Becoming a Digital Nomad

My last post on this topic spoke about my interest in the idea of putting all my “stuff” on the cloud and then leaving these chilly shores for warmer climes.

To become a homeless world wanderer apparently has precedent. I don’t mean the sort of homeless wanderer typified by a gap year student or an actual hobo, I mean to have no fixed abode or regular income and to be able to live at any time in any country that I wish. Here’s an explanation by Cherie Ve Ard of her definitions Digital Nomad does capture it quite well I like Technomad too but it may be hard to separate “Tech-nomad” from “Techno-mad” so perhaps I’ll stick with Digital Nomad.

Unlike most of the Digital Nomads out there, I’m planning on keeping my day job while living itinerantly: I’ve been taking 3 months out each year and staying in one location at a time and setting up home there for the duration, last year was New York City, this year I’m planning on Brazil. Eventually I intend to become more consistently nomadic.

I will be documenting how I’m keeping all of my projects going while having no fixed abode and not living on the same continent as my office. I’m particularly interested in how you can exploit cloud technologies and technology in general, hence my use of the term “Cloudsploitation”!

So what do I need to do to get to the point where I can move at will from country to country?

An agreeable boss!

This takes a while and it does help to have the right sort of job! I usually work from home and travel to customers all over the world so theoretically I could live anywhere, practically it does help to live in a European or American timezone. I spent a long time establishing trust and demonstrating value to get to the point I could do this and still keep my job.

Getting rid of all my stuff

It seems I have developed some bad packrat habits which means I have a lot of pruning to do: Forty-odd years of stuff that has followed me around that I now need to deal with! The local charity shop staff have seen a lot of me over the last few months, however the things I own that are of the biggest problem are years of paperwork files, books, vinyl and movies, and while I can live without some of the physical objects, I do still want to access the information they contain.

So I’m faced with some major challenges as to what to keep, what to digitise, what to store and what to throw away. I have no allusions towards asceticism, I like the benefits of the modern world too much, but how can I have access to what I want, where I want, without the expense of storing everything or the expense of renting a flat I won’t be living in.

When I moved to Scotland from London in 2007 I had to do a lot of clearing out, years of accumulated junk that had followed me around from house to flat to apartment to storage unit. I spent a few weekends driving boxes of stuff to the nearest dump as well as packing up years of admin paperwork, courseware and books. I moved everything I thought I needed into a flat in Glasgow and I put everything else into a storage unit.

I have had a number of clear outs since 2007; the “fiction book clear out” of 2011 for example, where anything I wanted to keep I’ve since re-bought in ebook format. After a few years of paying for storage and motivated by a solo move into another Glasgow flat, and some uncertainty around my employment, I decided it was a better idea to empty the storage unit and cut my costs. So I ended up with a very full 1 bedroom flat with my complete library of non-fiction books - 7 six foot bookcases, a vinyl record collection, a crate of hand crafted Chinese swords, much of my personal circus and sports equipment, and a whole load of other stuff.

Digitise Everything

I started last year by digitising all the paperwork I would need while in the US for 3 months. I have now gone completely digital for almost everything, but I still had a huge pile of historic paper records I don’t want to throw away and still want access to it. Over the last six months it has now almost all been digitised, thanks to some able help from a range of friends and friends of friends who needed some part time admin work. I have also completed digitising 100% of my CDs and probably 95% of my DVD collection. I now have many terabytes of data stored in the cloud. My current project is digitising my large reference book library.

A system to store, access and back up all my data while on the move

A simple answer for most people could be Dropbox and that works for some files, but I have more data than I can fit on a hard drive, so I need a cloud server somewhere for files I need access to anywhere but don’t need cluttering my everyday hard drive. I also need a better backup strategy than Dropbox can offer. I still maintain physical storage as part of my backup strategy but almost everything is accessible via the cloud.

Physical mail and a real address

If you have a bank account you usually need a real physical address, and the reality is that you generally need to receive your mail from a variety of different organisations. If your mum or a friend isn’t an suitable proxy option then you need a service to help out.

What to take

It helps to pack light but If I am staying in one place for a few months it may help to have access to more than just the 25Kg allowed by airlines. I do take little and buy when I’m there but sometimes I want things you either can’t buy locally or it’s cheaper to ship.

Rethinking your finances

Changing your way of living means a radical rethink of your finances and what you spend where, including accommodation costs travel and in my case cloud hosting costs.

I’m going to write in more depth on each of these topics as my journey progresses as well as keep a travelogue of my experiences.