My first adventure as a digital nomad

On a warm summer’s day in 2008, I decided to take a challenge and travel solo. I remembered Cádiz from a few years before while backpacking around Andalusia with a friend. Cádiz is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in western Europe. It’s situated on a peninsula and has one of Spain’s most beautiful beaches. I booked a plane ticket, without making an hotel reservation upfront. Once there, I visited several hostels and hotels, but everything was fully booked. Because it was already past 5pm, I didn’t want to go on Couchsurfing anymore to look for a last-minute host. I decided to go rent a car and use it as my new accomodation. Every morning I woke up with the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, and took a shower on the beach.

It wasn’t the first time I took my laptop with me – I have been working in internet marketing since 2003, so I always checked mails and answered phone calls when I went on holidays with friends. But the challenging part of this trip was certainly not about finding wifi, and also not about security issues, or fear of being alone – like getting harassed or assaulted. The hardest part was deciding what to do and where to go, how long to stay and what to do next. Because options are endless and there’s no one there to decide for you, days are wide open. There’s no one to be your companion or to chat with while you’re alone at the beach sipping your bottle of water in the morning. Waking up alone in a strange place and asking myself “What do I want to do today?” was a fantastic way to get to know myself and my values in life.

In those years, I didn’t have a team nor a telephone answering service yet, so I had to always be “available” during working hours. Each morning I jumped in the car and went to a bar to find wifi and get some work done. Clients called me while I was working in a nicely decorated bamboo bar in Tarifa. They probably thought I was just in our office with my brother and business partner in Belgium. In the afternoon I visited a few places around Tarifa and Gibraltar and went into the cosy streets of Cádiz to go out and meet new people.

After this experience, I came back with a list of things I wanted to change in my life:

  • Find ways to travel more, but travel smart
  • Find ways to work less, but work smart
  • Don’t walk it alone, but build a dedicated team of professionals around your services
  • Do what you do best, love the most and what solves other people’s problems
  • Make sure someone picks up incoming calls, always – call +32.16844884 and just say ‘hi’
  • Connect with other people and never run out of personal or business cards
  • Regularly take some time to see where you’re going and make small changes if necessary

Without realizing it, I was on my way of becoming a digital nomad. Digital nomads are people who use telecommunication technologies while working and traveling, somewhat in a nomadic manner. They work typically remotely – from home, coworking spaces, digital nomad camps, public coffee shops or libraries, and even recreational vehicles or campervans – to accomplish tasks and goals that traditionally took place in a single, stationary workplace. But is working in digital services the only possible way to travel more? I don’t think so. Is it the best way? I don’t think so either. I will get into more detail about this in upcoming blog posts.