Reflecting on the possibilities of living as a ‘digital nomad’.
We’re bush camping in far west NSW, Australia, on the shores of a small billabong, close to the mighty Barka-Darling river. As we finish up our breakfast, with our camping table placed right next to the water, we’re thrilled to see a Whistling Kite swoop down just metres away and pluck a small fish from the water. Shortly after, a couple of Ring-necked Parakeets scream through the gum trees overhead, cut a coloured blur through the small clearing where we have camped, then dive head first into the tangled thickets of vines and reeds that sprout so profusely along the banks of the lagoon. They are trying to evade their fate in the sickle-winged shape of a Peregrine Falcon that screams along so closely behind them.
Phew. What a start to the day.
And now it’s time for work. With my equipment set up inside our sturdy off-road trailer I can log in and connect to my colleagues in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. It’s going to be a fairly rugged day. I have multiple stand-ups and meetings to attend, an interactive workshop to run, and I still have to meet that tight deadline on my research report. They’re all tasks I’ve managed effectively before and will do again; and when the day’s work is over I’ll be able to step out to swim and marvel in the land of the Great Egret and White-necked Heron, where snake-necked Darters fish and Royal Spoonbills waddle regally in the shallows.
Is it really possible to work while you’re ‘on the road’, while you’re out bush camping? is it possible to do your job effectively and earn a living as you travel?? The answer is both yes and no. Firstly, it’ll depend on what your job actually entails. If you’re working full-time at home already, and have all the digital infrastructure and support to do so comfortably set up, the transition should be relatively painless. If you have a suitable vehicle which you can turn into a home-office on wheels, with high-speed connectivity and enough power to keep your devices running, well, you’re mostly there. On a recent three month journey through some of the most remote regions in Australia, I found that I could do my job just as well from a campsite on the side of an outback billabong as I could do from my home office in the garden, with the benefit that after work, I could step out into some of the most incredible landscapes on the planet.
It is important to realise though, that you can’t actually work ‘on the road’, you can’t work while you’re actually travelling. You can work when you stop, and that needs to be a very important consideration, much more than semantics. In the vast landscapes of Australia, away from the urban centres of the Eastern Seaboard, destinations can be very far apart and some hard travelling can be involved. You’ll need to plan your stops, plan for the days you’re going to be working, and plan for the days when you can make the distance to your next camp. This is when the concept of ‘slow camping’ really comes into play; we found that it was much better to settle down in one spot for a week, get our camp and my work equipment set up and have time both to work and also to explore the nearby area. We then used the weekends to do some hard travelling, often on unsealed desert roads, where we needed to be entirely focussed on driving in difficult conditions and ‘staying safe’, as they say in the bush.
The unavoidable fact of the matter is that you’re not on holiday, you’re working and on those days that you have ear-marked as ‘work days’ you’ll be spending eight hours mostly focussed on your screens. The upside is that once work is over for the day you’ll get a chance to experience places that you might never have otherwise seen. More importantly, by being able to engage with the landscape outside of the narrow confines of a two-week or three-week annual vacation block, you’ll be able to travel much further into the wilderness and experience that wilderness on a much deeper, more immersive level.
Paradoxically, our freedom to work from remote locations was enabled by Elon Musk, who notoriously insisted on his employees working from the office. It was Musk’s Starlink satellite technology that offered a connectivity that was never available until recently. With a decent Starlink set-up (good location, no obstructions) I can video-conference with my colleagues effortlessly even from the outback, with connection speeds better than I have at home.