lit, quiet environment, fed, rested, fueled by engineering conversation and mental/real bandwidth, etc. That's not a proscription of adventure so much as an acknowledgement that the whole nature of adventure is disruptive: multiple variables in your equation are changing at rapid rates, and they are important variables: food, shelter, language, currency. Over our two-year stint in Asia, we usually found ourselves in one of two situations: 1) blissfully immersed in the culture and outdoor activities of <x> country but contending with unreliable internet, limited work time and near-nonexistent attention spans, or 2) sitting on a nice nondescript hotel bed somewhere with A/C, good wifi and our tiny MacBook Air screens, and feeling like we may as well have not left the US at all.


> Programming (for me) occurs at the apex of an extended Maslow's type hierarchy, and traveling often destroys the very foundations of it

For me, it varies with my mood. A lot of the time having some stress and interesting surroundings spurs my creativity and I've written some of my best code in a park, on an airplane or at a café. Other times I just want to lock myself in a familiar room with all my comforts and shut out the world.

That's why when I do the travel-and-work thing, I stay for 2-3 mo in a place, and I can mix things up depending on how I feel that week. I've also decided for myself that it's never a failure of travel to not be in local's dining room every night living the "real experience". I'm not on vacation, I'm still working, so I'll never see #2 as an issue.


It is interesting that sometimes being in a new environment can promote creativity and even discipline (for instance, it's easier for me to work continuously on a plane--which I'm doing right now--than when I'm in our home office because I perceive I have less choice: not sure what that says about me). And I agree that if I'm doing performance testing or adding a mellow feature, then sure, throw me in the middle of Cirque du Soleil and I'll be fine.

But I would challenge the idea that complex programming problems (cloud sync, NLP, etc, choose your poison) can be solved equally well in a suboptimal environment. Here is my "hypothesis": unregulated noise[1], temperature[2], and other travel-centric environmental factors (such as the need for vigilance in a new environment) distract from cognitive performance in the majority of people, if not all people.

[1] http://peterhancock.ucf.edu/Downloads/ref_pubs/Szalma_Hancoc... [2] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0668.2004....

To be clear, I don't think it is possible to write my best code in a park, an airplane or a café, regardless of mood. But I would be curious to see relevant studies which demonstrate otherwise. I agree that changes in environment are stimulating and that stagnant workplaces hold their own dangers.

I also agree that 2-3 months is a good baseline for getting to know a place: you don't feel as jostled about by your schedule, and there may even be time for cursory grasp of the language (w/some prepping beforehand) and making a friend or two. Plus you don't have to cram your (potentially expensive) excursions into as short a block of time.



Far as I can tell, the argument here boils down to "can't concentrate on coding while traveling". When put in a simple statement like that it becomes very obvious that the statement depends entirely on the person. Many people have little difficulty opening up their laptop and forgetting the rest of the world for an 8 hour stretch, and this would be the type of person who would do well as a digital nomad. If you need peace and stability in order to code - and many, many people do - then it's a bad choice.

I've also found you need to be very comfortable with email and text communications, and you probably need to be good at getting your point across and discerning the point of others as it's more difficult to communicate technical issues without being in person - but obviously very possible, as the number of very good technical blogs can attest to.


How do you do an eight hour stretch? At best I can work for two hours without needing food or a bathroom break.

Imagine you're working in public space. To take a break you have to pack up your laptop, power adapter, water bottle, phone, headphones, go put them in a locker (or just carry them), visit a wc, eat, take a break, go get bag out of locker, find another place to sit with power, set up computer, power adapter, etc.

It's a lot different than just walking away from your desk at home for 5 minutes to relieve yourself, grabbing a banana, then getting back to work.


I wish "hourly office rental"-type places were more common for this use case. It would also help with all the people hogging seats at Starbucks.

Personally I love the internet cafés in Japan - you get a private booth, free drinks, some even have showers. They're well-equipped enough that some people down on their luck even live in them permanently. I wish that model was more widespread internationally.


Keep an eye on Breather, they're making short term spaces you can rent. Still in the early stages:

http://breather.com/


Regus does it. Of course it's much more cost effective to get a monthly rental if you'll be using it frequently.


You can occasionally get a year's free use of Regas facilities via various promotions. Worth keeping an eye out for.


I've never traveled overseas and worked, but I've done a bunch of work remotely in the US while travelling for business, and I've recreational spent a few months in places like ireland and thailand.

I hate working out of hotels when I'm traveling for business, so I usually post up in a library, or coffee shop. I also end up doing spending a lot of time in airports where I have to be able to get up really quickly and stow everything. After a little optimizing, I never had a problem getting up in a few seconds, walking off to use the bathroom and grab a soda, and coming back. You just can't splay your stuff out everywhere like you might at an office. It also helps a ton to have a laptop that's got a solid battery life.

Getting up to go to the bathroom for me usually mean: close laptop and slide into bag > Put bag on shoulder > holster drink bottle in side pocket while walking wherever.

It's kind of fun figuring out efficient and quick ways to unplug quickly, but it really doesn't add that much overhead, especially once it's a rote thing. I also just don't plug in the majority of the time, if I can help it.

ymmv, and that doesn't counter all the other myriads of problems you would encounter being abroad working, but at least for that little part, I think it's a pretty solvable problem


That's my life in a nutshell ;-)


One issue is that it can be hard to get an 8 hour stretch if your days are also filled with the minutiae of travel of decision-making.

I find it very hard to get substantial work done on certain projects when I have even a few interruptions in my day.


>One issue is that it can be hard to get an 8 hour stretch if your days are also filled with the minutiae of travel of decision-making.

You settle down somewhere, even for 10 days or a week. After the first day there's no more minutiae of trabel or devicion making. Work 8 hours in your hotel/hostel/place/, go around/sleep the rest.

You're not supposed to travel EVERY day to a new place.


Pretty much agree with most of what you say above but this:

"Many people have little difficulty opening up their laptop and forgetting the rest of the world for an 8 hour stretch"

I haven't come across anybody who can in-the-zone code a straight 8 hour stretch during the daytime (nights are obviously very different). I'd love to hear from people who've managed to do this.


I'd love to hear from people who've managed to do this

Anecdotes about how "hardcore" people are in this regard usually wind up being worthless. 9 times out of 10, when I ask someone about an "all-nighter" they just pulled, it turns out they actually stayed up until 4:30 and slept until 9.

I expect most people who talk about how they can stay locked in the zone for 8 hours, in reality take breaks for coffee, browse the internet, and break for lunch.

(There's nothing wrong with taking breaks!)


Well fwiw, I personally have pulled honest-to-goodness all-nighters in exceptional circumstances (debugging production problem, team (including management) expecting my code the next morning to start release-testing, etc. Of course it includes things like bio-breaks, snacks/coffee etc. But since "The night is a programmer's best friend for it is silent and expects nothing"(1), it's not that hard to get back into the zone after a break especially with a sword hanging over your head.

(1) Me. Just now.


Yeah, the adrenaline of sheer terror can motivate you to amazing things for a while...


I think you are making quite a few generalizations. I've on multiple occasions coded for over 12 hours straight. With regard to all-nighters, I've had them stretch to noon.


I'm not sure how 'in the zone' you mean, but i've done that many times (just getting up to pee, etc). I do suffer from mild-moderate OCD though so I think that's likely a symptom of it.


There are two problems:

1) You might very good with text communications, as all hackers are. But your clients, especially big corporate players from which you'll land a $$$ job, might not be. And they will not level with you since they can have someone that fill their requirements.

2) Theoretically you can open your laptop while snowboarding at the French Alps and write the Linux Kernel. But it's certainly much more comfortable to do so in front of a 27" iMac sitting at home, with your cup of tea on the side your ergonomic chair and keyboard etc.

There was one time that I thought it was cool to being able to do all my payments and everything via ebanking while I was on vacation. Then I found it that it sucks big time, having to do job while others having fun.

However that's just me, it's like it's an absolute truth or anything. I'd just prefer to hand a job over to someone who I know has an office. Give him more chances to have established a decent work flow.


I used to always use a 17" macbook pro and it was always very very comfortable moving from it to a 27" display. However, I found that since going from the 17" to a 13", that my level of productivity has increased greatly because I'm now forced to tackle problems that require greater automation and finesse with keyboard only navigation. Given OS X's horrible support for X-windows and the truly useful window managers like XMonad, dwii, dwm, awesome, etc, it's simply not that convenient moving between a 13" and 27" screen. There is too much setup and change to your workflow to make that switch regularly for any programming activity that involves user interfaces (e.g. HTML/CSS) beyond a terminal or ncurses.


I practically live the last 2 years on a macbok air 13" which I wouldn't switch for any other laptop, even if I'd had to install linux on it. However every time I go home and sit on my 27" iMac I feel blessed although the MBA is 2011 and has much clearer screen. However, as you said, my working and programming environment is setup on the MBA and I can't sync everything I need on the fly to achieve the same workflow on the imac. Hmm, but I if I could choose I'd take the imac any day.


Having done this a bit, the answer is in my experience, figure out a good location in a particular country, in Thailand I'd say Chiang Mai, in China perhaps Yangshuo, Cambodia Siem Reap or Sihanoukville. Get yourself a cheap place/room for a month or so, do some serious work then when you've completed whatever it is you're doing do some proper traveling.

Trying to do it all at once is mostly a killer. That's not to say you can't do maintenance and smaller tasks while actually traveling, but really building anything meaningful actually requires a lot more concentration in my opinion.


The mistake a lot of people make is thinking they're on holiday. Just because you're travelling, doesn't mean it's a holiday.

If you've got a job to do, do it. Don't go wandering around exploring the city for half the day, or lie on the beach chatting with backpackers. No. Sit at your desk and do your job.

Once you've done your work, in your properly setup work environment, then go explore your new and exciting surroundings.

Then get to bed on time, and work a proper day the next day.

Whenever I see people in hostels, lazing back on couches, tapping away on a laptop and saying they're a digital nomad, what I see is someone who's not serious. They won't last.


I absolutely agree. The thing is, that having been to most of those locations (except Sihanoukville and generally China), I just didn't feel that those places would be fun to stay in for a longer period of time. It all comes down to personal preferences of course. I was on the hunt for a good spot for myself and failed so far.


Yeah for me they're ideal, they've got lots of guesthouses so there's plenty of competition and finding rooms for a month should be easy and pretty damned cheap. Tons of restaurants meaning you can more or less walk out the front door and find somewhere new to eat everyday cheaply.

I kinda suspect you're looking on the wrong continent or as you say you're just not suited to it.


I've been in Phnom Penh for the last 3 weeks. It may not be as relaxing as Sihanoukville or somewhere else smaller but for me it's been the perfect place to work and focus.

I found a nice (enough) apartment for 120$/month that is extremely close to the largest market in PP and Olympic stadium, where I exercise daily. Right outside my front door I can find excellent meals cooked by my friendly neighbors for less than a dollar. I'm here for at least a year, but probably longer; I love this place.


Nice, I've been in Phnom Penh for 2 years now. What type of work are you doing? I'm always looking for good freelance devs.


I worked online, run my "little Airbnb" and travelled/lived in more than 50 countries since 2001. The fact that your productivity suffers can be interpreted in a positive way: you CAN'T work too much because you are kept busy with the non-routine stuff. I absolutely love it and wouldn't change this for a 100% productive environment anytime soon. It's my protection against the work-a-lot-buy-stuff-you-don't-need routine. So I am forced to spend money in non trivial things as keeping the flexibility is expensive. When I need to get some serious work done I stay in Italy, Bangkok, Bali or Prague for a few months. It takes me a couple of weeks to settle in Bali, 1 day in Prague (I just need to rent an apartment), 1 day in Bangkok and more or less a week in other places. I also did a lot of backpacking (a few days in each place) and I agree that this greatly reduces the productivity. You have to find the balance which works for you, anytime, anywhere. Not easy, but it's there somewhere.


"Even though it might be obvious, during my travels I found out the hard way that creative, meaningful work, requires some routine. Changing your location once a week, working from benches, hammocks, cafes, bars and hostel floors is a cool way to fund your vacation, but it certainly doesn’t help you when tackling hard programming problems."

And this is what I've also found. In order to be able to do anything of any significance you need to make the rest of your life as routine as possible in order to minimise distractions. Continually moving around requires you to do a lot of extraneous work merely to reproduce your labour.


The way I see it, one doesn't need to actively travel constantly to be traveling. When I was dealing with a difficult project, I just stayed at one particular hostel for two months, and settled into a routine. It was an odd one, of course, but it still became a routine, and I could finish the project.


The successful travel/work people I know do it in that style, moving between cities on a monthly or bimonthly basis, not daily. They'll typically spend 1-3 months in a city, renting a place on AirBnB or a local rental site, then move to another city.

That removes a lot of the problems discussed in this blog post, like not knowing if you'll have internet access tomorrow, and not being able to guarantee you can spend 8 hours tomorrow on a project.

It's also how I personally prefer traveling, even just purely for vacation purposes: have a relatively stable temporary base where you can leave your stuff, and then explore the local area for a while (both the city you're in, and day trips to nearby places). When I spend only a few days in a city I never feel like I really see it or understand it, so I don't like doing the whirlwind backpacker-style trips where you're moving to a new place every day or two.


The most cost effective way I've managed to pull off the expat existence is to find the equivalent of Craigslist in the country you'd like to visit; then arrange a 3 month rental (the usual visa limit, on an American passport at any rate), sorting out high-speed internet in advance (i.e. if no connection in place already, contact local ISP and get technician visit/installation for day after you arrive).

Next, get a local SIM card with pay-as-you-go plan and use the invoice with your apartment address as "proof" of residency (for the next step).

Finally, hit an ATM and draw equivalent of a couple grand USD in local currency and create a bank account using your pay-as-you-go invoice and passport as proof of identity.

Have bank accounts in Canada, France, Brazil, and the States, only one of which charges a monthly fee.

In SW France now, the 2-bedroom apartment I'm renting is 5 minutes walk from the beach, and runs me about $750/month, high speed internet included.

SE Asia may be cheaper, have yet to venture that far from EST where my clients are based. Might check out Sri Lanka though this winter, have heard there's decent (enough) surf and not super pricey.

Cheers to fellow code warriors ;-)


There needs to be a service where you can just buy/rent a packet with all the essentials. Sim cards are just one of the many things that could come in such a package to save you a lot of time. My GF when she travels has often sought out exchanging used pre-paid SIM cards for the countries she goes to as a way to avoid all the bureaucracy that often surrounds their acquisition. It would be great if you could do this with bank accounts too by simply handing it over to another person. Just withdraw all the money and hand the debit cards and other account information to another person. So long as the bank rules don't allow accounts to go negative, there is no reason to tie identity to bank accounts.

TBH, I've really come to the conclusion that borders are bullshit and I can't wait until they are increasingly viewed as an anachronism like they have come to be viewed within the EU. They create a number of inefficiencies in many many systems and the truth is that the only necessary system that really needs them to function under the current model is taxation to support public infrastructure within a region. However, even that can be solved by only taxing everything that is immobile, such as land, buildings, businesses that need to exist in a certain physical location for prosperity, such that both those that live in a place and those that visit a place, pay directly for the use of all the public services in that place via the infrastructure that accommodates them (places to sleep, eat, work and be entertained).


Yes. When I last left the UK I remarked to the teller as I withdrew the last of my money that it was about 100 up on what I expected. Suddenly all the money was grabbed back. I was quizzed at length on what I had bought recently. It transpired that a recent purchase (it may even have been an ATM withdrawal) hadn't registered at the back yet, and I was made to leave all my money behind to cover the pending charge. Given the BS involved in opening accounts and the larger issue of te impossibility of closing them (10 years later I still have the bank and a tax authority writing to me regarding about 10 quid in the account), handing them on is a great idea. Makes me wonder if I could get paid to some other system - a non bank affiliated credit card or similar. Dare I suggest a Paypal equivalent (obviously not Paypal though).


I'm curious, where are you exactly in the South West of France?


Capbreton, in the Landes region, best waves in Europe ;-)


My home region! I'm from Pau, 100 km in the southeast direction :-)

Don't stay there in the winter though, the lack of people and activity can be a bit depressing.


Spent a winter here once, not easy, but quiet, and the waves keep coming despite the brrrrrrrr, cold water.

I tend to come here in the autumn and spring now, weather is beautiful and the living is nice.


Do a lot of people continue to surf during the winter there, in wetsuits?


This place is a zoo year round, surf-wise.

Dead of winter, if the waves are pumping, it will be packed all day (surprising how everyone manages to be unemployed when the waves come).

January/February the vast majority are in a 4/3 wetsuit with booties (to protect the feets), but really it's not _that_ cold, nothing compared to northern Europe (where the poor bastards rub vaseline on their faces) or northern Cali in the winter, which is not only colder, but has a much larger issue, the man in the gray suit.


I've been "homeless" for nearly 2 years now, and this is how I do it. Stay somewhere for 1-3 months in an AirBnB or with a friend/relative, and keep the sightseeing/carousing about to weekends and half-week vacations.


I'm doing this in similar way. Find place on AirBnB for month or two(much cheaper than weekly rentals), check that place has good internet, located in nice neighborhood etc. Than find some gym, favorite cafe etc and live life like regular local for that period.


Yup. I'm currently relatively stable in Berlin, but I've been doing the same thing.

One thing I try to do ASAP, if the city is accommodating, is get a bike. It's one of the best ways to get around and discover new things in the process. Also gives you a lot of freedom to adjust plans on the fly.


This is absolutely true, and I believe why many companies that understand this are averse to remote working. Yes, commute time is a waste, but getting into an environment and mindset to do serious work requires you to get into your "routine groove".


There's a whole layer of difficulty between remote working-from-home and remote working-while-travelling.

A good office provides a suitable environment for almost anyone to work in. This will cover a lot of seemingly minor stuff - a desk, an ergonomic setup, sufficient clean bathrooms, a coffee machine, a place dedicated just to work, a dedicated telephone line, comfortable temperature/atmosphere, a motivational working culture, etc.

If you're working-from-home you need to set all that up yourself and do it properly. It will take some time to set this up and get it right, but you just need to do it once. You might end up with a situation that's better for you and benefits everybody - but if you don't do a thorough job or if you can't motivate yourself to work then you're simply not going to be as productive as you would be in an office. (Worth it? It depends)

If you're working-while-travelling - this is now a whole different level of difficulty - you need to set this up in every place that you stop. A fancy hotel normally has most of this covered for you, but a mate's floor probably has none.

To manage working-while-travelling, you need to learn exactly what is important to your work environment and how to find it - so that you can set it up each time that you move. (Worth it? It depends but it's hard)


Group projects at university are an interesting learning lab for this problem. Did you prefer to work in a conference room/lab/unused classroom, or were you the guy who preferred to sit on the lawn? Aside from personal preference, how did it feel when the other group members "forced" you to work somewhere uncomfortable?

My experience is .edu is not any different than .com. The main problem is in .edu everyone logically works/studies/thinks in complete silence at libraries and study tank rooms, but in .com everyone is supposed to do their best, most important work in open plan offices where its so noisy you can't think.


The people who actually ended up doing the work never wanted to be on the lawn. Those who saw the meeting as another chance to hang out did.


"Stay in one place for a while" is fantastic advice. One week is barely enough time to get settled - every time you move you need to find stores, amenities, cafes etc. Two weeks is much better (and you'll appreciate the place more), but even longer is better if you really want to get work done.

A nice room is great advice too - makes a huge difference to your happiness if you can wake up each morning to an amazing view & sunshine in a good location, compared to a small cramped hotel room in a sketchy area. Obviously you have to go with what you can afford, but a cheap AirBnB can be dramatically better than a hotel sometimes.

The downside of getting a 'real job with an office' is that you might not be able to negotiate that 2 months annual vacation, or to get the vacation at times that suit you. You'll have to prioritize what you really want.


Even staying in one place for 2-3 months means having to continuously find those stores, amenities, etc. Sure, it's more stable to stay a few months but having to constantly settle in new places is tiring...I can't imagine having to do it every week or two!


I wouldn't do it every week or two, but every few months is doable if you travel slowly, since you can reuse a lot of your knowledge in other cities. Once I got reasonably comfortable with Copenhagen, for example, getting comfortable with Malmö or Helsingør was a quick incremental adjustment, since many things are similar.


True, though I find the smaller the cities are, or rather the more they're similar in smaller size and population, the smoother the transition. As far as Brazil, I've lived in more neighborhoods and more cities than most Brazilians and the toughest experience was adjusting to São Paulo's 12 million people and spread out geography.

Cities of large sizes and big populations also create other problems such as with locomotion, quality of public transport, number of modes of transport needed to get to various points, etc. In essense, it came to preferring to live in a crappy, cramped yet centralized place vs a larger, more comfortable 'far away' place (from the city center). In São Paulo, often the time I would spend in transit would be double the time I would actually spend with a friend (versus smaller coastal cities where I could reach my friends in 10-15 minutes tops).


Loved Malmö, think I liked it even more than Copenhagen.

Visa hassles come into play if you're travelling more than 3 months though. Country hopping on a 3-month Visa Waiver with automated income is one thing... I'd love to stay longer overseas (especially Berlin), but I never really got my head around the visas that would be required. Maybe I'd need to line up contract work in Berlin first & then apply for a longer duration business visa... but I never really got that figured out.


Malmö region guy here. Any digital nomad who wants to hang out, feel free to contact me. Email in profile.


Yup, didn't mean to suggest every two weeks was in any way optimal... I'd had in mind people who skip to a new city / country every few days when I typed that. (ie folks who are trying to tick off countries from their list, while only traveling 3-6 months or so).


I'm a location independent UX/ UI, startup guy who has been doing this for a long time. Over the years, I've raised capital for one startup, worked with high-profile clients on complicated projects, and worked on my own stuff, all while being more or less unattached to a location.

I've clocked time in South America (Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay), Mexico, Taiwan, India, China, and Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand) and the list goes on. I'm not dropping these locations or the info above to show off, I'm simply lending perspective.

I slow travel - meaning I usually set up for at least 3 months, if not longer. My most recent stint was on and off Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for 6 months+ where I was lucky enough to get embedded in the local startup scene.

The biggest flaw with the article and the idea of the digital nomad as presented in general is prioritizing lifestyle over business.

It makes being a "nomad" seem like a wandering soul hopping gig to gig taking advantage of low cost locations without much strategy or purpose. Additionally, I sense the job or employee mindset in the tone of the article, which is fine, but I wouldn't hit the road with that mindset.

If you're going to take on this lifestyle you can't have an employee mindset. It won't work, and most will end up broke or bored trying to sustain the lifestyle and scrambling to try and find remote work.

A whole point of being location independent, which the article neglects is how you can be more strategic about your location, expand your network by being exposed to serendipitous opportunities that would have otherwise not presented themselves, and grow your business.

The opportunity to expose yourself to places and people on an upward trajectory, and how you can add value to those situations and take advantage of them should be a priority at the top of the list. Not just a beach hammock, backpacker ghetto or a cool place to work and Instagram.

Otherwise, what's the point.


I've been living 9 months per year in coastal pacific south america -- for the past 7 years.

I am not a "nomad", and my experience is the opposite -- I am much, much more productive working remotely. I did actually enjoy the article for the useful information it can provide others considering this, but (as many of the comments in this thread point out) the author is clearly Doing It Wrong. I don't think it has much bearing on working internationally.

Two thoughts:

1. 'I changed a massive part of my life and, 2 months in, I feel less efficient!' Gee, really? 2 months is just about long enough to investigate a new location, but it pales in comparison to the amount of time you've spent optimizing your life in your old locations.

2. Home base. Living. Everyone here is saying the same thing: you need a solid, stable home base. Maybe there are rare butterflies who can flit from hostel to hostel and feel good. The rest of us typically have more of a relationship with our surroundings.

I hate traveling. I love living in great parts of the world, though.

I have a modest 2-story house I bought, one block back from the ocean in an 800-person fishing village. It's my home base.

I am fantastically productive when I am there. Far, far, far more so than when (maybe close to launch date) some clients request that I sit in their lovely, stylish, noisy open-plan offices, where you cannot take a nap and where you have the mental barrier of a commute bookending your days.


> I hate traveling. I love living in great parts of the world, though.

Good point. This is my view as well, though I've moved many times in order to try out new places...in order to find those great parts of the world. I'm on my 2nd country and I'm a lot closer to what would be ideal for me. The nomad life I live is, in reality, more of a nomadic mover than a nomadic traveler. The hard part is when the grass is always greener.


I hope to try the digital nomad route in a few years but I have a different take on it.

I'm not looking to sustain a working vacation--I'm interesting in experiencing day-to-day lifestyle in different cultures/suroundings. I'm thinking of staying around in terms of months or years, not weeks.

Also, I probably will only try it if I have my own enterprise I can run on the road. I'm currently working as a freelancer but wouldn't think about hitting the road until I have more direct control on projects.

And while I get my ducks I a row I would love for someone to do an airbnb for digital nomads. If it would be easy to find a place to work and place to live I'm sure I'd me more likely to try it. And I wish some countries would see the revenue opportunity of this! (I'm looking at you Spain, Italy and Greece.)


"airbnb for digital nomads"

This.

While staying in Krabi last year, I wanted to go back during the cheaper off-season, when the SCUBA diving is less awesome than normal. Beaches and climbing are still spectacular though.

It made me dream of having a listing of such places that are guaranteed to have a great internet connection, chair, desk and secondary monitor.


what is airbnb for digiral nomads? Can you describe in more details what you need?


I'm guessing here but I assume he means a site for places to live and work or perhaps a preset agreement where both kinds of places are rentable at the same time, in a package sort of deal.

In terms of co-working spaces, they're often way more than I'd want to spend for a simple internet connection and a place to sit.


My father did something like this in his later years and I never heard any of the complaints in the article; then again he had an RV instead of a 44 liter backpack and mostly stayed in the USA rather than crossing the world. Connectivity was the main problem I heard about. I guess its much better now.

Also its not a binary decision. Its a big planet and you can select whatever tradeoff you'd prefer in a nearly pure analog fashion, its not exclusively binary "Poland OR Vietnam". For example there must be tens of thousands of places to park a RV in the USA that are similar enough not to be strange but different enough to be an adventure on time off.

Some people set the thermostat to 72F and leave it alone 24x365 (that's me!). Some people alternate setting the thermostat to 85F and 60F every couple hours and complain constantly of freezing or burning up (I work with people like that, it is such a pain to be around). That doesn't mean a third option doesn't exist of setting the thermostat to 67F, or 77F, or randomly varying from 70F to 74F from week to week, etc.


Was your father working at the time?

My wife and I live, work and travel from a 25' Airstream and can definitely relate to a lot of the point the post has made as well as the "decision fatigue" mentioned in other comments. It is tough to keep focus for 8 hours when your scenery is changing from week to week and there are so many new awesome places to explore. That said.. We are currently loving it with no plans to stop or slow today. Todays adventure is mountain biking in Bend Oregon.

Decision fatigue comes in with route planning, trying to figure out if that cool forest road everyone talks about will have cell service, where to fill up with water, where to dump the tanks... all of which are near constant. We could slow it down a bit and stay in an RV park a month or so, but we enjoy moving and don't enjoy the atmosphere of most private RV parks.


Consulting, sort of working, yes. Very limited hours basically retired, but still helping out here and there. In an earlier era, to say the least. He never went quite to the level of parking his RV in the clients parking lot, but he came close a couple times. For one client I think he visited every office in the country over the course of one fall for an upgrade project. I don't think he ran a net profit, but he probably paid quite a few expenses. He said something once about 3piece business suits and RVs don't mix very well.

All I remember of his advice on this topic was private parks are completely deserted during the week during the school year, and there are public parks in the middle of nowhere for the weekends.

I have been to private campgrounds (as a tent camper) and even in season during the summer, the difference between 3pm Thursday and 3pm Saturday is spectacular.

The airstream sounds like fun, have a good time! As an adult child I had to drive to my parents house many a time to take care of the mail, check the place out, etc. In fact I watched the 9/11 attack reports on their TV, I happened to be there that day. I would imagine snail mail and stuff like that (vehicle registration?) is quite a challenge for a true nomad.


"Some people set the thermostat to 72F and leave it alone 24x365. Some people alternate setting the thermostat to 85F and 60F every couple hours and complain constantly of freezing or burning up..."

In some countries, you just put a jumper on or wear cooler clothes. Personally, I like to be near the weather. It is all tradeoffs.


Ben Wilmore does this. He has an older 40' Prevost motorcoach and drives around the country teaching Photoshop.

http://digitalmastery.com/blog/

It's certainly an intermediate stage, between backpack and putting down roots somewhere.


Yes, moving around is a pain. Power adaptors, crappy internet, lost days in airports, missing luggage, carrying things, finding decent accommodation, worrying about visas, changing money, etc.

I'm location independent and change base-cities every year or so. I also spend maybe 6 months per year on the road.

Honestly, I get more coding work done when I'm at my home-of-the-time. But a lot of the soft stuff: running in to people in related industries whose brains I can pick, spotting new potential hires, thinking up powerful bizdev ideas, etc. all happen far more on the road. I often stop for extended periods .. a week is typically the minimum.

I've found the most important thing to manage is my own motivation: if work is getting in the way of relaxing, I can it for awhile. If relaxing is getting in the way of work, I can it for awhile.

Being in a stationary, fixed environment with ongoing overheads and investments in random rapidly depreciating junk (like vehicles) is personally not a good situation for me. I get demotivated pretty immediately. On the other hand, sometimes transient living feels like it's getting long in the tooth, too. If that happens, I tend to switch it up a bit and pop cultures, rent a place longer term. The grass is always greener, right? As it turns out: often it is. And when you go back to somewhere you'd been before, both you and the place have changed.

Bonus poem excerpt (sorry to those scrolling!):

They'll allow me to choose,

Where to settle anew,

Be it in east or west.

But with dollar now sliding,

And frequent poor tidings,

The orient does rather seem best!

Aye if USA visas,

Berkeley feminist divas,

Could yet warrant a tired "may-be"...

With all due respect,

Most are pains in the neck,

And I love a good foreign lady.

So at present juncture,

(Passed global acupuncture)

I dream happily now of returning...

To the rhythms of life,

Of an eastern respite,

From the world of democracy burning.


I'm somewhat doing this, I made it as far as the Philippines and then I sort of planted myself. When sticking to one place, it's pretty much the same as being planted anywhere else. Obviously the author of the article moved around a lot more.

My advice for S.E. Asia is don't get a hostel for AirBnB room. Get an actual apartment or even a house. Where I'm at you can get either month to month for $100 to $200 per month easy.

My work takes a lot of my time, so I don't travel much. There is no way I could move around a lot. But with a good gig it's easy to take some time off and travel to another place for a couple of weeks. Flights are cheap to anywhere in the region and there are a lot of interesting places nearby.

So, use your house or apartment as your home base and then take lots of vacations.

Even just living abroad can get old though. After a number of years you wonder why you are doing it. What's the point? You begin to find out what really matters in life, which to me is family, my craft and... food! I haven't had real Mexican food for far too long. I would kill for a Subway sandwich. Even worse is that the Philippines isn't known for its food.

But then, there are good reasons to stay as well. I think there is a lot of opportunity in S.E. Asia. I feel like I'm not missing out on opportunity in the U.S. because most of my work is there anyways and I already know the culture.

ETA: I don't see how you could go out 5 nights a week. Even with just a few drinks and going to sleep later than usual, I feel it the next day. It's not even hangover, I would feel the same the next day just from screwing up my sleep schedule. If I did that 5 nights a week I would get nothing done. I generally get up crazy early to be available towards end of day for the U.S. though (12 hour difference from New York.)


Had to comment on a minor thing: If you are in one of the big cities, Subway is easily available? http://www.subway.com.ph/Subway_front/layouts/

It was what I had for lunch almost too often when living in Makati. A bit expensive compared to many of the local offerings, but always fresh and you know exactly what you get.


I have been practicing this lifestyle since April when I moved from Amsterdam to Bangkok & Chiang Mai. While I recognize some parts of the article, I think the general tone is off.

Constantly traveling and working won't work for most. But settling in one place for at least 6 months, finding a good office or co-working space with fast internet, and getting into a routine (like the article states) CAN actually work for many people. It does for me.

Also since you're in a new place, you also have plenty of opportunity to do weekend travels to other countries, as well as local leisure activities. In case of Thailand, that means you can be on the beach in 2 hours from anywhere, or if you're not into that, enjoy the wild nature. And life is cheaper in many of these places.

Not for everybody, but definitely do-able.


Alex, you're a very skilled storyteller. I enjoyed reading the post.

I have one small piece of constructive feedback: your use of commas was a little confusing at times, and it slowed down my reading.

Commas can be tricky, and I sometimes struggle with them as well. Here's a quick guide that I find useful:

http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp


You didn't need a comma here:

"at times and it slowed"

Or here:

"can be tricky and I sometimes struggle"

Granted, you might want a dramatic pause or the comma might break up parts that could be misconstrued as together. Chiding Alex with superfluous commas? Generally speaking I recommend dropping commas where you can. Like you said, they're speed bumps.


You should use commas to separate complete sentences. That's what I did in both cases.

There's no need for either of us to be snarky. I told Alex that I enjoyed his writing and respectfully offered feedback.


"I have one small piece of constructive feedback: your use of commas was a little confusing at times, and it slowed down my reading.

Commas can be tricky, and I sometimes struggle with them as well."

I'm not saying you're wrong. Yes the sentences are complete but how self-sufficient are they? It's a sliding scale from no comma to comma to period. Some of these rules are not hard and fast. The art of writing is slowly evolving and to a degree it's a matter of taste. Some people love hyphens. In this case there's a strong enough correlation, conceptual link between the sentences such that the reader doesn't need a comma to read what you're saying in one breath. If it sounds good in one breath, that's a strong signal you don't need a comma. Knowing the basic rules is just the beginning. I'm dead serious.


Thanks :) I'll improve.

Best, Alex


"And to be completely honest, it’s just not enough. I believe that working with a team of people that are more experienced and smarter than yourself is crucial for your development, and as a freelancer, doing minor gigs involving some MVC/CRUD application programming, you just miss out on a world of possibilities to grow and learn."

I've experienced this as well, it was my main grief with working by myself and on the road and ultimately led me to join a company again part time. Sadly the team I joined isn't really what I expected from a team, so I'm already on the lookout again :(


Working on a team doesn't have to be incompatible with working while traveling. I work on a global team on a single product and get challenged by my workmates all the time. We meet once a year at WWDC.


Wish more companies are like that. Scott Berkun maintains a list of companies with distributed teams, if anyone looks for a new job :-)

http://scottberkun.com/2013/how-many-companies-are-100-distr...


Thank you all for commenting. I'm positively blown away. Especially considering the fact that it's just my first note on the blog. And sorry about the commas and possible grammar mistakes. English isn't my native tongue. I must have skipped those classes on punctuation.


My wife and I were talking about a property we found in Central America that was pretty amazing. Having been a backpacker when I was younger (in the 90s) I always wanted to set up a small hostel/hotel type thing somewhere beautiful.

I wonder if you could build a business serving the Digital Nomad. Basically offer a place to live + a coworking space. The traveling hacker gets the benefit of having a good place to work, plus the benefit of hanging out with other hackers whom you can chat with, maybe even pick up new work.


Has anyone tried this working only in the United States? I feel like this would be easier as internet access isn't at a premium (you can always tether on your smart phone worst comes to worst). The United States also has lots of large clients and if you want a larger technical challenge you can always set up camp near their offices for a few weeks and work in house. On the non-technical side of things you can find any kind of environment you want in the US. Mountains, beaches, cites, etc. I know you won't get the rewards of traveling abroad but you get 90% of what the ideal is and you can always take some time off big projects and travel abroad if you feel like it.

This is coming from a US citizen who loves his country despite all the fucked up shit that it's government does sometimes, so maybe I'm bias, but I definitely think the life is possible.


I'm sure it's possible, I've travelled through parts of the US with my business mostly on autopilot. The higher cost of living can make it trickier though, part of being a digital nomad is income arbitrage (ie earning a US salary but spending it in a country where your US Dollars are worth a fortune).

It won't be the same as travelling overseas & experiencing different cultures though... part of the fun is returning to your home country after months overseas and seeing your home culture with fresh eyes. But it could be a good start.

I think you're overestimating the difficulty of finding WiFi & internet, though. I've often found better internet connections while traveling through Europe than in the US. But if you're a US citizen, travelling just through the US will simplify visa concerns, which helps a bit.


Being and having been a digital nomad for the past several years, it can become tiring having to switch up location and work setting so often. While living in Rio de Janeiro, I often wondered how people who are from there work in office buildings in the wealthy neighborhoods (which are a stone's throw from the beach), deal with knowing that fun and sun is literally 5 minutes away at any given moment, that people are always on the beach enjoying themselves while you have to be stuck up in your office with a possible view of the sea.

In any event, I wasn't one of these people as I could take a break when I wished and hit up the beach, etc. It was great...until the project that kept me financially stable went under. Instead of looking for more work, I sacrificed the need to work more for the free time (and ability) to very cheaply or freely enjoy myself in my surroundings, eventually tiring of demanding little of myself after a few months (you can only be young-ish and 'hang' for so long). It's great living in a beautiful place, but even better when that place is very affordable (or, in the least, when you've found a way to make it affordable...almost an art in itself).

In the Bay, I almost never went out because everything cost money and therefore my friends only did things that cost money. Being poor in US standards was social suicide.

In Brazil, I was going out 4-5x per week! My average night out in Rio I'd spend about US$5, maybe $10 (drinks included, try doing that in SF!). Plus, there just so much to do for free, from hiking to beaches, to free concerts and art exhibitions...you name it. Things that other young people are also doing, mind you. In developing nations, or even economically strained ones (I'm in Portugal now), where most people are on a budget, I find the amount of fun and interesting things to do, for free or cheap, increase. Not only do the events and activities increase, but the number of people doing them increase, too.

Being a digital nomad, with at least one stable project, in places like these is where the 'good life' is. But when that stable project goes bye-bye, the sense of the good life goes with it, no matter where you are.

_____

As an aside, having just read the article, I saw that it's a minimalist blog (post) on github.io, which I'm not familiar with. From their landing page, I don't see any offer for blogging.

On Wordpress, I couldn't find any theme like this but on HN I come across these types of entries somewhat often, though this is the first I've seen from github.io. Anyone know how I can get a free one like this, where there's just a white page and words, via any blogging service?



Author here. Exactly as digitalboss commented plus a custom crafted html/css on top of twitter bootstrap. It's not perfect, but it does the job.

Best, Alex.


And it looks clean.

I use 'noscript' and had to enable the javascripts in the page to get sensible justification.


"In Brazil, I was going out 4-5x per week! My average night out in Rio I'd spend about US$5, maybe $10"

That is certainly not nowadays... Even though yes, this may be doable in some places still (if you keep yourself to drinks and maybe some food for sharing)


This is in the last few years up this year, so it is nowadays. It's easy to keep it cheap, but many people have standards of living which say that a night out should be at nice bars and clubs.

For example: Buses that run most of the night (roundtrip) - about US$2.75, Beers (four Skols from supermarket) - about US$3. That's US$5.75. Meet your friends near the beach, in Lapa, at someone's home or at some predetermined free event (of which Rio has many). Even if the beer is bought while out, the night's bill upon returning home would be no more than US$10. Plus when I lived where I didn't have to take the bus in order to meet people on most occasions, it was even less. In places where there were nicer bars, there'd usually be many people hanging out on the sidewalk in front of the bars and inevitably, there'd be street vendors selling food and drinks.


Yup. The rent in Rio de Janeiro is high, but you can really enjoy yourself at night for less than $20


Could you say what high means in that context?


Ah ok I understand it now. Yes, like that you can have fun and meet people for cheap


I can totally relate. I'm living in SF now and previously lived in both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Both SF and SP have the issue that going out always costs a lot of money and time, whereas in RJ, it was fast and cheap to spend time with friends.


True. Plus Rio is thin and short while SP is wide and, well, just big. Rio-like living in this sense can be found in some of the smaller capital coastal cities of the northeast, but they'll have less activities to offer.

Props on the portmanteau/compound username. I suppose your name as an action would become malandrewgem, then.


I built one for Wordpress, as I like you couldn't find it anywhere. Also I just checked my blog, where I have it running, and it looks much better on iPad

https://github.com/seanvoss/medium-clone


Do you speak Portuguese fluently? Language is the thing...


Yes. I learned beforehand. I couldn't imagine living somewhere w/o speaking the language (though now that I'm in Portugal, European Portuguese feels like it actually is another language, lol).


Good for you. I teach some Afro-Portugese students who have washed up here in the UK. I always think they are talking German amongst themselves in the cafe!


In Lisbon, I feel like I'm hearing Russian half the time. It's like riding the bus in San Francisco, old Russian people. Speaking of, Lisbon is chock full of the elderly.

One of the interesting parts of living here is the African diaspora. It's really nice to get my fill of African culture in a language I can understand. Speaking a few words of criole is even considered cool among Portuguese teens.


I am really wondering how you communicate with your customers?

Do they know that you are living in places where most of them might even can only dream of going to for vacation? Or do you just simply "not tell them"? How do you handle call requests then? Or situations where the customers just invites you over to discuss the project in detail in person?

And what are their reactions like when you tell them that you currently are living just a stone's throw away from a beautiful sandy beach? What is the quota of lost jobs due to that?

Thanks!

Otherwise really insightful article. I enjoyed it :) And being a frequent traveller myself I would recommend you to stay longer in predefined places. Like you said...catering for the logistics (accommodation, internet access, checking out the neighborhood, finding grocery stores/restaurants) all that is yet interesting but really tiering and time consuming. It is a better choice to stay somewhere for 3 months, plan ahead for the next location during that period and use weekends or other "time-slots" of your choice to explore the region. If you want to travel to a place that would require you to have more time than a regular weekend offers, you should take a vacation. Which would require you to work the time on weekends the weeks before and of course one should stick to a set number of days off per year in addition. It's the student-dilemma...when there is no one micro-managing you, people tend to slack-off. So you should keep yourself accountable towards yourself in that situation. Like you were employed, but by yourself ;)

Oh and another question: What is your girlfriend doing that she has the time and financial backup to do this with you? Is she working in the same field?


My clients always know exactly where I am, what's the time zone difference and all.

During the two month period of the 'experiment' I didn't actively hunt for new leads, so I can't relate to the lost deals part.

Call requests are done via Skype if needed.

Regarding my girlfriend, during this two months, she's on vacation, although she actively helps with prototyping and concepts.

We both had savings from day one of the trip and my freelancing gigs make up for a source of additional income that makes this thing less scary :)


Thanks for your reply. I would love to hear from you in an update-post, when those customer relations actually end and you have to establish new ones. Especially given the situation that you both, can't profit from the company's relations and are working remotely.

Awesome travel blog as well...went straight to my feedly! Cheers


if you're working with people who "can't even dream" of going on a vacation to another part of the world you might want to set your sights a bit higher.


I totally disagree with this! There are obligations, such as young children that clearly might keep one from jumping onto a plane for 20h (from Europe) to get to south-east asia.


1. young children grow up

2. every long flight i've been on has had screaming babies

3. especially the ones to/from asia


I think the 'digital nomad' lifestyle is an interesting one and definitely worth experimenting with (especially for folks in our industry who truly can work from anywhere in the world), but it is hard to sustain over time.

If you're trying to get stuff done though, I think a good strategy is to pick a place and stay there for a few months, rather than being 'on the road' and traveling around from place to place. You can still be 'location independent' by renting an apartment for 3 months in a foreign country (like the Costa Rica example that was on HN a few weeks ago). But at least then you'll have more of a sense of routine, waking up in the same place every day, and because you have a full 3 months to explore the place, you won't feel as obligated to rush out and see the sights all the time.

It also really helps to be able to set yourself up in an office with an ergonomic chair, external monitors, and proper mouse/keyboard. That might be a bit more difficult to do if you're in a foreign country, but you can definitely buy used and sell again when you leave.


I see there's lots of insightful comments here from "digital nomads." Are there any good forums or communities online where you congregate to discuss these issues?


It's certainly a great idea and would be excellent for getting a leg up on opportunities near where you happen to be living at the moment. The difficulty in it is the chicken and egg dilemma and the initial non-concentrated userbase.

I only know of various expat community forums and sites which anyone can find with a Google search and a few subreddits (like /IWantOut).

Edit: I found this via Google http://www.digitalnomadcommunity.net/


I'm part of a paid, private online forum of 'digital nomads' (though everyone hates that term) or 'location-independent entrepreneurs' that also places much importance on solving entrepreneurial loneliness via in-person meetups etc. There are hundreds of members. You have to be doing something worthwhile to be accepted. It's called the Dynamite Circle.


From this page it seems you just have to pay around $30/month: http://www.tropicalmba.com/innercircle/


That's correct. It's eclipsed by the value.


I also have been looking for this and have found nothing free & compelling out there.

I'm considering building a platform for a self-organized digital nomad community. I am currently exploring ways to provide initial value to have it grow organically and would love to get other people's perspective.


I have been working on, gotten funded, and grown my DYI'd startup while living as a digital nomad. Since being funded I have worked with a number of collaborators. I try to only hire people that move a lot. because I live that way it feels good that the people I get to work with share that lifestyle. We are actually currently doing our first group face2face powwow now for 2 weeks. It's great to be in person together but everyone, myself included is such a lone wolf that working together in person is awkward. We all disperse to our corners and work.

Hanging out having cigarettes and chatting about development, that's where the value in being together is it seems.

We are hiring again now. Anyone know the best forums to find digital nomads (term is getting worn out) looking for work. It would fit our company's culture to bring on another traveling developer.


Heya bobonaza, I see you're new to HN (welcome!) You might have more luck getting people to contact you if you fill out your profile - try adding a few website links of what you're working on and maybe an email address or Twitter handle :)


I travelled and worked for over 3 years with 1 month at a time. After working on my time management skills I found that it did not decrease my productivity that significantly (maybe 10% reduction?). This is mostly from things that you cannot get when traveling for example: Multiple big screen monitors, regularly stocked fridge with easy to eat food, extra time taken to find locations to eat and wash your clothes etc.

This is assuming you're switching locations every 1-2 months. If you move locations every week it's a huge drain in productivity as it takes time to get set up and to travel etc.

Have now fixed in one place just because I have a baby, but otherwise would be possible to keep traveling.

I think a bigger problem of constant travel is the lack of a regular community.


I've just travelled through Europe for three months as a location-independent consultant and what worked well for me was to stay at least a week in any place, and travel only on weekends.

This got me into a nice rhythm where I could be as productive as at home.


As a data point, I went to Barcelona for a month (because remote work) and stayed in a flat with roommates etc, the full citizen thing. I loved it, I worked at home during the day and went out/made friends/saw the sights in the evenings and weekends. It's only one place, as I just roam around Greece usually, but it was a very positive experience.

The hardest part was meeting new people in the beginning, but meetups quickly changed that and I had a blast. I would definitely recommend going to a new city for a month or two (a month is a bit inconvenient, you have to go right when you're making new friends and enjoying yourself).


Your blog should have comments. I've done this as well, I've lived in Thailand for 6 months and Japan for a year, and other countries for longer period of time, mostly doing remote freelancing work.

I somewhat disagree with your first point (I've been getting good and big projects), but I completely agree with the second one. There is a lot of mental baggage when you have not "settled" down and don't have established habits. I am starting to think that a more effective way would be to do several weeks of focused work, 1-2 week travel, rinse and repeat.


I absolutely didn't plan for this kind of 'publicity' for the post, to be honest. Comments will be added.

Regarding the first point - I guess it's a matter of commitment. From day one this was mainly a travel project first and remote working project second. I believe that if I found a place I really would love to stay at for longer than a month, my view would be slightly different. But still, I tried to describe honestly what I thought about the past two months.


1) get a remote-friendly job that fits your skill set and ambitions. Move every quarter or so. Stay in one place for a while.

That's kind of the best of both worlds. It's actually pretty tiring travelling AND working at the same time. You will have a large amount of context shifts which will destroy your productivity.

I also wish remote work is more common. While it usually works when you know a company really well (e.g. small company with known, trusted colleagues), not many companies are actively trying to make remote work possible.


I spent 8 months traveling through Central and South America helping someone develop a travel site, Skilljet.com, a job I found through Odesk. Although I loved every minute of it, I can agree that there are some limitations. It's a bit hard to venture off into remote territory, when work is dependent upon stable internet access. And when moving around often, it can take a bit of time to get re-settled and find a comfortable work place.

However, like I said, I loved every minute of it! I initially left for my trip with only $600 USD in my account. Working online allowed me to stretch what would have been a 3 week trip into an 8 month trip where I was able to visit 6 different countries! When I found my 'office' to be a hammock on a beautiful beach in Brazil, I knew I had accomplished something very special.

Also, since Skilljet is a website designed to help travelers find amazing adventure around the world, I was able to contribute to its development from my personal travel experience. This really helped me unite, both the virtual world of working online, with the physical world around me, which made my experience much more meaningful.


Very good text. I'm struggling with the same problems right now, typing this from a beautiful medieval city in Istria, Croatia, and trying to look at my laptop and not at the wonderful landscapes and Adriatic sea on the horizon. It's harder than it might sound and extremely distracting. And I have to sit here because it's the only place around with a decent wifi. Self-discipline is a b__ch...


I'm considering leaving my stable job in London, for remote/freelancing while based in Istria/Croatia any of these days.


Hi folks found this discussion through Dan Andrews on www tropicalmba com/digital-nomad/ My 2 cents, I am aspiring to an online business and to be able to work when I want to not because I have to. To that end when my regular job ended 3+ years ago, I decided to work as a contractor. I work as a professional in Australia but live in S-E Asia. My work schedule is about 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. It's a little like the Four Hour Work Week prescription for geographical arbitrage. It's not perfect, and if the AUD tumbles will have to re-assess. Compared with previously I work the same hours per day for 12 days/month - before I used to work these hours or more for about 22-24 days/month + as employee had lots of administrative and bureaucractic headaches which you cannot help taking home. As I am on contract have none of these - or very little. Those admin and politicial headaches are so bad for your health.

Now I have some time to think and strategise on my long term plan - and act! Anyway good luck to all looking for something different.


I recently did something similar to this short term (airbnb for a month in SF) and I'm curious: are all digital nomads strictly software guys or writers? I have physical electronics and carpentry projects I like to do in my spare time, so I had a trunk full of tools during my airbnb stay.

Is it possible to do hardware projects on the road? Maybe rely on hackerspaces for tools and such?


I fly almost every week and, honestly, I get a lot more work done those weekends I stay in one place. Even ordering cars ahead of time you aren't going to get as much coding done when you are hoping in planes and out of cars and waiting for departures, or arranging the next week's hotel stay or other stuff.


Very interesting discussion as I am just starting my digital nomad life. Like the author suggests, I strongly believe in staying at least a couple months at every destination (where you'd like to get some work done).

One thing I'm curious about is if some of you have tried finding local clients in destinations you visit?

This is obviously easier in big cities than in Kho Phi Phi, and will most likely pay less than a US-based client. Nevertheless, I'd imagine it to be a great way to get immersed in the local lifestyle and solves some of the issues mentioned in the post (eg: timezone, workplace).


I would like to take different approach, get my gf to some calm place. Have a nice house, good internet connection which is now not a big problem even in country side. Lead simple life far from city, have my "home office" room. Country side is cheaper and a lot nicer, I could get great coffe doing it by myself instead of working from "shops". Traveling would be needed also because it is easier to work with someone you met at least once face to face, or going on vacations but without work. That would be life of digital hermit :)


I don't think he mentioned safety or crime either. Law enforcement varies state to state, town to town. Off-limits neighborhoods, speed traps, tricky intersections where accidents are common, quirky customs and conventions. Gang colors? Towing! Some states left turns go first, in Texas left turns go last. Frontage roads in Texas are really crazy and we have life-threatening flash floods regularly. "Turn around, don't drown." Knowledge of local insects, snakes, animals, etc.


Great story. This is something similar to what I'm close to building for myself. I had wondered what it would be like if I had actually achieved it. That being said, if I rotate places I would try to stay for a decent chunk of time. I couldn't imagine constant travel. It's just not productive if only for the fact that travel itself tends to limit ability to do work. That doesn't count the cognitive load of establishing a somewhat productive routine.


The best way to do meaningful work while living as a digital nomad is to contribute to open source. IRC, mailing lists and Github issues provide all the conversation and decision making infrastructure necessary to make the same architectural choices needed to build something with the same level of substance and depth as any project being tackled in an office environment.


My takeaway from the article was that the cognitive overload of being in a new environment was at least as big a factor in not being able to handle meaningful work (that is to say, challenging work that forces you to grow) as the logistics.

But what you suggest has merit and I'd be interested to hear what the nomads' take on it is.


Totes. The one big difference though with open source projects versus client work is that the logistics of collaboration in open source never changes. It's always somewhat async and almost always communicated in writing, with various tools to help (JSBin, Gists, Diffs, IRC, email, etc.). With clients, the biggest complicator is negotiating how to communicate with them, which can occur for every new project and on every move. Time zone differences compound these negotiations because so many people expect phone or video calls to sync up.


I did this throughout India for 9 months. Reliable wifi access is a must and more difficult to secure than you'd think, perhaps. But by moving only every 2 or 3 months, I find there's a good balance between setting up shop, getting familiar with your environment, etc. and just getting shi* done.. YMMV


This is a thoughtful discussion. But it doesn't really address those of us that have kinda "graduated" from digital nomad hood.

By that I mean, for some of us, you get to the point where yes, you want the advantage of multiple locations - but you also want routine.

The problem is when you start traveling around enough, it gets harder and harder to "get it all" in one place.

For me the solution is, as one person mentioned (or rather, several) 1. establish a home base(s) 2. get second homes or rentals you've been to before in familiar places (you can get to know AirBnB landlords many of the have multiple homes) 3. coworking spots around the world 4. start connecting with nomad communities - like a diplomat, you'll start running into the same people over and over again - forums, private/paid communities 5. tap into your alumni abroad community (if you have one) 6. establish daily routines (for me, it's a morning call with several other location independent founders) 7. meet ups

Eventually you'll have a set up where you have say "home bases" in 2-3 countries/continents....places you can go back to sleep in your own bed, say Hi to the local butcher, grocer etc, read your own books.....

...then you can travel several times a year (conferences, random hot spots, etc) - for the excitement, because one starts to miss the thrill of traveling.

I definitely think though that multiple home bases + coworking spots + connecting with the location independent community + a codified daily routine is the way to go!

Anyone who can enjoy this life should be totally grateful for the options it affords one.

The biggest challenge I've found (someone tell me if you can relate) is that often I find myself hanging out with: 1. trust fund babies (born into having the time, income, location freedom) 2. retirees (have the time, income, location freedom but had to work for it) 3. people on welfare (have the time and often times the money too, lol) 4. location independent professionals/entrepreneurs (perfect match but still quite niche) ...in my age group. Man when you walk around during the day, outside of the traditional corporate/9-to-5 set up, that's rarefied air.

Someone who really establishes his/her community as the penultimate resource for connecting location independent founders and professionals with homes, coworking sports almost like a done-for-you social network, will be solving a huge problem.


I dont understand what are you trying to say. I traveled around the world and had nonproblem consulting people meanwhile.


I read , much of the night And go South in the Winter.


a


Excessive travel is terrible for the environment. You can easily generate many times the amount of carbon dioxide you would emit by driving for a year, simply by taking a long plane flight or two. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/sunday-review/the-biggest-...

Travel is nice, but not when you do it just to brag about having gone to X countries in Y days. Then it just becomes a status thing, and is, as the author notes, "kind of douchey." The internet, good news sources, and documentaries can broaden your horizons even without leaving the house.


Always take trains overland. Flying should be reserved only for trips that cross water.

Besides, travelling by train is much more fun.


In certain places travelling by train can be a bit too much fun. If it's USA or Japan (trains have Wi-Fi or distances are small, and it's safe)—sure, no reason to fly.


Trains don't have Wi-Fi in the US.


Oh. Never been to US myself, thanks for the correction. Is there at least an outlet for your laptop and decent 4G/3G coverage on the whole trip?

(Compare to Russia, where traveling anywhere remote by train means you might be completely lost to the world for a few days.)



Unfortunately not always a realistic option (exhibit A: North America).


I do it in North America. Every long trip needs two days of padding on each side, but people make allowances for you as if you had a phobia of flying.

When all of your business trips become taking the Amtrak in a Roomette to your B&B, business travel becomes a lot less stressful.


Why's that? I have a friend who travels mostly by train in the US. She seems pretty happy with it. It takes time, but she's got a laptop and an outlet, so she's happy.


That's like saying you can attain a black belt in Karate by reading instruction manuals and watching training videos. Absolutely not.

You broaden your horizens by interacting with what's around you when you travel, whether that's physical, social, cultural, spiritual etc. Nothing in print or virtual can replace that, just as when you learn a new martial art. If you take some time to actually travel for the sake for the experience and not for the bragging rights, you'd realize how ridiculous that statement sounds.


On the one hand, I can understand all the complaints here that traveling makes hard work since you often have to forego all the creature comforts you have become accostumed to, and might rely on to a large degree in order to be productive.

On the other hand, programmers are notorious for their binge-coding-marathons, living off less-than-optimal nutrition and little sleep. I can imagine that this type of person could sustain to have a few bumpy days when settling into a new location (of course, even if one can manage to sustain some binge-coding now and then does not mean that you can do it often. So I guess you still might have to find a comfortable setup and routine while away from home, eventually).


The author needs to learn how to properly use the comma.


I really which grammar comments could be replaced with a "suggest edits" feature like on Quora. I don't know why no one has created a javascript layer that can be added to a site that would allow the author to designate anything on the page as something for which readers can suggest edits. Then when a reader clicks an edit button, they get an interface just like on Quora or maybe even better, where they can make changes and send those diffs to the author, who is free to apply them.


I don't really like grammar comments, but in case the author is reading -- the comma really did throw off my reading of the title.


I couldn't concur more. It's one thing if someone is tactfully offering a suggestion that would help improve the comprehension of someone's work.

But to me there's nothing worse than someone whose only way of adding value is criticism something they weren't creative or proactive enough to do themselves.


Maybe you can message the author with some edit suggestions instead of call him out.


Or maybe you can go easy on someone writing an interesting blog post in something other than their first language.


Title fixed. Thanks. ;)


You used a split infinitive there.

;-D


The simple split infinitive is not at all incorrect. See, for example:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split_infinitive#Current_views


If you're going to take a holiday, take a proper damn holiday. "Digital nomads" are fictional characters from Charlie Stross novels. (Or, if you're unlucky, Cory Doctorow novels.)


"Fictional" - How so, David? If you define digital nomadism as working from the road via the internet - 'location-independent entrepreneurialism' - I know hundreds of people doing this successfully.




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