Sandi Gelles-Cole has worked in the publishing industry for more than 30 years. She’s an editor, author and writing coach. But things are getting tough. “Big publishers are outsourcing fewer projects,” she says, “and authors are paying much less for free-lance editors.” Such changes have slashed her income. Instead of working harder for less and struggling to keep pace with the rising cost of living, she decided to leverage the Internet.
In August, she left Woodstock, New York, for Ajijic, Mexico. She can do the same job, work fewer hours and enjoy a lower cost of living.
Before moving, Sandi and her husband researched the area. Then they went to visit. They liked it so much that when they returned to the U.S., they found a Mexican realtor online. “We rented a house in Ajijic. Our realtor arranged for the wi-fi, cable and electricity. We had a vonage line installed. We already had Skype. And we got Mexican cell phone numbers when we got here.”
Sandi and her husband, a poet, are among a growing number of Digital Nomads. It starts innocently enough. Email, Skype and Google hangouts allow some people to work from home. No more time consuming commutes. Before long, natural transitions take place. People like Sandi learn that they can live better, travel more and work less by moving to a lower cost area. Expats in Lake Chapala, Mexico say they live well on just $1,600 a month.
Of course, there’s always a tradeoff. Digital Nomads miss family and friends. There can also be language barriers. Health care could be less effective, depending on where you move. But if you have a sense of adventure, the lifestyle might suit you.
Lake Chapala attracts plenty of Canadian and American retirees. But 40-year-old Katie Ogden says it isn’t just for older folks. “When I first moved here five years ago there were hardly any young people. But things are changing quickly. I work for a U.S. project management firm that recruits and consults for hospitals.”
She had told her boss that she was moving to Mexico and asked if she could telecommute. “He was so shocked he almost spat coffee on me,” she says. “ I pulled out my proposal sheets. I had researched Internet and phone options. I gave him pricing and other details. The next day, the IT department set me up with a computer, a phone, a headset and a scanner. We did a trial run from the U.S. office, so I would be prepared to go solo in Mexico.”
Would this lifestyle work for kids? It might. Larissa Ham profiled three Digital Nomads for the Sydney Morning Herald. Colin Burns and his wife Tracy took their laptops on tour. Colin works as a web designer. Tracy home schools their two children. According to the article, they spend most of their time in South East Asia. “You pretty much know that most places in Asia have Wi-Fi,” says Colin. “Unless you’re on a tiny deserted island in Thailand you’re going to be fine.”
Some Digital Nomads take their show on the road. And they just keep going. One such couple is Sheila Poettgen and her partner Kai Mikkel Førlie. They left Vermont three years ago, planning to ride their bikes around the world. Once they arrived at Lake Chapala, they decided to rest for a couple of months. Nearly two years later, they’re still here. In a few months, the couple will get on their bikes again to resume their global tour.
Sheila founded Rising By Design in 2013. It provides affordable website design and IT consulting services. She does much of the work for free, to help non-profit organizations. Last week Sheila and Kai treated my wife and me (along with 2 other couples) to lunch. We ate on the massive patio of their palatial home overlooking Lake Chapala. It had a hot tub, a swimming pool, and a perfectly manicured garden. They’re housesitting. So they don’t pay rent.
Before starting their adventure, they reduced their debt and upgraded the appliances in their duplex. They wanted to be able to rent it out with fewer maintenance hassles. “We also digitized everything,” says Sheila, “We set up online bill payments and made copies of all personal documentation, including medical histories and ID’s.”
Kai, a former airline pilot, says it’s going to cost them about $9000 a year to ride around the world on their bikes. That includes hopping on the occasional freighter, sail boat excursion or train ride. “We put money aside to cover around 5 years of travel.”
The Digital Nomadic lifestyle isn’t for everybody. But life is short. And the world is large. If you really want to leverage the Internet to live better, travel more and work a lot less, the tools are available now.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad currently living in Chapala, Mexico. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher.