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Elgan: I'm a digital nomad (and so are you)

Mike Elgan | July 16, 2012
New technology enables almost everyone reading this to live and work with more freedom and flexibility. Are you missing the boat?

In still other cases, people can consult, teach, write about or otherwise temporarily convert a career from doing to teaching or helping.

And, of course, there's always the possibility of changing careers.

Many people say: What I do can't be done over the Internet or by phone. Dentists, building contractors, teachers, IT professionals and others believe they're chained to their current locations. However, many digital nomads have found temporary work in foreign countries doing the same job. Sometimes they make less money, sometimes more. (In general, the more desirable the location, the less money you'll make.)

The most common objections feel like showstoppers, when in fact they are merely expressions of preference.

For example, some people say they can't work abroad because they might make less than they make now. But that's an expression of preference: They prefer the security of a higher salary to the freedom of working abroad.

And there are people who say they can't work abroad because they have young children. In fact, raising your kids in your home country and keeping them in conventional schools is a preference.

Digital technology gives us options, enabling us to make choices. But these choices involve trade-offs: money vs. freedom; spending time with existing friends and family vs. making new friends; stability and security vs. adventure; and so on.

But what about money?

There's a myth about foreign travel that's so pervasive that it must be addressed here. It's the belief that living abroad is expensive and threatens financial security.

When you live a conventional life in a highly industrialized country, your biggest costs tend to be fixed costs: There are the expenses that go with living in a building -- rent or mortgage, plus utilities, trash, Internet, water etc.; then there are transportation-related expenses, usually car payments, insurance and gas; and then there are taxes, payments on debt and some others.

If you have fixed costs like those but your income isn't stable, you can end up in financial trouble if your pay suddenly drops, as many found out the hard way during the Great Recession.

However, when you're living abroad and renting a room somewhere, you have more flexibility and you can dial down your expenses quickly. If, for example, you're living it up in a fancy rented house in Europe and suddenly lose your biggest client, you could probably move quickly to Eastern Europe -- or somewhere else where the cost of living is much lower -- and rent more modest accommodations until you replace that client.

When you're living abroad as a digital nomad, your costs are as flexible and variable as your income might be.


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