Entrepreneurs like myself are born with the travel bug, but some prefer to keep their actual home temporary, too. Tech expert Mike Elgan knows the digital nomad life well after spending years living in Central America, Mexico and Greece. A few days ago the American said goodbye to the U.S. again, moving him and his wife to Cuba "before it changes even more". He's documenting the experience on his blog, Becoming Nomad.
I talked with Elgan about how to become a digital nomad, why it is important to always travel as a temporary local and what it means to buy a non-refundable one-way ticket.
What is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is someone who takes advantage of the Internet and mobile computing to be location independent. It is living and working anywhere in the world where an Internet connection is available.
What are you doing in Cuba and how long will you be there? Do you have locations mapped out for the next few months or, dare I ask, years mapped out?
Cuba is changing fast, and I wanted to see Cuba before it changes even more. My wife and I had planned to live here later in the year. But when we found out President Obama was coming, and rapidly normalizing relations with the island, we made Cuba our top priority and got here as fast as we could.
We don't have the future mapped out, except in outline. We may live in South America for a year. Or we might go to Asia, starting with Vietnam. Or we could move to the Canary Islands. Probably one of those three. Or India.
What is the biggest misconception you hear about being a digital nomad?
The biggest misconception is that living as a digital nomad is like an endless vacation, or like retirement. It's not.
In each location, you become what I call a "temporary local." You get to know people, and become a regular at the stores, restaurants and other places. As with a conventional sedentary lifestyle, most of your days are filled with work. The difference is that in the evenings, at dinner, on weekends or during breaks you're in some amazing city or location.
What are your must haves for being a digital nomad?
Over the years I've become very particular about the stuff I carry, and list it all on the "Gear" page of my blog, Becoming Nomad. But the most interesting and recent improvement in my life is Google's Project Fi, plus a Nexus 5X phone. It enables easy, affordable data connectivity, and I can use the phone as a WiFi hotspot. It doesn't work here in Cuba. But one of the benefits of Project Fi is that you can simply and easily put it on "pause," and you don't pay anything while your account is in that state. When I leave Cuba, I'll just go to the Fi web site and turn it back on.
I also love my Microsoft Universal Mobile keyboard, which I use with my iPhone, iPad and the Nexus 5X.
Someone with a remote business wants to roam. What is the first step they should take?
My advice will surprise you, but please trust me on this one. The first step is to buy a non-refundable ticket.
Going nomad is a huge undertaking, and it's a big challenge physically and emotionally to move your stuff into storage and leave the country without a home to come back to. It's easy to delay and wait for the right time. But the months turn into years and the dream is never realized.
Buy a ticket. That's how you make it happen.