A few weeks ago I was reading an article in the local newspaper here in Montreal about the phenomenon of “tech nomads.” They were describing young people in their 20s and 30s who are starting up internet businesses and living abroad.
For example, some of these people spend six months of the winter in Chiang Mai, Thailand where the cost of living is really low and they attempt starting a business from there. The article was describing a reality that I’ve been living for over 15 years… and I was not even aware that there was a word for it. Tech Nomad — that’s the new term.
I just called it the internet lifestyle because that’s what I’ve been doing since my mid 20s or ever since I got a laptop computer. I traveled the world for almost a year and I also lived in Chiang Mai for over a month where I was completing my book, The Raw Food Controversies. I spent almost every winter for four or five years in a row in Costa Rica where my apartment only cost me $375 a month and overall cost of living was much lower than in my home city. Last winter I spent a month in Hawaii and a month in French Polynesia.
The article also talked about the advantages of doing this. If you go to a place like Chiang Mai, Thailand a lot of other tech nomads have flocked to it and therefore a lot of infrastructures have been built to accommodate the demand from these tech nomads, which means internet cafes with high speed internet, apartments that you can rent out for a few moths without a long term lease, etc.
Some of the advantages of this lifestyle are that you don’t have to deal with the high cost of living while being in the first stages of starting up your project.
One person said that “it is less expensive to make mistakes because my rent is only $300 a month.” In other words, you can afford screwing up because you don’t have to earn a lot to meet your monthly living costs. Monthly living costs in Chiang Mai, Thailand can be as low as $800 a month for the equivalent lifestyle that would cost you three or four times as much in a North American or a European city.
So you can afford taking the entire winter off but tech nomads take it a step further and don’t keep material possessions in one spot. They are not tied down to one spot that costs them money, instead they move from one spot to the next. That is the true nomadic lifestyle.
You move from one spot to the next that way you can always keep your cost of living low and if you end up spending sometime in cities that are more expensive then it will average out because you spent more time in cities that are less expensive.
What spots are popular?
Chiang Mai, Thailand is by far the most popular spot for this tech nomad lifestyle but other cities are popular like Berlin, Germany, which has some of the lowest costs of living in Europe. Honolulu is also a good spot. It is much more expensive but it has the infrastructures you need and hey, you’re in Hawaii. I did pretty well in Costa Rica although internet speed was not great back then but it certainly has improved since.
Generally, tech nomads want to be in a city. Why? You get access to more services. You get access to more people so you are less likely to get bored by this lifestyle and you get higher speed internet access with more opportunities for short term rentals. Generally you will want to be in a city but why not choose a city with a nice surrounding and a pleasant climate.
Am I still a tech nomad?
I’m not really a tech nomad anymore because I have a home base. But I do travel about 4-5 months a year.
While it is tempting to leave for a nomadic lifestyle I think this is something that will appeal to people that are just starting out.
Once you have grown your existing business to a certain level you want to stay put in one place and then take trips where ever you want. I know people who have lived a tech nomadic lifestyle for years and never thought of doing anything else but I think most people at some point feel the need for a more permanent home.
The disadvantages of this lifestyle
Whether you follow the tech nomadic life or you try to relocate and work from anywhere the biggest disadvantage is that it is difficult to find somebody to follow you. Generally it works if you are single because you have no attachment and you can travel and you can roam as you please.
If you are attached, in most cases, the other person doesn’t have the same flexibility as you do. With children, it is possible to do it for awhile but eventually the need to settle down will come.
I know people who have traveled as a couple where both people work as tech nomads but then you face other challenges, such as being together all the time and not having separate careers.
The best of both worlds
The best of both worlds is to maybe try a tech nomadic lifestyle for awhile when you are starting out, especially if you are unattached or if your partner is willing to join you in this adventure.
You travel for a year or two or three and you get to see the world, you get to enjoy and discover new countries and new cultures and have an amazing experience and at the same time you build a lifestyle that you can take where you will decide to establish your home base.
Maybe you will find a favorite place in all of your travels and you will decide to settle there, if it is possible to do so legally. Or maybe you will come back home and you will decide where in your country you want to relocate.
You can also do like I do and maintain a home base, and then become a “snowbird” in the winter and leave for 3-5 months.
Want to figure out how to make this lifestyle work?
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