The rise of the digital nomad – Freelancing your way around the world – words Holly Ashby with illustrations by Liz Connolly

Whether you find yourself screaming into a traffic jam, rushing for the bus under grey skies or standing in a crowded train carriage, wedged under the armpit of one person and breathing into the hair of another, for most of us the daily commute is a grinding inevitability.

A recent report by Randstad found that almost 2 million Brits are spending three hours or more on their daily commute, eating into free time, family life and at a significant expense. Combined with ever-more demanding working hours, increasing numbers of people are finding traditional full-time employment to be a poor deal.

 

With the possibilities of remote working becoming ever more advanced, is it any wonder that there’s a new generation of workers who are seeking an alternative? Technological advances, from Skype to cloud storage, are making it ever easier to work effectively away from the office, and workers are either taking the plunge to go freelance or convincing their employers to allow them to work remotely. No longer tied by a traditional nine-to-five office set up, newly flexible working lives and digital nomad jobs are allowing people to hop between anywhere they can find a Wi-Fi connection.

Simply working from home is enough for some, but others are taking it even further. Freed by the digital revolution, a growing number of people are leaving towns and cities for a life of working wanderlust. For some, it’s entirely possible to carry their entire working life with them in a laptop or smartphone, giving unprecedented freedom to amble about the globe while still maintaining their career and income.

Phrases such as digital nomad and location independent have arisen as an influential group of pioneers are making this loose-footed existence an increasingly valid lifestyle choice. Freelance communities are popping up all over the world, where people can live cheaply surrounded by a similarly minded community of international travellers. From Europe to Bali, these communities offer cheap accommodation and companionship (not to be underestimated with such an potentially isolating lifestyle) in beautiful locations.

In another demonstration of the key importance of internet technology driving this change, many of them are blogging about their choices, offering either advice or an insight into this still unusual way of life. For example, Jason Lendstorf focuses mainly on the practicalities. Stating that “for anyone who’s ever considered long-term travel, location-independent income is a non-negotiable part of the process”, he guides people through creating a remote income. Having become location-independent to satiate his love of travel and leave behind the 80 hour work week that was damaging his health, he’s been on the move since 2014 while still earning a decent wage. However, there’s more to these decisions than a desire to live on a perpetual quasi-holiday.

As Arie Litovsky explains, travelling in this way “will make you evaluate what’s important in your life, often ridding yourself of burdening personal possessions that only clutter your life and your home.” There’s only so much you can take with you on a plane, and accumulating objects is difficult with the digital nomad lifestyle. This sentiment is indicative of the philosophical element of remote, travel-based working. As more young people realise that they will never be able to afford a home, or that they will financially cripple themselves and significantly reduce their choices in order to do so, they are moving away from the concepts of ownership in favour of seeking experience.

There is strong appeal across the social spectrum for a wandering lifestyle, from penniless freelancers who are locked out of consumerism, to the super rich who have ample means to indulge in it. This is reflected in the services emerging to help facilitate this continuous working travel. At one end of the scale there are websites designed to allow people to sofa surf for free, meaning that people can keep on the move no matter how tight their finances get.

At the other is property investment collectives such as The Hideaways Club, which allows members to make use of luxury properties all over the world. Both are indicative of a trend where people are becoming less interested in owning physical things, even when they obviously have the means to do so, in favour of experiencing a life unrestrained by financial commitments or any particular home.

Even though it’s somewhat counter-intuitive, it could be argued that the trend began with a group of cash-rich entrepreneurs. Individuals such as Mark Manson, who has written extensively about his experiences as a digital nomad, have lived for years in a way where they have “few commitments [and] a freedom of choice most can only dream about”. Even the extraordinarily wealthy, such as “homeless billionaire” Nicolas Berggruen, are eschewing material goods for a minimalist life spent wandering.

It seems inevitable that people will begin to question the necessity of the burden on their time and finances that a permanent office, and sometimes even permanent home, can present. While going to the extreme of working remotely abroad may not be for everyone, the freedom that’s been found by the early adopters of this lifestyle could well become attractive to an overworked and beleaguered British workforce.

The rise of the digital nomad – Freelancing your way around the world – words Holly Ashby with illustrations by Liz Connolly

 

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