There’s a lot of buzz around the digital nomad lifestyle. According to a Gallup poll , 37% of respondents have already worked virtually.
But this seemingly perfect lifestyle tends to offer more questions than answers including:
- How are people affording work and travel at the same time?
- What kind of remote jobs are out there?
- How do modern nomads nail these jobs?
- What challenges present themselves on the road?
- Is this lifestyle sustainable?
I spoke with Philippine-born Megan Leung who began her career as a location-independent online freelancer in 2015.
As Leung explains: “It made perfect sense at the time as I went through life changes that egged me to explore choices out of my comfort zone. The expression ‘digital nomad’ hasn’t come to my attention then, it was only later on that a community of online workers started to flourish that I found out this was becoming a trend.”
Leung said the idea came to her when she read about an Australian man who created a project called The Pixel Trade . He aimed to travel all the seven continents with no money. He relied on the kindness of strangers and swapped his photography skills for board and lodging.
“I thought, ‘I could do this too’,” says Leung. “I started a sustainability blog, writing investigative stories about people who are making a difference but eventually turned my writing into a business.”
But is the digital nomad lifestyle all it’s cracked up to be?
Those who sell the idea of this fabulous “digital nomad lifestyle” could be feeding people false hopes. Leung shares freedom from the nine-to-five has its own sacrifices including:
- Working more than travelling — sometimes late into the night to catch up on time differences
- Foregoing places and activities because work takes priority
- Not having a solid base and losing a sense of home
- Not being able to forge sustainable friendships
- The impossibility of a “normal” dating life or the prospect of a solid future with someone because one has to keep moving
Obviously everything is about perspective but these factors are very real and present on the road. And that’s just on the personal side of things. Leung shares that, “professional challenges can even be trickier, such as finding ‘quality’ new clients who are open to working with remote workers and maintaining a pleasant relationship with them.”
In this piece, Leung shares the tools that help her thrive with a career on the road.
1. For scouting living costs: Expatistan / Numbeo
These websites are helpful for up-to-date cost of living comparisons.
“Unlike workers with settled lives and smooth routines, digital nomads are often subject to surprises in their daily lives. Those surprises aren’t always pleasant, so having reliable information on essential costs immensely helps.”.
2. For international payments and transactions: Transferwise
“Working with agencies and companies in Asia, the US, the UK, and the EU, bank transfers can be a pain,” says Leung. “First, banks take commissions. And then there’s the currency exchange rate. And then it can take days for payments to clear, which could make the difference between you having enough money for today’s meals or not.”
As of December 2017, Transferwise supports 20 international currencies and 25 local transactions.
3. For workflow and creative collaboration: InVision or Asana
Presenting designs and sharing feedback with colleagues and clients can cause all sorts of confusion. InVision simplifies this process through visual communication design, allowing all parties to see what’s going on and how the project is progressing.
Asana is also a clever app. It helps in tracking different projects with different teams, and follow the progress of each task through colour coding. Like InVision, Asana has a function for attachments and conversations, all stored internally within the platform so there’s no need to dig through emails.
4. For productivity: Toggl
Not being bound in a cubicle surely feels liberating but working in an open space means distraction, which is a menace to productivity. Toggle helps in keeping track of how much work has been put in on a project within an hour, a day, a week…or indeed how much time was used doing something else while working on the project.
5. For remote files storage and access: Google Drive
Google Drive is by far one of the best free storage service there is. The platform makes it easy for digital nomads to store, access, send, and share their work to individual or multiple recipients. It works well alongside Google Docs.
6. For getting around: Maps.Me
WiFi won’t be always be available and buying maps can be a hassle, so an offline map is essential for navigating foreign streets. It’s also a great map for locating businesses such as banks, cafes, laundromats, public transport terminals — the essentials.
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