Why everyone should work from a desert island
As jobs move increasingly online, digital nomads are grabbing their laptops and heading off to more enriching climes. Greg Lea explains why the world is his office
January 2019 feels like a long time ago. Back then, few people had experienced the joys of a 12-person Zoom chat on dodgy broadband and social distancing probably referred to choosing some Friday night me-time over a trip to the pub.
It was also the month in which I began my adventure as a digital nomad. The recent loss of a part-time office job meant all my remaining work as a freelance journalist could be completed from anywhere with a decent internet connection. Swapping my childhood bedroom for a new experience overseas felt like a no-brainer, so I packed my bags and set off for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
It has been an incredible 20 months. Last year, I was able to put a serious dent in my bucket list, camping at the Great Wall of China and skydiving in Thailand. I spent time in seven different countries in total, working along the way from Burmese tea houses and Japanese capsule hostels (top tip: bring earplugs), before hunkering down in Ho Chi Minh City – still known as Saigon to locals – during the pandemic.
As thrilling as many of the activities have been, the most enjoyable aspect of my nomadic journey has been the opportunities for cultural exchange it has provided. My friends now include a French coder, a British translator, a Canadian architect, a Brazilian graphic designer and an Icelandic app developer. The fellow nomads I meet tend to be in their 20s and 30s and are predominantly European or North American, but there are notable exceptions and their variety of occupations means there is always something new to learn.
In the coming months, many more professionals could be set to make the same decision as I did. The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards remote work and the signs suggest there will be no mass return to the traditional workplace even when social distancing is no longer necessary. So, if the definition of the workplace has been expanded to include anywhere with Wi-Fi, why not earn your crust from a beachfront hotel in the Bahamas or a coffee shop in Mexico City?
If the definition of the workplace has been expanded to include anywhere with Wi-Fi, why not earn your crust from a beachfront hotel in the Bahamas or a coffee shop in Mexico City?
Engineering administrator Stela Simeonova is one of many who have recently come to that conclusion. She plans to quit her job in Burton upon Trent and pursue her true passion in sports nutrition from Australia via Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
“Working from home during lockdown changed my mindset completely,” she says. “I thought about how many opportunities there are to work remotely in a much nicer place. I started doing some research on digital nomads and was impressed with all the information online. The nine-to-five feels like being a trapped in a box. I’m taking this step because of the freedom that comes with the nomad lifestyle.”
In the popular imagination, pre-pandemic digital nomading was considered the preserve of young freelancers clustered in the traditional hotspots of Chiang Mai, Bali, Lisbon and Medellín. That was always an oversimplification and my own experiences suggest a much wider range of professions than the stereotype of male computer geeks.
The last couple of years have also seen new destinations rise up the nomad popularity chart. The Mexican town of Tulum offers Ancient Mayan ruins as well as golden beaches, and has welcomed a steady stream of laptop-carrying arrivals in recent months. Those who prefer the bright lights of a city are increasingly heading to Prague in Europe and Taipei in Asia.
There is a nomad-friendly location to cater to every taste. This, coupled with the rise of remote work, is making digital nomadism more accessible and more appealing to a wider range of people.
And this expansion of the pool of potential digital nomads has not gone unnoticed by businesses. Van hire firm Indie Campers is set to launch a new service for remote workers. Cobblers Cove in Barbados is inviting guests to spend the entire UK winter – 164 nights – at the resort in line with the Barbadian president’s Welcome Stamp scheme. Airbnb is promoting extended stays, with 50 per cent of properties now offering discounts on bookings of a month or more.
James Abbott, the founder of KoHub, an award-winning co-working space on the Thai island of Koh Lanta, believes the trend will continue.
“I think long-term stays might be more likely if there are incentives to do so,” he says. “I can imagine in the coming years digital nomads will become a new target group of tourists to be marketed towards.”
It is not just private business that is looking to cash in. Barbados, Bermuda, Anguilla, Estonia and Georgia are among the countries now offering long-term visas to remote workers. Some of the schemes are expensive and restricted to certain nationalities, but more countries are expected to follow suit.
Many aspects of the new normal are discomforting. But if the shift towards remote work allows more of us to swap our spare bedrooms for glamorous destinations abroad, even this cloud might have a silver living.
Citizenship by investment
If you’re interested in transferring your laptop to a sun-kissed tropical island on a more permanent basis – and have a fair amount of cash to spare – it’s worth considering one of the ‘citizenship by investment’ programmes on offer in the Caribbean. Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Lucia all offer the opportunity of gaining a full passport for life in exchange for either a non-refundable donation to the government or an investment in real estate. The minimum investment for the least expensive programmes is $100,000 and the process of getting a passport takes around four months.
Micha-Rose Emmett, founder and CEO of CS Global Partners, a company that helps countries market these programmes, says there has been a considerable growth in interest this year. “The world has changed so much in the last six months and people are re-evaluating their lifestyle choices,” she says. “If you have a choice of living in a beautiful country where the air is pure, rather than living in a big city, why wouldn’t you take that option?”
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