The life and travels of a Digital Nomad: Not all those who wander are lost

Suvarchala Narayanan November 21, 2016 6 min

Suvarchala Narayanan today starts a Digital Nomad series for FactorDaily. We see “digital nomad” as an important micro-beat in our Future of Jobs coverage. Suvarchala explores the Digital Nomad trend from her own experiences, interviews with other nomads, the cultural and ideological shifts, and shows how the way of the Digital Nomad/Gig worker is a snapshot into the future of work.

It was 2am on a sultry August morning in Amorgos, the Greek island where I’d been living for a few months, giving myself the time and technology-free space to recover from the searingly painful experience of a failed startup. I had been working on an organic farm that summer, grateful for the chance to get my hands dirty and fall into bed in happy exhaustion.

A confluence of factors has enabled the concept of Digital Nomads: the ubiquity of digital technologies that makes remote working viable and the recent economic crisis which led to a lot of people having no choice but to become freelance workers  

But as August approached, and with it, the heavy influx of tourists, I was ready for a break and also to use my mind again. At 2am that morning, I booked a flight to Copenhagen and decided I would find a project to do there for a few weeks. My friends thought I was insane. I didn’t know a soul in Copenhagen — what were the chances of finding a fun project there.

My instincts told me to just do it, and the next day, I landed in the gorgeous city, making my way to the airbnb I’d booked. I’d barely stepped into the house, when the owner and I got talking, realised we had many things in common, talked about the neuro-creativity project his company Copenhagen Institute of Neurocreativity was working on, while I shared my own experiments with brainwave entrainment, NLP (neurolinguistic programming not the geek version) as well as my thoughts on his project.

Within a couple of hours of entering his home, he made me an offer to create something for them. I worked with them for three weeks, designed an exposure strategy for the neuro-creativity tools — look up Plato — they’d developed, scripted and shot a prototype shoot and went back to the island. I left with more skills than I came with, an immersive Danish experience, amazing friends and the taste of the best coffee I’d ever had. Not to mention a deeper appreciation for airbnb!

The nomadic lifestyle has its drawbacks but a lack of adventure is not one of them.

Sophia, the farmer’s precocious four-year-old daughter, instructs me in Greek on the right way to do my job


The prototype shoot at CINC
The prototype shoot at the Copenhagen Institute of Neurocreativity


They convinced me that helping them paint the office basement would improve my creativity


Heaven on Earth — The Coffee Collective on Jægersborggade
Heaven on Earth — The Coffee Collective on Jægersborggade


Copenhagen in my coffee
Copenhagen in my coffee

What/who is a digital nomad?

Reddit has a good definition — Digital Nomads are individuals that leverage technology in order to work remotely and live an independent and nomadic lifestyle.

To this I will add that while travel is the core of the Digital Nomad lifestyle for most people, I define it by the the choices one makes to set their own terms of working and living.

Where there’s wifi, there is a nomad.

Why now?

A confluence of factors have enabled this concept: the ubiquity of digital technologies that makes remote working a viable possibility and the recent economic crisis which led to a lot of people having no choice but to become freelance workers.

The most pervasive reason is probably the Millennials. While culturally and ideologically diverse, most Millennials across the world share some values in common — namely, the stress on work-life balance and the valuing of experiences over possessions. It is also the first generation that has grown up around the idea that you have to find your passion and purpose in life. So, while the priorities of previous generations may have centred around buying a house and a fancy car, many Gen Y’ers are showing a marked propensity for access over ownership, a greater willingness to deal with uncertainty as they trade security for freedom, and a greater need for communities and tribes.

Millennial Entrepreneurial community at the Power of Youth Summit in Bangalore in partnership with Construkt, which runs a Hackpackers Startup hostel in the city
Millennial Entrepreneurial community at the Power of Youth Summit in Bangalore in partnership with Construkt, which runs a Hackpackers Startup hostel in the city

While the hipster developer lying on a hammock with a Macbook Air on his lap and a goji berry juice in one hand has become the poster child of the digital nomad movement (at least internationally), the truth is that you can be a nomad without ever leaving your city. I’ve been back home for a year now and find that Bangalore is one of the easiest places to be a nomad.

Despite the persistent idea of India lagging behind in some of these areas, I’ve found my experience to be the opposite. I’ve been offered incredibly exciting projects based on a conversation, word of mouth, and even a late mobile bill payment. I’ve slept in hostels, airbnbs, rented places, and my car. My offices in the city have been almost every cafe on the Indiranagar 100 Feet Road stretch, friends’ terraces, a treehouse, and my car. Later, in this series of articles, I will share my experiences and ratings of the city’s nomad-friendly workspaces and other resources that will have you look at India’s startup and tech capital — I call it a serene little town — in a whole new way.

Filter Coffee, benne dosa, laptop charging points and mobile data make this Hesaragatta tea stall a perfect nomad workplace; (Right) Olive Beach’s friendly barista whips up a mean espresso martini to help with the writing

Both Ratnamma’s tea stall near Hesaraghatta and Olive Beach in the city make great workplaces! Just depends if you’re in the mood for a benne dosa and filter coffee or an espresso martini to go with your deadline!

Having said that, if travel gets you hotter than the ‘tinder for bots’ app you’re working on, watch this space! In upcoming editions, I will take you through ideas, tools and resources, global nomadic hotspots, and how to find your community no matter where you are.

I’ll sign off this maiden edition by saying that tropical beach destinations and a chunky visa replete passport are wonderful, but there’s a more significant pay-off to these experiences: the ability to reinvent oneself constantly. This is a highly underestimated skill, and yet one that will prove indispensable in the future of work.

To close, I’d like to quote from JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring: “Not all those who wander are lost.” But, of course, you knew that already.

Suvarchala has been a fully paid up member of the “gig economy” since 1999. She currently works with a fintech startup, freelances for strategy + business, and is working with FactorDaily on the Future of Jobs. She tweets from @suvarchala.


Photos: Provided by the author Updated on February 27, 2017, at 2.00pm with Digital Nomads and the Future of Jobs bands.
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