I used to enjoy a lot of the writing about digital nomadry, but the more I’ve started living the life I’m aiming for, the more what I read seems to describe an adolescent ”workation” while depleting your saving rather than a sustainable career and lifestyle. In the interest of
banging my own drum giving a different perspective to a life of travel, I’d like to share our journey so far.
Planning and preparation
We started planning our mobile lifestyle over ten years ago, when we realized that house, office jobs and kids weren’t our dream, and also that the weeks we spent in our (8.5m small) sailing boat was when we really felt at home. Now, we did not just save some money to go on an extended cruise, but rather started planning our life and careers to be able to start a potentially never-ending cruise. Instead, we planned our careers – Veronica runs a business offering IT support to logistics providers called Visual Units and I’m a contractor.
Around this time I started spending more time building my personal brand, going to conferences to speak, getting involved in open source, taking care of my LinkedIn profile, and in general spending a bit of extra effort not just to be good at my job, but to be seen as being good at my job. Since I’m not amused by sales, I figured that the best route would be to try to let clients find me rather than the other way around.
In spring, 2013, I resigned from a job and an employer I still liked very much, but which did not and could not provide me with the freedom I wanted. I started my own company (my wife was already self-employed), we sold our apartment, and took a leap into the unknown.
A short leap
Well, we took a short leap. My first contract was for my previous employer, and we did not have a boat at this time, so we rented a cottage outside of Karlskrona, just some ten kilometers from where we used to live. During that winter, I finished up my contracts and we found and bought the boat we wanted – not the biggest, but one we can live on and could afford without taking a loan. In spring 2014 we packed our things in a one-way trailer, returned the key to the cottage, and left for the Swedish west coast, where our new home had just been prepared, masted, and put into the water.
A steady pace
Since then, we’ve been on the move, more or less. Northern European winters being what they are, we’ve rented places in winter, mostly coinciding with on-site contracts for me. We’ve lived most of the winter in Stockholm (twice) and Edinburgh, and we’ve traveled by car and AirBnB – a few weeks at most – in Germany, Italy, France, England and Scotland.
But it’s the summers we’re planning for. Not quite aimlessly drifting, we’ve slowly taken us from the Swedish west coast up to the very far north of the Baltic sea. We generally (try to) get up early, walk the dogs, eat breakfast and then set sail. Around noon we’ll reach whatever goal we had in mind for the day, have lunch, and then set to work. We don’t exactly have a normal work week – hours depend on customers needs more than day of the week, but generally we both work around 20-30 hours a week – although like most self-employed I know of, sometimes we also go way over 40 hours for a short while.
When winter comes, we’ll put the boat on land, wherever we happen to find ourselves, figure out how to get our car, pack up, and find a place – or more likely a couple of places – to stay until spring. South of France seems likely right now. Or somewhere else entirely. Next winter, we hope to avoid leaving the boat by sailing to the Mediterranean instead. In time, we’ll probably buy a slightly bigger boat, that we can stay in even during a Swedish winter.
Money in, money out
Of course – living in Chiag Mai is probably cheaper than our current setup. On the other hand, with no mortgage to pay it’s not as much as you might think, and with our slow pace moving around we can get actual, proper work done that pays actual, proper rates. Remote work does not pay as much as say, on-site work in Stockholm city, but on the other hand our summer rent averages out around 300 EUR a month, all inclusive. Staying in Europe has an extra benefit on the income front – 4G/LTE network is commonplace, and with the roaming charges gone, working remote has never been easier. A mid-range 4G modem and an extra MIMO-antenna, and we’re set to work almost anywhere.
In the end, we’re not trying to live on a shoestring and not trying (hard) to get rich, but rather to balance the amount and type of work we do with he money we need to sustain our lifestyle in the long run.
Right now, I’m working through Toptal on a project for an American customer – and my total sales investment was showing up for the video interview while we were living in a mountain cottage above the Aosta Valley, in the Italian alps. I can take making a few percent less for that kind of freedom.
Family, flock and friends
People seem to assume that living and working as close as we do – and we’re very rarely apart for more than a couple of hours – would bring problems. I can only respond that we had probably not gotten married unless we enjoyed spending time together.
Living and working together on 12 square meters does lead to friction, but on the other hand you learn to resolve your conflicts pretty fast when there’s nowhere to run and sulk. Besides, it upsets our dogs something fierce when we have an argument, and we don’t want to upset the dogs do we?
Speaking of the dogs, taking a long walk with the dogs is an excellent way to get some of that alone time I think everybody needs, and with the bonus to give some exercise and force you to take a break no matter how deep in work you’re buried. As an added bonus, the dogs help us find new friends wherever we go, and we’ve now got friends spread over Europe, and come winter we have more opportunity than most to visit.
Right now, we’ve got no great plans to change our lives – while we’ve not run out of things we’d like to do, there are very few, if any, things we feel we need to do or change. Our long-term plans (anything more than a month or so) are ever fluid, but that’s OK, because with nothing to hold us down, we can go with the flow.
I’m planning to do a few shorter write-ups on specific subjects around remote work, nomadry and freelancing, and if and when I get around to it I will update this post with links as well.
This has turned into a – for me – monster of a blog post, so a huge thank you if you made it this far!