What's it like to be a digital nomad right now?

Patrick Johnson
Written by Patrick Johnson
on March 27, 2020

In the 5 years that Xolo has existed, we’ve welcomed all kinds of customers who’ve signed up to start their business. However, a large group of them would consider themselves as digital nomads - independent workers who travel the world while doing excellent work for their clients and customers globally.

We’ve included quite a few of them in our customer stories through the years, and given the current situation in the world, we thought it was about time to check in and see how they’re getting on right now. We spoke to:

How are you managing during this turbulent time?

Michelle: Generally speaking, I'm doing well and things are still relatively normal here on the Gold Coast, Australia (panic buying of toilet paper and canned tomatoes set aside). I am concerned about my family in Spain and Germany though. Personally, I’ve been feeling quite anxious - the world seems to be changing rapidly and while I do believe there’s a chance for massive positive change, I feel uncertain about my business, financial stability, and living situation as a non-resident in this country. 

Michelle in Australia, photo by Caitlin Rose Taylor

James: We're managing ok, neither of us have gotten sick yet, so that's good at least! We're staying in touch with friends and family with Telegram groups and video calls and staying up to date with the news here from the daily WHO reports.

Christoph: Just as always! I've been working remotely and location independently for years - and so does all my team of 9. We have our team meeting on Zoom every Wednesday morning. Just the first of our three annual team workations had to be cancelled: we wanted to meet for a week in Northern Cyprus at the end of March. Now we're all looking forward to seeing each other in July in Tallinn! Especially the two new employees who none of us have seen in real life so far.

Where are you staying? And was it forced or by choice?

Michelle: I just moved to Australia about a month ago - and am very grateful and lucky to now have my own long-term apartment here. Due to travel restrictions and cancelled flights, I’m technically stuck here, but I'm very grateful that it is here of all countries.

James: We are in Koh Lanta, Thailand. We had planned to visit here for a few weeks, but now we are here we're going to stay put until things get a bit better. Healthcare and infrastructure here are among the best in South East Asia, so we feel quite safe (relatively speaking).

Christoph: I'm staying in Muscat, Oman, until further notice. I had planned to visit this beautiful place for 18 days between my winter season stay in Southeast Asia and the team meeting. Now it turns out that this is the best possible place for me and my travel companion to live through these times. We have amazing friends here, we enjoy the culture, the legendary Arabic hospitality, the food, the weather and the landscape. And we have a great infrastructure to work from here just like normal.

Christoph soaking up some sun in Oman

Do you plan to travel anywhere else soon (and if it's possible)?

Michelle: I don't have any travel plans coming up, mostly because I'm still decompressing from my five years as a digital nomad. But I would love to explore a few places in Australia and the Pacific and I hope that this will be possible again within the next few months.

James: We're going to wait here for a while and see what happens next. Currently most of the flights are cancelled but also given our lifestyle we feel it would be quite irresponsible for us to continue to move around as much as we usually do.

Christoph: I had some plans but as events like Latitude59 and the e-Residency Festival in Tallinn at the end of May were postponed I currently don't have any plans. And actually I'm quite comfortable with staying here until things change for the better.

How are you managing work? Is everything still going smoothly?

Michelle: Mostly, yes. My day-to-day work is pretty much unchanged - I work from home for my clients in Europe and communicate with them via online meeting and project management tools. Two of my clients, two private German boarding schools, have implemented video teaching during the school closure, and I got to build part of their technical solution for that - how awesome!

I do however wonder how the coming economic changes will affect my business and income. It has of course always been on the back of my mind, but a crisis-resistant, independent, and "passive" income seems more crucial than ever.

James: Not much money is coming in from either clients or our SaaS products. We're hoping that's temporary but if not then we can probably last it out on our savings for a while.

Christoph: At this very moment our customers have other and more urgent things in their heads then children's health insurance. We’ll use this time for a breath and to prepare some content for our channels until people come back to their to-do lists where they’ll find the topics for which they need our expertise. So we're expecting our business to come back to 120 percent in the next few weeks.

Finally, has this dampened your enjoyment of the nomad lifestyle at all?

Michelle: I am incredibly grateful for the lifestyle, freedom and relative luxuries I got to enjoy over the past five years. Perhaps this kind of lifestyle will not be as easy or socially acceptable after this crisis. I decided to transition from my digital nomad life a while ago and instead focus on building a life of supportive routines and community instead - something that I always found very difficult when location-independent. Modern technology, open borders, and affordable travel made nomading so accessible in the past (and perhaps will again soon) - but now more than ever I feel that we need to return to the values of community and nature. And perhaps this situation can serve as a powerful reminder for that. 

James and Danielle enjoying Thailand

James: The uncertainty is a bit annoying but overall we're still happy to be here. I'd rather be here and be able to stay put for a while instead of worrying about being unable to get back to our home country because of cancelled flights etc.

Christoph: Only in a positive way! If I see what the overall situation and mood is like back in central Europe I am very grateful not to be there.

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