Companies globally have been adopting the work from home routine for their employees, making the term “digital nomad” attainable to many more people, even those in full-time employment. Gone are the days when the term “digital nomad” was reserved for a select few free-spirited, island-hopping, coffee-loving freelancers. This new way of life presents opportunities for more travel and gives many of us a sense of agency about where and how we get to spend our time.
For the last six years, I’ve worked full-time as a researcher. Although I always craved some freedom and independence, I never imagined I’d lead a research team remotely, write a report while on the road—quite literally—or be granted permission to work from outside my residential country. This new way of life is not just a momentary trend; it is possible, and I hope it’s here to stay!
Changes in remote work and travel
The global pandemic changed the world of work as we knew it and affected how people preferred to travel. At first, many of us didn’t realize the magnitude of this pandemic on our lives: families were separated for extended periods, vacations were canceled, and many had to adjust to working from home. In my own experience, I struggled with a sneaky joy around the fact that I could finally have some freedom. My dreams of working from my bed, taking meetings in pajamas, and skipping peak-time traffic had been realized. There was, at one point, real anxiety around things “going back to normal.” And while my trip to Senegal had to be postponed, I found a new love for taking local trips.
To avoid crowds, we all started to travel differently: less air travel, more road trips, private rental homes instead of hotels, and big resorts. I started finding my flow on the work front and learning that the messiness of home life and work commitments were normal. I realized I could still be productive and churn out research reports! Despite the difficulties of dealing with the pandemic, I discovered how resilient I was.
Freedom is not always a breeze
While the opportunities to exercise more control over your time are there, traveling while working remotely is not for everyone, nor is it for every industry. I quickly realized that this desire for location independence would not come with ease. Taking your office to a scenic location can make you feel like you’re on holiday, and for someone who loves being on holiday, this can pose a threat to productivity if unmanaged. Working remotely does allow you some freedom, especially when you know how to manage your time, but it is not a vacation. It becomes even more critical to practice self-discipline when choosing to become location independent. The desire to work remotely comes with lots of self-evaluation, trial and error, and honest communication.
Tips & tricks to do remote work effectively
The reality is that this pandemic changed how some employees preferred to work. While some felt being at home was chaotic, others—like me—preferred having flexibility. At the beginning of my journey to location independence, I struggled to communicate. In my mind, I could interpret “working from home” as meaning “working from anywhere.” I failed to see the potential risks of doing so: What if I fell sick in another city or country? What if I had poor connectivity while on the road? Could I potentially let my team down because of selfish decisions and get fired? Having an honest conversation with my boss about my working arrangements and preferences saved me a lot of stress.
It’s impossible to communicate effectively if you are disconnected, so investing in gadgets and tools is critical. Being able to charge your laptop while on the road, having portable Wi-Fi, and having access to collaborative tools are things to consider.
Stay close. If there is a crisis at work, it should be easy enough for you to be back in the office the following day.
Travel during off-peak seasons to save on your travel expenses! Enquire about long-stay and mid-week stay discounts. Many properties have relied heavily on local travelers to stay afloat, so use that to negotiate your accommodation rates.
Consider ways to earn money while you spend money on travel. One way to do this is to take up a side-hustle. For me, doing some influencer work on social media helped fund my travels and opened opportunities for accommodation reviews in exchange for content. Other options include online market-research survey platforms and online teaching. Still, another option is to “remotify your resume” and get a paying job that gives you the flexibility of not needing to report to a physical office daily. Many of us have remote skills but just haven’t packaged these skills to land a remote job. You’ll be surprised at how many remote positions are out there!
For spirited employees, working from anywhere is quite exciting and whether this new norm is here to stay is uncertain. My advice would be to enjoy what you can about this arrangement, plan that remote work trip and use this time to sharpen your remote work competencies. Above everything else, don’t forget to look up and enjoy the views!