Digital nomads: The new generation of Irish workers who can make money from anywhere in the world

Given half a chance, most people wouldn’t hesitate to sit out the Irish winter in a sunnier and more exotic locale. And thanks to technology, there’s an alternative to the humdrum of commuting and the drone of workplace anxiety.

For a growing number of Irish people, getting paid to chase summer around the world is becoming a reality.

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Around 216,000 Irish people work remotely, according to Grow Remote, and many of them are swapping Cork for the Caribbean, or Trim for Thailand.

The advantages are plainly obvious – the opportunity to work abroad, often without the hassles of emigration visas, doing a day’s graft from a beach, having ‘colleagues’ the world over. It’s a lifestyle with many fringe benefits. We spoke to some of them to see if being a citizen of the world is really as brilliant as it seems.

Business consultant and start-up founder Nick Downes started life as a digital nomad this January, moving from his Dublin base to Spain and Asia, including Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and China.

“I’m self-employed and was able to change the way I worked to allow me to work on my start-up and consultant for clients while travelling,” he explains.

“The logistical side takes a little planning upfront before you start – moving as many things online as possible, i.e. bank statements rather than being sent through the post. It’s also important to have proper back-ups and insurance in place that if anything happens to your machine while you’re travelling, you can be back up and running quickly.”

After giving up his base in Ireland, Downes realised there are ways to cut the cost of accommodation elsewhere too: “You can get discounts by booking seven, 14 and 30 days on Airbnb, use a booking platform such as Booking.com or Expedia and earn loyalty points, and you will get some decent discounts after a while.

“It’s easy to meet people,” Downes adds. “Meetup.com is best for personal and business networking as you will find plenty of people in the same boat wanting to connect. Yes, you will miss things back home, but on the plus side, I’ve had friends come meet me while travelling.”

As to the pros and cons of his new lifestyle, Downes says: “The best thing is the total freedom, experiencing new cultures, places and meeting new people from all walks of life. I personally found it’s opened my mind and put a lot of things into perspective. On the other hand, you can sometimes be constantly living out of a suitcase and hotel rooms. It’s a small price to pay for the freedom though.”

Singer-songwriter Kevin Connolly went on a holiday to Peru five years ago and realised that he could continue working as a musician and play to new audiences around the world.

“I ended up staying for seven months, then went back to Ireland for the summer, then back to Peru for their summer,” he notes. “Since then, I’ve been able to organise things so that I can escape the bad weather and routine of Ireland as often as I choose.”

All he needs to work is his laptop and guitar: “I can also keep on top of my music-career admin online via my laptop,” he explains. “I also work as a translator and that is work I can do anywhere there is an internet connection.

“[It’s great] to be doing the same work I might be doing in dreary mid-winter Dublin by the beach in the north of Peru or the coast of Spain. The flipside of that is it can be hard to switch off from work.”

Of his future plans, he adds: “I will say that the older you get and the more ties you establish in a particular place, the harder it becomes to break them. I imagine I’ll be doing less moving around in the future, but that I’ll always have at least one itchy foot.”

Dublin-based Grace Taylor quit her job at an accounting firm in 2017 to become a US expat tax consultant and blogger (at gracefullyexpat.com).

“The nature of my work meant that I could work effectively from anywhere with a decent internet connection,” she explains. “From that simple desire to work from where I wanted, I ended up finding a career, lifestyle and community that is more fulfilling than I could’ve dreamed.”

In the past two years, she has worked in Spain, Portugal, Estonia, Thailand, Vietnam, Las Vegas, Mongolia, on a train through Russia, and on a boat off the coast of Croatia.

While abroad, Taylor seeks out digital nomad and remote work conferences and events to mainline into like-minded communities.

“One thing I’ve observed from my time participating in this community is how many different careers, lifestyles and stages of life remote work can work for,” she says. “I think, at one time, there would’ve been a stereotype that remote work is only for twenty-something programmers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Taylor advises would-be nomads to seek out information from podcasts like the Digital Nomad Café Podcast, Travel Like A Boss, and Nomadtopia.

“Another piece of advice would be to ask your employer if you can incorporate remote work into your role,” she says. “Employers are starting to recognise that if they want to attract and retain talent, they need to offer flexibility.”

Formerly a pharmacist, lifestyle/travel blogger Tara Povey (whereistara.com) decided to start over five years ago by quitting her job, travelling and setting up her blog.

“Originally it was supposed to be a hobby – I didn’t even know that it could be a profession,” she says. “Then it sort of snowballed and suddenly I had an audience and was working with tourism boards, airlines and hotels. I had to figure out the tech side of building, maintaining and growing a website from scratch and I’m still learning every day.”

Povey’s work set-up involves a laptop, phone, a tripod, a bluetooth remote, a mirrorless camera, action camera and gimbal.

She is quick to debunk the ‘working on the beach’ myth of digital nomads: “It rarely works like that,” she says. “No one wants sand in their laptop and the sun doesn’t make for great screen visibility.

“Now I mostly base myself at home in Dublin or in Cardiff, where my boyfriend has a place, whenever I’m not on a trip. When I have a few weeks in Dublin, then I like to pay weekly for a co-working space like The Tara Building because it keeps me from feeling isolated and keeps me motivated.”

Naturally, the nomadic lifestyle can get lonely for Povey, although her geologist boyfriend travels extensively for work, which helps.

“I find that when I’m feeling good, I’m never homesick,” she admits. “However, if I have a bad day then I miss everything about home – my ears search desperately for an Irish accent for some comfort.”

Does she think Ireland is moving closer towards a model where people in other sectors can enjoy this freedom?

“I think everywhere is moving in this direction, certain industries more than others, but I do think Ireland is a bit behind countries like the US when it comes to remote-working,” Povey observes. “However, I think the younger generations are realising that you don’t have to have a degree, you don’t have to take the standard route to professional success and that you can still work hard and earn money while travelling the world.”

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