Ever tried to work at your laptop on a beach?
If you have, you’ll know how difficult it can be.
Sand in your keyboard… the dazzle of the sun making your screen unreadable… and backache or neck ache from propping your laptop up between your knees while you try to type. It’s a pretty unproductive way of working.
You may be familiar with the term ‘digital nomad’; it’s used to describe people who work online and travel at the same time: in other words, they can work from anywhere. I’m one of them – but with a difference. If you type ‘digital nomad’ into Google Images, you’ll find the majority of pictures are of people sitting on a beach or on the top of a mountain with a seemingly fabulous internet connection and ‘living the dream’.
There’s nothing wrong with that aspiration, of course. And if that’s what floats your boat, then go for it. It’s pretty nice.
But the ‘beaches and bars’ image doesn’t appeal to everyone – and it doesn’t always reflect reality.
I’m a digital nomad in my 50s (which is older than a typical nomad), and my laptop rarely ever goes anywhere near a beach. In 2014 I went through a process of radically changing how I live and work, to make my life completely ‘mobile’. It means I really can be anywhere at anytime – and for however long I choose.
I spent my first five years as a nomad in 11 different countries across three continents.
But you don’t have to do it all the time. You can travel for as long or as short a time as you choose. You decide when to be away and when to be at home.
And in terms of your work, where you happen to be in the world doesn’t matter, because you can continue doing your same work – just in a different way.
Why work from anywhere?
In 2014 I had reached a point where I just couldn’t bear to sit at the same desk in the same office for another day longer. I liked my work, but I was really fed up with the daily routine. I love travelling, and I wanted to be free to be anywhere anytime – to really get to know different parts of the world – without the constraints of fixed annual leave and having to return home to ‘go back to work’.
I’ve always worked full time, and now I do it from anywhere I choose, and I can stay as long as my passport/visa permits. It means I can reach places I wouldn’t otherwise reach.
For example, exploring Hanoi for the weekend when you live in Europe just isn’t feasible. But exploring Hanoi for the weekend when you’re already spending a few months in Vietnam (‘working from anywhere’) is easy.
I get to experience a different kind of life wherever I am – at least, as far as you can do without living somewhere full time. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, and it has also revealed some unusual benefits.
Here are 3 unusual benefits of being able to work from anywhere…
1. Your life becomes infinitely richer
If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you’ll probably know that deep longing to be able to have just one more conversation with them, to be able to ask them the things you never thought to ask them while they were alive.
Being able to engage in good conversation is something I often take completely for granted – and so in the past I haven’t done it as often as I could have.
When you’re travelling – or when you’re exploring new parts of your own neighbourhood – unexpected conversations with fascinating people you wouldn’t otherwise meet can be so enriching.
For me the real beauty of being able to live and work from anywhere is that I get to meet local people wherever I am. I also love exploring places most visitors don’t have the opportunity to go, I learn more about the wider world – and also about myself.
That feeling of connection with someone else, even with a stranger you chat with only briefly, can be so rewarding.
I love what we can learn through open conversation. I love how it helps us see the world and the people in it just that little bit differently. Travel really does help open our eyes to wonderful new perspectives.
2. You expand your network
Meeting new people while travelling and staying in touch with them means, by default, you expand your network of contacts.
The Six Degrees of Separation theory tells us that each one of us is only six degrees (six connections) – or less – from anyone we choose to name in the world. In today’s world of ever expanding social media, however, the average distance between any two people on the entire planet is now thought to be just four connections, as this Psych2Go animation on YouTube shows.
The more you travel, near and far, and the more international and diverse your network, the more likely you are to meet additional interesting people – and people you specifically want to meet – simply on account of who you already know.
3. You can make a bigger difference in the world
Suppose you currently work in the same office each day – or from one fixed location. Or suppose you work face-to-face with one customer/patient/student/client at a time. You may be delivering a valuable service, and yet the number of people you can reach/help/serve in any given day could be limited.
When you transition to being able to work from anywhere, the process you go through makes you think hard about how you do what you do – and how you could do it differently. When you work from anywhere you have to make much more use of the internet, and by putting your skills and expertise online you can automatically reach – and help – more people. You can make a bigger difference.
You can do this even if you don’t currently work online. What’s more, it can also increase your income.
For example, when I started out as a nomad, my work involved providing consultancy to families in the UK, to help them access government funding to cover nursing care fees. However, there was a limit to how many families I could help on a one-to-one basis – as there are only so many hours in a day. So I looked at new ways of providing the same advice, so I didn’t have to be in one place all the time.
The result was that not only did I gain the freedom to be anywhere I wanted to be at any time, but changing the way I worked meant I could make my expertise available online to lots more people, instead of just the few families I was previously helping on an individual basis.