I’m not quite over my Central American experience. As in, I’m currently thirsting for more. I flew to Costa Rica from the States in August 2016 to do the whole digital nomad thing, which is basically combining travel and work, when your work is digital and can be done from laptop.
You know that awkward part of the day when you’re backpacking but you’ve hit a brick wall? You’ve been kayaking or cave-exploring or iguana-spotting but it’s not quite dinner time, so you can’t really justify going out for fish and chips, Mexican style. You want to start drinking, but you’re too hungover and sun-stroked from earlier, so you consider napping, only, there are 64 other people in your room, rummaging around in their lockers, making it sound like there’s a live steel drum band in your room. Defeated, you return to your hammock, feeling guilty for not doing more but also wondering: why the hell am I so tired?
Yeah, that part of the day, from around 4-8pm, I filled with working.
And it meant I shaved serious $$$$ off my trip, whilst not missing out on any of the #hostellife.
Because whilst I worked in a hostel, I wasn’t on the front-desk, or cleaning bathrooms. Instead, I arranged something with the owners which meant I received free accommodation, free trips in the local area (I was in the surfer’s paradise town of Tamarindo) and free surf lessons. Plus, I got to work on my writing, social media and branding skills at the same time. Win-win.
How to be a digital nomad
So whilst my ‘work’ placement was digital, most people use the term digital nomad to encompass *actual* business people who work on the go (programers, designers etc). I only had a small amount of paid work coming in from the website that I write for, but the work I did for the hostel was indeed, digital. So yeah, I am using the term digital nomad a bit loosely.
But anyway, I swear by using one particular, hassle-free website to sort out my work-travel placements : workaway.info. It’s a database full of ‘host’ requests from people who need help with their businesses all over the world.
There’s everything from social media placements for hostels in Peru, to families looking for live-in language teachers for their kids on the beach in Bali. You’ve also got stuff like construction work, painting, blogging and yoga-work. (I don’t know how you ‘work’ with yoga but there are loads of placements in that field, I just fucking hate yoga). Basically Workaway is full of positions for all skill-sets and interests which aren’t just digital and there are postings from all over the world – you can search by location, or job keywords. (Unfortunately there is sweet fuck all in Cuba, but dibs on e v e r y t h i n g when it starts to pick up).
Other ways to be a digital nomad include; travel blogging, design work, coding, trading, matched betting etc. If you’ve got a laptop and a skill then you can take it anywhere with a good internet connection. (So actually from what I’ve heard about Cuba and the crap wi-fi, maybe that’s not a great option).
My placement in Costa Rica
So overall my placement was amazing – but it took some organisation. After finding a cool hostel that needed writing-based assistance, we arranged a Skype. The two guys that run the hostel, Blue Trailz, (go stay there when you’re in Tamarindo, Costa Rica if you want surf lessons and general hostel fun) are really cool. So once they agreed to hiring me, we later drew up a content plan. They wanted all the copy on their website SEO optimised and re-formatted with a more vibrant tone of voice as well as some content marketing and blogging.
We agreed that I’d work for around five hours a day over the course of around 10 days which sounded fine to me. The first few days they let me have off to explore the area and get a feel for their business, before I wrote about it. They guys also arranged for me to have surf lessons (SO much fun) and I could even stand up on my board by the end of the two weeks and ride the babiest of waves. I also arranged some a-mazing excursions (horseback riding on the beach, snorkelling and wildlife hunting) and was lucky enough that the hostel owners covered these too.
I’d definitely repeat the experience because Tamarindo is extremely pricey; the same cost as NYC, in fact. And I was able to have the same ol’ jolly time as many of the people I met staying in the hostel – at a fraction of the price.
What tools do you need to be a digital nomad?
Just a laptop, and internet connection and some digital-haggling skills.
I was lucky that the hostel owners were generous, but some listings on Workaway have hosts trying to get you to pay them to work , all in the name of the ‘experience’. Don’t do that – your still providing service and will need to be reimbursed in some way (this isn’t a London internship after all). Also, I would say as you’re going to be flying to the other side of the world to work for strangers, make sure you Skype them first, find out if you’re going to get alone and ensure the whole experience will be beneficial for *both* of you.
Have you done the whole digital nomad thing? Or do you want to? Let me know thoughts