Q: What does it mean to be a digital nomad?
A: Among a group of designers, developers, and entrepreneurs I met while traveling in Asia in the summer of 2016, I would often hear, “Oh, well, this month I’ll be in Bali, but I’m heading to Cambodia for the next few, back home to the UK for a little bit, then onto Thailand.”
These people weren’t on vacation, and they weren’t abandoning their jobs. They were adopting a new way to work – called digital nomadism. Folks from all over the world working in varying fields: graphic designers, software creators, writers, and so many more have decided that for the foreseeable future, they’d work while they travel and travel while they work. Equipped with only a few personal items and clothes, they work anywhere they can from proper co-working spaces to open-air side street cafes.
In many industries, our most important, most powerful tools fit in 15” sleeves and require only power and internet.
Q: Have you gotten a taste of what it would be like to live a digital nomadic life?
A: In the spring of 2016, I realized as a web developer the only real tool I needed was my laptop. So I decided I would try and live like a digital nomad while I was on summer break. For three months, I traveled and worked in four countries across Southeast Asia.
During my first stop in Indonesia, I worked every day out of a co-working space in Ubud, Bali called Hubud. Each day 30 to 40 digital nomads would fill the large and open bamboo room. I found that I was able to accomplish as much (and sometimes more) than I would have out of my apartment in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Finding clients was pretty much the same process I’d used in the States. Utilizing an online jobs exchange, like this one on Reddit, I would pitch services to companies and agencies looking for sub-contract work. With a little persistence, requests for custom websites and web snippets began to come in. No one really asked me where I was – my email, phone, and slang gave all appearances that I was a U.S.-based developer.
Before this point, I had only known the standard “get a job, get a house, find a city, settle down” route. Something about this had always seemed off to me, but I never knew there were popular other options, until this.
Q: You’re preparing to graduate from West Virginia University in May of 2018 with a degree in Industrial Engineering. Has your introduction to this new way of working changed the way you see your future?
A: The possibility of working abroad started to shift my ideas about “the future.” I met so many people who worked in these new, mobile industries that were traveling all over the world while still accomplishing fulfilling work. They volunteered often, had great work-life balance, and seemed happy.
I’ve started to think that this would be the ideal situation for me, just travel the world while working out of my laptop. It would definitely be a good way to spend my 20s. I’d get to explore the world and keep doing the work that I love doing.
I found that my ability to connect with and find new clients really wouldn’t change. I’ve been finding the bulk of my clients through pre-existing relationships in West Virginia or through online, digital jobs exchanges, eliminating the need to be in one place to find and accomplish work.
Q: So, if digital nomadism seems like a good path post-graduation, how does West Virginia fit into this equation? Or does it?
A: Since considering adopting this nomadic lifestyle, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship to home. Where does my West Virginia fit into this? Working as a developer and designer has shown me my fair share of burnout, and I’ve learned to utilize the nature in West Virginia to recharge and reenergize myself. I love this place, its nature, and its people.
I’m beginning to think that West Virginia may be the perfect home base. I can reinvigorate myself here, be an active member of the community, but also leave for periods of time and continue to explore this world of digital nomadism.
Sometimes, those of us that love West Virginia see a very black and white relationship with the state: either we love it enough to stick it out and live here, or we leave and perhaps promise to come back later in life. But, for those of us in these new industries, why can’t we start to approach West Virginia differently? Choosing to live here doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Ankur makes websites – simple splash pages to full-fledged custom products. His favorite part about his job is dissecting large problems into small, manageable solutions that actually work. He’s from Charleston, West Virginia and loves being outdoors (sometimes too much).
Like party favors, but for your brain. Enjoy these weekly goodies including viral videos, interesting articles, curated playlists, and more!
- LISTEN: Ankur went to the depths of Spotify and three days later he came back with this.
- TECHY TIP: Why saving to Google Drive could save your (digital) life.
- EXPLORE: Check out the Digital Nomads on Reddit.