This week, my subscriptions to two house-sitting websites came to an end, marking a year since I discovered and entered the world of location independence. Seeing the reminder email made me stop and think about how much has happened in those twelve months, and how much taking that leap has changed the way my life looks today. It also felt like a good time to reflect on what I learnt from my experiences of house-sitting and living as a digital nomad. Although I’m now just a few weeks away from settling into a more fixed abode, I think the lessons I’ve learnt will still help me a great deal in the future, particularly when it comes to establishing myself in a new country and culture. So I thought I’d share some of the things that helped me to overcome the challenges presented by moving around and to continue living and working fruitfully:
1) My own approach to a location independent lifestyle was to interchange periods spent house-sitting in London with periods spent abroad. Last year I took on 8 house-sitting assignments across London, then spent the summer in Berlin and 3 months in Argentina from November onwards. When you start out as a house-sitter, it can be a good idea to take short-term assignments in your home town to gain experience and references whilst you get accustomed to the process. This definitely worked for me and things quickly took off. However, one thing I found to be a challenge was the frequency of location change. With hindsight, I would have done less short-term sits and looked for a few long-term ones in order to give myself time to settle in now and then — for me, moving every week was just too much, as it didn’t give me time to adjust to the surroundings and therefore work productively.
2) Establish a routine that you can take with you wherever you are, with minor tweaks. While I was in Berlin, I transferred my Fitness First gym membership to a branch there. As well as sticking to my normal work-out plan even away from London (which, given I work from home, I find helps me to work well), I also took yoga and pilates classes and in the process picked up some more topic-specific vocabulary. In Buenos Aires, I didn’t have the time for the gym as I was studying at Spanish school in the mornings and doing my work in the afternoons, so instead I walked 1.5 hours a day to the class and back, taking different streets and getting to know the city while getting my exercise fix at the same time.
3) Also be prepared to adjust that routine according to where you are. Even though I worked from home in London, doing that in Berlin and BA was difficult at times, either because the places I stayed weren’t always the best work environments, or because I felt like I was missing out on experiencing the cities. In Berlin, I joined the Staatsbibiliothek (a simple process if you take I.D and pay a small fee) and worked in cafes when I was reading or doing tasks that required less intense concentration. In Buenos Aires, I joined a co-working space (Urban Station in Palermo, which was recently voted one of the best co-working spaces in the world by GQ magazine). There was a friendly vibe, medialunas and coffee on tap and access to printing, scanning and everything you might need as a digital nomad.
4) One of the hardest things about combining work and travel can be achieving the right balance. You’re in an exciting new place and you want to explore. After all — it feels like you’re on holiday, right? But you’re not — you have work to do and deadlines to meet. Yet if you work constantly, what’s the point of being in this new place? Getting the right balance can take years of trying, and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert after just one year, but I think I’m getting closer to figuring out what works for me. I found that being in Berlin and BA made me work more productively and efficiently because I was looking forward to exploring after I’d met my targets each day. Right now, in Brazil, I’m working from a weekend beach house in a small village; my desk is in the backyard and I’m using an Internet dongle rather than wifi. It’s only a temporary base until moving somewhere settled in Santa Catarina in a few weeks’ time, but I’m actually working better than I was in London with my actual desk and seamless wifi. The surroundings may be more basic from a work sense, but perhaps that simplicity allows me to focus more. So keep your mind open to unexpected work set-ups — something you think might not work could actually be far better than you could ever have hoped.
I’m very grateful for the experiences I’ve had over the last year and would definitely encourage anyone who wants to try house-sitting or digital nomad-ism to give it a go. You might found out that it’s not for you, but you’ll certainly learn a lot about yourself in the process.