My work life has never been what anyone would call traditional. Instead of following a well-manicured career path, I have wandered through the thicket in what would appear to be a desultory way—newspaper reporter, nonprofit executive, business owner, marketing consultant.
It is therefore not surprising that I find work equally difficult to define nowadays. As a “nomadic expat” who has traveled to some 28 countries in the past four years, I have had the pleasure of serving as Editor-in-Chief for TCI, and teaching English online, and volunteering for a local NGO wherever I am.
Some may argue that I’m “living the dream” and they wouldn’t be far off. In many of the countries I’ve visited, the cost of living is so low that I can cover all of my expenses and then some. My office is the local coffee shop, the back room of a hostel, or sometimes even the nearby park. Mostly, I get to decide on my schedule and if there’s a dance performance at noon or a less crowded time in the morning to visit a museum, I can adjust my schedule accordingly.
But there are a few added layers of brush on that winding path. Let me elaborate and share some of my (very) hard-won wisdom.
Internet Variability. If you are going to work remotely, one of the non-negotiable requirements are internet connections and speeds you can count on. Among the first things I ask a hotel or Airbnb host is how good their internet is, explaining that it is critical for the work I do.
To be honest, I don’t think a single host has ever admitted, “Yeah, our internet is kind of crappy. You should probably book somewhere else.” But the variations in what they claim is “good internet” are very broad. I have a few distinct and rather painful memories.
One involves trying to conduct a class at a hotel in Hoi An, Vietnam where I was forced to use the internet in their kitchen with a parade of workers passing through.
Another involved all the electricity shutting down in our apartment building in Mexico City and me racing to the nearest Starbucks to complete my class in the pouring rain. It was not a pretty sight.
Time Zone Challenges. While this might seem like a non-issue for someone who is basically competent in addition and subtraction, trust me—it’s a challenge. Not only do I have to keep up with how the zones change when I travel from one country to another, but also how that time zone translates to my students in Japan, who are usually a day ahead.
Oh yeah, and then there’s this thing called Daylight Savings Time which is observed in some countries and, somewhat randomly, not in others. This year presented a rather unique challenge; while both Mexico and most of the U.S. observe Daylights Savings Time, Mexico changed its clocks a week before the U.S. did. It was a trying week, to say the least.
The Younger Crowd. “Digital Nomads,” according to Wikipedia, “are a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner.”
It goes on to say, “Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles.”
Using technology to earn a living? Check. Conducting life in a nomadic manner? Check. Working remotely from foreign countries? Check, I say, as I consume my mocha latte at my favorite local coffee shop.
But what they don’t mention is that these Digital Nomads tend to be in the 25-35 range. They look extremely satisfied (okay, some might appear downright haughty) about their chosen lifestyle. They talk easily among themselves, part of the same tribe if you will.
While they are polite enough to the elder in their midst—and, no, they don’t interpret the “sex” in sexagenarian to mean sexy— they do not welcome me as part of said tribe. I may remind them of the mother they are trying to escape by getting at least a continent away. And while I may earn a living very similarly, I’m afraid of “shop talk” that may be interpreted as advice and elicit a resounding “Okay, Boomer!” as a response.
So what am I to do? I can continue to appreciate the lifestyle. I can feel grateful that I have the flexibility to explore the world and cover my costs at the same time. And every once in a while, I may even come across other “digitally advanced” (in years, that is) nomads to swap stories and reminisce about the pre-digital days.
By: Eileen Brill Wagner