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Elgan: You can be a 'digital nomad' (no, really!)

Have you ever dreamed of traveling while working? Here's how to turn that dream into a reality.

May 30, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - You may have heard about the extreme telecommuter lifestyle and thought to yourself, "Wow, I would love to do that, but, nah, I could never make it happen." Wrong job. Young kids. Can't afford it.

Extreme telecommuting is possible because of the Internet and electronic mobile devices, software and services. Thanks to the revolution in digital communication, you can for the first time in human history work on the other side of the world as if you're on the other side of the office.

With conventional, traditional work, you're supposed to spend the best years of your life commuting in heavy traffic every day to an ugly building where you slave away at a desk under fluorescent lights. Once a year, you get a two or three-week vacation, where you go somewhere nice and live a little. Later, when you're too old to climb volcanoes, you can retire.

Extreme telecommuting turns all this around. You take that vacation time and sprinkle it over your entire year.

I'm here to tell you that you can make it happen, and also to give you some very real advice on what it takes to turn your dream into a reality. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I'll tell you the good news - and the bad.

What is an extreme telecommuter, exactly? Well, the reality is that you may already be one. Here are the "extreme telecommuter," lifestyles in order of least to most extreme:

  • The Starbucks homesteader: Someone who works occasionally at a local restaurant or coffee shop for a change of scenery.
  • The road warrior: A person who travels for business and does normal work on a laptop in airports, hotel rooms and coffee shops rather than postponing work until returning to the office.
  • The working vacationer: Someone who goes on a regular (say, one or two-week) vacation, but works while away. Often, this happens when one spouse has more annual vacation time than the other, or when someone has the kind of job that doesn't allow vacations, such as small business owners.
  • The neo Bedouin: Someone who needs to work collaboratively with people who don't have offices, and so meets colleagues for work at coffee shops. This is increasingly popular among low-budget, high-tech startups in Silicon Valley where companies are formed without leasing any office space.

  • The extreme telecommuter: Someone who temporarily "moves" to another city or country for more than a month and keeps working as if he or she were "working from home."
  • The digital nomad: Someone on the move constantly, traveling the world and finding Internet connectivity where it's avaialble and working from wherever.
If you're reading this, chances are you're already one of the first two types of "extreme telecommuter," and if you're unlucky, the third type as well.

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