It’s Monday morning, and you’re preparing for the start a new work week as a digital nomad in Barcelona. Instead of commuting to your company’s office and settling into a cubicle, you’re booting up your laptop and attending a meeting via Skype in a coworking space with other digital nomads halfway across the world.
The rise of the internet has revolutionized the way we work, opening the door to a new location-independent lifestyle called digital nomadism. Modern day nomads are using technology to combine their career with the freedom to travel at their own pace. Barcelona has become an international hub for these trailblazers, listed in the top ten most popular cities for digital nomads according to the Nomad List, a crowdsourcing site that polls travelers from across the globe. This ranking is based on various elements, including Wi-Fi access, cost of living, safety, air quality, entertainment and ease of navigation in English.
Although they may share the same city, each globetrotter has their unique way of living and traveling. There is more than one way to live as a digital nomad, and for those aspiring to this lifestyle, it’s important to find an approach that suits individual needs and goals. We spoke with numerous digital nomads who’ve lived in Barcelona to learn more about their adaptation of this modern lifestyle.
The global coworker:
Meet Daniel Page, head of operations at StudySoup, a California-based company that connects college students with study materials created by their peers. Instead of working out of his hometown in the United States, Page prefers to travel throughout Europe and experience life in different cities. After his first trip abroad over a decade ago for vacation, he fell in love with traveling and the European lifestyle. This inspired him to test out a digital nomad lifestyle last summer and live in Europe for a couple of months. After a successful trial run and a brief visit home, he’s back to kick off another leg of his journey in one of his favorite cities in the world, Barcelona. Since Page works remotely, one of his top priorities after touching down in a new place is to find an ideal workspace that will help him continue to be productive and excel at his job. “My coworking space in Barcelona has been key in helping keep my priorities in focus and my output high,” said Page. But for Page, the ideal workspace has more than a sleek design, fast Wi-Fi and respectful noise level. He prefers social spaces, like coworking offices, which allow him to expand his network. This not only allows him to gain new knowledge to put to use for his company, but also meet more locals who can help him acclimate to a new culture. “Cowork spaces create an instant connection to your new city and the people in it,” said Page. “ The space creates immediate inroads to new friendships and contacts and gives you the opportunity to better understand your new language just by listening to those around you throughout the day.” Like most remote workers, Page continues to work on the same schedule as his company’s home base, starting later in the day and worker later at night to make up for the time difference. When he’s not working, Page is exploring his host city, immersing himself in the culture and getting to know new people. Page plans to stay in Barcelona until Mid-April, when he’ll head to Croatia for two months. Afterwards, he’ll spend a month in England and possibly work for a bit in the Netherlands before heading back to California. For Page, a digital nomad lifestyle is a way to advance his career, organization and worldviews all at the same time. “Global coworking has changed my life,” said Page. “I recommend it to anyone who can seize the opportunity.”
Digital nomadism as a company endeavor:
A nomadic lifestyle doesn’t have to be a solo venture. A team from Byteout Software, a startup web and mobile applications developer, decided to try out digital nomadism as a company in September 2015. They sent 11 of their Belgrade team members to work out of Barcelona for almost one month. Many of their employees are experienced travelers or have been involved with international student organizations, and this interest provided the first spark. After a trip to Brazil, CEO Software Developer Dušan Popović started tossing around the idea of moving the team to another city to work as digital nomads for a period of time. Once Tatjana Zavadja, UX Designer, caught wind of it, she became hooked and started working with Popović to make it a reality. “I knew people would like the idea if only presented in a proper way,” said Zavadja. “Dušan couldn’t get rid of me for the next few days, getting a few links each day of possible places to rent until he started searching [with me] as well.” Most of Byteout’s projects are done in Drupal, and some team members already wanted to go to DrupalCon that year, which was being held in Barcelona. Their team was also interested in visiting Spain and experiencing the Spanish spirit and culture. They saw it as a great opportunity to boost their motivation and creativity while bonding as a team. The planning process consisted of figuring out how many people were willing to go, how many days they would stay, booking tickets and finding an Airbnb. Some employees chose to stay the entire time, while others could only get away for a week or two. In Spain, the team worked mainly out of their apartment near Montjuïc, though sometimes they would bike to a beach bar for a change of pace. For Zavadja, it was important to plan what she’d be working on abroad so she could stay motivated outside of an office setting. Becoming immersed in traditional Spanish lunch culture, team members would pair up and take turns cooking every day. After work, they would go out for a beer or explore new parts of the city. They spent their weekends visiting local attractions or laying out on the beach. The Byteout team found their digital nomad experience positive and beneficial. “We learned so much about each other and what a great team we actually were,” said Zavadja. “Everybody was dealing with their own duties, and the whole mechanism worked perfectly without anyone to manage the whole process.” After their success in Barcelona, they decided to try out another trip, moving to Lisbon for a month last fall. This year, they’re planning to travel to Greece. Zavadja recommends other companies to try a digital nomad lifestyle if they have flexible and adventurous people on their team willing to test it out. She recommends paying attention to personal needs during the planning process to make sure everyone has the space and privacy that best suits them.
Family life on the road:
I don’t have the time. It’ll be too hard on the kids. It’s not in our budget. We should save traveling for retirement. These are just a few of the doubts Cliff Hsia put to rest when he decided to defy the norms and make international traveling an integral part of family life.
Since their first international family trip to Nicaragua in 2012, the Hsia family has visited 20 countries across four continents, and they have no intention of slowing down anytime soon. Hsia went to college at UCLA in California, U.S. His wanderlust began after he spent a year studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan and experienced a personal transformation. After graduation, he met his wife, Karen, while studying Chinese in Beijing, China.
The two were married and had their first daughter, Emily, in 2009. Shortly after, Chloe was born. With two young daughters, a house in California and steady jobs, traveling seemed to be out of the question. But Hsia couldn’t shake the feeling the experience would be worth it for all of them. So they decided to give it a chance and never looked back.
“Kids should be the reason you travel and travel often, not the reason you defer your travel dreams,” said Hsia. “The travel lessons you learn on the road as a family far outweigh the sacrifices you make to get on the road.” The couple travels as often as they can.
They choose countries they’re interested in seeing and believe they can experience in a meaningful way. For Hsia, their best experiences have been in places where they’ve been able to stay for longer, around one to three months, and develop relationship with people who lived there. One of those places was Barcelona.
The Hsia family spent five weeks living out of an Airbnb in Barcelona during summer 2015. Their initial interest came from the Spanish-speaking environment, proximity to the beach and rich culture. But after living here, it became their favorite city in Europe. Because they wanted to immerse their kids in new cultures, the Hsia family enrolls their kids in school programs in the places they stay in for a longer period of time.
In Barcelona, Emily and Chloe attended BCN Kinder, a trilingual preschool located in the heart of the city. The girls enjoyed their time in the program, going on fieldtrips around the city and making new friends. Hsia had enough vacation time to take a break from working in Barcelona, but he typically works remotely to keep up with his job during his travels.
Like Page and other digital nomads, he sticks to U.S. hours, spending the day sightseeing with his family and his evenings working on the computer. This allows him to continue to fund their traveling in the future. The Hsia family is currently back to their life in San Jose, California, juggling work and school. This summer, they plan to launch their next expedition to China, Korea and Japan. For aspiring family travelers, Hsia suggests starting with smaller trips to gauge comfort level and test out longer, more adventurous trips when ready.
“With kids, travel as slowly as possible and stay in places longer,” said Hsia. “Not only will you have better experiences, but you’ll also save money in the process of traveling slower.” International family travel has been a life-changing experience for Hsia’s family, and he advises parents set aside excuses to do all they can to make it a reality.