If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s how easily we have adapted to working from home. Being a digital nomad used to be for bloggers and freelancers, but no more.
Now, all kinds of workers and world explorers are taking their laptops and going AWOL, and here’s how you can make it happen too.
So just how many of us are going it? In Australia in 2021, one in four city-dwellers worked from home, while in the UK, 2023 statistics show that almost a fifth of workers are doing their jobs remotely.
Are we missing the water cooler chats? The twice-daily office commute? The early morning rush to get work-ready? Ahh….no.
When they say, “work from home”, does it really matter where “home” is?
We get up, change out of our PJs (well, some of us do), eat breakfast when we feel like it (cos the fridge is just there), get busy, tick some boxes, kick some goals, brush our hair for the odd Zoom catch-up, take our laptops into the sunshine, and when the day is done, relax, because we are, conveniently, already home.
Parents faced an added challenge in 2020 when home schooling lessons suddenly hijacked our work schedules until we realised that kids, when left alone long enough, find books to read, things to play with and stuff to do outside.
If you steal their iPads, they get creative, curious and learn things all by themselves: organic un-schooling in action. Tick!
Slowly, we discovered that it’s not essential to get everything done between the hours of 9 and 5. When the day and your time is your own, you can get a head start at 4am if you want to, before the house wakes up, or work a bit on a Saturday morning, if you want to.
You can take your laptop to your favourite café or to the park. You can work at night when the house is quiet, or in the car (while someone else is driving), or at your weekender, or on holidays.
Wait a minute….on holidays? We are a family of liveaboard creatives – currently sailing our 41-foot catamaran through Southeast Asia: here’s our latest creation, just for sailors, The Hunter and The Gatherer.
Welcome to the Work Retreat
When they say, “work from home”, does it really matter where “home” is? What if you booked an Airbnb for a month, or found a beach bungalow somewhere tropical with solid internet?
Sure, you’d still have to get your work done, but in the hours before and after and in-between, you could go snorkeling or surfing, or take a walk and find somewhere awesome to eat and drink.
You might also discover that you can nail your work in far fewer hours and spend more time out of the ‘office’ having fun.
Changing your wallpaper and your routine is a game-changer for creatives, and booking a month-long work retreat is a good way to test out if being a fully-fledged digital nomad is for you.
How to afford it
Rent and mortgages can leave you with little cash to pay for a work retreat. If that’s you, organise a house swap with friends or family, or put your place in the hands of someone you trust and post it on airbnb. Strike a deal with anyone you know who has a weekender that they rarely use, and offer to air it out for a few weeks.
You can do it formally too, by signing up to trustedhousesitters.com, a site that expert digital nomad Laura Pattara and adventure author Christopher Many use to ground themselves in between their nomadic writing adventures. Accepting a house-sitting or pet-sitting gig is perfect if you love gardening and dog walking.
There are some obvious responsibilities involved, and you can’t be fussy about locations or facilities, but it’s free and a good option if you have a partner or kids with you to tackle some of the chores while you work.
If you are happy to pay for your work retreat but still want a good deal, travel off-season when prices are lower, such as during school terms and weather-risky ‘shoulder seasons’.
If you are flying in, restrict your travels to one main location to avoid excess transportation fees, and don’t be shy about asking for a discount on stays longer than a week.
Internet is everything
Excellent internet is essential to make the work retreat work. Before going ahead with a booking, check your telco’s coverage maps to ensure a strong signal in your chosen location, or scan Tripadvisor to see if anyone complains about your hotel’s poor Wifi.
If you can be flexible with your travels, book a night or two to ensure you are happy, then negotiate a rate for the remainder of your stay.
For the past year I’ve been working from our catamaran as we sail through Indonesia. With a local sim card in my iPhone, my hotspot can connect devices for everyone on board, and I organise chunks of work to be completed before we sail out of signal range towards those idyllic tropical isles I’m so fond of.
If you need added privacy and security when using hotel or public Wifi, get yourself a VPN (virtual private network) before setting out.
Remote Worker to Digital Nomad
If your work retreat lasts longer than a month, you are already a digital nomad. If you love it, and your employer or clients are happy, and family life is blooming, there’s no stopping you. The question you need to ask yourself is what kind of a digital nomad do you want to be?
Obviously you could just keep working remotely from home, but chances are, sooner or later you’re going to want to take things to the next level.
You might look at buying a sailboat and working your way around the world (like me), or moving into a campervan or motorhome and driving yourself around the country (I can recommend that too).
You might want to shift to the country, or the beach, downsize and spend more time with family.
Or you could choose to sell up, fill a backpack (or two) and book a flight to somewhere brighter. There is amazing freedom in earning a living while you explore the world, and if you are creative and dedicated, you are bound to succeed.
Given the shift that has taken place since those dreaded Covid-19 years, there really is no limit to the kinds of jobs that can be tackled remotely too.
Even the most hands-on occupations like medicine, teaching, construction and transportation all offer opportunities for skilled workers keen to contribute and work digitally. All it takes is a flexible, free-thinking boss or clients, and a touch of daring on your part.
Digital Nomad: How to make it work
1. Find low-cost locations to work from (with good internet).
2. Stay on top of trends. Just because you are away from the water cooler doesn’t mean you can afford to be out of touch.
3. Stay motivated. The flexibility of working your own hours is fantastic but when there’s work to be done, only you can get yourself out of bed to meet deadlines.
4. Lose the working week mentality. Schedule those Zoom chats, but work when you work best, whatever the hour or day. Your out-of-office flexibility can become one of your greatest assets as a digital nomad.
5. Don’t undersell yourself. Just because your living expenses are low, doesn’t mean you have to work for peanuts.
I’m a digital nomad…..How I make it pay
I make my money as a writer for adventure, sailing, and health & wellbeing magazines, and through royalties from my books The Hunter and The Gatherer and 100 things to see in Tropical North Queensland.
Other successful digital nomads I know work as web developers and graphic designers, online teachers, photographers and share traders, clinical psychologists, advertising copywriters, bloggers and book authors and entrepreneurs selling their wares from online stores.