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Elgan: I'm a digital nomad (and so are you)

New technology enables almost everyone reading this to live and work with more freedom and flexibility. Are you missing the boat?

July 14, 2012 07:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Everything I own is packed into one of three backpacks -- or a storage facility in San Jose, Calif. I have neither a mortgage nor a rental agreement. I work from wherever I can find both caffeine and Wi-Fi.

My wife and I have finally achieved our long-held dream of extreme location independence. As I write this, I happen to be in New York City. Next week I'll be in Greece. I hope to spend Christmas in Kenya. A year from now: Who knows?

No, I'm not on vacation. And I'm definitely not retired. In fact, I've never had more work and I've never worked harder. Rather than being a distraction, my lifestyle enables me to put in many more hours than people who own houses and work in offices, because I don't have to maintain a house and don't have to commute to an office.

I might fit the definition of a digital nomad. I use the Internet and mobile technology to "telecommute," and I do work that has no connection to or requirement for any specific location.

But that definition the term "digital nomad" is obsolete and misleading. In fact, the overwhelming probability is that you're a digital nomad, too.

Let me explain.

What is a digital nomad, exactly?

A digital nomad is simply someone who can use digital technology to work from alternative locations.

It's not about traveling. It's about choice. So if you can work from another town or another country but choose not to, you're as much of a digital nomad as someone who does make that choice.

Unfortunately, the whole digital nomad idea has been hijacked by a certain kind of digital nomad, namely the young, traveling blogger and freelancer-type digital nomad.

That's why it may surprise you to learn that the majority of digital nomads aren't bloggers. Of course, you don't hear about nonblogging nomads because they don't blog about it. In general, digital nomads are older, make more money and work in more traditional professions than the digital nomad blogosphere would have you believe.

It's about choices and trade-offs

The biggest concerns people have about life as a traveling digital nomad are financial: How do I make a living? Can I afford it?

Those are impossible questions to answer specifically. Only you know your career, circumstances and skills. However, it is possible to generalize.

Telecommuters can often work from anywhere there's an Internet connection. If you can work from home, you can work from Rome.

In many cases, people can do exactly what they're doing now, either for the same company, or another company that will let them do it from abroad -- or a foreign company where you would work locally.

In still other cases, people can consult, teach, write about or otherwise temporarily convert a career from doing to teaching or helping.

And, of course, there's always the possibility of changing careers.

Many people say: What I do can't be done over the Internet or by phone. Dentists, building contractors, teachers, IT professionals and others believe they're chained to their current locations. However, many digital nomads have found temporary work in foreign countries doing the same job. Sometimes they make less money, sometimes more. (In general, the more desirable the location, the less money you'll make.)



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