Becoming a Nomad
I am always open to new adventures. That is really an understatement since I seek out new experiences whenever possible. I want to go to places I have never been, meet people I would otherwise never meet and eat foods and see sights that are completely new, exciting, strange….foreign.
I was on a press trip to Oakland and San Francisco when another member of our group mentioned he’d be going on a Nomad Cruise a few months later. When he said the cruise left Cartagena, Colombia and arrived at Lisbon, Portugal fourteen days later, I was intrigued. This was my kind of cruise, leaving from a place in South America I had never visited and going to a city in Europe I was dying to discover.
But what was this Nomad Cruise on a ship in the Spanish Pulmantur Group? I had never heard of either but this could be a fun way to hang with my 18 year old daughter after her first year of college. She loved transatlantic cruises when she was younger and we would use these repositioning voyages to visit her French grandparents. She was interested but was as clueless as I was about Digital Nomads.
We headed to Cartagena but missed the pre-cruise party where Nomads could meet each other. We’d be getting on that boat blind. Cartagena is humid and hot but full of color and spirit. The food is amazing and inexpensive (La Mulata is much sought after by expats for their huge seafood platters) and our beach hotel, Hotel Vistamarina, is one of my most memorable hotel experiences for the luxury of the suite and the upbeat attitude of the staff.
After a chaotic boarding process, the Pulmantur Monarch stopped briefly in St. Maarten before heading off for 12 days at sea. As a part of the Digital Nomad Cruise we had a series of classes that would show us how to continue this digitally nomadic life we were just starting to experience. Still unaware of the impact of the Digital Nomad community, we chose from classes that ranged from programming to writing to selling on Amazon to co-living to maximizing airline and credit card miles.
What is a Digital Nomad?
A Digital Nomad is simply someone who has figured a way to live their life while traveling around the world. A Nomad needs digital to work and needs to find a way to work as a location-independent employee, consultant or freelancer. Nomads are entrepreneurs and creative types and their thirst for travel fuels their nomadic careers.
It is not a life for everybody but, if you can do it, it is a lot of fun for a while. Most nomads are in their twenties and thirties. They generally don’t own houses or care for children or pets. But there are many exceptions. I represented the empty nester with some income from rentals and a consultancy that allows me to travel at will. It is natural to want to travel when you are young and free of obligation, but for retirees and other mature adventurers, their work experience can be put to use remotely if they choose the nomadic life after the kids have gone and the day job has run its course.
The Nomad Cruisers are from all parts of the world and come together for the ocean crossing. The classes are in English and that is the language of most nomad gatherings. Nomads stay in touch as they travel, relying on their relationships with other digital nomads to find housing, cheap local food and places with good wifi. They may spend a month in Lisbon then another month in Budapest then head to a conference in Slovenia before heading to Chiang Mai and Bali. The possibilities are endless.
Meet the Nomads
Nomad Cruises are the brain child of Johannes Voelker, a German who, in 2015 turned a flash of genius into a company that, to date, has connected over 350 participants from over 35 countries. After years of his own digital nomad-ing, Voelker created the Web Work Travel online community to bring together like-minded individuals for learning, sharing and growing. He wrote a guidebook for digital nomads and launched the Nomad Cruise, a nomadic adventure across the sea.
Meet Daniel Beck, Norwegian, 34 years old, who has been working independently since 2005 when he started a tech company much like Thumbtack. He would go on holiday and continue to work and now it has become is lifestyle. “I do all the technical for my company, so from programming to design. I can be ‘on holiday’ forever with my job, since I get a decent Norwegian salary, says Beck. “This year I joined Nomad Cruise from Colombia to Portugal and prior to that, I came home in December from a 3-month stay in Silicon Valley. I love it there. Gives me inspiration.” Beck owns the website Coliving.com and will focus on that in 2017, spending time in Bali growing this concept where travelers come together to work and live.
At 41, Swiss Birgit Pestalozzi, started the nomadic life when she left her position as Head of Marketing and Communication for Ernst and Young-Switzerland. She started as a passenger on the first Nomad Cruise in 2015 and has not looked back. Now an online relationship and love coach at thehappyheartcoach.ch, she also does fundraising for a non-profit (www.swissinitiative.org).
“In 2016, I was in Mexico, London, Belgium, Egypt, Sudan, Switzerland, Colombia and Spain,” says Pestalozzi. “In 2017, I will be in Egypt, Sudan, Bali, the US, Switzerland, London and many more I don't know of yet!” She is also organizing writing retreats in Egypt in the new year. Her advice to new nomads: “Don't compare your journey with the journey of others. Focus on your own steps. Share and exchange, yes. But don't compare.”
Zara Imrie is from Northern Ireland but was working as a Commercial Manager for Virgin Media in the UK when she became a nomad and launched her digital marketing company Magnetizmo.com. She has grown the company enough to have others working with her and she is always seeking new opportunities.
“So far in 2016 I have been snowboarding in Whistler, visiting San Diego and San Francisco for a few weeks, a weekend in New York, a month in Colombia, an Atlantic cruise, a short time in Portugal, a tour of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland visiting family and am now in Panama!” Imrie recounts. “In 2017, I only have a few plans so far but will be sailing in Ant with the now. Of course you can look forward to a new adventure but make sure you also enjoy the moment, happiness comes from within.”
At 26, Michael “Medium Rare” O’Donnell says this is the best year of his life. He is young and smart and has built a business designing, importing and marketing BBQ tools under the brand Cave Tools. After graduating from Penn State, O’Donnell realized he needed to do more and he wanted to do it while he was young.
He is an entrepreneur who is recognized by his peers as a leader in direct marketing and has a staff of five who help him around the world. He attends many conferences and mastermind events where great minds and energy come together. He has traveled the world from Europe to Southeast Asia and was on his way to Bangkok when we spoke. In Bangkok, he’s meeting up with other Nomad Cruisers and we’ll follow their adventures on Snapchat. “Medium Rare” has an enviable life for his age.
“Sustaining my lifestyle has been very easy. In fact, the monthly living expenses in most of the countries I have been to this year have been significantly cheaper than my expenses living in Philadelphia. I'm not cheaping out either.” Says Medium Rare, his adopted name that reflects the BBQ business. “I almost always rent my own AirBnb apartment for the month in city centers and eat out 95% of my meals. Many people think it's incredibly expensive to travel all over the world, but they don't realize how much money you save when you don't have a monthly car payment, rent, cell phone bill, wifi, electricity, water, etc. When you remove all of those monthly liabilities, you free up a lot of money for travel.”
The downside for many digital nomads can be loneliness or the failure to sustain long-term relationships, but the consensus is, if you can do it, try it. Fourteen days on a boat and I now have thirty new friends and hundreds of contacts. I have a base but can’t wait to get out there again. Two weeks in New York, the Hamptons, the Delaware beaches and the Eastern Shore await me at Thanksgiving and then three months in the South of France over Christmas, New Year’s and the winter months. I already know the wifi is good, there is plenty of wine and, given its off season, I’ll live cheaper than I do in the wine country of California.