Posted by: digitalnomaddan | October 26, 2008

My Experiment in Digital Nomadism: Why & Where

I’ve just spent all this summer experimenting running my business & living in as digitally nomadic a way as possible whilst maintaining connectivity & productivity using equipment and tools that can be carried by one person. I hoped that if I carried a tent in one hand, portable computer & overnight kit in a small carry bag in the other & backpack with everything else (clothes etc) this would function maximum flexibility & possibility of where & when I could travel to, live and work from. With this set up I was free to catch trains, planes, auto-mobiles, ferries & boats etc. My main aim is to see if one can do away with an existence based on physical centralised ‘nodes’ (traditional office, home etc) & reduce them down to the individual, a mobile ‘node’.

If after a summer of doing this I had succeeded in keeping my on-line shop running at least relatively smoothly from various locations without having to travel back to my original physical location (London) in an emergency when things went wrong then in future it would be possible to run a business and live out of a backpack from literally anywhere you could get a decent Internet connection. Since this was an experiment/trial run I needed to get back quickly if things went wrong so I stayed in Europe so was always a relatively short distance from the UK.

If it all worked out (& it did) I would travel further afield in the future since, if you can travel to & work from somewhere with very cheap cost of living (i.e. Asia) but stay ‘plugged in’ to western level earnings its a no brainer that you are going to progress quicker financially since your operation is more efficient due to less costs. Also if your, or the worlds, circumstances change like the world economic situation (as it currently seems to be by virtue of the credit crunch and global financial crisis) then practitioners of true digital nomadism will be best placed to adapt & change accordingly due to their highly flexible & dynamic infrastructure.

Since I was due in Ibiza for a friends birthday party celebrations at the end of July & then another friends birthday party in South of France the following weekend I could experiment working while travelling to & between these locations where I would be ‘holidaying’ & hence work from lovely locations.  I was overdue a holiday and couldn’t take time off completely so needed to take my laptop with me anyway. If it all worked out I would stay abroad afterwards and try and keep the experiment running for the entire summer.

I found what looked like the perfect WiFi enabled campsite on Ibiza and flew out 5 days before I was supposed to be in Ibiza Town for the birthday so had time to get set up established & then enjoy living & working on a beach. The camp-site turned out to be perfect since the WiFi connection was free, had quite a  long range signal & was on 24 hours a day so I could access it & hence work from pretty much anywhere I decided to pitch my tent or wanted to work from in the camp-site grounds & whenever I wanted. I spent most of my time working from their lovely beach side cafe.

A Digital Nomads Desk Space

A Digital Nomads Desk Space

I had no problems receiving & making Skype calls, emails & working on the web processing orders from my website.  Integrating Skype with my mobile phone via Fring worked ok’ish but was poor call quality when further away from the Cafe/router i.e. when in the tent (more on Fring coming soon in later posts).

When I left the campsite & moved into a hotel to join the birthday party in Ibiza Town I was surprised that not only was there no free Internet connections there was no WiFi at all in the hotel or close enough to get a signal enabling me to work in the hotel room.  Instead I had to either use the GPRS connection on my mobile phone as a modem (unacceptably expensive even with a discounted GPRS data roaming bundle I had purchased from Orange) or venture out of the hotel to find the nearest free WiFi hotspot.  Since It was the weekend in Ibiza I was intending to do as little work as possible so this wasn’t the end of the world & I was only checking emails quickly for any priority stuff needing attention then was straight back to the beach or bar.

After the weekend we made our way to the port to catch the ferry to Barcelona where we were going to stay a few days before catching the train over the Pyranee’s mountains and into the South of France for my mates party the following weekend.

There are a few ferry services running between Ibiza & Barcelona & take an average of 10 hours, allowing plenty of sunbathing or working time.  We took the cheaper Iscomar ferry service which luckily had free wireless broadband on board. I booked the tickets in advance via A Ferry To who sell discounted tickets for all major European ferry routes & cost around £40 each one way if you book well in advance, otherwise expect to pay around £70/£80 if you book direct or leave it to the last minute. The on-board wireless broadband turned out to be in beta test but worked fine generally, it just timed out every 45 minutes or so requiring re-connection.

In Barcelona we stayed at the Confortel Hotel which was quite a way from the city centre (30 minute walk or 10 minute metro) but only a 5 minute walk from a good beach which, given the blistering mid-summer heat was preferable to staying in a sweaty hotel in the city centre.  The Confortel had always on free WiFi.

From Barcelona I travelled over the Pyranees to Toulouse in France using the Spanish train service Renfe & the French SNCF. This journey is a spectacular one with magnificent views so the fact that neither trains had WiFi wasn’t a problem. The station on the Spanish/French border at Le Tour De Carol where you have to change trains (& there can be a long wait) didn’t have WiFi either nor could I pick up a signal wondering around the nearby buildings

It was now late Friday afternoon and had left Barcelona in the morning so had only missed 1 day of connectivity & could have connected via the mobile phones GPRS modem in an emergency. There are mobile WiFi Broadband dongles and other wireless connectivity devices available which will help keep digital nomads connected when in areas without internet access such as rural areas or locations which charge extortionate fees for a connection (some railway stations & other public places for example).  I did consider buying one before travelling however roaming fees for these can be similarly expensive as data roaming fees on mobile phone networks so its best to buy when in the destination country which doesnt really help if your planning on visiting a few.   Given the proliferation of WiFi hot spots I thought it would never be too long a wait in between possible connections & in those rare instances could use the mobile phone.

After another weekend partying (in a very rural/remote location but at a private residence with WiFi) I travelled back to Toulouse & saw my Girlfriend off at the Airport (chargeable WiFi available).  I then stayed for a few days in the cheapest hotel in Toulouse with WiFi (that I could find) so I could catch up with work, plan next stage of my trip & explore Toulouse a bit.

I knew I wanted to get back to Ibiza eventually but thought I could travel back over a few days using this list of European campsites with Internet access to plan where I would stay en-route however all the likely candidates on my route had quite expensive charges for internet access. All were also more expensive than the campsite in Ibiza for pitching a small tent.  Many also seemed very ‘structured’ wheras the Ibiza campsite was very relaxed with good quality live music night with Argentinian BBQ (see pic) twice a week.

A Digital Nomads Office Canteen

Digital Nomads Office Canteen

The facilities here for both working & holidaying I had tried & tested.  Being able to pitch the tent on a pine wood covered peninsula surrounded by sea, beach on one side, rocky cove on the other (see my banner pic at top of page) whilst staying connected for free was ideal.  Camping La Playa was the perfect place for my requirements so I bolted back there via train over Pyranees & overnight ferry from Barcelona to Ibiza.

This time due to availability I took the more expensive Transmediteranea ferry which surprisingly didn’t have a WiFi connection (since the cheaper Iscomar ferry did have).  Due to travelling overnight I didn’t need to work anyway & there was a party on the top deck with a full on sound system & very skilful DJ holding it together in very rough weather (the ferry was rocking considerably in both senses of the word).

I spent the next 7 boiling hot weeks living & working from a perfect spot, all things considered.

In my next few posts I’m going to cover ‘How I functioned Digital Nomadism’ via the tools, products, services & resources I used:

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