Living as nomad designer - Interview with Zen Lightman from Bali.
Apr 8, 2022
Humankind has a history of being nomadic.
Think foragers who move from camp to camp in search of available food.
While the majority of us no longer need to hunt seasonal food out in the wild, technology being at the forefront of our world has enabled a new kind of nomadism on a massive scale: the so-called digital nomad.
In case you haven’t heard of it, the digital nomad lifestyle is all the rage among millennials nowadays. From its humble beginnings as an underground movement, the phrase has come out of the shadows and made the headlines of major news sites lately.
Although slowly gaining popularity, digital nomads seem to carry this mysterious, enigmatic air with them as they roam around the earth. They evoke the type of public interest that international spies used to evoke, even though most DNs avoid attention like the plague.
Having lived off of a suitcase and a MacBook for three years, I still refrain from calling myself a digital nomad in keeping with the clandestine spirit of this quiet rebellion. But I can share with you my two cents on what digital nomadism is and how to become one, from three years of living in 22 cities and 15 countries.
What is a digital nomad?
Many digital nomads who live the lifestyle don’t really brand themselves as one, but a few advocates have made it very clear that there is a distinct difference between a digital nomad and an expat.
In essence, a digital nomad is always on the move with their work. Although their work often doesn’t require them to travel, digital nomads’ self-initiated travels take them to places where they experience new locales without sacrificing work time. They achieve this by carrying out work that can be done as long as there is quality internet connection.
Compared to expats who move permanently to a new country, digital nomads never settle. They aren’t seen with packs of tourists either—as they love to explore places the “local” way. They tend to travel slowly through places. After some time they will pick up and move on to the next location, never making a permanent home for themselves.
Why would you want to become a digital nomad?
It’s a never-ending debate on whether or not becoming a digital nomad is worth the sacrifice.
On the bright side, remote work frees us from the soul-sucking routines that drain our creativity. Most of us find ourselves involuntarily stuck in a rut called 9 to 5 office life right after college. The promise of becoming a digital nomad is to travel the world while working online to pay your bills. And most of the time, traveling outside of cities where the cost of living is high means less bills to pay. Earning $2000 a month can be more than enough to live comfortably from Barcelona to Bali.
Remote work allows more flexibility in when you work, where you work and how you work. Most digital nomads have some sort of control over their work schedule, or are not required to work fixed hours. They can also change things up a bit by working from home, a cafe, a library or coworking space.
Moreover, digital nomads don’t have to sit with coworkers in the same space everyday, freeing them from interpersonal politics. For those more introverted or who require more interrupted work time, digital nomadism seems to be the cure. More focused work, increased productivity and work-related happiness is commonly reported among these workers.
However, it comes with its sacrifices. The most prominent one being social isolation as a result of uprooting too often. One or a few months living in a city is certainly not enough to cultivate lifelong connections. While nomads have the breadth of experiences, they can suffer from lack of depth in their interpersonal relationships over time.
There are plenty of cost effective learning tools out there to suit your needs as you get started learning a new digital skill. A mentored online course makes it easier to learn the necessary practical skills in a structured way: consider something like the CareerFoundry UX design course, which also comes with a job guarantee.
Once you have acquired the digital skills, you can find remote jobs on sites like weworkremotely, RemoteOk, Remote.com and more. Before taking the leap of faith, make sure that your team have systems in place to make remote working smooth and easy. Your work is done best when everyone is on the same page (i.e. remote) so that you are not left out of important work conversations.