Digital nomad: today vs twenty years ago.
Updated: Jul 14, 2018
Meet Joe. Joe is a software programer who lives in the South of Spain. We have known each other for many years and have worked together on a couple of projects.
Joe started programming at the age of 16. This was the time of the PC revolution, when
companies were buying computers for general office use. The demand for computer skills was exploding. By his 20's, he had become analyst programmer, working freelance from
his base in Newcastle. He got his first contracts abroad and his first taste for travel.
'There was no internet at the time. After writing software remotely, I had to send floppy disks through the post. It took one week to arrive. When programming changes were needed, we wasted another week...'
By the mid-90's, a revolution took place with the advent of Compuserve. Joe was finally
able to send his work by electronic mail. However he still had to rely on the post for his
PC. Laptops were not powerful yet. He was always working with a desktop, so when he had
a long contract abroad, he forwarded his PC by post.
In his early thirties, Joe was making good money as a freelance contractor. By then,
laptops had finally become more performant. Inspired by Jack Kerouac's On The Road, he
took all his money and planned to leave his native England for five years to discover the world.
The dream destination was the Caribbean islands.
He left with a sport bag full of clothes and another bag full of computer gear containing:
A bulky Dell laptop (Windows was the thing at the time)
A small portable printer
An ethernet cable and a dial-up cable
A portable webcam with incorporated microphone
A Nokia mobile just for calls (smart phones did not exist yet)
A portable CD player and speakers (Joe cannot live without music)
20 disks each containing 10 CDs worth of music
A digital camera with 4 batteries that never lasted long enough
Always a reader, Joe bought books for the trip, but always left them around in order not to carry them.
On The Road
His first stop was Spain in order to learn Spanish. Joe paid for his classes by making a
website for the language school. After 3 months, he bought a car for a road trip across
Europe, from Portugal to Croatia.
After this road trip, he dropped his laptop off at his mother's home. He wanted to
experience what life would be without a computer (the first and only time he has ever
done that in his life). He bought a backpack, kept the CDs and booked a GBP150 flight to
the Dominican Republican leaving in the following 48hrs on a website called Last Call Flights
Next stop was Jamaica, but the Caribbean islands were not well connected between each other, and the trip took him through Miami. He liked Miami and ended up staying 6 months until his visa ran out. He got his mother to send his laptop by post. During this time he began developing website software in order to build a business for online bookshops.
Miami was the first city where he experienced a hotel with a proper internet connection
(2003). However, living in an expensive part of the world, in a hotel, took a toll on his
savings. He realized that money would soon run out. Joe came back to Europe, and
continued working on the web, from Internet cafes in Spain and Amsterdam.
'When I was young, a programer told me not to take a job for more than 2 years because technology keeps moving forward and you stay behind. I have been abiding by these words all my life.'
The travel bug also took Joe to St Lucia and Costa Rica where he isolated himself
deliberately in order to learn new computer languages without distraction. He learnt
iOS programming (the operating system for iPhone/iPad) and sailed a yacht to Panama
with a friend he had just met. He developed an app on the first year the App Store was
released (the App Store is now 10 years old). This app landed him a contract with a
company in the USA, all from a chance encounter in a sailing club in Panama.
'The best adventures I ever had were always when I just bought a flight with no planning and met someone by chance. '
In 2009, Joe and I met at a networking event in Spain, and started working on a project
'When I started traveling, I used to consider myself a 'gypsy'. The expression 'digital
nomad' did not exist. Once I heard the term, I immediately related it to just moving from
country to country with a laptop and working from wherever you could.’
'I was an explorer. I would just go looking forward to the next encounter. It did not always
work out, there were a few dodgy times.'
'Traveling was a search for something new and unique. When the new and unique
became the routine, I knew it was time to stop in one place for a while.'
'Nowadays being a digital nomad is less adventurous. You are always connected to
internet with your mobile phone; you have Airbnb; everything is online, even the visa
procedures; every coffee shop has wifi (earlier we could only work in internet-specific
cafes); it is easy to keep up with friends via social networks...'
'The only thing that has not really progressed is the need for translation. Maybe some
new app will end up solving that problem too.'
Joe is currently living in Spain and working on his own internet project. He plans to go on the road again with his wife Lola.
Please share your digital nomad experiences with us. When did you start?