So what do you do?
I’m a Digital Nomad.
That answer to that question made me understand how much wider the concept Digital Nomad is from what I thought. It’s really what you do, it’s a lifestyle, and it inevitably defines you.
I met Roel Fermont (Hengelo, The Netherlands, 1983) at a TV Commercial shooting in Barcelona we were both part of the cast. He’s a freelance Art Director, who travels the world as he creates unique concepts and offers digital and print design services to businesses of all sizes and markets around the globe.
As we were talking, many questions arised about the way he was living. I was very curious about many aspects of it, not only about the cliché fact of if it really was just being on your laptop in front of a paradise beach, but also about all the challenges, legal issues, and downsides of it. Thus, we decided to meet up again and make an interview-article out of it.
If you make it to the end of it, you’ll find a handful of links and resources for Digital Nomads.
Oriol – Hi Roel, we meet again!
Roel – Yes! Very happy to be sharing some of my experiences and knowledge as a Digital Nomad. I hope this can motivate and inspire others.
So how does this start – Do you wake up one morning and decide to become a Digital Nomad, or before you realize you have already been one for years?
It really depends on each person, but I believe that for most people it starts when they feel that they don’t want to be fixed in just one place and want to travel. Then they realize that they have a business, or a set of skills, that allows them to work online, which basically means from anywhere in the world as long as they have a computer and an internet connenction.
In my case it started in March 2016. I really enjoyed my job, I had a nice apartment, a company car, etc… I couldn’t complain. For some reason though, I wasn’t feeling happy or satisfied, so I knew I needed a change. The only problem was that I didn’t know what to do or where to start.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. – Neale Donald Walsch
Yes, I can recall being in that situation a few times actually…
And then at some point I was required to sign off a new car lease contract which would have bind me for five more years to the company, which made me think ‘Wow, I don’t want that’. I simply couldn’t see myself for another five years in the same situation, so that was the last push I needed in order to make a decision.
That very same week, and as I was driving back from a client meeting while listening to the radio, I heard an interview about a guy working abroad while traveling to exotic places. He was a so-called Digital Nomad. It inspired me and it made me research about this nomadic lifestyle. Soon I realised that I could do the same with my set of skills.
Ready to go?
Not quite yet. As I quitted my job and decided to give up my apartment and sell my stuff, I had to do a lot of reading and preparation before departing. I set up my business and registered myself as a freelancer, but I still had many doubts regarding taxes, company registration, insurance and healthcare, etc… Eventually I got everything pretty much figured out, so I decided to go and see where this would take me.
Sounds great, but you need clients don’t you?
Yes, definitely. Even though I had a few clients from the very beginning, I basically needed to build up a new network of clients from scratch. In order to get new clients, I went to many, many meet ups to meet new people. I wasn’t focusing on just getting new clients, but also on creating more name awareness which provided me with indirect clients.
There are other ways to get hired though, especially if you don’t like going to these kind of events. Nowadays a great option is using online platforms like Upwork, Freelancer or Fiverr.
Does it get difficult at some point to keep up with your clients when you travel so much?
Keeping my clients happy has always been my priority. Therefore ‘expectation management’ is an important aspect of my work. One time I was traveling the outback of Australia for eleven days and I didn’t have internet at all. So I had to make sure I had no appointments or project deadlines within those days – and I always set an ‘out of office’ reply so that they know what to expect.
I believe it’s essential for a Digital Nomad to keep a good relationship with their clients, mainly because the return of investment is higher. I’m talking about the ‘snowball effect’, which basically means that by treating your existing customers well, they will be more likely to give you more work and refer you within their network when they need someone with your skills.
At the end of the day, without clients no Digital Nomad lifestyle I believe. You mentioned something about taxes before. How does it work? How do you get paid?
This is an interesting but also somewhat unclear topic if you ask me. Firstly, it differs per country and per person. In my case I’m registered in the Netherlands as a freelancer and I do my taxes accordingly. But personally I find the system very unclear or even old fashioned for Digital Nomads. One of the best examples would be the story of Esther Jacobs, one of the world’s first Digital Nomads.
My clients pay me either by doing a bank transfer or by using PayPal. The only downside of PayPal is that it takes a percentage but I do want to provide my clients with the most efficient way of payment.
I see. Oh, and what happened to her?
Well, Esther Jacobs was The Netherlands first Digital Nomad. At some point she basically couldn’t extend her passport because she apparently wasn’t spending enough time in The Netherlands. Long story short, as a result of that, her company could no longer be registered at the chamber of commerce, and she was denied of many citizen rights like health insurance, social securty, voting, pension and others. She then decided to become a global citizen and registered her company on the British Virgin Islands.
The world is changing so fast, that sometimes the system cannot keep up with reality.
You are in charge of your own attitude.
– Esther Jacobs
I think it’s crucial that Digital Nomads are completely aware of the laws and rights in their home country, and act according to that. Nonetheless, I feel like the system could be improved in order to facilitate a Digital Nomad lifestyle.
Let’s get to the sandy-sunny-beachy side of being a Digital Nomad. What aspects do you find more rewarding of this lifestyle?
There are so many of them, but definitely that you have a lot of freedom and that you are able to manage your own time. Basically it comes down to working smarter instead of harder.
Some other benefits are having the chance to travel the world while getting paid, being able to meet many interesting and inspiring people from all around the globe, getting to work from amazing places, experiencing many new things, and having free time to try and do things you always wanted to do.
Couldn’t agree more with the freedom aspect of it. However, I’m sure this lifestyle comes along with some downsides, or major challenges?
Yes, there are definitely some downsides and challenges to it.
Tech problems are probably the biggest nightmare for Digital Nomads, as it’s not always easy to find a stable and unlimited internet connection. Recently my MacBook showed some screen issues and I had to take it to the repair shop. I was without it for a week. Terrible! In addition to that you really need discipline in order to get your work done when it has to be done. It’s quite easy to get distracted.
I sometimes find it quite challenging staying healthy and fit. It’s not easy to keep up with a work-out routine since you tend to change places quite often, which means that getting a gym membership isn’t really an option. Therefore I tend to go running, do some body weight exercises, and I try to walk as much as possible.
Once in a while it also gets lonely, and I miss having my own personal space. It’s difficult to keep up with relationships with my friends and family back home as well, since my time zone constantly changes, setting up calls and so on can get a bit frustrating. World Time Buddy is a website that I use often to remember the times around the globe.
Definitely a good amount of challenges, which make the good things even more rewarding I believe.
Where have you been so far?
So far I’ve been traveling as a Digital Nomad to Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Spain. My short term plans are flying back to Bangkok, Thailand, and explore a bit more of South-East Asia; Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Bali. Chiang Mai and Ubud are well-known hubs for Digital Nomads, so you’ll be able to find me around there within the next months. Later this year, my plan is to travel to South America.
And among all those places, can you choose a best and a worst for Digital Nomads?
Difficult question! But I believe one of my favourite places would be Adelaide, Australia. First of all, I personally really enjoyed Australia and even could see myself living there. Secondly, Adelaide specifically has so much more to offer than just a fast and reliable internet connection. What I really liked about Adelaide was the work environment, the best one I’ve experienced so far. However, one big downside would be that Australia is a very expensive place to stay.
When it comes to choosing a worst place, it becomes even a more difficult question. So far I’ve been able to enjoy and make the best of each place so I don’t have the feeling that there’s a worst place. Nonetheless, I find Barcelona and Vietnam places that have so much to offer in terms of leisure and entertainment that sometimes it’s difficult to focus on your work. Just warning you!
Well as I’m from Barcelona I have to agree with that. But, it’s also a lovely place to live and work! Roel, if one day you’re done as a Digital Nomad and feel like it’s time to settle, what do you feel you will take away from this experience, both personally and professionally?
That’s a great question. As for now I’m not planning to stop doing this. Event though it sometimes gets tiring, I’m enjoying every minute of it and I feel very fortunate for being able to live like this.
However, there might be a point where I would like to have a base somewhere, and when that moment comes I will look back on a very satisfying and rewarding experience.
Personally, I believe travelling is good for anyone. It broadens your horizon, it constantly makes you deal with unexpected situations, and it fills you up with amazing experiences. All that results in a very positive personal growth.
Professionally, working while travelling drives your creativity to another level. You meet new people on a daily basis, you understand what drives them, you learn how to find new clients and build and keep healthy relationships with them, and you become very inventive and extremely resourceful. It really makes you think out of the box and you become so much more experienced in many different ways.
I think this a great way to end this conversation Roel. Great points. Thank you so much, and have a nice flight to Bangkok next week.
And last but not least, I’d like to encourage anyone who wants to share their experience, or has any general questions about the Digital Nomad lifestyle, to let us know in the comments!
Thank you so much Oriol. Oh! And before we finish, I would like to share a personal thought;
Resources for Digital Nomads
Find online work and clients
- Upwork – Upwork is the premier platform for top companies to hire and work with the world’s most talented independent professionals.
- Freelancer – Freelancer.com is the world’s largest freelancing, outsourcing and crowdsourcing marketplace by number of users and projects.
- Coworks – When you are part of the Coworks Community of elite Freelancers, you will get access to top creative jobs from some of the biggest agencies there are.
- Remote | OK – The largest collection of 20000+ remote jobs for Digital Nomads.
- Fiverr – Freelance services for the lean entrepreneur.
- …or read NoDesk (Remote work list)
- Flylancer – The world’s first global community for location independent professionals & digital nomads to meet, share and have fun together from home and across the globe.
- The Remote Life – The Remote Life is a program that brings together professionals, freelancers and entrepreneurs to work, live and travel.
- Nomad Tracker App – Nomad Tracker is an app that will help you team up with creative talent in your city and put your project in motion.
- NoDesk – NODESK is a curated collection of resources about the digital nomad, location independent working and online entrepreneurship lifestyle.
- Nomad List – Nomad List is a live ranking of the world’s 1,000 most popular cities based on 100 variables like internet speed, weather and cost of living.
- Reddit/Digital Nomad – 38k+ subscribers. Find info from personal experiences to resources on costs, taxes, visas, accomodation, remote jobs, etc.