Yvonne Nath shares what she’s learned (so far!).
Any good strategic planning process takes into consideration how to optimize the existing resources you have and what you will decline to pursue. You must be able to make important decisions without having all the information (i.e., you’ll need to take some risks).
The pandemic gave me some time to rethink and revise the strategic plan I have for my life. Not my entire life, of course, but I did map out how I want to live the next 1-2 years of it. You see, strategic plans need to be flexible because the future is not linear. One can plan and prepare for the future yet still be surprised and unprepared by contingencies in life. Ten years ago, I would have never dreamed I would be where I am today. Likewise, my life looks pretty different today than it looked just one year ago. Could you say the same?
The pandemic showed us that we can work remotely and our kids can go to school online. It was rough for us all at first, but with practice, we’ve improved. During the lockdown, many of us grew tired of our same surroundings.
In my case, I craved new scenery and stimuli, and I realized that I valued freedom more than anything: freedom from being so attached to a fixed standard of living that I will be afraid of losing when the world shakes things up again (because, inevitably and repeatedly, it will). Freedom from homeownership and all the maintenance that comes with it. Freedom to close a chapter in my life that’s run its course. Freedom to meet new people, and expand my thinking and life experiences. Freedom to change. The death scare of COVID also reminded me to make the best of my days today, because tomorrow is not promised. I’m not alone. You get it. The digital nomad lifestyle appeared to be one that would provide me with this freedom.
Here are some stats collected by Anyplace.com about the growing movement in digital nomadism:
- 56% of workers have a job where at least some of what they do could be done remotely. — Global Workplace Analytics
- 31% of digital nomads are women and 69% are men. — MBO partners
- 54% of digital nomads are more than 38 years old. — MBO partners
- 54% of digital nomads travel full-time, while 46% of digital nomads consider themselves part-time travelers. — MBO partners
- 70% of digital nomads travel to five or more countries per year. — co
- 31% of married digital nomads travel with their partners full-time. — FlexJobs
In my work, I help law firms think through how they will operate to survive and thrive now and into the future. Agile operations can help law firms be more resilient and profitable. Law firm agility can be improved, for instance, by relying more upon remote talent and other on-demand outsourced support such as ALSPs. Part of my curiosity around the digital nomad lifestyle was to see whether I could reduce my fixed expenses to next to nothing and have only variable expenses because I want to practice what I preach to law firms by living in an agile way.
So, in April, I sold my house, sold, donated, or disposed of most of my possessions, adjusted my co-parenting schedule to have my daughter every other month, and committed to trying digital nomadism for a chapter in my life.
I’ve heard from many of you that you are considering this lifestyle, too. Here are some of the things I have learned thus far living a nomadic life while also being a full-time working professional and a single mother.
1. When it comes to motivation, Yes, working in paradise may be too good to be true.
For the month of May, I booked an Airbnb in Ambergris Caye, Belize. Aqua water. Gentle breezes. White sand beaches. (I’ll not rub it in — you get it.) It was heavenly. It was easy to focus on work the first two weeks, but then my attention began to wane. The tropical island mentality began to seep in.
There were so many interesting locals and ex-pats to meet. So many Belizean adventures to enjoy: the caves, the shark diving and night diving, the ruins. The warm, humid air and the energy of everyone around me brought my energy levels down to a point where I wasn’t my usual, self-motivated self. I didn’t have anyone else around me cranking out work on their laptops. I lost focus. I felt lethargic and napped too much. A few friends I made there who were also trying the digital nomad lifestyle were feeling equally drained and distracted.
Aqua waters of Ambergris Caye, Belize
2. It’s helpful to work near other productive workers and from places that won’t distract you from actually working.
I learned that it’s possible to have too much freedom and too much ease and that maybe paradise is best saved for vacation. Having to balance obligations with freedom allows me to appreciate my freedom more. Balance is important. It’s good to stay a little hungry with anything in life. Not starving, not full.
Belize was too easy on me. I immensely enjoy my me-time, but being without my daughter for a full month left me with so much me-time that I became too self-indulgent, too social, and ultimately a little aimless and bored. I flew back to the States a few days early to get back into a faster pace and to reset my focus. It’s good to be surrounded by other people who are also working as you are. When everyone around you is sailing and drinking rum and urging you to join them, it can be tough to find your focus.
“Secret Beach” at sunset
3. Be sure you have the tools you need to work wherever you are.
Your access to certain websites, information, and applications will be limited depending on where you are. For instance, I could not access my law.com subscription because I did not have an international subscription [Note to ALM: you have an opportunity to offer daily or weekly access passes — there are people who want to buy them!!]. Whereas logging in to view U.S. legal industry news from the U.S. posed no problems, trying to access this U.S. news from outside the U.S. didn’t work. That was annoying because I must read this news every day for my job. Google is another example. You’ll get different search results depending on what country you are in.
4. Pack two laptops plus other backup devices and carry them in your carry-on.
Before embarking for Central America, I had a premonition that my laptop would stop working in Belize and I would be stuck with no easy way to replace it, so I packed a backup. Sure enough, on my third day in Belize, my laptop just went kaput. I could not revive it. So I worked from my backup laptop the rest of the month. Godsend.
For security purposes and to avoid damage to your critical equipment, keep your devices close to you as you travel. Pack them in your carry-on.
Carry multiple laptops and other backup devices with you and keep them close.
5. Go through your own personal digital transformation.
Keep digital records in the cloud of all your important files, credit cards, and IDs. I use Google apps like Drive, Photos, and Wallet for this purpose, but you have many options. Save all your work to the cloud. And forget about paper mail. Digitize it. I elect to receive correspondence electronically from all organizations that regularly send me important information.
For the occasional physical mail I receive, I use a mail forwarding service in Florida (google: “virtual mailing address” for a long list of companies that offer these services so you can choose one that works best for your needs). The company I use scans and emails me copies of my mail each day. I can ask them to save, trash, or ship the physical originals to wherever I am in the world if I need them.
Unfortunately, the first time I requested they ship a package of mail to my guesthouse in Ambergris Caye, Belize, “it will never get here” said the guesthouse owner. Even she was waiting on something her friends shipped to her over eight months ago, and she was right about my package: it never arrived in the month I was there. To this day, the tracking info shows it is still somewhere in transit between Miami and Belize City. But that’s an issue related to the Belize postal service, not my mail forwarding service. There goes that!
For this lifestyle to work, one must learn not to be too attached to anything, to relinquish some control without fear, and to not sweat the little things!
6. I’ve learned that home is where the heart is, and we can feel welcome and at home everywhere in the world thanks to the small kindnesses of strangers.
7. Nevertheless, find some tethers to ground you to some type of consistent home base.
It is lovely to feel a sense of community and at home in each new place we land. Nevertheless, for any nomad, it can be good to have some familiar day-to-day experiences and people in the mix. We stress if we’re constantly required to face new experiences and people.
It’s important to keep up with friends over time regardless of where we are. Many of us came to truly appreciate this during the pandemic when we took to video chats to maintain human connections. As I travel, I continue to call my friends on a regular basis, and I continue to lead my virtual discussion group, The Thinkers’ Club, on Mondays regardless of what time zone I am in. I do not need a physical home base. Wherever I am, I feel like I regularly touch home base when I meet with this online community. These people are my tribe, and they often remind me how this group is as important to them as it is to me. I wholeheartedly welcome you to join this free online group if you crave creative and intellectual stimulation and a sense of community.
8. In the moments you are not working, take in the local life!
This is the main reason to live this life! Let life happen to you in new ways! I cannot tell you how many magical moments I have experienced outside the workday just by virtue of being in new places exposed to new people.
Trying local flavors: octopus & conch ceviche, Dario’s street meat pies, and stone crab claws. Mmm.
Making some local friends.
These were some of the photos I took. However, I am in awe of the photos captured by Isaac Pacheco, a photojournalist who was on my scuba dive boat who captured our day and night dives. His work is here: About — Packing Light (packing-light.com)
9. This lifestyle doesn’t have to cost any more than what you pay to live now. In fact, it may cost less.
There’s house sitting. Airbnb and hotels can be quite affordable. I’ve found that the best discounts are offered for monthly stays. One can always visit family and friends (for instance, I cannot wait to crash at my friends’ castle in Ireland!). Many airlines have become more flexible with changes. If you are free to travel just about anywhere, you can go wherever the flight prices work within your budget. Big cities have great public transportation and ride-sharing, so you don’t need to rent a car. You may wish to travel in an RV. There are endless possibilities…
10. This lifestyle is totally doable with children. My daughter now believes I am the coolest person/parent/role model on the planet. Ah, what an amazing feeling!
My eight-year-old daughter, Ilya, and I spent the month of June at a farmhouse in Borgarnes along the West coast of Iceland. This was a beautiful experience for us.
Barn chores; goats that nibbled on my Marmot jacket (I’d say they had great taste).
11. Being isolated in a cool climate worked well for me.
In Iceland, there are only about 360,000 people and the ratio of sheep to humans is 2.5 to 1. The cool air and dearth of people made it really easy for me to focus. I found Iceland to be a great place for me to get a lot of work done away from many of the daily distractions we face when we live in busy locations or balmy paradises.
Caught in a hailstorm, we caught hail.
12. Kids can be pretty self-sufficient. Travel provides them with new stimuli.
My daughter’s educational apps on her iPad, crafts, Lakeshore Learning workbooks, a box of animal bones, the live animals on the farm, and the farmer’s children kept her occupied for hours each day! For digital nomad parents, befriend local parents to learn what’s good for children to do in the area. They can also provide or recommend good local childcare if you need it. A pastor told me that churches can also be a good place to look for babysitters who are well-known within the community.
Ilya observed the circle of life on the farm.
13. Time differences can work in your favor, depending on how you like to spend your free time (do you prefer to have mornings or evenings free?).
The time difference in Iceland put me about 4-6 hours ahead of my colleagues and clients in the U.S. I had to be willing to sacrifice my personal time in the evenings in order to be available to work with people in the U.S. from about noon to nine. Then again, what else was I going to do in my free time in the middle of rural Iceland except for reading and hiking? Yet, with 24 hours of light, we could go for hikes around the farm, along the beaches, in caves, and up mountains and dormant volcanoes – all in our backyard – any time of day.
We found this to be a winning situation and schedule.
Late one June night, hiking to the lighthouse with farm dogs in the lead.
14. This Lifestyle Does Not Work Without Good WiFi. Make WiFi one of the biggest priorities as you plan your travel. I learned that no matter what hotels, home rentals, and airlines claim, and whatever packages your phone company offers for mobile hotspots, NO, you cannot rely on having excellent, consistent internet as you travel. It is important to take the time once you arrive to set up WiFi as a top priority so it doesn’t derail your workdays. The internet was spotty in Belize and I could only work from certain rooms in the farmhouse in Iceland.
Luckily, I brought my own WiFi extender (and wall adapters, which were critical in Iceland as there were none for sale in town). My T-Mobile hotspot has not been reliable outside the U.S., but my WiFi extender has come in handy everywhere. It is a good idea to test the internet speeds of places you plan to visit and it can be a great idea to look for good hotels where you can sit and work off their WiFi.
- Here you can research internet speeds of certain hotels in major cities: Hotel WiFi Test: Find Hotels with Fast WiFi
- Here you can test the internet speed of where you are: Speedtest by Ookla – The Global Broadband Speed Test
15. When travel plans don’t go according to plan, make the best of it. This lifestyle is inherently flexible. Plan or no plan, don’t stress.
We live one month out of one bag and, if our plans go awry, we carry a light load and have an agile mindset. We have no problem being travel-plan deviants, exploring wherever we find ourselves. For instance, on our way back to Ohio from Iceland, our plans went sideways. So we hung out in Boston for the weekend, then chose to head to NYC from there because it seemed like more fun than going to Ohio.
“Ironically, rolling with my life without resistance allows me to meet responsibilities more quickly and efficiently. I forget to worry….No longer immersed in manipulating my life’s course, I have more time to live.” – Marietta McCarty, How philosophy can save your life (2009) at 113.
Pivoting our plans from Boston Logan. We roll with life rather than rail against it.
“To be afraid of life is to be afraid of oneself.” – Alan Watts
I spent the first half of July in NYC where I enjoyed a perfect balance of “work” (enjoyed a lively discussion with the partners of NewLaw firm Flatiron Law Group LLP, lunched with fellow Legal Evolution contributor Evan Parker (Post 238), and touched base with a few ALSPs) and “life“ (kayaked the Hudson River, visited with family and friends, and took in some great art and restaurants).
There’s the silhouette of the NYC skyline as seen from up north along the Hudson River.
Now, I am in the Latin Quarter of Paris working near the Sorbonne for inspiration. In my free time, I walk the city and enjoy the sights like the beautiful architecture, fashion styles, and a wonderful mix of dogs (like the dog wearing goggles riding along with his owner on a Vespa and poodle with dreadlocks). I’m geeking out from the bibliotheques on nearly every block and the hoards of people exchanging ideas through long cafe conversations. My neurons are firing fast here.
Can you find the poodle in this collage?
In August, I’ll be in Cape Town and Colorado continuing this kind of work-life balance.
I have not planned that far ahead, and that is the beauty of this thing. My goal is to remain nimble. As in-person client meetings resume and life requires me to be someplace, I can pivot to be anywhere. As for how this might affect clients: I will not charge international travel expenses to any clients – that’s on me.
When will I stop?
Whenever I fall in love with a person and/or a place.
Thank you, Scott Fitzgerald, for these inspiring words.
16. All in all, this lifestyle change has been one of the best leaps into the unknown that I have made in my life.
My daughter and I are accumulating wonderful, indelible life experiences. We have encountered some minor inconveniences that come with traversing unfamiliar territories, and we have more to learn, no doubt, but we definitely have no regrets. This lifestyle is providing us with a very high lifetime ROI.
Leaving graffiti in Miami. Ilya and I tore this wall up with our tags!
I hope my journey inspires you. I believe more professionals in our industry and beyond will turn to the digital nomad work/lifestyle. If you have any questions about working in legal as a digital nomad or have any tips or recommendations for me, please be in touch!