It’s a romantic ideal to pack up your life, ditch the 9 to 5 routine and work from far-flung locations across the globe. Such is the reality for these three Australian digital nomads, who share what life is really like running a business while travelling the globe.
We take a look at the new phenomenon of 'working from roam'.
Designer, entrepreneur, and ‘professional road tripper’.
What drew you to a digital nomad lifestyle?
'My parents were self-employed, so when I got my one and only ‘real job’ after graduating in 2007, it felt wrong. I stuck it out for 18 months, but planned trips around public holidays and weekends. Around the same time, I read The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss and it gave me the permission to create the crazy life I wanted.
I’m the founder of The Design Kids, a 500,000-strong platform to help emerging graphic designers get into the industry. To build my community from the ground up, I did a six-year road trip, during which I lived in 73 cities in 33 countries.
Once the trip was completed, I wanted to keep travelling but not as intensely, so I created a second business, Designer’s Bootcamp, where we take small groups of designers on trips and rebuild their careers, and Creative Residencies, where individual creatives come and work on a tropical island in Australia for a week.
I’m terrible at routine, normality and regular life, but I’m great at living out of a small bag and winging it!'
Where are you based now, and what does a day look like for you?
'Right now, I am at Bocas Del Toro in Panama.
The great thing about the time difference is that Australia is asleep all day, so I can have a full day visiting waterfalls, surfing or hiking and go home, shower and be available at 4 pm when my team wakes up.
Once a fortnight, I’ll have a 12-hour work day where I catch up on paying bills, look through applications for the trips, manage socials across three accounts and do life admin. I’ve also been writing my first book.'
What are some practicalities of a location-independent lifestyle?
'Definitely look into which visa you need, as each situation is so different.
Tourist visas are the easiest, as they are mostly free, and mostly extendable if you need.
I have a B-1/B-2 10-year work visa for the US, which is for extended travel and instigating business, plus a UK and an Australian passport.
Also, get travel insurance, mainly for medical but also for cancelled flights. One trip, I bought travel insurance on the tarmac as we were about to take off – if you don’t buy it on Australian soil, it’s void – and I ended up in a Berlin hospital with pneumonia and a $12,000 bill, which was covered, thankfully.'
How do you manage financials like tax, super and getting paid?
'I’m lucky, as I earn money from Australian businesses into an Australian account as an Australian, so I’m technically a tourist visiting the country, and taxes are paid at home.
I have an accountant who is based in Australia; even when I’m home, I don’t see them, so it’s the same as being away. I have two companies, a sole trader and a family trust, so it’s a lot of work. They do my tax returns, business activity statements (BAS) and super contributions. I give myself a AUD$500 weekly wage, which is set up automatically from one company to my account.'
Would you ever go back to a 9 to 5 gig?
'No way! The great thing about optimising your life to work while you’re away is you’ve simplified it for when you’re back. Direct debits, automated payments and systems mean your life admin is very low, so it doesn’t matter where you physically are.
You can come home, recharge, see friends, do your annual life admin and head back out. The more you do it, the more streamlined it is.'
Follow Frankie’s adventures on Instagram @frankieratford
Founder of sustainable resort marketing agency, Slojourn Studio.
Can you tell us how you came to work remotely?
'Before the pandemic, we had a beautiful office that our team of eight was fairly tied to. I was forced to shut it down and downsize our team to survive our borders being shut for so long.
The shift allowed me to make the move to Barcelona to live out my dreams of afternoon vermut and tapas on a terrace.'
What does a typical day look like for you?
'I am based between Barcelona, my cabin at Margaret River in WA, and resorts across the globe.
My days in Barcelona start criminally early for a Spanish life. I am up at 5.30 am with a few rituals that are important for me to start my day, and then I get a few hours with my amazing team based between Gold Coast and Byron Bay. This is when we prioritise strategies and mind maps for our clients so that we are all on the same page.
A lot of the time, I head to a cafe to work as soon as the team clocks off in Australia, just to shake up the environment and ensure I am not trapped working in my apartment for hours on end. I have multiple client meetings a day and new client onboarding meetings.'
Aside from the experiential travel, what are the perks of digital nomadism?
'The best thing is that my team and I get to design our days. Our clients are based on every time zone in the world, so 9 to 5 doesn’t exist for us, but balance definitely does.
My day is broken up by Pilates, walking the dog in the park, coffee breaks with friends or colleagues, wine breaks and long, lovely Spanish dinners.'
How have you managed things like work visas?
'Previously, I was able to live in Spain with no visa, as I also have a British Passport; however, since Brexit that has all changed.
I am in the process of applying for a non-lucrative visa, which means all of my income is earnt, and taxes paid in Australia, but I spend in the Spanish economy.
Owning a business in Australia means I can’t apply for digital nomad visas, although the newly launched options in Spain and Portugal look incredibly enticing. For tax purposes, they aren’t an option for me right now. I spend so much time abroad for work that everything is a little more complex.'
How do you set yourself up for success in a new location?
'Depending on where you choose to be based, learning the language is the first priority out of respect for the local community and ease of living.
The admin side of things can also be complex, especially in a country where English is not the first language. I am lucky in that I have family in Barcelona, who have been very helpful in getting my life sorted.'
What advice would you give to someone considering taking the leap?
'It’s by far the best decision I have ever made. My first piece of advice is ‘do it’.
My second piece of advice is to ensure you find balance. I know so many digital nomads who get to travel to incredible places, but they are a slave to their laptops and their phones. Prioritise presence, and make sure you build your routine around it. We’re all searching for the tonic of wildness, so don’t miss it when you are there.'
Follow Tess’s adventures on Instagram @tesswillcox
Founder of global digital agency, Peppa Hart, and upcoming accommodation space, La Playa Bali.
Digital nomadism is no longer just for twenty-somethings but families, too. Why did you decide to relocate your business and young family to Bali?
'We had designed and built our dream home in Australia, but after the pandemic, our view of everything changed. I was working long hours and it felt like it was never ending.
My husband Bell and I decided to pack up and move our family to Bali, where I could focus on producing clothing and homewares and move more into the hotel and restaurant space, which in Australia was proving impossible. In Bali, I feel like anything is possible, creatively.
We're so lucky to be able to have moved countries and kept the same team at home, and we actually work even better with our own routines and structure in place. '
What are the practicalities of working from roam we should know about?
'There is a digital nomad visa coming in for Bali and quite a few other countries have a similar set-up, where you don’t pay tax in the country whilst on a digital nomad visa.
Personally, we have gone with a KITAS visa. It’s different [to a digital nomad visa], as we have set up business here for our production and accommodation business.
We worked with an agency in Bali called Bali Solve, which helped us navigate what was best for us. '
How do you manage things like tax, super and getting paid in Bali?
'We work with a local accountant here and our accountant in Australia, who manages it all for us to ensure we are doing everything correctly. Every country is so different, so I would definitely recommend talking to your accountant in Australia before you make any decisions. '
Could you ever go back to a normal life after a work-from-anywhere lifestyle?
'I couldn’t imagine working in a 9 to 5 corporate environment ever again.
I feel like with this set-up, I can be a present mum, I can still have my career, and still have time for fun, so for me it's the perfect balance.
I love that no matter where Bell and I want to go, we don't have to consider the logistics of work holding us back from living the life of our dreams. It's a really incredible type of freedom. It isn’t always smooth sailing, but the adventure is what it's all about. '
Follow Sophie’s adventures on Instagram @peppahart
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