In this post I intend to explain something I’ve hinted at plenty of times in the last few weeks but somehow not properly gotten around to writing about yet. In short, I have left my rented apartment in Dublin and headed for greener (debatably), warmer (definitely) pastures and embarked upon a new lifestyle as a “digital nomad”. What? Exactly.
What is “digital nomadism”?
Don’t be fooled by the strange term; it’s not as pretentious as it sounds. At least, I hope it isn’t… disappears down black hole of self-disillusionment for five minutes
Right, I’m back. Digital nomadism (I have to stop with the quotation marks at some stage) is a relatively new lifestyle emerging in the last few years. Thanks to the Internet and hundreds of employment options ranging from coder to video-subtitle-writer that don’t require an actual physical presence anywhere, people from all over the world are now taking advantage of this to up sticks and live wherever they want. If you don’t need to be anywhere, you can well, be anywhere.
In contrast to normal expats, nomads are–as the name suggests–nomadic, spending a few weeks or months in one place before moving on to the next, without the massive upheaval of quitting a job to travel the world or setting down permanent roots anywhere (meaning no need to apply for special visas or residency permits). If you like a place a lot you can stay longer, and if it doesn’t agree with you you can move on at will. It’s a very liberating idea once you wrap your head around it.
While many, perhaps even the majority, of nomads are freelancers and travel bloggers, there are a growing number of companies embracing the idea of letting their employees globetrot on the job. A high profile one is Buffer, and there are many others like Github and Basecamp. In my case I don’t work for any of those. My co-workers were good enough to let me try this experiment, and as a result of me moving out we’re effectively a fully distributed company now!
Why do it, though? Don’t you like Ireland?
I love Ireland and I’m extremely proud of it! I will be back there many times and right now it’s very much the plan that I will end up in Ireland whenever my time as a nomad comes to an end. There are too many people there that I care too much about to leave it behind forever.
As to why I chose to do this, there are several reasons:
- I’ve not done much proper travelling in my life, by millennial standards. Bar an interrailing trip around Europe and some standard-length holidays to relatively common destinations (all great, not to take anything away from them), I’d pretty much stayed put in Ireland since my family and I moved back to it in 2004 after fourteen years in various parts of England. In recent times, I’d been even more of an international hermit, rarely venturing outside of the island at all. After realising that I’d taken one week of international vacation time in the last eighteen months, and with a thirst for some of the travelling I felt I was missing out on, I began to look for opportunities to do so without leaving behind the work I love.
- For varying reasons, an increasing number of my friends had begun to leave Ireland behind for a while. My flatmate, and one of my best friends moved to Canada this autumn and around the same time another of my best mates told me he planned to head to Dubai to make his fortune. I realised I could mope about feeling sorry for myself or use it as an opportunity to move away for a while at a time when I wouldn’t be missing *too many* things happening back home.
- As a person with an interest in writing and being a writer, I’m aware that a writer without some life experience usually won’t create much worth reading. This lifestyle seemed to me to be another way to get some interesting experiences under my belt. It’s been a year of pushing my comfort zone, and what better way to do that than to spend time living in foreign lands?
- Along the same lines, and with a hint to my current location, I have always wanted to learn some different languages to conversational levels. I hate being the ignorant English-speaker when I’m elsewhere. I did French in school and loved it, getting to a decent level in time for my final exams in secondary/high school, but have been letting it all slip away through the sieve-like walls of my mind ever since. Although I don’t believe immersion is essential to language learning, I do think it certainly can’t hurt.
- I have become acutely aware of how lucky I am to have the skillset that I do, and to enjoy the work that I enjoy. I feel that I owe it to myself and, in a strange way, to those that don’t have it, to get everything out of it that I can and not take it for granted. As a software developer it is basically easy-mode for digital nomadism from a supporting-the-lifestyle point of view, and it felt almost rude and ungrateful not to take advantage of it, even if only for a while.
Alright, so where are you headed?
For my first destination, I chose drumroll… Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. You’re probably all picturing retired English people sauntering around with leather skin but that’s far more the case in the south of the island. Las Palmas, the capital city of the island situated in the north, is a bustling young city that defied my expectations even after lots of research.
I chose LPA (for some reason the airport code looks nicer to me than the straight-up acronym) for lots of reasons, but the main ones are:
- The weather. I can’t lie, I basically hadn’t been on a summer holiday in three years, and I wanted to go somewhere I could comfortably walk around in a t-shirt and shorts and not have to always know where my nearest jacket was in case of an unexpected deluge. The climate here is perfect for a pale creature like myself, with the temperature staying pretty much constantly between 18 and 26 degrees, night or day, and sunlight that, at least this time of year, isn’t *too* strong. Though I did buy factor 50, to be on the safe side.
- Surfing! Although, spoiler alert, I really haven’t done as much of it yet as I wanted to, my surf experiences back in Ireland made me want to go somewhere where I could surf more often. The conditions here in the Atlantic, with a good beach practically on my doorstep, are basically perfect for catching waves. Even if they’re more likely to catch me than the other way around.
- Español(o). Though they speak *very* fast (even by Spanish standards) and have an accent all their own, native Canarians speak Spanish and often don’t have the level of English that you might get in a more tourist-dominated city like Barcelona or even the south of the island. This means I get ample opportunity to practice my fledgling Spanish in everyday life, and after two months of total learning (in this stint, I’ve had many aborted, unsuccessful ones in the past) has me at a… well, crap level. But less crap than two months ago, I swear!
- Other nomads. Thanks to word of mouth and sites like nomadlist.io, Las Palmas has seen a large influx of nomads coming here for much the same reasons as me. Though the idea of going off the beaten path and living purely among locals is a romantic one, I didn’t want to kid myself–having some people around that I could talk to without breaking into a sweat (seriously, conversing in other languages is hard!) and having some cultural and lifestyle similarities is a real comfort.
- Myriad practical reasons. Decent internet, relatively close to Ireland, EU so no visa needed, relatively cheap, same timezone as Ireland making work easier and blah blah blah. You guys probably don’t care about that stuff too much!
Cool! So when are you off? How long are you going to do this for?
Eh, that’s the thing. I’m actually already here, and have been for nearly six weeks. Sorry. I really should have said something earlier. In fact, I’m coming to the end of my planned first stint, though I’m coming back after Christmas for a couple more months as I like it so much!
As for how long I’ll continue to live this life, I’m not sure. I’m really enjoying it so far, but I’m aware that I’ve lucked-out here with a great situation and I know that the lifestyle is not all roses. Loneliness is a frequent complaint, and adapting to new places and cultures is not without a certain exhaustion-factor. That’s partly what makes it so worthwhile, but I imagine after a while it can grate.
Another thing is that I’m mature enough to recognise and admit that I’m a fairly home-minded person. I love Ireland. I had to be practically pushed out the door by people leaving in order to finally pull the trigger, after years of reading about people doing it. I’m aware of how fast things can change, and I don’t want to miss too much of the lives of the people very close to me back home. You only get so much time with loved ones even if you live in the same city, let alone from such distance.
But, I am enjoying myself right now, and I think it’s not a bad way to spend a year or more. I intend to take it slow, spending at least six weeks and probably more in each major stop. I don’t want to fall into the trap of moving too often and burning myself out. The only problem is, when you know you’re going to spend a while in a place it feels like a big commitment. There’s a massive world out there, how do I choose!?
Ultimately, for whatever length of time I continue to do it for, I think this is a good choice for me at a good time in my life, while I’m relatively free and unencumbered by major responsibilities like a wife, kids or mortgage. It ties in well with my 2015 goal of pushing myself out of my comfort zone in unusual ways–every day can be like that in a new place–and I get the same sense of satisfaction from it. Even when it’s hard, it’s good for that reason.
Next time, I’ll talk about Las Palmas specifically, and my thoughts on it after six weeks. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting!