I've been trying to escape the surly bonds of sedentary living for a decade.
Mobile devices and the Internet enable us to live and work just about anywhere. I've been trying to realize that possibility for ten years, with mixed success.
I started gradually. In the summer of 2006, my wife and kids had the summer off, but I didn't. It occurred to me that as a writer who worked from home, I could theoretically work from any location where an Internet connection could be found. So what if I took a trip, but worked the whole time?
Long story short: It worked. We visited Central America and Southern Mexico exploring Mayan ruins. I managed to find Wi-Fi almost everywhere, even then. I did research, joined conference calls, held vendor meetings and wrote and submitted my columns.
After that incredible experience, I realized that I could live abroad full time while continuing to work as if I were still in Silicon Valley. So my wife and I "downsized" into a much smaller house. And then we moved temporarily to Greece.
The standard label for a location-independent, live-anywhere online worker is "digital nomad."
I don't like the phrase "digital nomad" because nomads are no more digital than anyone else. Using the Internet to work remotely is no longer rare or exotic. I'm no more "digital" than anyone else. So I prefer simply "nomad."
After several months living in Greece, our nomad lifestyle was ruined when my wife got an unfortunately great offer working at AT&T in Silicon Valley. So she re-entered the rat race, complete with a daily commute, cubicle and all the rest. But after three and a half years, she couldn't stand it anymore. So she quit, and we went nomadic again.
But this time, we went all the way. We got rid of half our stuff and stored the rest. Then we left the country without a home to come back to.
We started in Greece again, but also lived in Spain, Italy, Kenya, Turkey and Morocco.
I had no intention of ever giving up our nomadic lifestyle. But it happened again: More than two years ago, I got an offer I couldn't refuse, anchoring the daily Tech News Today podcast for TWiT. The show was recorded in-studio, so I had to stay put while doing it. That was a great experience, but it kept us from living abroad. I left the show in December. And now I'm going nomad once again!
Over the past couple of months, my wife and I re-arranged our lives, packed all our belongings into storage and tomorrow, we're leaving the United States to live around the world!
I want you to join me. But before I make that pitch, first let me clarify what living nomadically is really all about.
It's not "travel" per se, and it's definitely not a vacation.
Our standard policy is to choose a specific city or town and live there for two or three months. We often use AirBnB to book the accommodations. (AirBnB is now operating in 190 countries.) We look for the fastest Internet connection we can find, plus we try to live within walking distance of the city's best food markets.
Once we arrive, we live like "temporary locals." We shop at the store, cook our own meals, do dishes and laundry and all the other things people do. We even get a local gym membership, when possible. We get to know the neighbors and the people who work at the markets and shops.
People who imagine nomadic living is an endless vacation will be disappointed to learn that I spend most of my time working, typically putting in more than 60 hours a week.
As nomads, we do experience the local culture while on breaks from work, or in the evening or days off. Over the period of, say, three months, we squeeze in the amount of sightseeing that a tourist might do in a week or two. But nomads enjoy something that tourists do not -- we truly understand what it's like to live in a place, and to sometimes make lifelong friends all over the world.
Why now is the best time ever to go nomad
I first wrote about the digital nomad lifestyle exactly 9 years ago this week. I also started a weekly digital nomad blog on the Computerworld.com site called, "The World Is My Office." I tried in this space to define what a "digital nomad" is. I also tried to puncture the insipid fluff and hype around nomad lifestyles promulgated by almost all the digital nomad blogs by telling it like it is. (Most digital nomad blogs portray the lifestyle as blogging on deserted beach in Thailand, which it is not.)
When I wrote about the nomad lifestyle in the past, it was an obscure, exotic and seemingly unlikely way to live. But in the past two years, the "digital nomad" phrase and idea has become -- dare I say it? -- mainstream!
No, most people still aren't living nomadically. But the movement has grown, and cultural awareness about it has taken off.
And why not? After the great recession, changes in workplace norms, the increasing digitization of communication and work and other trends, it makes sense to work remotely -- the remoter, the better.
My favorite slogan for nomadism is: "If you can work from home, you can work from Rome." And telecommuting and remote work are very much on the rise. Some 37% of US workers have now telecommuted, according to a Gallup poll. Some have even predicted that half the workforce will telecommute full time within four years.
And the nomad products! It's an increasingly growing industry with countless books and blogs. But now there's a digital nomad cruise, a digital nomad documentary, a digital nomad magazine and a digital nomad dating service. National Geographic even hired a professional digital nomad.
More importantly, the world has changed in the nomads' favor.
A new category of travel service has emerged for all-inclusive digital nomad situations. By paying a set fee, these companies will provide a room, co-working space, airline tickets, travel insurance and more in several countries in a row. All the users live together, so everyone in the living and working spaces is also a digital nomad. The companies I know of that provide these package deals include The Remote Experience, DNX Camp, Caravanserai (now called Roam.co), Terminal 3, Remote Year and Roam.
Google last week unveiled a handy feature on Google Flights called "Interests." You tell Google what kinds of things you like to do, and they'll tell you where to go.
A site called Nomad List lets you click on your criteria for living (clean air, female-friendly, etc.), and then it will list recommended cities, complete with cost of living, weather and other information.
Anyone who wants even more help can turn to Teleport, a service that walks you through the planning and execution of your nomad dream.
Everyone's heard of AirBnB, which enables you to rent rooms, apartments and homes. And many know about HotelTonight, which is about last-minute booking. A new site called Overnight combines the two concepts, enabling you to book last-minute AirBnB type accommodations. You'll really appreciate this one when you find yourself on some far-flung island without a reservation.
I'm even seeing nomad-friendly financial services. One startup called Revolut gives you an internationally accepted credit card, plus an app that lets you transfer money.
In short, it's a wonderful time to join the nomad movement, live abroad and experience what it's like to live as a citizen of the world.
At first, the mere existence of laptops and the ubiquity of Wi-Fi hotspots made nomadic living possible. Now, a universe of on-demand and sharing-economy services has made it almost easy.
By the way, If you want to follow my adventures around the world -- you can do it on my shiny new site, "Becoming Nomad."
On that site, I'll share my photos, stories and the products and services I use to make it all happen.
If you've ever entertained the dream of living abroad as a nomad, my advice is: Just do it.
All you really need is a good laptop, a little courage and an overpowering wanderlust.