"How I thought I wanted to become a digital nomad" - 10 years later
In 2013, I nonchalantly wrote a blog post titled “How I thought I wanted to become a digital nomad”. It’s been almost 10 years now since that post and I must say that for me, it aged quite well actually.
In 2013 I experimented with digital nomadism by being almost constantly on the go, which was quite unsustainable. I got back with lessons learned and worked towards finding a stable remote position that would allow for location independence and sustainable remote lifestyle. I’ve been fully remote for almost 6 years now with additional challenges of having two young kids (5yo & 2yo atm). These are my mostly unstructured thoughts regarding my journey, challenges and takeaways.
My main point in the article was that the experiment with travelling while working was proving to be unsustainable the way I was doing it. Being on the move all the time was not the smartest way of digital nomading and I learned that first hand I guess, but hey, that was the plan and I mostly made it work.
The takeaways sticked with me though. I published that article when I was already back home where I got myself employed again, yet I vowed to make the location independence idea work long term in a sustainable fashion.
It took me 5 years since that initial nomading experience to get to the place where I wanted to be really. I focused on finding a stable, engaging business to work for that had an established remote work culture or was at least open to the idea. The fact that I found one PLUS I got to write Ruby there was just a perfect coincidence.
And then covid happened and everyone suddenly had to go remote!
However, circa 2015, it wasn’t yet obvious that remote work would be the norm and the majority of the roles were still permanent, office based. I lived in London at that time and got a job that allowed working remotely but with certain limitations. I stuck around for over two years effectively in a hybrid mode where I worked mainly on premise, with a remote getaway once in a while (amazingly including Australia). After that it was time to go fully remote - I came back to Poland, became a contractor for the same company, completing the journey to become fully location independent (within some sane boundries ofc, like tax residency, timezone that made sense, company policy etc).
Which leads me to the key take aways of a wannabe nomad from reflections of this past decade, half of which I spent working 100% remotely, predating covid.
Reflecting back to original goals from 2013, what I was really after was increased freedom that comes from location independence without sacrificing my growth as an engineer. I’m now convinced that a permanent base combined with a conscious utilization of possibilities given by remote work is where the sweet spot is for me.
Also, do keep in mind, that I’m not retired, I’m not an entrepreneur and I don’t have a money making product that allows for a ‘4hr workweek’, yet! lol. What I do is ordinary, full time, software engineering for an insurance company with meetings, standups, coding, writing documentation, etc.
Some of the challenges:
pre covid, when I was often the only team member that worked remotely, meetings really sucked for me. Even with decent conferencing tech, the echoes in the rooms, missed comments between the members because the mic hadn’t quite caught what had been said, being self concious because I’d be the only person remote with my face being streamed into the room and cast on a huge screen didnt really help. So when remote was imposed on everyone due to covid, the playing field suddenly evened out for me, the tech got better almost immediately and the quality of the meetings went significantly up for me, fast. Part of the quick transition was likely due to the fact that the company was half way there anyway, so we were quick to evolve and adapt, but the improvement and better use of available technology surely played a major role as well.
finding time and motivation to take care of myself was a challange, especially during covid. I have two young kids, so when I worked from home as soon as I was out of office I was mostly occupied by family stuff - semi solutions included lunchbreak runs, going out to work in public, preferably cycle there, take shifts with wife to go do sth every odd day.
less peer contact, so less ad hoc discussions, possible learnings, inspiration even - I don’t have a good solution to this. Online communities and meet-ups in the real world partly work, but it won’t fill in the gap of informally interacting with the people you work with. Company off sites do help.
commuting on a daily basis is quite a bodge, but working from home day by day without a break in the routine is as well. There’s a certain buzz and agency that going out, commuting and interacting with the environment gives you. It’s missing when WFH and longterm it can lead to apathy and other things you don’t want imho. Not sure who needs to hear this, but you need to go and do stuff in the real world. At least I do. And I don’t think I’m very unique. If anything, I can probably bear with a bit more isolation than a statistical person can.
These generally worked for me (unordered):
finding a nanny for the kids when they’re not in nursery/kindergarden (duh!) - next level is travel with nanny - haven’t tried it, have friends who have who were happy with it. Quite a costly option though, ofc.
having a permanent base - as long as you settle on a city/place you actually enjoy, having a permanent address, tax residency, etc helps a lot and takes away quite a bit out of the hussle. For me it’s Warsaw and I don’t want to live anywhere else If I can help it. I can travel extensively, but this is home and it turns out, I really enjoy having a home!
working from home is not exactly synonymous with working remotely. To make it truly work for your benefit, you need a lifestyle around it - it’s easy to get sucked into staying home for extended periods of time if you don’t have other stuff going on
not relying on a sophisticated workspace setup - the simpler the better, as this contributes to the freedom of movement (I do have a large screen that I often use at home, but I dont depend on it for productivity etc)
getting used to focusing in different scenarios, being flexible regarding working environment like working in public
when working in public, remember about secops / privacy considerations. Know what you are discussing and who can hear it - mostly it’s not a problem for me, but one needs to be aware of the surroundings and topics discussed. If it’s sensitive, make sure you’re at home / private office, etc
making actual use of the increased location independence - it’s an oportunity to change the environment every now and then, take a working retreat abroad or in other city in your country, rent a cabin in the woods with good internet connection, etc
pairing / mobbing when coding
still taking holiday / sabbaticals to do proper travelling
doing a “micro due diligence” of a place you plan to work from before actually depending on it for work - going there on a weekend or on a day without any meetings and checking out the vibe, noise, internet quality, etc. Limit surprises that can negatively affect your work later. (workfrom.co or others could work depending on your location)
Value proposition of remote work has not changed for me one bit since the original post. The perspective did change because we’re a family with two kids now. We’re not really nomads, but we definitely benefit from a permanent remote work setup. IMHO the core reason of being location independent and more in control of your time is still as valid as it used to be in 2013. Remote is to be embraced, although we need to acknowledge it’s coming with a set of challanges and is definitely not for everyone. You can make it work though and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.