Could You Be A Digital Nomad?

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Alan Jones

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If you can run a business with your smartphone and laptop, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are.

With city centre property prices soaring and rent following suit, more and more people are seeing the advantages of being elsewhere.

Matt, a hypothetical digital nomad.

It’s just before 9am and Matt is showered and dressed and ready for the day. The smell of coffee wafts over from the Nespresso machine in the corner of the room. Matt glances out of the window, across the orange tiled roofs of Lisbon’s Alfama district. The sky is blue; it’s going to be a fine day.

Alfama is the old Jewish district of Lisbon, a chaos of small houses and cobbled streets winding their way up the side of a steep hill but only a short walk from the centre of the city. Many of the houses have been converted into apartments like Matt’s. Inside it’s small but modern and furnished almost entirely from IKEA.

He grabs his coffee, goes over to the dining table and opens his laptop. This is where Matt works.

And so to work…

A few emails have arrived over night — offers of work, hopefully. The translation that he started yesterday is there, too, the deadline is tomorrow but he’ll finish within an hour or so, and will email it to his client today.

Matt is half Spanish and half English and bilingual, he’s also fluent in French and his Portuguese is improving every day. There’s not a lot of money in translation but every little helps and he has a few more in the pipeline. When he’s finished this one, though, he will concentrate on the article that he is writing about his life as a digital nomad. He’ll pitch it to one of the national newspapers or magazines in the UK who have published his work before.

Matt owns a small apartment just outside London (no one can afford one inside London!). But, mostly, he doesn’t live there. He rents it out for short lets — currently to Marc, a French lawyer who needs to spend a couple of months working in the UK — and this covers his mortgage and pays for Margaret, a neighbour, who maintains the place and keeps it clean.

The rent Matt charges in London is rather more than the rent he pays in Lisbon so there is normally something left over, for pocket money. He spent the summer in a village in France but now it is off-season and the apartment in Lisbon is a bargain!

Matt is unlikely to become a millionaire with this lifestyle but it suits him for the moment.

This evening he may drop in to one of the various bars and cafes that are frequented by English-speaking ex-pats — he often does. This is where he has got to know other Digital Nomads. Some are doing well, they are digital marketing consultants, or programmers, or web site designers.

Others are not doing so well because they didn’t really have a viable business idea in the first place and trusted to luck that they would find work. They placed too much faith in the results they got after Googling “How to make money as a Digital Nomad”. The answers were “write an ebook”, “start a blog”, “teach English” — stuff like that.

If you can’t make a living doing those things at home, what makes you think you can do it elsewhere, even if the rent is less? When their savings run out they’ll be heading home.

Some of Matt’s friends have spent time in Indonesia and Malaysia, or various Latin American countries. So long as there is a reliable Internet connection and phone coverage and the rent is cheap, anywhere is a suitable base.

Matt likes Europe. He’s thinking of Greece as his next port of call — he’ll spend Christmas in London, perhaps, and then head off to Athens.

Wherever he ends up, Matt will make sure that he has access to shops where he can replace his kit if it breaks. What if his laptop crashes out of an overhead locker on a flight, or he drops his phone in the sea? If you are reliant on your technology then you need to be able to replace it in a hurry when it goes wrong.

You at least need to be somewhere where Amazon delivers!

Being prepared

And, on the subject of reliability, Matt has now, very sensibly, started using Google Docs for his writing and translations. He could have used similar products from Microsoft or Dropbox, or some other online service but it is essential to make sure that your documents and contacts are backed up in the cloud. Lose your files and you might lose your livelihood.

Matt has been careful with his financial preparations, too. He let his bank know what he was up to so that they wouldn’t find it strange that he was charging things on his credit cards from different parts of the world. If your bank suspects fraud, they may block your cards. His banking, is, of course, totally online.

One day Matt will decide to settle down, no doubt. This sort of life may not be ideal if you are in a long-term relationship (although he has come across nomadic couples) or have kids to bring up and send to school but, for now he is working hard, making ends meet, and thoroughly enjoying himself.


Just to be clear, Matt is not a real person, so please don’t ask for his contact details. Rather he is a composite of people that I know or have met.

Image credit: Pexels

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Could You Be A Digital No…

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