This is the office of a digital nomad ^
Thanks to a shift in technology and attitudes to working, so-called "digital nomads" like Charles Du, founder of nomadcharles.com, are able to enjoy travelling the world, working from anywhere and earning money at the same time.
But it could be you! In Charles’ words...
And he’s something of an expert on the matter, having lived & worked in over 30 countries and coaching people who also want to take up the digital nomad lifestyle.
First things first, how would you define a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is somebody who can work and travel at the same time. They’re totally location independent and can live and work pretty much anywhere there’s wi-fi. It’s completely different from going to an office or cubicle and working 9 to 5 before going home, and being tied to one physical location.
When you’re a digital nomad, you could fly to Medellín in Colombia, work from a coffee shop and that’s just part of your regular routine!
This means you can experience life as it happens as opposed to working for a time to save money so that you can then travel before going back to work in the same way.
And why is this kind of lifestyle only possible now?
It’s a natural evolution of people’s career possibilities, desire for growth and love for travel. This is a way to travel the world and create a sustainable income to support it.
The tools we use to work and the demands of current work have evolved. A lot of us are knowledge workers – maybe we’re sending emails, project managing or coding, but the tools we use are digital and don’t need to be in one location – for instance laptops and cameras. We still have face-to-face meetings but most of our time is spent in front of laptops.
The second way this has been made more possible is through through the venues and communities that have emerged, such as The Collective who understand that there is a new breed of knowledge workers who need awesome living situations and workspace, as well as the social side of meeting other people and being part of a community as the lifestyle can get lonely otherwise.
There must be some drawbacks to living this way. What are they?
Loneliness can be a big one. It can get lonely moving around so much, so you’re more likely to be successful if you can find a community to travel with, make friends with and build close relationships on your travels. This type of lifestyle doesn’t work for people who just want to escape work to go off and travel.
Because you’ll need to work and have a remote job lined up to make a sustainable income, it’s not a break from your work life, it’s a new type of work life. Otherwise you’re just on vacation spending money, which you’ll quickly run out of and have to go back to ‘normal’ life.
What made you choose to become a digital nomad?
I’d been in corporate for the last 8 years, I had a very successful career but hit a ceiling in my professional and personal growth. I looked back at my life and realised that most of my growth came from travelling and getting confused by opening myself up to new things. Different customs, culture, transport systems – you learn a lot intellectually but also through self-discovery. As you travel, you experience new things and realise what you like and dislike, and start to even know yourself better.
Every single time I travel, I’ve grown. And the stranger the environment, the faster I’ve grown because I’ve had to adapt to it.
I took the leap with some structure in place – I joined Remote Year because I can travel for a long period of time with a community.
What if you’re not a freelancer or entrepreneur? Can other types of workers be digital nomads?
Most people think you need to be a freelancer or an entrepreneur with the freedom to live like a digital nomad but it’s actually not the case. In fact, most digital nomads travelling with Remote Year or who have gone through my programme are actually employees, usually of large companies. They’ve managed to persuade their company to let them travel and work at the same time without being tied to one office location.
There’s a lot of jobs I didn’t think were possible to do remotely.
Like this guy in Remote Year who’s doing project management – leading and managing teams from afar and doing an amazing job of it. Another is a nurse recruiter, matching nurses with hospitals. Yet another is a consultant for a hotel chain, going out to find venues for events… in this case the digital nomad lifestyle gives her an advantage as she can scope out hotels in new locations all the time!
So you’re in London now! How does it compare to other cities in the world?
For me there are two things I love in life: Playing football and finding new places to eat. London has both.
The moment I came here, I could pick up football games everywhere to play every night of the week if I wanted through this app called Footy Addicts, and there are so many awesome ethnic restaurant places. There was even a place serving authentic Muslim-Chinese food I used to get back in Xi’an in China. It’s so rare to find such quality ethnic food, but London has it!
What advice would you give to someone visiting London for the first time?
Normally someone would say go Big Ben and all this touristy stuff but I would really encourage people to try to do things that aren’t so mainstream and touristy. Try something the local people like doing.
For me it’s playing football with locals or taking a bike ride down the canal (by Old Oak). For people that stay here, it’s a part of their everyday life and that’s what gives you feeling of discovery and connection. When I take a bike ride down the canal, you go past beautiful houses, boats and run into little cafes.
And what about The Collective Old Oak? What has it been like to call this place home for a month?
I think places like The Collective Old Oak are the future. Everything feels so thoughtfully designed for life, for work and for community living.
I go into my room and it’s not the biggest, but has all the essentials at a high quality: a super comfortable bed, a TV in front of my bed so I can watch movies as I fall asleep, the window’s by the bed so I don’t need an alarm in the morning and there’s a rainfall falling shower which is awesome after a long game of football.
The room is cosy; I only go there to rest, encouraging me to go outside where there is so much community space. There’s a communal kitchen on each floor, where if I want to get a bunch of friends together for a dinner party I can. There’s a cinema room that’s not just a room with TV in it but with a large projector and sound system to make it feel like a movie theatre, even down to the popcorn machine. There’s a gym to be completed, a spa, a library and all these cool coworking spaces to get work done.
The best thing is the wi-fi. Every room has its own wi-fi, a luxury having travelled to so many other countries. The speed is so fast; the work I do involving skype calls and video production is seamless.
The Collective pick out the important parts of life and package it into a one experience-filled, efficient and sustainable building. In the future I hope there will be more buildings like this.
And finally, for anyone who’s now itching to become a digital nomad, what tips would you give to people starting out?
Having been a digital nomad and travelled to 30 countries, I’ve seen people who’ve tried and failed, and people who’ve succeeded. You have to figure out how to make a sustainable income – the myth is that you need to be a freelancer working for clients across the world, or work as a programmer or designer.
In reality, people don’t have to quit their jobs – they work for companies by putting across a business case to employer to let them go off and travel. So for people who want to travel and work same time, it might be closer than you think.
I’d advise people to take advantage of different communities, not just socially but to further their career and to have a support group. Structural communities such as Remote Year plan everything – from housing to workspace – so you don’t have to do all the logistics and can focus on enjoying the travelling and working. The people on these programmes face the same challenges as you, and they’re the people you can work with and go out with.
For people who live in big cities and do the math, being a digital nomad can actually save you money. For me right now, even though I’m travelling the world, I’m spending less money than I was when I lived in LA!
Charles Du runs nomadcharles.com, where you can learn more about what it takes to become a successful digital nomad. Want to evolve your location-dependent day job into a location-independent career? Charles’ online courses and step-by-step guides will help you on your way...