Digital Nomad Lifestyle – Can you work & travel?

It’s 7:30am and the town of Boquete, Panama is just starting to wake up. But there I am, first up in the hostel, sitting with my MacBook Pro on my lap in the open-air dining area. I’m enjoying the refreshing breeze coming through the walkway, but more importantly I’m writing a client back in the states who has no idea I’m in Central America on a what I call a semi-holiday.

I had been wanting to visit Panama for a while but this trip was designed to be equal parts enjoyment and work. A test, of sorts.

My freelance business is doing very well. Good enough to live off of, but I’m still working for a small company in California. I’ve been blessed to have a great job with some decent travel benefits for the better part of a decade, but I’m trying be proactive.

We are in a recession that isn’t just changing the way people live, it’s changing the way businesses operate. There are cutbacks everywhere and small businesses are realizing they can still manage to operate with fewer employees. Give more work to who is leftover after a round of layoffs and it will certainly get done.

This isn’t just a trend. It’s the new way to do business. Frugal and efficient.

That doesn’t mean I’m worried about being unemployed any time soon, but the writing is on the wall. I’ll be safe for a while, but I don’t have high hopes for my job to take me all the way to retirement.  Not to sound like a pessimist, but this probably holds true for most people.

And let’s admit it: who wants to wait until 65 to retire? I’d rather travel now.

Testing the waters

I had a plan for a while about the type of life I wanted to lead in the near future, but was it realistic?  Could I continue to work while traveling the world for months on end? Was I really cut out to be a digital nomad?

As I mentioned, this trip to Panama was a test.  I wanted to see if I could enjoy traveling while continuing to focus on my work.  With about two days notice I booked a rewards ticket to Panama City without a plan.  Upon arrival I hired a rental car and drove up the Pan American Highway towards Boquete.  A small town known for its coffee in the northern highlands near the Costa Rican border.

Each morning I hopped on the computer for an hour or two and took care of all immediate business requiring my attention.  After the important tasks were taken care of I made a to-do list for the evening and then headed out to enjoy my day.

Can you really find the time?

I found it easy to find the time to continue working while traveling.  While I sure didn’t want to spend the entire day indoors working, there was usually plenty of time to relax on the computer and get some work done.

For instance, one day after I took care of my morning tasks I went white-water rafting.  It was an exciting and tiring day so when I was done and returned to Boquete, I welcomed a comfy hammock and my laptop and had a few hours before dinner to get things done.

Will you have the discipline?

Assuming you have accommodations that offer internet service there is plenty of time available to focus on work.  That said, you will still have make the time.  That means partying all night and sleeping in is probably out of the cards unless you want to neglect your business.

In my case, I’ve found I can get more work done this way as I am forced to focus on the task at hand.  Also, while there are plenty of things you’ll want to get out and do, when you’re indoors and working there will likely be considerably less distractions than at home.  No TV, no DVDs, no video games, etc.

I’m also amazed at how much writing I can do while on an airplane and cut off from the internet.  It’s a blessing in disguise.

Discipline is definitely the most important factor for success as a digital nomad.

Headline photo courtesy of Rita Willaert

7 Replies to “Digital Nomad Lifestyle – Can you work & travel?”

  1. Glad it worked out for you! When you are travelling you generally have far less distractions so there is more time to get work done and have fun. We also find that being in places without internet for a while can be an advantage – you can really focus. Good luck with it!

    1. Thanks Erin. You’re very right. It’s much easier for me to waste time at home but when I’m traveling the task on hand is generally the top priority. Nice how that works out :)

  2. Alright my man. Living the life most people dream of. Can’t wait to see the rest of the pics when you get back. We will all be waiting for you.

  3. This post is so relevant for me! I’ve been trying to build up my freelance clients with the hope that I can eventually work while traveling. It’s been a challenge though!

    I think the hardest thing is just never knowing when you’ll have internet, or how strong it will be. Very cool to hear how you’ve made it happen though!

  4. Congrats Jeff, you are now officially a Nomad. I knew it would happen. Life is too short to wonder what if?!! We need to make our dreams reality. Enjoy your journey!

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