Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

My Journey as a Digital Nomad

Who we are depends on many factors, but one of the key parts in my mind is how you define yourself. In a constantly changing world, self-definitions are important part of one’s journey from who we are and were to who we become and will be.

We take on roles, work on jobs, and develop skills, but ultimately we define ourself as we want others to see us and how we wish see ourselves.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been extremely privileged to re-define myself multiple times. These new titles, labels, skills, and responsibilities are part of my “baggage.”

Over my recent journeys, one identification in particular has stuck to me: digital nomad.

In short, a “digital nomad” is someone who uses an internet connection to do various types of work remotely, like from home, coffee shops, hotels or whoever you can be connected AND also conduct one’s life a nomadic or traveling way.

Here’s how I become a digital nomad.

The Digital Nomad: Online work means location-independent living

I’ve lived abroad since graduating from university in Chicago in 2005. I first moved to France and later China. Each place taught me many things and I was fortunate to find interesting ways to make a living and continue my education. I also had opportunities to learn new skills and even try out new business ventures, one of which become INT3C, my Drupal / web consulting firm.

About two years ago, I reached a point where nearly everything in that business was happening online. I was creating code and websites for remote clients. My fellow developers and designers were working wherever they lived. And my sales channels were all through sharing open source code and writing blog posts. It was also a point where I had enough clients and revenue to no longer need to work for anyone else.

It was at this point, I realized I had a huge opportunity: I could live anywhere I wanted. And so I did.

Initially my plans were to return to Europe and try and start a new “offline” business there to compliment by online activities. After months in Sweden, France and Spain, I had failed to find a business that made sense to me and was worth the time and monetary risk.

So, instead of settling down anywhere, I settled into a routine of nearly constant travel.

I worked online while living amazing experiences and adventures offline. I took pictures, learned and spoke foreign languages, and wrote as much as I could about my experience.

About halfway through, I learned another term for this lifestyle: location-independence, which stands for someone who “utilizes new technology to design a lifestyle that allows them to live and work wherever they want”.

Basically I had a job that didn’t require me to be in any set location. This enabled me to live according to my fancy anywhere I wanted. At least so long as I had internet access.

I worked online while living amazing experiences and adventures offline.

This journey has taken me through and in 19 countries during that time, including amazing experiences in Morocco, Greece, Colombia, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Mexico and China.

I took pictures. Learned and spoke foreign languages. I tried out new business and entrepreneurial ideas. Developed new skills. I connected with new people around the world. And I wrote as much as I could about my experiences and tips of fellow tech travelers.

And, while I might settle into a new place for awhile, it seems this journey is not yet over. Since this self-definition is not just a physical one but a mental one as well, my life as the digital wanderer is bound to ramble.

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