How to be a digital nomad

James Young
June 30, 2020

A desk. A cheap swivel chair. The usual stationary clutter and a wall with some storage shelves that framed an ageing iMac.

I had just finished seeing a patient in a consulting room and had returned to process the notes that form a mix of patient history and protection against liability. Given the stunning location where I lived (Kelowna, British Colombia, Canada) my daily work surroundings were an uninspiring medical clinic. Great people, but a symphony of beige on a grey background dropped into a tepid 80's mall clinic.

The Nomadic Leap of Faith

The following phone call changed my life. Our lives actually. My husband and I had been 'snowbirds' for a number of years. Heading to California in our travel trailer to escape the snow. I took the winter off work, we'd hook up the truck and make our way to Mission Bay in San Diego.

"Do you want to drive around the world?" Silence on the other end of the phone. The spontaneously epic proposal filtering through my husbands thought processes for about five seconds before the reply arrived, "Yes. Let's do it!". This Big Road Trip was born.

macbook pro on bed
Sometimes work starts before getting dressed.

The Right Job for the Job

Inevitably, working from 'roam' requires a job where the barriers to a nomadic career can be overcome. I think this is one of those instances where 'how much do you want it' comes into play. It may require some research, some shuffling, certainly some compromise. But the rewards are there for those that are up for the challenge.

In my case, I had to establish an online practice. Telemedicine hadn't really taken off in Canada, I was one of the first to get on board. Flying solo at first with my own practice, which ultimately failed due to spending 5 minutes an hour practicing medicine and the other 55 minutes addressing the technical shortcomings of ageing Mrs Brown who didn't know an iPad from a chopping board.

As I wound down that initial high maintenance concept I eased into an online clinic administered by a separate company. They'd tee up patients already taught how to use the system. It worked like a dream.

My husband sold his time consuming business running a local magazine; swivelling to a marketing and web design company. After two years on the road, his 'on the side' endurance coaching company took off, forming the larger piece of his nomadic business empire. Spoiler alert. It's not an empire. But it doesn't need to be.

Travelling inherently frees you from the high roller cost of living. Clothes, bikes, fancy restaurants. Even with heavily reduced hours, the income is more than enough to keep us moving. We've worn the same clothes for two and a half years, we've washed them occasionally too. Every now and again we step into a civilized city or town and note how we've regressed towards a more 'transient' look, even when wearing the clothes we'd considered our 'best city stuff'.

The key takeaway here is to allow opportunities that align with travelling to develop and purposefully seek out others, whilst trimming away the fat of your lives that make travel awkward. Commitments are not your friend.

My Office

My office, quite often, makes the coveted corner office at a high end law firm look like the store cupboard of a cheap dive bar. Yes, the competitive view over the city centre roof tops of surrounding offices might be pretty sweet. But, I'll see that 5th storey view down the busy street and raise you the Pacific Ocean, curious dolphins, breaching whales and flocks of scarlet, blue and yellow macaws.

That may sound like an exaggeration. It's not. That abundance of wildlife played out through the open window of our camper when we were parked on the beach in Playa Blanca, Costa Rica; all while I saw patients online. It was breathtaking.

Just ten minutes before we'd had a post-run workout swim, metres from the steps of our camper. A massive turtle with the biggest head I've ever seen had surfaced right next to us. From a warm ocean with friendly turtles to my 'desk' (via a brief outdoor shower) in ten minutes flat. That's some commute.

Sometimes my commute is a little shorter. A rapid 3 seconds over 2 metres as I make my way from bed to the camper dinette.

nimbl camper on playa blanca in costa rica
Office for Lease. $0 per month including wildlife [This big Road Trip, Playa Blanca, Costa Rica]

Online vs Offline

For most travellers, working remotely requires an internet connection. Even those who work offline, photographers or writers for example, seek the invisible digital tentacles of wifi or data that keep the world connected. Suckling on to the web to upload their creativity.

For online workers like me, a little planning is required. But not much. Certainly not as much as people expect. Throughout North, Central and South America (so far) we have found cell data to be so plentiful and cheap, and coverage so wide, that we don't even seek places with wifi any more. Using cell data gives you far greater freedom.

We use a lot of data. A lot. 80 Gigabytes or more a month sometimes. Those of you wracking your brains for the equivalent cost in the US can expect around $680 USD at the time of writing, using a service like Google Fi. We don't pay that or anything close

Surf Like a Local

Getting online is not an issue. In over two years of travelling we have been caught short twice. With a 'sorry' sent to my clinic admins via text messaging on our Garmin inReach satellite messaging device.

Armed with a full spectrum of cheap local sims and a little planning ahead we usually work prior to travelling or roll up in the afternoon, set up camp and log on. Some days we work, some days we don't, we adjust our plans accordingly. The crux of it is, though, that it's really not that difficult to establish a viable connection good enough for video-conferencing. If you need much less bandwidth than that then things are even easier.

claire working online
The Nimbl Camper | Power, desk, comfortable seating. Snacks and tea readily available!

Look out for Part 2

At this point you probably have some questions on the what, where and how. If you want to know more detail about how we get online? Look out for the next article, out next month. If you haven't already, head over to the Nimbl Vehicles Facebook page as well be posting a link to all article there. We'll dig a little deeper into how digital nomads or working overlanders get online from the US down to the tip of South America. From what you need, the apps to use, how to plan, how to reduce your data use and where to set up camp.

Takeaway for your Nomadic Breakaway

Hopefully I have instilled some confidence in your ability to break the chains to a static existence. It's not for everyone, I appreciate that. Careers, friends and family all have to be accounted for.

For those with a serious travel bug. Overcoming the hurdles to becoming a digital nomad Overlander is easier than you think. As always, the first step is the hardest.

How to Make the Break

  1. Make the decision.

    The first step is always to decide that's what you want to do. Weigh things up. Understand the pros and the cons and be prepared to compromise.

  2. Decide your Vocation

    Can you adjust/amend/reduce/mobilise your existing career? If not then it's time to learn a new skill. My husband didn't want to commit to a career and learnt graphic and web design. He was also a keen Ironman athlete and started an online coaching company. Pick a field you love, look for online opportunities in that field.

  3. Don't Plan

    Seriously, don't. Obviously you have to plan a little but people end up spending their whole lives planning. Choose to do it, then do it. Things will have a way of working themselves out once you immerse yourself in the project. Just keep pushing forward.

  4. Pick a Vehicle and a Direction

    Obviously, a Nimbl Vehicles camper is the ideal mobile office. The direction you head is up to you. Stay in your state, stay in your country or head wherever you please. Think BIG!

You can follow Claire at ThisBigRoadTrip.com or her Social Media accounts.

https://nimblvehicles.com/how-to-be-a-digital-nomad/
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