Whatever you want to call it, this “home office” style of working is steadily rising in popularity in the US. About 34 percent of the American workforce, or 53 million people, has taken up the freelance lifestyle, according to a 2014 survey by the Freelancer’s Union. As much as the technology now exists to make this happen, people are also discovering that being chained to a cubicle, working on a rigid schedule and enduring a chaotic and exhausting daily commute—well, maybe it’s not as necessary as we once believed it to be.
As for me, I became fixated on the ‘free’ in freelance and began to roam far and wide, laptop in backpack, setting up camp anywhere–as long as I had some kind of Internet access. I embarked upon my slow travel adventures over 5 years ago, mixing up house sitting, volunteering and village life with always just the right amount of wifi to keep the money coming in.
But just because I travel as part of my lifestyle, because I rent places in different countries every few months instead of paying a mortgage on one house in one location—that doesn’t mean I’m on vacation.
The way of the digital nomad is often understood just as “nomad”, and the “digital” part is forgotten, or it’s assumed that we spend just a few hours a week (perhaps just a 4-hour workweek?) messing around on the Internet and then BAM—the money is made, let’s party! I wish. On the contrary, being a freelancer can suck you into way more hours on the computer than you ever put in as a full-time employee. And working alone means, among other things, no socializing time with colleagues to chat (video calls just aren’t the same), no going out together for lunch or drinks after work. Instead, you may as well just eat lunch in front of your screen and you know, maybe you can just finish up some work after dinner too, since your client is 4 hours ahead of your time zone.
My point here: Even digital nomads need to achieve a work-life balance. So how do you nourish your creative side? Whether you’re maniacally glued to the screen all day and night, or you’re restlessly waiting between projects and wandering through the house in pajamas, how do you keep yourself inspired?
This should be rather obvious, but if you are truly a nomad, you’re always somewhere new, so go out and see what there is to see! Instead of checking email first thing in the morning (especially if my clients are hours behind me), I sometimes start the day with a stroll through my neighborhood or a nearby park, and eventually find a cafe to have my first cup of coffee—yes, I have actually sat down in a cafe without my laptop, and in fact, I’ve been in plenty of cities where it’s kind of weird or even rude to work in cafes. On days without deadlines or client calls, you could take a daytrip outside the city, and on weekends, try to venture even further from your home base. If you want to think outside the box, you need to look outside your screen.
Dive into the local scene.
Whether it means going on a free walking tour of the city, checking out some museums or catching a traditional dance performance, it helps immensely to take time out of your day and get some real insight into your temporary home sweet home. When you are a globetrotter, cities can sometimes start to blend together, so it’s really important to get away from your screen every day, take a camera or a notebook and find a plaza or a park to people watch and absorb the sharp newness before it becomes too familiar again—and before you get restless to move onto a new place again.
This is probably one of the most important ingredients in remaining sane and inspired as a freelancer. As accustomed as you may be by now to hanging out alone, humans are social creatures, there’s no denying it. Making friends with the locals will bring you deeper into a new culture and give you a new way of looking at the world—and at yourself. Here are a few great websites I often use to get the latest insider info and to meet up with people wherever I am: Spottedbylocals.com, MeetUp.com, city forum for Couchsurfing.org, city forum for Internations.org.
Aside from the weekends, when I always try to stay offline, it’s very rejuvenating to choose another good chunk of time to unplug. Depending on your work schedule of course, it could be a half day, a couple of days, a week or even a month. Yes, some freelancers have gone into anti-tech mode for a whole month. Shut off your computer, phone, router, TV. Don’t even pick up your iPod. Go electronics free and see what happens—as in, remember how life used to be before the Internet controlled us and our incomes. Remember that you are good at other things besides making money with your computer, so spend time on some of those talents. Of course, if like me, you happen to rent a small house in a Spanish village where you later discover that Internet is only available in the village library, which is open a few days a week and keeps random hours, then voila, your tech detox awaits.
When you are struggling to keep your creative forces at their height, just remember why you set out to live this freelance life instead of working in an office–and your priorities will fall back into place.