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What I learned living abroad as a digital nomad

Mike Elgan | May 6, 2013
Digital nomad Mike Elgan returns to the U.S. after 10 months of travel and shares these tips for working and living abroad.

My wife and I have lived as digital nomads for the past 10 months in Greece, Turkey, Kenya, Morocco and Spain.

During that time, I didn't take a single week off. I worked the entire time. And that was made possible by recent revolutions in mobile computing, the spread of Wi-Fi and two tech booms that have generated incredible cloud-based and social apps and services.

(I'm still a digital nomad. I'm just doing it in the U.S. for a while.)

Here are the surprising things I learned.

It's awesome to live abroad

If it sounds great to live in one foreign country for a while, then move to another and another, well, it is.

In fact, if it's at all possible for you to do this for any length of time, you really should. It's a life-changing experience. It's cheap, too. I've found that my cost of living was approximately 1/3 of what it was in the U.S. This can be easily adjusted up or down depending on where you choose to live, and how.

Digital nomads are weird

Digital nomad behaviors that are normal in the U.S. and almost mandatory in Silicon Valley are very strange in many countries.

The most basic example: using a laptop in a cafe. I've found that countries with the strongest "cafe cultures," such as, say, Greece, Spain and France, have the weakest working-in-cafes cultures. Nearly everyone seems to spend hours at coffee joints drinking coffee, talking, smoking cigarettes or whatever. But nobody's working. (Except me.)

When you do see people working on laptops in public, they're almost always tourists or students.

Using a full-size physical keyboard with a tablet or phone is totally alien outside the U.S. and Asia, as far as I could tell (something I do heavily).

Even walking around with earbuds is strange in many countries. I do a lot of my professional education via podcasts, often when I'm walking around in a city. In countries like Greece, you just don't see this.

Despite the strangeness of the digital nomad lifestyle, I was always amazed at how accommodating restaurants and coffee places were at helping me get plugged in and connected.

You need less computer 'stuff' than you think

I overpacked. I brought all kinds of extra cables, routers and USB extenders, as well as an extra tablet that I didn't need and never used.

For example, I came prepared to encounter Ethernet ports but never did. Wi-Fi is all I used.

Whatever you would need to work all day at Starbucks is all you need for months or even years abroad. Pack light. Choose quality over quantity.


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