Nearly half a year ago I stuffed my life in to a backpack and my work in to a laptop and set out on the road as a digital nomad. It’s been a wonderful and intense five months, and time enough to learn a little about how working and travelling combine, and why so many people today are choosing this lifestyle.
At the moment I’m in Chiang Mai, Thailand which has become the unofficial capital of digital nomadism. It is an amazing city and one I’ve already written about and will no doubt write about more. In just a week here I’ve already met dozens of other digital workers based in the city. They’re a diverse group from all corners of the world, most in their 20s or 30s, many running successful online business, others building their’s from scratch as they travel. But all of them seem to share three core qualities that are the foundation of this lifetsyle.
Creative – It might go without saying that people who choose to travel and work around the world are creative. But it’s creativity in the broadest sense. At the co-working space in Chiang Mai where I turn up daily, the membership board lists coders, entrepreneurs, bloggers, podcasters, marketers, writers, and an array of other roles that can follow their owner wherever they travel, with the right technology and a good internet connection. All of the digital nomads I’ve met are building, making and creating, be it a new book or a new business. Having a clear creative focus for your travels is an essential part of digital nomadism.
Interdependent – Going nomad requires a high level of independence. Getting on the road means leaving behind family, friends and all things familiar. But being on the road needs more than independence, it demands interdependence. Co-working spaces are at the heart of digital traveller communities because they put you in instant contact with an extended group of your peers. These are people you can talk to, learn from, and share your experiences with. Choosing a city like Chiang Mai, with a high concentration of expats, digital workers and creatives is an extended version of the same thing. It’s essential to think through how you connect with other people as you travel, and not allow travelling to become long term isolation.
Minimalist – Living out of one backpack enforces minimalism. But there’s also a common pragmatic minimalism among the other digital nomads I meet. People have the items and technology they absolutely need or want, because part of the appeal of nomadism is not being weighed down by possessions. In the words of Chuck Palahniuk, “The things we own end up owning us.” Some digital travellers are making small or even large fortunes from their businesses, but still have the same laptop they did when starting-up. Travelling and finding new experiences aren’t helped by having a lot of stuff. Buying and owning as much as you can is still hardwired in to most of our culture, but it might be one of the things you go travelling to unwire yourself from.
I’ve been asked a number of times now how I went about preparing to work and travel together. I think these three core qualities suggest three kinds of questions as a first step. Do you have a creative ambition that you want to fulfil? Are you happy saying goodbye (temporarily!) to old friends and open to making new ones? Can you let go of things and replace them with experiences? If you’re saying ‘yes’ to these questions, you might even be on your way already.