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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?

Why now? And with what technology?

I enjoyed two major digital nomad trips -- four weeks with my wife and two kids exploring Mayan ruins in Central America and southern Mexico in 2006; and four months living in Greece with my wife in 2008. In both cases, I maintained my normal workload, finding Internet connections where I could.

Since then, the number and quality of products and services that facilitate life on the road as a digital nomad -- and foreign travel in general -- have increased radically.

Here's what's new.

Alternative housing sites. A new generation of websites help you find rental housing. The leader, Airbnb, lets you plug in a city and add your criteria, including price. If you want to be stunned, check out what you can rent in Spain for $40 per night or less (include Wi-Fi).

Much of the rental housing is available at steeply discounted weekly and monthly rates.

Note that you can use these sites not only to find accommodations abroad, but also to rent out your own home to offset your costs.

Social networking. Yes, social networks existed in 2008. But most people weren't on them. Now they are.

By far the hardest thing about moving abroad is being away from family and friends. Social networks like Facebook and Google+ keep you in constant contact.

Google+ in particular is great for people who want to live and work as digital nomads, in part because of Google+ Hangouts, in which 10 people can engage in a free, unlimited video chat. This lets you take part in meetings, give presentations and keep in touch with colleagues, family and friends.

Google+ is also very international, so it's a great way to meet people abroad and get advice about living in foreign countries.

Language translation. In the past few years, a number of instant language translation services, such as Google Translate (also available as a mobile app), have come online. There are multiple audio apps that let you carry on a conversation with someone who speaks another language: You press a button, say something, press another button and the app repeats what you said in a language you preselected. Then the other person does the same and the app repeats what he said in English. My current favorite is an iOS app called SayHi.

Cloud computing. Everyone was talking about cloud computing four years ago, but consumer-friendly, all-purpose cloud services were hard to come by. Today, we have Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and many cloud-based backup options like Carbonite.

Cloud computing is great because the risk of damage or loss of your main PC increases by an order of magnitude when you're abroad. It's great to have your data safe online and to be able to access your stuff from random computers.

 

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