What comes to mind when you hear the term “Digital Nomad”?
Casually dressed but slightly awkward humans posing in exotic locations with open laptops. Or something like that.
Type this phrase into Google images and this is exactly what you’ll see. Damn that tropical beach looks dreamy. #LaptopLifestyle.
The laptop lifestyle seems too be good to be true...because it is. There is something awfully wrong with these images. And once you see it, you can’t un-see it.
Digital nomads don’t want the beach office And neither should you. Here's why.
Laura was our hero.
Not because she sat on the beach with her laptop. She was our hero because she de-laptop'd her life.
It was late 2018 and I was listening to Laura deliver the keynote speech during a business conference in Bangkok, Thailand.
But this was not your typical business conference. It was the annual DCBKK event; a pilgrimage for hundreds of established location independent entrepreneurs. Said differently: this was an event full of the supposed characters from the beach office photos. The real life characters.
Every earlobe in the room tingled with envy as Laura told her story. She had transitioned from stressed out CEO to time abundant investor in her wildly successful software startup. She had done what so many of us were longing to do when she completely removed herself from her business.
The room was silent as she dropped her punchline:
“And I’m proud to say we did it. My family and I now take laptop-free vacations!”
I laughed at the irony as the crowd erupted with applause. Laura had just confirmed a universal desire of real life digital nomads. We want to sit on the beach without our laptops.
If you haven’t guessed by now the problem with these images is what is not happening.
Taking in the moment. Soaking up the balmy ocean. Drinking a coconut spiked with rum. All this and more is definitely not happening.
Nobody is appreciating that gorgeous beach. They are too distracted by their laptops.
And this highlights the biggest challenge of the laptop lifestyle: No constraints. The laptop is within reach and there is always something that needs to be done, which kills the magic of traveling.
After living a digital nomad life for 2 years I wasn’t boasting that I had “traveled through 9 different countries” that year ... I was confessing that "I stared at my laptop in 9 countries that year".
They say don’t mix business with pleasure. But as a digital nomad that is exactly what you’re supposed to do.
For many years the #1 spot on my bucket list was to live in Bali and chase perfect swells around the Indonesian Archipelago.
I giggled with excitement as I dreamed of what it would be like. Each time a powerful Indian Ocean groundswell would march towards one of the 11,000 islands I would slam my laptop shut, hop on a flight and surf perfect uncrowded bath-water-temperature waves until my arms turned to spaghetti. When the swell was over I would return to Bali, open up the laptop and resume where I left off...with one eye on the swell charts in anticipation for the next strike mission.
And in 2017 I had my chance so I packed a quiver of surfboards, my laptop, a few supplies and found myself a home base in Bali with fast access to the airport.
But as you can probably tell, my dreams didn’t manifest like I imagined. Sure I went on a few trips, but most of the time I had business shit to deal with and therefore I needed a reliable internet connection. I missed most of those swells, and my bucket list remains unchanged.
Mix business and travel for long enough you begin to long for the days where you were a pure traveler. Eventually you realize that, like a teenage boy and the dark web, you should keep them separate.
Travelers don’t withdraw like a heroin addict when they realize there is no WIFI within 5 feet.
Travelers don’t turn down spontaneous once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to stay in a remote local village because they need to be on a Zoom call.
Travelers don’t spend 9 hours on Slack while there are perfect empty Indonesian swells grinding a slab of coral a short flight away.
This is why Laura became our hero that year at the conference. Nobody wanted to be sitting on the beach staring at their laptops. Instead, we all wanted to be sitting at the beach ... and enjoying the beach.
I dreamed of the beach office before I transitioned to the life of a location independent entrepreneur. Not anymore.
Have you ever seriously tried working from the beach?
After sitting down on a tattered beach chair that wafts a suspicious sweaty stench from the previous inhabitant, you manage to connect to the spotty WIFI. You stare at your screen and try to focus because your battery is at 13% and there are no power points in sight. But the sun's glare burns your retinas, the blasting reggaeton music hurts your ears, and sweat beads mix with the suncream on your forehead and start dripping all over your keyboard.
Welcome to the the laptop lifestyle. Is that what you want?
Feel like a slave to your business? If your business is growing and you're hiring freelancers: watch out for this common delegation mistake