As a kid growing up in the comfortable suburbs of Dublin, I used to envy the gypsies. There was something very appealing about their nomadic lifestyle, and when my granny gave me a book called ‘The King of the Tinkers’ by Patricia Lynch for my 9th birthday, I was sold. Being Irish, it did involve stones that turned into hens with superpowers and a magic fiddle. I had to wait until I was 17 to run away from home, and only made it as far London, where I lived in communist minded squats during the Thatcher years of the miner’s Strike, but there were no magic fiddles and I decided that even if money doesn’t make you happy, having none of it makes you miserable, and less mobile. It was time to ‘settle’.
Fast forward about 25 years and here I am again, my inner gypsy and my sensible self at loggerheads with one another. So, when redundancy hit, I was happy to bow out of my corporate position and decided to set up my own coaching & consulting business, taking most of it online and freeing me up to find the gypsies. This time round, I am wiser: there are no stones that turn into hens with superpowers, and if you want to sleep indoors you need to earn a crust.
I decided that 2020 is the year of the Digital Nomad, and I wanted to be part of it. In fact, the term digital nomad goes back as far as 1997, when it was the title of a book written by Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners who almost predicted what was coming.
When I signed up for the Digital Nomad Escape, in Portugal’s Algarve, it promised to be a week of skill shares, masterminds, exchanges, good food and some late summer sun. I needed large amounts of everything on offer. Pics of previous ‘escapes’ boasted photos of a small group of young and beautiful people working beside a pool. I wondered if I would be out of place. Were there any older digital nomads on the planet? Only one way to find out.
The Nomad Escape is run by Michele Maree and Andreas Machado, two well-seasoned travellers with a background in hosting backpacking groups in Australia. They know their stuff. Their various ‘Escape’ offers are all connected with one vision – bring remote workers together and create synergies. The location was a sprawling old villa equipped with pool, a courtyard with chill out zones, pine trees and mad pink bougainvillea that make you feel alive. Sadly, the villa has been sold, and the captains of industry will be along soon to bulldoze it and create an apartment block. It felt like life in the last days of paradise.
Nine participants. Nine nationalities, yours truly being the oldest at 55, and a 21-year-old French/Moroccan dude being the youngest. Age, race, gender etc, all fell away. I learned at least one thing from everyone I encountered, and hopefully could impart some skills too. More than that, I learned so much about how each person ticks, thinks, lives and I realised that the term ‘digital nomad’ is extremely broad. Within our group we all had varying levels of nomadism, from not being ready to make the transition, to not having one home base.
I got all of the digital marketing and photography tips that I had come for, and more besides – I was advised to get a haircut, which I promptly did upon return and having attempted the morning ‘workouts’ (to me more like a severe masochistic bootcamp) on the mile long beach in Quarteira, I realised that getting fit needs to be more than a good intention.
I have often asked myself the question ‘where is home?’, and my answer has been consistent for decades: home is where I can be me. On the last night, we sat on the beach and watched the sunset. To the outsider’s eye we were just another group of partying youngsters (it was a bit too dark to spot oldie when the sun went down). I looked at each of them, wondering where their journey might take them, and felt at peace with the world. These people are evolving how we can live and work on our own terms, and it’s not about being a nomad at all. It’s about being true to yourself in a realistic way. It’s about finding your north, and we are all doing that. Always. Thankfully, after sunset, nobody could see the tear in my eye. I didn’t want to be a nomad anymore, I just wanted to stay here.
Here are five things I learnt about digital nomads during the Digital Nomad Escape:
- The term digital nomad is extremely broad. The world is changing at breakneck pace and people are finding many new ways of living and working. It can range from having a base somewhere and travelling sometimes, to moving from one place to another, and even living all year round in one place and working remotely.
- Although digital nomads can create a lifestyle with more freedom and flexibility, they are not on vacation. Working remotely is often very tough and time consuming, especially if you have your own business. Loneliness and burnout are the top two issues they report.
- Living internationally comes with its own bureaucracy. International health insurance, local and global laws, where to register a business and work visas can all become issues.
- Digital Nomads can be any age. In fact, there are an increasing number of retired and semi-retired people who have become digital nomads. So if you are thinking about changing how you work, look beyond age, it’s just another form of hierarchal outdated thinking.
- People are afraid of moving outside their comfort zone, when in fact, it’s all about moving into your comfort zone and living a life that fulfils you, rather than staying in an unfulfilling situation because of fear. Most people are not limited by their ideas and opportunities, but by letting doubt and insecurity get in the way.