Have you ever wondered if it is feasible to work wherever you want to? Is it even possible to travel and build your business? Maaike Leenders answered these questions on digital nomadism and more at the 2021 SENSE Professional Development Day. After working in-house for almost five years, Maaike exchanged her office for the open road and has taken every opportunity to lead a digital nomad lifestyle. Based on her personal experience, she offered practical tips for beginners interested in becoming digital nomads.
Maaike started her presentation by dispelling some common myths associated with the digital nomad. Many think of digital nomads as young, attractive people working on laptops on picturesque islands like Bali or Crete. The problem is, this beachy, chill lifestyle is often confused with the wider concept of working remotely. According to Maaike, a digital nomad is a person making a living by working outside the conventional office environment, for longer or shorter periods at a time. They use the flexibility of their online career to travel and expand their horizons. Therefore, it is certainly not a life-hack that means you never have to work again. Additionally, this lifestyle is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Now that it’s clear what digital nomadism is not, let’s look at how one can become a digital nomad. First, we must ask “why do we want to pursue this niche?” and start a career as a digital nomad. There is more to life than work: family, friends, health issues, pets, and social responsibilities. These considerations lead to other questions: ‘how much do you want/need to work?’ and ‘how much you want to travel?’ Once these questions are answered, we are almost ready to say ‘sayonara’ to our old work lifestyle. It is vital to build up a cushion of money (cash buffer) to fund your start-up costs. It is also crucial to clear any financial arrears. Outstanding debts may be the barrier to becoming a digital nomad for a long time.
Other practical tips highlighted during the talk were related to income, ergonomic workspace, and having proper internet connections. Digital nomads often work for clients outside the time zones they travel to. Hence, it is necessary to organize your time to meet client needs. Like any profession, digital nomadism has its highs and lows. Maaike highlighted that it is important to be mindful of our emotions when we are earning a living as a digital nomad. Loneliness and homesickness are common emotional setbacks. Creating your own definition of freedom and learning to say ‘no’ are important for a balanced business and personal lifestyle.
At the end of her presentation, Maaike suggested resources that offer tips on how to travel and earn at the same time. These include books, Facebook groups, and volunteer organizations. There are also some excellent platforms for homestays, such as WWOOF, WorkAway, and HelpX. These platforms offer opportunities to stay abroad without paying ridiculous amounts of money. A take-home message from Maaike’s presentation is that everything always works out, even if it never goes according to plan. And that it is often better to start small.