Will you be a Digital Nomad?

My good friend and mentor Andrew Warner of Mixergy asked me this question yesterday after his interview with Colin Wright who is, of course, a Digital Nomad.

This is a very interesting question indeed and I think this kind of lifestyle will become increasingly interesting especially for educators. So, here is my take on it.

I consider myself already as somekind of a Digital Nomad, a lazy one though. I have a certain kind of lifestyle that is in many points quite the opposite of being a nomad. For example, I like to collect things like antique furniture etc. Although being a minimalist in decoration there are certain objects I collected over the years I would not want to give away. Digital Nomads only possess what they can carry and that stuff is naturally streamlined to serve their needs in being connected to the cloud in order to be able to work. Hence if they decide to break the tents and move on they can do it from one minute to the other, I would need more logistics beforehand.

Nevertheless, this is a very interesting lifestyle and I am very happy that Andrew is putting a spot on it in his Mixergy interviews. He already had fairly interesting talks with Tim Ferriss the author of the The 4-Hour Workweek
Kareem Mayan  amongst other Co-Founder of eduFire (twice here and here), Colin Plamondon an iPhone App developer and, as mentioned above, Colin Wright a designer and branding package provider. And if you take the fact that Andrew is now living in Buenos Aires and doing his interviews from there you can consider himself as being a Digital Nomad, too.

Tomorrow I will interview August Flanagan and Natalie Gordon, the Founders of Lenguajero who built up this language learning community while traveling and living in Mexico for my EDUKWEST series. They are also writing about their adventure of founding a business on their blog. As far as I know they will move to Canada this year.

I think most people don’t fully realize the big social shift implied yet. But think about it. Only a couple of years ago a scenario like this was only suitable for those adventure guys that look like Indiana Jones. Selling everything and moving to the Caribean to become a long bearded fisherman, driving tourists to the coral reefs and talking about their “old lifes”.

A couple of years ago most of us where bound by their jobs. The jobs were static as they were pretty much attached to a physical location. A school building, an office building, a factory. Our radius of life was limited by the distance we had to commute to work every day. It was like a millstone and we were attached to it by rigid stainless steel chains.

The same was true for business owners. You had your brick and mortar shop that would not move. It had  always been in the same street, in the same house and you had to go there to make business e.g. make money. (I know, this is a very boiled down approach but let’s stay with it for now.)

But what if your business, your source of income is in the cloud? Simple: it changes everything. One word: freedom. So what happened here, what made it possible and happen?

As so often there are a couple of changes that build up the power for a real social shift. First of all the internet, of course. The internet drove globalization which then drove decrease of travel costs and also implemented a more global mindset. Side effects are WiFi, high speed internet, mobile internet etc. I think you can say we are now at a space in time where all those streams finally meet, like a perfect constellation where all the planets align.

Taking this to the education world. What is possible and what can you do to dip your toe in the water?

Well, first of all you don’t have to sell everything and move to an other country to experience the thrill of being a Digital Nomad. Everyone of us working online knows the ups and downs of sitting at home and working on the internet. What about a simple change in your routine? Take your laptop / netbook and go to a café. You will be amazed how this little change can boost your creativity. Most cafés offer WiFi today, even for free. Or you go to McDonalds or McCafé like I do here in the province.

And even better, this does not only change your routine, this changes your lifestyle. You can now schedule your work around your freetime, no need to hurry back home to give a lesson. Just go to your favourite café and give your lesson from there. Take your netbook with you while you are traveling, your work / income will travel with you and believe me, the relaxation is the same, even better. You stop worrying about “I need to make more money when I am back home, I need to find new clients” and start relaxing.

The same is of course true for the big break. Theoratically, you are able to break down the tents, move across the globe and teach your students just as before. Even if you then started building up a local student base in let’s say Brazil and then moved further to Canada, you could still teach them over the internet from your blockhouse.

Teachers are indeed the perfect match for the Digital Nomad lifestyle. Your online students will pay for your expenses and you can be relaxed about building up a local business if you not even decide to stay completely online with your clients.

There is of course a lot more to say about this topic, and I will do for sure. But let me hear your thoughts on this. Is this a lifestyle you can imagine?

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  • jimfmunro

    Agree there is a big shift. Loving it.

    At least once a week I work remotely at a coffee house and find I'm a lot more productive away from the interruptions and dullness of the cubicle farm.

    It could be the caffeine I'm guzzling, but I think it's more than that. It's a refreshing change of venue and the energy of people who aren't quite as temporarily trapped as I am. Being around others sharing this is also part of it.

    I highly encourage anyone (where is feasible) to work like this as often as possible. You may find you work better when you leave “work” behind.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Totally agree, routine kills creativity and every little change in the routine can kickstart your brain. And with all the mobile devices we have at hand these days you could even give a lesson on your iPhone at the beach :).

  • http://twitter.com/nickwsmith Nick Smith

    I'm 24 years old, and whilst I cant say many of my peer group are embracing the idea of Lifestyle Design, I am fully signed up and ready for an adventure. My entire life is now based online – work, entertainment, friends and even girlfriend. I can absolutely see this as the norm within 10 years – having tried 1 job already that would not let me work remotely as much as I would like, I can't wait until this idea becomes more widespread!

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      This lifestyle will build up new sorts of jobs, mini providers that work on a freelance basis from across the globe.

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  • chinamike

    Oh boy, I can see one problem. You are not going to easily cross too many time zones with existing students. If you have a full schedule and shift your time zones by 6 hours then something is going to go off-kilter. Shift from America to Asia and the time shift is 10-12 hours.

    Most of these digital native jobs aren't tied to a rigid schedule. You can work pretty much when you want. As a teacher this ain't so. The student dictates your schedule. With each noticeable time zone shift, problems will appear.

    I think digital native type jobs are great for people that can be both place free and time free.

    There is one advantage to a mobile lifestyle for a teacher that crosses national boundaries. The ability to pick up students and acquaint yourself with markets while you are on your travels.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Depends on your will to hustle :) If you are working at least 14 hours a day like I do you can cover all timezones no matter where you are.

      Of course you need a loyal student base and they need to adjust their times with you when you move but that is not that much of a big deal.

      I don't agree that students dictate your schedule. If you are good and students want to take lessons with you, they adjust to your schedule. At the beginning I adjusted to my students and it was hell because my day was devided by a lesson here, a lesson there. Now I have to main slots and that's it.

      As soon as teachers start to define themselves a brand or teacher rockstar being a Digital Nomad is no problem at all.

      • chinamike

        No comment except to say, if you could keep to a 14-hour on-line teaching schedule and still enjoy a nomad's adventurous existence you should do it and write a book. And then expect that a movie would be made a year later based on the book. I'm thinking something a bit like “Julia and Julie”.

        • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

          Hold on, I did not say I teach 14 hours a day :) That would be insane! I teach max 4 hours, that's it. There was a time where I taught between 8 and 10 hours but this would kill you.

          Working is something else. Let's put it this way: I don't waste a single minute awake.

          And don't worry, there will be a book one day ;)

  • http://website-in-a-weekend.net/ Dave Doolin

    Wait wait… Andrew interviewed you a month ago… you're like high school buddies or something…

    I was speaking to a close friend this evening about traveling. At issue is what the heck to do with my stuff.

    Storing it costs money, but I don't want to get rid of all of it. I'll want it back later. Lot's of memories in it, which I enjoy. Food for thought.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Unfortunately we are not :) We are what you would call “social media buddies” these days. I am a big fan of his show for ages and so I started to get in contact with him. Exactly what he is preaching you should do with his guests.

      I have the same problem. There are certain things I don't want to sell, even worse I want to have around me. So if I move it is still a container that has to go with me. Therefore I stay at least 3 to 5 years in one place before I decide to move again.

  • http://twitter.com/laurenkmcleod Lauren McLeod

    Digital Nomadism is the way of the future. I can't wait to start, but of course there is the issue of “stuff” that keeps the majority of people tied to one place, be it physical things in your home like your snugly couch or photo albums or the house itself, but also living things that you can't really rid yourself of (i.e. pets, friends… family!). Everyone likes the comfort of having the ability to come back to all of these things, but I don't think that's what being a digital nomad is all about.

    By the time you actually return home (if you actually do), you would have forgotten a lot of the physical stuff that you use to regard as important and keepable. So why not chuck it now? Your outlook and tastes are more than likely going to change anyway. This is also true for the living stuff – the friends you have now will change, as will you.

    Anyway, just trying to make the point that there a few true Digital Nomads as a lot of people don't want to give up the comforts of having “stuff”, even though it is just “stuff”. Not even sure how much stuff I want to give up yet…

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      When I was moving to France I sold nearly everything on eBay, the whole furniture and everything else. Some stuff I left with my family and in the end I moved with a car full of bags.
      My cat moved with me, of course. But of course, if you have a close relationship to your family and friends, being a nomad, digital or not, is not the right lifestyle.

      The takeaway is really: it is possible if you want to. A couple of years ago you would not have this opportunity.

      • chinamike

        Certainly you could, minus the digital. In my day we were just called “travelers”. You think this stuff is new????

        • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

          You are very grumpy this decade :) Could you connect to the cloud back then, give a lesson and then move on? Or keep up with your normal work schedule?

          If I travel now I can draft blog posts where I have no connection and then work online as soon I arrived in Bordeaux for example. Not possible 2 or 3 years ago.

          • chinamike

            Hmm, grumpy…..could be. Still, the romance of travel is diminished a bit when you hang onto the old and familiar. On the other hand it (the cloud) makes things possible that were never possible before.

            But I guess I would have never gotten to China if I had to take a sailing ship! :)

  • arladarlene

    For good or ill, with this greater global perspective will come leveling of incomes, as well.

  • 52ndwest

    I totally agree with you! If anyone is offered one day the chance to do some teleworking or even fully become a Digital Nomad and completely change his or her lifestyle (for a better one, I can testify!) he or she should just seize this opportunity. For more than 7 years I've been working in PR agencies (1 year in NYC, 2 years in Mexico and 4 years in France), and for those who are familiar with this PR environment and open-space offices, working there was completely crazy. While working in France I asked HR to let me work 10 days a month from Austria, where my fiancée lives. This was really a première @ our agency and our HR department in France had to report this to the EMEA HR department in the UK which then discussed it with the global HR department in the US… CRAZY! At the end I was granted the permission to split my working time between Paris and Vienna. For two years I lived the amazing life of a Digital Nomad, working from my apartment, coffee shops, airports, train stations and sometime from a real office. When I quit my company in March 2009 to literally embark on a new adventure (a 4 month Atlantic tour on-board an old military schooner) I knew that should I have to re-work for a company, I could never do it again the old way. Before sailing to this Atlantic Ocean adventure, I started a blog on which I shared two years of stories and tips on how to optimally live the life of a Digital Nomad. And shortly after I returned from my trip with the French Navy, I got hired by Skype which was looking for someone to manage their French (http://share.skype.com/sites/fr/) and Spanish blog (http://share.skype.com/sites/es/). I'm now living in Linz, Austria and earn a decent living, not as much as before, but my lifestyle has definitely improved: I can organize my working time as I want, no more staying stuck in the traffic jam or running like crazy between the gates of an airport. I have more time to take care of my place, my self and my family. Being a Digital Nomad did not only help me improve the quality of my working life; it allowed me to improve my whole life and live what I could call a dream.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Great story. Thanks for sharing. You mention one important point: being a digital nomad does not mean that you have to become super rich but it definitely means that you live a better and more relaxed life.

  • nevins

    well i consider my self one of “the Digital Nomad” a new one.It could be a new branding technique for educators and others sharing this will also be a part of it.
    The article is really good for better creativity and jobs with all mobile devices.I think such type of jobs are great for people that can be both place free and time free(that is any time anywhere stuff online).
    Of course there are many advantages of mobile life style.

    Thanks
    Online E-learning Software & Script

  • vikramadhiman

    Can you forward this to my CEO? :P

  • http://www.blitzpenny.com/ Sheva

    Hi kirsten, so a new lifestyle for me. I'll definitely not live such life. as i hate to live the complicated life. i think life in a cosmopolitan is much better and easier as compared to the nomads. because peace of mind is a great factor to be live happily and healthily.

  • http://www.auctionwebsitescript.com Penny Script

    Nice Post!
    found this stuff really interesting to read.I do feel it as a very interesting lifestyle to live better and more relaxed life.
    Thanks for the share

  • antony

    Hello! I'm working on project about Nomads. I can't find any forums where I may ask about interesting me question. The question is what nomad can call HOME and HOUSE? But try to answer in a way like HOME is the place where your “soul”, place where you feeling yourself in security, the place where you are happy and HOUSE is a building, shelter or smthing. Please, help me))

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      I think you described it already quite well. There is this saying “Home is where your heart is.” This is also true for digital nomads, I suppose.

      A house is just bricks and mortar. The people who live in it make it a home.