No Office, No Limits Part 3: A Stripped Back Look At The Life of a Digital Nomad

the digital nomad life

There’s a lot of stuff in our work lives that causes us more distraction and bother than good.

But take away the office, desk, co-workers, 9-5 routine, commute, suit and tie, polished shoes, even the pack of Monday to Friday socks, and what are you left with?

The answer is not much.

It’s probably you in your dressing gown, sitting in bed with your laptop on your knee, as well as the cat, still trying to find any excuse not to finish that piece of work staring back at you.

There’s no longer any cubicles or ringing telephones or bureaucracy to hide behind, the stark reality is that it’s you, and only you—well, and maybe the cat—standing between getting stuff done, and disappearing into the spiralling abyss of procrastination.

Away from the office, you can’t use the brief meetings that always run over on time or promiscuous Alison in accounting to conveniently delay work, so checking emails, scanning Facebook, and ploughing through YouTube videos become your new best friends.

The reason we go looking for excuses is the same reason many fail to break free from the outdated office-based 9-5 structure: comfort. The body is always seeking patterns, security, and effective ways to conserve energy. Stepping outside of comfort means higher risk, greater uncertainty, higher chance of failure, and potentially a shed-load of anxiety. The body doesn’t want that.

From a biological stand point, the body is only interested in survival. To the body, the above is more a recipe for disaster than survival, so it does all it can to keep you avoiding completing that piece of work, or for the unlucky some, leaving that same old office. Any move that could even bring even the slightest slither of stress or pain is craftily avoided through what we call procrastination.

However, these sticky, challenging, stress-inducing situations make up the perfect recipe for greater fulfilment and growth. So if we want to reach ever higher levels, it’s up to us to fight against the body’s natural tendencies and throw the dressing gown on the floor, temporarily block social media websites, lock the cat in the bathroom, and get the damn work done.

Tom, one of my colleagues here at Connected UK, knows a lot about steering away from comfort and taking his life up a notch. Along with companies like Automattic, Buffer, and Basecamp,  Connected is a true “remote-first” digital agency that understands and experiences the benefits of remote working. So with Tom currently in Spain and myself in Mexico, I recently caught up with him online to ask him a few questions about his career and the challenges he’s faced in his stretch as a long-term digital nomad.

Hey Tom, where are you exactly and what’s the view like?

I’m currently in San Antonio Bay in Ibiza and from my balcony I have a view of the sea, looking out towards the sunset.

When and how did you get started working remotely?

My background is in mechanical engineering but I never had much satisfaction working in the industry and wanted to try something different. After working as a skydiving instructor in Dubai for a year, although it wasn’t my ideal job, I knew I wanted an alternative career and lifestyle to the typical one back home in England.

But as I still didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be I had to keep changing jobs, which understandably made potential employers pretty uncomfortable. Eventually I decided to start an online business so I could explore what I wanted and build my own career.

What has been the biggest challenge for you in living and working as a digital nomad?

There have been a LOT of challenges but the biggest has been managing myself and still is. More specifically loneliness – I’m a very sociable person and sitting alone behind a laptop for days on end is a real challenge. And as it’s very difficult to separate your personal and business life when you’re mostly working alone, it’s also hard to stay motivated for as long as it takes to be successful.

I’m still working on this now and probably always will be but my advice to anyone starting out would be to hold on to at least one thing you’re truly passionate about, even if it’s not your work, and pursue it wherever you are. I gave up everything to start my business and travel and in hindsight, it wasn’t a good idea.

Nowadays I DJ from time to time and would love to own a performance car. These things give you a sense of purpose and fulfilment, which are vital to long term success. I’d also like to open a coworking space and possibly mentor or coach others because interacting with and helping other people is probably my greatest strength and one of the things I find most rewarding.

We’ve all had those times when you stop and think is it all worth it. For me, recently when torrential rain hit Cusco where I was living, the ground floor of my apartment flooded, the internet went down, and I had to work for a week in a dingy internet cafe full of sweaty teenage gamers. Could you share one of your times of despair?

It’s hard to choose just one but when I first moved to Bali in rainy season, I had to ride around on a scooter in torrential rain with tonsillitis looking for a place to rent. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if on the same day, the hot shower hadn’t broken and I hadn’t severely sunburned my nose!

Can you give us a brief idea of what your typical week looks like?

It depends on the time of year at the moment with Ibiza being seasonal but typically, I work from around 9am till 8pm with a break for the gym (or a few beers) around 6. I usually work from home on the sofa because sitting at a desk gives me back pain and migraines but also because being at home keeps expenses to a minimum and makes it easier to eat properly.

Weekends wise, I try to schedule in some planning and accounting etc. but prefer not to be at home as I’ve already been there all week. Half a day is usually sufficient though so it’s not too bad. I also love music and parties and there’s no shortage of those in Ibiza, which is one of the reasons I’ve stayed here so long. Saturday afternoons are my particular favourite – sunshine, music and beers!

How do you see the landscape of remote working changing over the next few years, and in your own opinion, what are the areas you’d like specifically to see more change in?

I think more people will work remotely in future for a multitude of reasons but it will take time for people and infrastructure to adapt. I also think there’ll be more coworking spaces worldwide, not only in digital nomad hotspots like Bali and major cities but also smaller, alternative places like Ibiza.

The cost of these spaces will need to come down or be structured in such as way that makes them more accessible to small businesses and startups, if they’re to become more mainstream. They’ll also need to have more diverse environments to suit different types of people if they’re to appeal to a wider audience.

The beauty of a coworking space as opposed to an office is the autonomy and flexibility you have. Sitting at a desk for a prescribed number of hours in return for a wage is an outdated concept and those businesses which adopt a coworking approach to their offices or allow their employees to work remotely, are sure to gain an edge over their competitors.

How has working remotely helped you progress in your personal and professional life?

Working remotely and being able to travel has definitely helped me to become a more well-rounded person and it’s allowed me to explore running a business my own way, which is a big factor for me as I don’t like being told how to do things. Having said that, I’m always keen to learn from others and improve myself.

Professionally it’s allowed me to explore my career options and develop new skill sets, as well as identify my strengths and weaknesses so I know where to focus my efforts to take my business to the next level.

It’s also allowed me to explore having complete autonomy and what it means to have absolute responsibility for your work. It’s painful at times and the transition from startup to a growing business is proving to be a tough one but I know it’s what I need to do.

Thanks Tom! Any words or messages you’d like to share before you go?

I still have a long way to go before getting to where I want to be. The problem now is, with all the challenges I’ve faced and the time and energy it’s taken to get here, I’m no longer sure where I’m going! And that makes everything harder.

My advice to anyone is to revisit your goals regularly and don’t be afraid to want for things that seem impossible at the time, like owning a sports car or going abroad to a festival. It’s those things that drive you and keep you going through the difficult times you’ll inevitably face.

At the same time, don’t just do things because someone else said it was a good idea, personally or professionally—it has to be right for you. If you’re happy, your business is much more likely to succeed, as are the people you’re helping.

Give me a shout if you want to say hello or ask me any questions. Best of luck with your business!

Part of our five-part series No Office, No Limits, broken into Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Joe Hunt is a freelance writer from the North of England. Find him on Medium exploring remote working, technology, meditation, and more.