A look back on our 3 weeks experience in one of the first coliving in France which has just opened in Briançon, in the heart of the Hautes-Alpes region.
Digital Nomad: Working remotely while traveling
We have been Digital Nomad since 2016 and we have already written a lot of content on this topic on our travel blog... So we thought it was time to regroup all this in one place.
At the end of this page you will find all our articles in which we talk about our nomadic lifestyle, how we work remotely but also our expenses and budgets.
How and Why we became Digital Nomad?
I don't really know when in our lives we decided that we would be "nomads", in fact I think we never really expressed it that way... The nomadic lifestyle came to us quite naturally and it quickly established itself as the way of life that fits us and that we enjoy today (because yes yes being digital nomad is not a job but a lifestyle ;) )
Will we be nomads for the rest of our lives? We don't know, but we doubt it... At least not full-time ;)
But how did we end up no longer having a fixed place to live then?
Hmm... to find the answer to that question, let's go back a little bit!
2012: the year we first got the idea and decided to go on a round-the-world trip. At that time we were far from imagining a nomad life for our-self! All we wanted at the time was to take a break from our careers, take our savings and go see the world!
2013-2015: Our 19 months around the world! We left in August 2013 and returned to Switzerland and a 100% sedentary life in March 2015. At that time we came back enchanted by our trip but were also happy to find more stability. We knew we would probably go back on the roads at some point, but there was no question about nomadic lifestyle yet! We had just returned to work and were happy in our "steady life".
It was only around the beginning of 2016 that we started to think about the options... The idea of starting our own company had always followed us, but quite frankly we didn't think we would take the plunge so quickly. It was a quasi burn-out that made us take action. I had personally reached a point of no return at work. Repeated anxiety attacks, chronic insomnia, and a body that was desperately sending me signals that it was NOT going well! It was either I was changing job or I was literally falling apart!
In parallel to our job we had kept the blog going and started " helping " friends by accepting small contracts for website development. Over the months we realized that there was a real demand. In short, we did our calculations (especially of our savings) and we started!
In August 2016 we celebrated our last day at the company and we gave ourselves 1 year to start our company. --> Read the article "Today I am 30 years old" written on the day of our last working day in Zurich.
At that time nomadism was not yet something we saw as a way of life. In order to get started we wanted to " have a change " and moved to Thailand for 6 months to start our business without too much financial pressure.
It was really in Chiang Mai that we realized the importance of the Digital Nomad movement! We met a lot of people who had a nomad life. And for some reason, it reassured me a lot to see that among these nomads there were a lot of "normal" people with real work projects. Being a nomad is not (or no longer) a hippie or marginal thing, but an ultra stimulating and rich lifestyle!
So that's how we went from backpackers to Digital Nomads
Digital Nomad is not a profession
Before talking about budget, equipment for nomads and accommodation I wanted to make a short comment on the myths of this lifestyle.... So be careful, I'm not about to complain, far from it, but on the other hand it seems important to me to clarify some things!
We receive a lot of messages that go a little in this direction:
Ohh your life looks like a dream come true, how do you become Digital Nomad?
So the first thing I think it is important to specify here is that "digital nomad" is NOT a profession, but just a slightly different way of life.
There are many jobs that can be done remotely (web developers, mobile application developers, consultants, translators, copywriters, language teachers, graphic designers, SEO managers, community managers, etc....). Absolutely ALL these jobs can be done in a sedentary lifestyle, but they all have in common that they can also be done remotely.
So it is certain, we won't be seeing nomadic firefighters or forest workers, but more and more professions are digitizing themselves! For example, we met a nomadic nurse! After working for several years as a hospital nurse, she began teaching the profession. She teaches at an American university and as part of an exchange semester all students followed the classes at a distance for 6 months. Instead of staying in her university office, this nurse came to Tenerife for 3 months and South Africa for 3 months.
Digital Nomad are not on holidays
Our lifestyle allows us to be much more flexible on our schedules than when we were employees, that's for sure! That's why you can sometimes see us on Instagram hiking on a Monday morning or surfing on a Thursday afternoon... But let's face it, not being in a "fixed" office does not mean that the work is done by itself! :)
On Sundays, in the evening or sometimes even in the middle of the night... Our working hours are "different" but we really work! And although we do not have "standard" office hours, the vast majority of our customers do. This means that our skype calls and email exchanges are still done regularly at "normal" times. And if we are in a completely different time zone, it also means sometimes having to stay up very late or get up at dawn for a phone call. In short, this way of life is something we love at 2000% and we wouldn't go back for anything in the world, but believe us, it's far from being a holiday!
Budget: How much does it costs to have a nomadic lifestyle?
The budget is a question that comes up frequently!Well you're curious and I understand. In the articles at the bottom of the page you will find some blog posts that are 100% dedicated to our budget on the roads in "digital nomad" mode. Because yes, a digital nomad budget is a little different from a traveller's budget! As I told you above, being a nomad means certainly taking advantage of your travels to visit new places, but basically it's still quite a few hours of work sitting behind a computer... In short, what are the budget differences between a trip and a nomadic way of life? (Note: I speak here mainly for us, eh...)
- We tend to spend more on accommodation: When we travel we usually prefer a basic room or dormitory and use our money for an activity or a good bottle of wine... When we are in work mode the situation is a little different! I'll let you look at the accommodation chapter below to see what are our criteria, but overall the accommodation is more expensive for us!
- The Wifi is life! If our accommodation does not have sufficient internet access (as it was the case in Menorca) then we do not hesitate a second to invest in local SIM cards and mobile data
- In terms of food, we prefer shopping at the market/supermarket and cook our-self more than when we travel. I don't know if it's really cheaper (a little bit probably) but most importantly we eat a lot healthier!
- For the rest it is similar to travel, but as we spend a lot of time working we do fewer activities per week and therefore the average daily budget for activities and leisure is lower (but as we stay longer in general it is balanced)
After that, if you want to talk about numbers, it's going to be more complicated! The budget needed for the nomad life depends A LOT on the country in which you live.
To give you an example, during our 6 months in Thailand we had a monthly budget of less than 1000€ (for 2 people). -> See our Chiang Mai budget
During our 6 months trip in France we were at more than 2000€ per month (for both) considering that we had our own car. -> See our budget in France
In Menorca we were around 1500€ per month --> Our article on Menorca while when we moved and worked in the Baltic countries we were around 1800€ per month --> Our article on the Baltic countries' budget
After that, as you can see, we clearly don't choose the most expensive destinations... the nomad life in Australia or Japan would probably be another story (not to mention our dear little Switzerland... fortunately when we are there we can count on our parents for accommodation :) ). But that is precisely the great advantage of this lifestyle! You can alternate destinations and adjust them to your current budget. For example, we do not exclude going to Australia or New Zealand one of these days... There we would probably live a little "above our budget" but if after this destination we return to Asia where the cost of living allows us to make savings it balances out!
Useful equipment for Digital Nomads
So I reassure you I will not make an inventory of all our backpack.... Because in the end, in nomad mode, we have about the same things as "normal" people in terms of clothes, underwear and toiletries. The only difference is that we clearly limit their number so that it fits in our backpack! :) So basically we have our everyday clothes, our hiking gear, 1-2 outfits a little more "elegant" for events or professional meetings and sports clothes...
But if you are interested in equipment that is more "specific" to digital nomads then there are still a few things we could mention:
- A computer stand: This purchase is probably one of our best ideas! Having your computer screen at eye level is just great when you spend more than 50 hours a week staring at a screen! This also implies that you must purchase a separate keyboard and mouse. There are many models and we have chosen the Roost brand because they are the most lightweight. For the keyboard I (Fabienne) opted for the magic Keyboard for my Mac while Benoit took the K810 from Logitech (but he would rather choose a magic keyboard now). Nothing to complain about...
- A multi-plug and a universal adapter: the foundation! Often when you arrive in an apartment there are only one or two sockets at the living room table. And with all our computer and photography stuff the multi-plug is the first thing we take out when we set up.
- A small army of external hard drives... Backing up our data is still an area where we can improve, but currently we have backups of our content on 2 separate external hard drives ( exact copy on both devices and we try never to have both hard drives in the same bag) plus an additional backup on the cloud for everything that concerns our customers. For the photos we have a premium Flickr account on which our edited photos are saved, but on the other hand the RAWs are only on our hard drives (this point is clearly to be improved). On the hard drives we each have a WD-My Passport 4TB (we have taken 2 different colors for logistics reasons... a black on which we save daily and the red where we make a monthly copy of the first one)
- Benoit also has a noise-reducing headset.... He tells me that it's convenient for co-workings, even if I suspect he uses it because of me! :) As for me, I like working with music too, but a 40€ headset suits me perfectly (Benoit is not as talkative as I am)! The SONY headphones are really amazing for noise cancelling (I warn you it's a bit pricey... but Benoit bought it 2 years ago and I don't think he'll ever go back). For my part I have this one (but I admit I chose totally randomly... I just liked the colors)
Accommodation: How to chose a place to work while traveling
Accommodation is most likely the point where there has been the most changes on our side since we started working while traveling. During our round the world trip we didn't work; we only left with our savings and the primary objective was to travel. At that time accommodation was something purely "functional" for us... We were not looking for anything special except a relatively clean room and a bed! Dormitories, a bit crappy hostels, couchsurfing, little nicer hostels from time to time, but very sincerely, as long as we were safe and we didn't risk anything, everything suited us! :)
Since our new start in August 2016 there has been some change! We have created our web development company (novo-media) and we travel while working. For this reason our criteria have changed a little.... Here are the main points that are different now...
Exemples of some recent accomodations:
For short stays (less than 10 days - 2 weeks):
- Well-equipped studios or rooms in private homes are an option, but we do need access to the kitchen (AirBnb is our goto Website for that).
- We usually don't care about decoration for short stays.... The location is much more important (close to the centre or close to public transport)
- For the guesthouses and hostels we prefer those that still have a little more charm because we spend more time there (without it being luxury of course).
- If we don't need to work, dormitories remain an option for expensive cities, but we admit that we go there less and less because it is rare that we don't work at all for a few days.
For longer stays (de 2 weeks to 6 months):
- An apartment with a separate bedroom (through Airbnb for +-1 months stays and directly if we stay longer): since we work a lot and we don't necessarily have the same sleeping hours (understand that I am a marmot) it is important for us to have a door between our workspace and the place where we sleep.
- The kitchen doesn't have to be ultra classy, but we still make sure we have a minimum of equipment (real stove and not the little electrical thing), a water heater, pots and pans etc...
- For longer periods of time we try to find something that we like more or less in terms of decoration (not necessarily need a big crush, but if we can avoid spending 6 months in an apartment that we find awful it's just better ;) )
- A solid wifi! Fiber is obviously the ideal, but let's say that our criteria is 10MB/second down and 5MB/second up... the minimum to work properly!
This accommodation option is quite new for us! We tried coliving on the island of Tenerife (between November 2018 and March 2019) and we have opted for Nine Coliving. A Coliving is an accommodation especially designed for digital nomads. A social place (between 7-12 nomads are permanently staying there) with a coworking area accessible 24/24, a kitchen at disposal and private rooms to relax and have some privacy from time to time. We will most certainly tell you about it in a future article, but we LOVE this type of accommodation A LOT! It's more expensive than renting an apartment, but you meet other nomads, breakfast is included as well as yoga classes every morning and lots of activities and also we stayed in an absolutely sumptuous house that you could never afford if we had to rent it). --> Update: we have just published an article 100% dedicated to our experience at Nine Coliving.
Adimn and Taxes? how do digital nomads do?
Here is a question we've been asked a lot:
Cool you are living nowhere... so you don't pay any taxes?
Hmmm... I would like to say yes, but unfortunately that is not the case, far from it! Being a nomad is a way of life, but administratively and fiscally speaking one is always bound to be established somewhere. The rules for determining where to pay taxes are relatively vague, but here is the logic that is generally the most commonly used:
- You spend more than 6 months in the same place? So put your papers there and pay the local taxes!
- You stay less than 6 months everywhere? Then your "home" will probably be in your country of origin. With family, friends, whatever... But you will need an address, a letterbox and above all a tax residence.
On our side, we have done a lot of research on the matter. We explained our situation to our municipality (the one of our parents). Here is roughly the dialogue we had with them...:
- Them: Ah, but if you don't spend 6 months a year here then you can't be registered!
- Us: All right... se where do we put our papers?
- Them: Well the place you spend more than 6 monts and 1 day...
- Us: hmmmmm... we don't spend more than 4 months anywhere.
long silence from them accompanied by a sceptical look....
- Them: All right... well, then put your papers in here. I guess since it's your parents place, we'll say it's your home... Is that all right with you?
As you can see, this is not yet a very common lifestyle and often we find ourselves being a bit like the people whose administrations do not know what to do with.
After that in our case it doesn't really matter in the sense that we pay our taxes but beyond that there are no costs associated with us being there for them. We have no children and therefore no allowances, no help or funding of any kind from the administrations, no debts, in short we do not disturb them too much ;)
Health and travel insurances for nomads
In terms of insurance, we are de facto affiliated to the LAMAL (the compulsory Swiss basic insurance and that costs 3 and a half kidneys each month), but as we wander around a lot we also have a complementary travel insurance. (-> if you are looking for travel insurance, we let you take a look at our travel insurance comparison table)
Our company: status et admin
When we left our last paid job in 2016, we quickly decided to found a limited liability company to group our activities. Our company is also based in Switzerland and we therefore also pay taxes for it in our beloved little country.
Switzerland is a fairly advantageous country for us in terms of taxation because taxes are high when you earn a lot, but they remain moderate for more modest incomes. Our incomes are fine from a nomadic point of view, but from a "Swiss" point of view we remain below the national averages and therefore, compared to neighbouring countries, we pay relatively little taxes (even if social charges when you are employed and managing your company are quite high)