Stop Going on Vacations and Start Traveling: How to See the World While Making a Living
If you’re like most Americans, you probably get a few weeks of vacation time from your employer. Once a year, you say sayonara to your cubicle-bound coworkers and head to the airport, board a cruise ship, or pack up the family station wagon. Destination: whatever overpriced amusement park or tourist trap your spouse and children have been nagging you about since last year’s vacation.
There’s another way to see the world, however, besides cramming whirlwind trips into a 14-day interludes — or putting off that dream vacay until your much-anticipated retirement. It involves a home on wheels, an adventurous leap into the gig economy, and perhaps most importantly of all, a curious and courageous spirit.
The New Employment Normal
It wasn’t long ago that “working from home” meant being an Avon lady or a Tupperware rep, or maybe outfitting a spare room and hanging up your shingle as a therapist, accountant, piano teacher, or hair stylist. But the American work landscape has changed dramatically in the past few years.
The term “gig economy” refers to those who work as an independent contractor, consultant, or freelancer. According to Gallup, a whopping 36% of American workers has participated in the gig economy as either their primary or secondary source of income.
Not only that, but telecommuting and flexible work arrangements are becoming increasingly popular, with fully one quarter of workers performing at least part of their job remotely. They love the flexibility and find themselves more productive when they can choose their own working environment. Employers benefit from this increased productivity, as well as from employee satisfaction and lowered overhead costs.
But these remote workers aren’t all holed up with their laptops in living rooms and Starbucks locations. Plenty of them are becoming digital nomads.
Have WiFi, Will Travel
One way to do this is to establish a home base — such as a relative’s house — from which the digital nomad embarks on frequent sojourns to other destinations. Another is to take the whole kit and caboodle on the road by investing in a recreational vehicle that serves as transportation and accommodation.
Purchasing an RV can be much more economical than buying a brick-and-mortar home, and it provides several other perks. Those who live full-time on the road don’t have to pay income taxes, worry about keeping sidewalks shoveled or lawns mowed, or be shackled down by a 30-year mortgage.
Committing to a digital nomad lifestyle is also a good way to lower one’s carbon footprint, particularly if the RV runs on biofuel or is outfitted with solar panels. It is a minimalist way to live which necessarily limits the nomad’s conspicuous consumption. Paring your possessions down to the bare essentials can contribute to a more meaningful and rewarding life, as well.
Drawbacks to Becoming a Digital Nomad
For many people, both a home and a traditional full-time job impart a sense of security as well as a feeling of pride. Additionally, the U.S. has a long history of defining an individual’s success by these two achievements. So if you are uncomfortable with bucking social norms or derive your self-worth from your professional title and residential square footage, this might not be the best lifestyle for you to choose.
Although life in an RV can lived on a shoestring and will generally cost less than living in the ‘burbs and commuting to an office every day, you will also need to maintain an emergency repair fund. Motorhomes require fairly frequent maintenance, and repairs can be expensive. Consider investing in an RV extended service plan as insurance against the inevitable mechanical issues that crop up when you drive your home from place to place.
Lastly, it can be difficult to retain friendships or relationships with family members when you don’t have a hometown. Of course, it’s easier now than ever to stay in touch, thanks to Facetime, texting, and social media. And it’s easier to visit your loved ones when you live a mobile lifestyle.
Is a Freewheeling, Freelance Life Right for You?
Let’s be frank: it takes a certain type of person to make this lifestyle not just feasible, but enjoyable. Being a digital nomad isn’t for everyone. But for many people, it’s the perfect antidote to the traditional nuclear family with its 2.5 kids, 3-bedroom and 2- bath ranch home, and 9-5 office job.
Not ready to make the leap just yet? Check out our list of the most popular travel destinations and start planning your next vacation!