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Today, I came across a blog entry I drafted in June of 2008. I was a month out of a five-month trip to Asia and Europe, and feeling overwhelmed by the desperation and drudgery of “real life.” Instead of being in a foreign country, I was stuck behind a desk imagining it, looking wistfully at Google Image results for Nepal and Finland.

And today, less than nine months later, I’m sitting in my Guatemala guesthouse, chatting with co-workers online and looking forward to an evening of hiking on a live volcano. I still have my job, and I still work regular hours–but I’m traveling, too. My to-do list includes stopping by the local market to pick up cheap, freshly-picked fruit. Spanish is flowing around me, and my vocabulary increases by the day. My major concern is picking the next city to visit–not a worry about car payments or insurance or rent. Working while traveling isn’t perfect, but it’s the best of both worlds. Most importantly, that dread of going into the office each day is gone.

A lot can change in a year! If you’re contemplating a shift to the digital nomad lifestyle, I hope that the misery apparent in the post below compared to my current happiness will be of some reassurance.

Today, I committed to my job until the end of December. (If you listen closely, you can hear my mother rejoicing.)

Then, I came home and cried.  Not a single tear to mark the temporary pause in my nomadic existence, but full-out sobbing to the general tune of “my life sucks.”

Now, if you ask me, this is an unreasonable reaction.  I like my colleagues, love my clients, and add to my writing portfolio by the week.  I don’t have a commute.  I spent Jan-May backpacking around in Asia and Europe, so my bank balance can definitely use the bolstering.  And it’s only 6 months!

And yet, it felt like I was selling my soul to a lifetime of corporate drudgery.

I blame the quarter-life crisis–that point where you’re several years out of college, have a job, and are forced to consider your next major career/life move. Grad school? (in a year)  Move up the career ladder?  Change jobs?  Quit and become a freelancer so you can travel whenever, wherever? (yes, please)  It’s just like the last semester of college, when everything is wide open to you and you’re forced to narrow it down…only this time, the decision will have greater ramifications.  I’m no longer a “recent graduate,” after all.

What to do?

When I explain my digital nomad lifestyle, the most common question I get is, “How do you work from the road?” I’m not a freelancer or an internet business-builder; I work for an established company, on regular business hours. I attend meetings, hold conference calls, and communicate with clients and co-workers.

Aside from a strong internet connection, I rely on the following communication tools:

Skype
Before I began working remotely, my entire office switched to Skype for chat. We use it for casual one-to-one communication, and often for group chats when a phone call isn’t necessary. I purchased a SkypeOut plan, which allows me to call anywhere in the US and Canada from my computer for $2.95 a month.

I have a love-hate relationship with Skype. It works well for computer to computer calls, but the computer to landline functionality can be sketchy at times. Even on fast internet connections, I’ve experienced serious static. For this reason, I do not use Skype to call clients, but reserve it for more casual uses.

Gizmo
After researching alternative communications tools, I came across Gizmo. It is similar to Skype, with options to call other Gizmo users, landlines, and cell phones. Gizmo offers pay-as-you-go plans or package plans; I chose the former. I can call landlines or cell phones in the US and Canada for 1.9 cents per minute.

In my experience, Gizmo has far superior call quality than Skype. As long as I have a decent internet connection, I feel comfortable calling clients using the Gizmo softphone. It has free voicemail, customizeable out-pulse caller ID (for $4.99), and the option to buy a dial-in number. One of the features I like the most is call forwarding, which allows me to forward calls to my US Gizmo number to my local Central America cell phone. I do pay call-fowarding rates, which vary by country, but it’s worth it for the convenience and ability for clients to call a US number and reach me wherever I happen to be.

GoToMeeting
One of the most frequently-used tools at my company, GoToMeeting is a powerhouse. It is an online web meeting program that allows combined screen sharing and conference calling. Last week, I had a meeting with four team members and a client using GoToMeeting. We were spread throughout three states and two countries, reviewing a document together.

GoToMeeting allows users to sign in and choose to use VoIP or to call in to a designated conference number. Meeting attendees all see the same screen, and can discuss the project in real time. I use the VoIP capability with a headset, and the quality is almost always near-perfect.

Or, ¿Cómo rápido es su Internet?

In only a few weeks of digital nomad-ism, I’ve become a shameless wifi hunter. Before moving to a new place, I scour the internet for information, reviews, commentaries, blog posts, or guidebook sources that might mention the internet speeds at hostels. I send emails to hostel staff–who often speak only Spanish–asking about speed and reliability. Today, I got a reply from a hostel worker in Xela, Guatemala that said “I´m sorry cause I don´t know about speeds, but lot of people works during the day and the night.”

All righty, then.

While that doesn’t exactly tell me the speed, it at least lets me know that there is wireless internet, and people are using it. Sometimes, I feel like a detective, piecing together cryptic clues from the internet, books, other travelers, and hostel workers who don’t necessarily know that there is internet on site.

I prefer to stay at places with in-room wifi; when I have to take a meeting at 6:30am, I’d rather do it under the covers, in my pajamas. I don’t want to be in the public area, worrying that another traveler will stumble by on his way to the bathroom, spot me on my computer, and give me that look that plainly says, “Crazy Americans aren’t able to leave their work at home.” I don’t need that in the morning.

Generally, heavily touristed places have widely available internet, but not always. Last weekend, I arrived in Antigua, expecting to find fast wireless internet everywhere. If I found it in Nicaragua, of all places, surely touristy Antigua must be brimming with it. Not so. I had to search far and wide to find a place with internet, pulling out my laptop in front of confused hostel staff to check the in-room speeds. Hopefully, my luck will be better in Xela.

I’m still trying to work up the courage to send emails requesting that the person on the other side of the hostel contact info run a speed test and send me the results.

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