So-called digital nomads are on the rise. More and more young people choose to leave their nine-to-five jobs behind to set up online businesses that make them location independent and, at the same time, allow them to travel. Discover Germany spoke to two young entrepreneurs who went out to pursue their digital nomad lifestyle dreams.
Imagine working in a café for a couple of hours before heading to the local beach for a quick swim. This is the reality for many digital nomads all over the world. Technology has given them many freedoms and enables them to work remotely from basically anywhere in the world. Shared workspaces, so-called co-working spaces for freelancers, pop up all over the globe and make the digital lifestyle more social. According to the BBC, more than four million Britons already work from home or abroad – while travelling, working as freelancers, full-time employees or entrepreneurs. In Germany and the entire DACH region, more and more people also see the benefits of this lifestyle. Statistics revealed that 37.2 per cent of the global workforce. or 1.3 billion mobile workers, existed by 2015 – and these numbers are rapidly growing.
German-born Tina Dahmen, now living in London, is one of these digital nomads. She brought her own travel company, Take a Trip with Tina, to life and is now mostly seen working on her laptop, while not being confined to one place. “I have always loved to discover new cultures and countries and to develop a connection with the people that live there. Travelling through a country is a totally different story than living there. You are able to get to know the country from a totally different perspective when you fully integrate and experience the day-to-day life there. Then, the true culture comes to life,” Tina smiles.
Photo: © Tina Dahmen
From this love for foreign cultures derived her company idea. “When I did my Work & Travel year in Australia, I worked as a travel agent in a hostel. I didn’t want to give up on this job and have always dreamt of having my own online travel agency. I started to learn the basics with the help of websites and online businesses and when I started to go to Kingston University in London, I also worked as a tour guide. At some point, I started to plan my own trips and here we go – Take a Trip with Tina was born.” Tina now plans individual trips for interested parties, offers travelling consulting hours and organises her own trips. She noticed a gap in the market while studying at Kingston University. “The university didn’t plan any trips yet and then I came into play.” She now offers her first-hand experience to others and shares her contacts and knowledge with her clients. “No travel agency can beat this,” Tina smiles.
So, what does a normal day look like for a digital nomad? Tina explains: “Normal working days don’t really exist for self-employed people. Every day is different, one communicates with different people – whether clients or business partners. Generally, I get up, organise trips, arrange new travel routes and market them. I chat with fellow travellers in travel communities to find out about new trends and needs to enthuse even more people about travelling. A normal nine-to-five job would probably get on my nerves quite quickly as I couldn’t divide my own time.” As one would imagine, Tina is travelling a great deal. Her next stops are Berlin and Switzerland. After, she will head to Italy to meet a potential business partner, who wants to talk about his newly developed travel application. However, her favourite destination is Bali. “In Bali, the living standard, the people and the culture is simply awesome. Many companies reside there and one enjoys a strong societal support in the middle of paradise. Healthy food, great weather, the beautiful ocean and happy locals which welcome expats – all of this together can be hardly found in many other countries.”
On the other side of the globe, on Phuket in Thailand, we found another young entrepreneur. British-born James Scott has brought Bohemian Island – a very successful online business – to sell Thailand’s famous harem pants with elephant prints and much more. James explains: “Having lived on Phuket Island in Thailand for a few years, we’d become very accustomed to the local’s laid-back way of life and relaxed attitudes towards clothing. We wanted to create a Thai-inspired brand which would resonate with a Western audience and change the way people think about comfortable clothing back home.” He adds: “We managed to create a product which was versatile, lightweight, relatively cheap to produce and most importantly incredibly comfortable. Selling that product under a brand people seemed to love and connect with from the start and we were onto a winner. It’s also vitally important to show your customers you care, too. We donate ten per cent of our proceeds to the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand, who care for the stray dogs and cats on the Island of Phuket. People love brands that give back to the communities which serve them and are far more likely to tell their friends.”
The business idea quickly proved to be a success. Today, when you search ‘Harem pants’, the Bohemian Island shop will show up on the first page of search results. How did they achieve this? James says: “Lots of hard work and also a fair amount of luck. Since Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates of a few years ago, being ‘relevant’ in the eyes of Google is paramount. We’re often being raved about by bloggers and social media influencers which shows the search engines that people are genuinely interested in us and our website. We’re lucky that people love our brand enough they want to share it with the world. That combined with the obvious stuff like having a fully optimised site and lots of user-created content like on-page product reviews has resulted in decent rankings.”
Harem pants from Bohemian Island. Photo: © Bohemian Island
A normal working day for James usually begins with a swim or some yoga, followed by a healthy breakfast. He says: “I don’t usually start working until late morning or early afternoon. I find it difficult to focus on work-related issues immediately after waking up and much easier to get stuff done in the afternoon or late at night. Playing with my cats generally takes up most of my time, so I’m eternally thankful for the hard work of my virtual assistants in ensuring the business doesn’t come to a complete standstill!” He adds: “Every day is different, which is the beauty of running an online business.”
The lives of digital nomads sounds like a dream for many. But how hard is it to get a visa and are there any legal problems one should look out for? James explains: “Thailand is pretty open to foreigners who want to invest in their country, thus setting up a business isn’t particularly difficult. Hiring lawyers is far easier and cheaper out here than in the West but you do need to search around a bit more to ensure you find one you can truly trust.”
So, if you feel like you should try out the digital nomad lifestyle, we have got you covered with some tips and tricks on how to get started. Tina says: “Passion is key. When you start a business only to start one, better stop it straight away. Passion is what brings you to the top and will get you out of the holes and these holes definitely come at some point. If you have found your passion, then you can get started – learning by doing. Don’t be afraid of not being able to achieve what you want simply because you don’t know everything about entrepreneurship. Nobody knows everything at the start but that shouldn’t be a reason for not getting to the top. Learn from your and other peoples’ mistakes, search for mentors which want to help and advise you, read all books by successful entrepreneurs that you can get your hands on and enjoy the ride!”
James also has some tips for aspiring digital nomads: “Just go. Do it, do something! Don’t hold back and don’t convince yourself you’re not good enough or smart enough. There are always a million reasons not to do something. For those who want to travel and work at the same time, provided you’ve got the self-discipline and ambition then you’ll be fine. The willingness to learn, the willingness to make mistakes and to never fear failure are vital. A little bravery and some basic technical skills would also be beneficial but far from essential!”
Best places to live as a digital nomad:
– Berlin: Great infrastructure and relatively low rental prices. A summer residence for many digital nomads.
– Ho-Chi-Minh-City, Vietnam: Great infrastructure and large digital nomad community.
– Bali, Indonesia: A blossoming digital nomad destination with volcanoes, beaches and much more.
– Chiang Mai, Thailand: Fast internet, great infrastructure and sunshine.
TEXT: NANE STEINHOFF