Photo: Jordan Madrid
As I write this article, I’m sitting at a coworking space in Bogota, Colombia. I’m happily perched with my MacBook on my lap, subtly swaying on an oversized swing, listening to Spanish, German and English clamor around me. This is my office today. And a few blocks away is my home, or at least my temporary resting space before I’m traveling to Mexico City in a week or so. Then Cabo. Next Jamaica. Then South Africa.
Then, who knows?
As I approach my 12th month of traveling full-time as a digital nomad, the concept of ‘work’ has shifted dramatically for me. My offices are as transient as my interests: in September, I frequented beer halls in Prague, while in January I started my day sipping juice out of a fresh coconut Chiang Mai. And in April? I worked from yet another transitory home in my robe, in the Miraflores district until it was time to watch yet another dazzling pink sunset from the roadside cliffs of Lima, Peru (with a pisco sour, of course).
I know this all sounds dreamy — and at times, it really is — but also, it is work. A lot of it, actually. I log as many hours — and then some — as a freelancer than I did when I was gainfully employed. And though sure, I caught plenty of Instagrams (and okay, feels) as I passed through 20 countries over the past 365 days — I’ve also doubled my output. And my clients. And most importantly, my happiness. I’ve done it with my own rules — and in a way that is not traditional to most.
For now, anyway.
The definition of what it means to ‘work’ continues to shift as remote opportunities continue to rise. And considering there have never been more freelancers in history as there are now, I’m definitely not the only professional who has carved a life for herself where timezones, set hours and weeks are undefinable and ever-changing.
This life isn’t forever for me — though I fully intend on traveling up to four months a year moving forward. Even so, this globetrotting period has not only changed me as a woman but as a journalist and citizen of the world. I hope to remain a “solopreneur” using many of the lessons I’ve collected abroad to further my career and talents.
Here, just a few I always pack with me, wherever I roam:
Mostly anywhere can be a workplace.
I’ve written articles on a $5 bus between Casablanca and Marrakech—and on one through the Andes Mountains that flourish between Argentina and Chile. Oh—and on another bus from Cusco to the train station to catch a locomotive to Machu Picchu. I once wrote a five-page product round-up on the — ahem, wrong — train to the Tokyo airport, distracting myself from worrying about missing my flight. I’ve also combed through interviews on a 9-hour haul between Lisbon and Dubai. Once on a ferry between Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia, still in my swimsuit coverup. Another time, I brainstormed story ideas underneath a cabana, as the rain poured and the sun melted the sky into splinters of pink and purple above me in Krabi, Thailand.
Basically anywhere I can access offline Google docs, use a hotspot or trade coffee for reliable WiFi — I can work. While my job lends itself to internet-free sessions, plenty of others I’ve met and traveled with along the way have taken calls outside of bars or bowling alleys. Led budget meetings on some beach somewhere. Onboarding a new client on a tuk-tuk. At 4 a.m., 10 p.m. or 6 a.m. to compromise on a calendar opening between three time zones.
When traveling serves as your only constant thread, you become much more flexible with how and where you work—forcing you to be creative and dynamic with your deliverables.
Set days aren’t necessary.
I wrote five articles today — this is my sixth — and I’ll have another 20 to submit before my friends back home in NYC start singing the praises of ‘TGIF.’
For me, Friday is yet another day — not a work day, not a weekend, not anything—just a 24-hour stint where I might have deadlines or I could go for a graffiti tour downtown. Or perhaps catch a last-minute, $100-flight to Cartagena to drink sangria and earn some freckles. Or maybe pitch some stories. Follow up on invoices. The same mentality applies to Saturdays and Tuesdays, too. As I’ve jet-setted the past year, I’ve discovered those 40 hours don’t need to be sandwiched between Monday and Friday. In fact, I try not to look at set minutes, but rather at a week’s worth of responsibilities. When I understand what has to be completed by each date, I can carve out a schedule that allows me a healthy mix of exploring and cramming, and if I’m lucky, some sleep, too.
Though difficult to apply to corporate policies — without some major convincing, anyway — when you approach work as holistic and take on autonomy toward your projects, you become the keeper of your performance.
Creativity comes from diversity.
I’ve discovered the world is both bigger and smaller than I imagined before I boarded that one-way ticket last July. I’m amazed that while I’ve covered much ground, I still have so many lands, oceans, mountains, glaciers and cities to explore. The privilege, however, of burning the midnight (and midday) oil from scattered destinations is understanding how much our differences weave us together. Inevitably as you get lost in a new place, face a language barrier or lose iPhone signal, you’re forced to mingle with locals. When you live in a place for 30 days, you have no excuse but to examine the culture and traditions, learning and growing from each of them.
Networking avenues throughout the continents foster conversations and connections, developing your perspective as a professional and a creative, and ultimately, making you a more diverse hire. Personally, my creativity has never been stronger — or more fluid — while traveling, considering every passerby home teaches me something new about humanity. About myself. About the ideal blend of work and life.
Even if you aren’t among those who can nomad their way around the globe and make a living, welcoming employees from various backgrounds develops a richer community and workplace for everyone to thrive.
Give yourself something to look forward to.
Though New York City is anything but boring — after seven years, I grew weary of my routine. The same ‘ole, same ‘ole poison leaks into any lifestyle after a while, causing familiarity to reign over curiosity. Getting through 9 to 6 p.m. was a task in itself, especially since I knew how the evening would end: drinks and dinner with pals, or punching my way through yet another boxing class. There is something to be said about the comfort of a routine, but while traveling, I’ve developed a new attitude toward complacency.
Moreover: each day, I have something to look forward to which gives me a reason to focus.
Sometimes it might be a cooking class, a sunset hike or exploring local markets downtown. Other times, my motivation is to take a day — or four — off, so my working hours extend well into the night. I’ve found the more I have coming up, the better prepared I am to hustle diligently in the moment.
This mantra can apply to any professional, no matter if you’re buttoned-up in a cubicle or sitting cross-legged next to me at an airport lounge in Malaysia. Or well, anywhere. Everywhere.
The greatest change derived from traveling full-time is just that: the best work comes from transformation. Whether it is shifting roles or taking on new tasks in your own. Branching out to be your own boss or doubling-down to snag that c-level position—no professional is their best self if they aren’t continuously curious and flexible.
While I might not have to sit a specific corner of a micro-studio in Japan at 1 a.m. in the morning to make an east coast deadline — I will carry this elastic mindset and attitude with me. That, and more than enough memories to keep me scribbling and inspired for whatever journey — or job — is next.