Unchained from their desks: Meet the ‘Digital Nomads’

Meet the creatives choosing to work wherever they please thanks to the availability of wi-fi, travel and cheaper living expenses

The world wide web might have connected the planet in hitherto unimaginable ways, but it’s arguable that it was the advent of city-wide, superfast wi-fi connections - only a widespread development in the last ten years - which really set its users free.

The notion of being tethered to a desktop computer at an office not only seemed unnecessary, but completely stifling. Freelance working exploded. And, in 2015 the digital nomad - a young professional often operating in the digital sector who simply packs their bags and goes wherever in the world they fancy to live and work - is a genuine ‘movement’. All they need is a fast wi-fi connection, nice weather and, in web interaction designer Karin Christen’s case, good surfing, and they’re off. 

“Last winter I decided to escape the cold in Switzerland,” she explains. “So I spent two months in South America and two months in Australia. This way I hiked to Machu Picchu in Peru, worked from Palermo, Buenos Aires and surfed the coast of Queensland in Australia.”

Routine kills my creativity so travelling makes it easy to stay inspired. I think it makes me a better designer

Karin Christen, Designer

Sounds, well, idyllic. But it suits Christen - when she co-founded web agency required+ (http://wearerequired.com) in Zurich, it set up as a remote team. So there wasn’t the imperative to be based together, and given that she had always quit her jobs in the past to go travelling, it made sense to work the world instead. She reels off a huge list of cities she’s visited in the past two years, from Hamburg to Honolulu and Byron Bay to Bangkok. And for her, such globetrotting is about more than just ticking off cool places on a bucket list.

“Routine kills my creativity so travelling makes it easy to stay inspired. I think it makes me a better designer, as I can appreciate the creative solutions people come up with around the world,” she says. 

Christen likes the easy-going nature of Sydney, the creativity of Berlin and the sheer vibrancy of New York and London. Working in these places is not always easy - the time differences are sometimes difficult to manage and she says she initially spends a lot of time and energy not just exploring her new surroundings but doing mundane things like finding a good grocery store and places with great wi-fi.

It’s really good to know the local people. You get the non-tourist experience

Karin Christen, Designer

This is where Pieter Levels’ Nomad List website has become so popular for people like Christen - it scores cities for their quality of life for the digital nomad and offers suggestions for places to work and sleep. It’s no surprise that many of the top ten cities are in Thailand and Eastern Europe - places that offer unique experiences without being prohibitively expensive. 

Dubai features lower on the list but gets a full ‘great’ - for places to work from. And venues such as Make, a shared work space in Dubai Marina with a cafe and meeting rooms, are increasingly attracting freelancers, entrepreneurs and, as they say themselves, “professionals on the go.”.

It’s certainly the kind of place Karin Christen would be frequent if she was in Dubai - rather than a famous chain of coffee bars which could be anywhere on earth, or indeed back home in Zurich. “It’s really good to know the local people,” she says. “You get the non-tourist experience, for sure. I still feel like I belong to my hometown Zurich, but since I travel a lot and know people everywhere in the world, I now feel comfortable wherever I am.”