The Huge “Benefits Package” of a Digital Nomad Lifestyle

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on October 12, 2020 in Live Better

The ferry from Istanbul to the island of Büyükada in the Sea of Marmara takes about 75 minutes. It’s a basic, unadorned commuter ferry, really—nothing like the high-speed, comfortable, tourist-centric ferries that zipped me through the Aegean Sea to the Greek island of Santorini last summer. My fiancé, Yuliya, was relaxing as best she could on the hard, bench seats while I was I doing what I regularly do in my travel downtime: thumbing my iPhone as I work on writing assignments.

In the last several years, I’ve alighted in destinations all over the world, and, frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you “this one was a work trip; that one was a vacation.” In a very real sense, they were all holidays…yet, all of them were also work trips. I was in Hong Kong for a few days of work, for instance, but made time to venture to the top of an island to see a ginormous Buddha. This trip to Istanbul was a vacation, but I polished off three columns in the empty moments I had at airports, in hotel rooms, or on the ferry. 

All of it underscores the joy that exists in a work-from-anywhere lifestyle. You really can pick up and go anywhere at any moment and not worry about the job or seeking permission from a supervisor. 

Like much of the rest of the world, I’ve been cooped up for the last six months in this Age of Pandemic. So when Yuliya suggested we meet in Turkey (a country open to both Russians and Americans at the moment) I thought it a brilliant notion. I booked tickets that day to meet her in Istanbul just over a week later. That is decidedly not the traditional way of planning a vacation in much of the workaday world, where you have to request time off well in advance, and then maybe not receive approval because someone else is on vacation at that same time or because of the time of year in which you make your request.

But here in the newly expanding world of remote-working digital nomads, this is a standard part of our “benefits package.”

No one cares when I take a vacation. No one cares when or where I work. No one is counting the days I’ve been gone, whether that’s two weeks of holidays…or two months. Frankly, had I not told some colleagues that I was heading to Istanbul to propose to Yuliya, no one would have known I was “out of the office,” which, in my case, is a cozy little corner of my apartment in Prague.

To me, this is the way work should be: It puts the human in human resources.

A big part of what makes it possible is that I can and do work from anywhere and in pretty much any situation. And let me clarify that a bit, because that last sentence could be read to mean that I never stop working, even when I am on vacation—which is a wholly inaccurate reading. What I mean is that technology has made it possible for me to do my job—writing—during empty moments when others are typical idle.

Let me give you a “for instance” or three…

I was sitting in the Prague airport awaiting my flight to Istanbul, and I polished off a column for an investment app where I do regular side-hustle writing. I began writing this Savvy Retiree Daily column in the empty hours of an early morning when a muezzin’s call to prayer awakened me just after 5 a.m. And on the two-hour flight back to Prague, I edited a screenplay that popped up on one of the freelance sites where I have a profile.

All those are moments when, honestly, I’d basically be twiddling my thumbs. So, I fill them with opportunities to earn a paycheck, which, in turn, means I can go roam about as frequently as I want because I know that the notion of “working” can literally happen anywhere for me.

Same with one of my friends, who tells me that a couple of summers ago, “my family and I headed to France for a month. Stayed in an apartment in Paris. I got up early and worked each morning, and we let the kids all sleep in. Then I’d clock out around midday and we’d have the balance of the afternoon and into the evening to see museums, eat great meals, and wander the parks. We rented a car and visited a chateau in the Loire and the beaches of Normandy. I worked, yes, but we had so much fun as a family—and there’s no way at a ‘regular’ job a boss would have given me an entire month to wander around or let me make my own schedule. But freelancing, as long as my projects get done, I’m free to spend my time as I like.”

Yes, to a certain degree, she and I both benefit from our chosen careers as writers. But writing isn’t the only career where this is possible. Indeed, when I was in the airport lounge in Prague writing on my phone and awaiting the Istanbul flight, I saw a woman on her laptop editing a series of photos and uploading them to a German website. I can’t specifically say she was a digital nomad since we didn’t talk, but I recognized that German site—a “micro-stock” site where I have a profile myself, though haven’t yet submitted my photos. I’d bet dollars to donuts she’s a freelancer like me. (Coincidentally, I’m writing about stock photography for the November issue of The Savvy Retiree, so you might see me make reference to this moment again.)

Just as easily she could have been a consultant working on a presentation. Or an online educator building a new course, revising a course, or managing questions from students taking her course. Or…well, so many things, really.

Which ultimately sums up quite nicely my time on the ferry to Büyükada. Sitting there with Yuliya relaxing and me with nothing to do, I earned the right to be in Istanbul and some of the money to afford the trip.

By Jeff D. Opdyke