The alarm jolts me awake. It’s time to get dressed, put water on for tea, and slip past my slumbering dog. I unplug my tablet and step outside in time to catch the sun rise over Sedona, Arizona’s red sandstone cliffs. Another traveler is already hard at work in his converted school bus. We’re 15 miles from civilization.
It’s morning in the land of the digital nomad.
Capitalizing on the growth of portable technology and accessible internet, the percentage of U.S. employees working away from the office rose from 9% to 37% between 1995 and 2015. In the late 1990s, a handful of remote workers began testing the limits of mixing travel and work, taking their careers with them across the globe.
Originally called “techno-nomads” by The New York Times, today’s digital nomads are location-independent employees and business owners relying on technology to stay connected to their jobs and clients. They live and work from hotels, sailboats, and recreational vehicles across the United States and around the world. Though small in number, digital nomads are gaining attention through social networks and an increasing interest from mainstream media.
I’m an adventure junkie with a passion for the United States’ wildest places. After years of working remotely as a Product Owner for a global non-profit, I lobbied to take my position on the road. With the non-profit’s blessing, and a burgeoning adventure photography business, I’ve been exploring the country in a vintage campervan for six months. Here’s how I enjoy the freedom of travel while staying connected to my career.
Work that Travels
Any job that is done on portable technology is a candidate for the digital nomad. I’ve met travelers who, like me, brought their 9 to 5 on the road with them, and travelers who started new businesses to fuel their vagabond dreams. Many digital nomads are in the fields of software development, web-based business, and creative freelance.
To thrive as a digital nomad, reliable connectivity is key. Coffee shops and libraries can often provide basic internet service, but lining up options helps ensure consistent access. I prefer the freedom of being off the grid, where having two cellular hot spots on different networks is a must. Check out the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center for plan reviews and coverage maps.
Technology for Small Spaces
Whether traveling in a camper, a sailboat or an airplane, tough choices need to be made about which devices are worth their weight. Large spaces can accommodate a desktop computer and monitor, but most digital nomads travel light. I work primarily with an 9.7 inch iPad Pro, carrying a MacBook Pro to supplement as needed.
Workspace ergonomics are as important on the road as they are in an office. Portable stand up desks are available, and lumbar pillows work miracles in uncomfortable chairs.
Accommodating a device’s electricity needs with portable power is tricky business. Solar power, generators, and rechargeable batteries are options for travelers who prefer to be off the grid. Using my power sipping tablet instead of a laptop extends the cycle time of my Goal Zero Yeti 400, a 400 watt-hour portable charger.
Challenges of the Digital Nomad
While it’s tempting to think of life as a digital nomad as a non-stop vacation, the reality is more complex. Travel delays, mechanical problems, and bad weather can throw a day into chaos. Internet connectivity is unpredictable and often expensive. Constant trip planning requires patience and time. Even with years of travel and remote work under my belt, I underestimated the effort required to sustain the lifestyle. For me, the freedom of daily exploration is worth every bump in the road.
Back near Sedona, I finish making my tea and check my charger. It’s almost full and should see me through another few days of working with this birds-eye view of the red rocks. I wave hello to my digital nomad neighbor and wonder how many more will join us today. When will I see you out there?
By Sara Sheehy