Op/ed: The life of a digital nomad
By Tyler Suchman
The Internet was down. I was on a small island in the Caribbean, and this was my first day as a digital nomad. In less than 30 minutes, a dozen people from three agencies and the world’s second largest beverage company would be logging into GoToMeeting.com for a conference call that I was leading.
I threw my laptop in my bag, called the boat taxi service hoping my meager Spanish was sufficient, and walked out onto the dock. The driver of the tiny panga boat with the outboard motor picked me up and shuttled me to Bocas Del Toro. I walked briskly, now 10 minutes from my 11 a.m. call. I found a sports bar with Wi-Fi that wouldn’t open until noon. Talking my way in, I ordered a beer, tipped generously, and logged into the call with less than a minute to spare.
Three years later, AliSun and I have visited 16 countries, gotten married, met amazing people, eaten weird food and logged over a year of nights on Airbnb.
We have ridden bikes through a primeval forest in Japan, flown on the back of a super typhoon south of Hong Kong, lurched in buses through Mexico City, ascended in funiculars in Paris, ridden horses out to drink pulque in Guanajuato, haggled in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul and swam in the Adriatic Sea that laps the shores of Croatia.
We have sat in cathedrals that used to be mosques and mosques that used to be cathedrals. We have been in Jewish synagogues, Aztec ruins, Buddhist temples, Oaxacan cemeteries, and experienced the most amazing Mayan healers in a converted Catholic church.
Being a digital nomad was never a whim. For 10 years I had been thinking about being geographically independent. It took a year of planning, the understanding and encouragement from longtime clients, a bunch of Apple gear and a big, giant leap of faith to leave our nest in Ojai.
I had two big surprises the first year. The first was failing to research the Schengen Zone, which only allows visitors 90 out of 180 days to be in a group of countries that roughly overlaps the European Union. We had to retool our entire six months in Europe on the fly, which led to amazing adventures down through Croatia, Serbia and Turkey.
The second big surprise was how the notion of working full-time was impacted by travel. My customary 70 hours in the States would max out at 30 to 40 hours overseas. Something has to suffer, and for me it was the maintenance of my business development pipeline. By the time we had returned to Ojai for the winter two years ago, I had no incoming business and spent the next two months rebuilding.
The three biggest challenges a digital nomad faces are Wi-Fi, timezones and self-motivation. My friends on the Central Coast with their 80MB internet connections shake their heads in disbelief when I express gratitude for a stable 3MB line. They smugly smile when I speak of mercifully rare midnight calls. And they are mockingly sympathetic when my stroll through an ancient Roman city is cut short by actual deadlines and deliverables.
Three years in, I have learned a lot about how to do this right. My client base is diversified and I focus on values-based businesses that I want to work with. I have paid off the credit cards that I relied on to get us on the road, and paid cash for virtually everything in Mexico the last four months. I have good redundancy on the technology I carry, along with an assortment of gadgets and doohickies for Wi-Fi, charging, backing up, splitting and connecting.
And most of all, I take time to have a life. I work hard, I work smart, and then I close my laptop. I might work all morning, have a lovely afternoon, and then work late. My wife and I take long walks and hikes, we eat well and sometimes drink too much coffee; we feed our spirituality, we explore cultures and we meet people.
I consider myself truly blessed and I have immense gratitude for what we have created. The reality of being a digital nomad isn’t always easy and it requires some sacrifice, but ultimately it is an incredibly rewarding lifestyle where I can meet the needs of clients, live the life I want to live and inspire others to pursue adventure and happiness.