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Say hello to the digital nomads

KEERTHIK OMANAKUTTAN  

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Who wouldn’t want to travel and see the world, work on the move, have no traffic and commute to worry about, no cubicle to be trapped in? We all would, wouldn’t we? But there are some who actually make it happen. Meet some of India’s growing tribe of digital nomads who are able earn a living on the move, paying for their travel and living an exciting life as they do so. They are not bound to an office, have no working hours. They choose the how, what, and when of their work-life balance. They travel the world, harnessing technology and the growing ease of global connectivity, making wifi work for them, eating local food, learning languages, enjoying the anonymity, freedom, and thrills the life brings. BHUMIKA K. speaks to five such adventurers to get a peek into their lives.

KEERTHIK OMANAKUTTAN (26)

Work: Entrepreneur/software developer, Co-founder of BitGym

Find me at:>http://keerthik.github.io/

Current location: Visiting parents in Muscat, Oman, Will soon be in San Francisco, California.

Why nomad? In 2013, due to immigration logistics I had to step away from the US. I went to my parents in Oman, but found I couldn't get any work done staying with my parents. So I went to India. I found that the poor internet infrastructure in my hometown, the inefficient services, public transit, and lack of online service availability caused me to spend a lot more time on getting basic things rather than on what I wanted to do, which was work on my company. I had read about the digital nomad movement just a few months earlier, and since my job didn't require me to be in any one place, I thought ‘hey why not’?

How I live…One of the most interesting phenomena for me was that as a nomad, I experienced a sort of time compression -- every city I stayed in for longer than 2 weeks, felt like 2 years looking back -- you learn the place, the culture, you make friends, you live like a local, and then you have to say goodbyes, and leave, never knowing if you'll see those people again. And then do it again. It's exciting, then routine, then extremely sad, no matter how many times I do it.

Typical Day: The most interesting as well as hardest part of being a nomad is there’s no typical day that stays typical for more than a few weeks. The first few days in each place is focused on exploration. I'll wander about the neighbourhood where I live, walking or running or cycling. I'll take the public transit and just change lines randomly and then wander about the crowded places. I try to find good coffee shops to work from that have good wifi and are open late, and areas with good restaurants that are cheap and convenient. The next few days I start to settle into a routine around getting work done, and use any free time to continue exploring.

How I pick a destination… Since I started being a nomad, I have lived in Oman, India (4 cities), Singapore, Thailand (2 cities), Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. How I pick a destination is usually part whimsical, part consideration of temporary factors like weather, airfare, interesting events worth being there for. It’s also part work-and-logistic considerations like does this city have good public transit? reasonable cost of living? good internet and cafes? can I find out things I need to get by looking online?

How family and friends perceive my life… My parents have been incredibly understanding and supportive. They listen to my reasons for making the choices I do, and trust me to take care of myself and my judgment. At first friends thought what I was doing was really cool and enviable. But those in touch know it's not all fun and games -- the loneliness is very real, and it's difficult leading a life that the people around you don't understand or aren't used to. They don't think about or understand the endless lines at embassies, airport immigration, lonely bus rides, long cramped flights, not finding anything good to eat, and the perpetual sense of being lost that a nomad has to deal with on a regular basis.

RATNADEEP DESHMANE (26)

Work: Software developer since 6 years. I work on Ruby on Rails framework to build web applications.

Find me at:>https://www.facebook.com/rtdptravels

Current location: Since January I haven’t had a fixed location for more than few weeks. I was in Abu Dhabi Airport for a layover and am now in Manhattan, New York

I have lived and worked in… When I started my digital nomadic journey, the first destination I stayed at Bangalore, to get feel of India's silicon valley. While in Bangalore, I trekked on weekends and took part in tech meetups, tested many breweries around the city. I went to Goa for couple weeks. Working from Goa has its own benefits like a morning run on the Arambol beach! Then Jaipur – I would work first half of the day and roam around the city in the evening clicking photos. Next was Delhi, followed by McLeodGanj — joined a few conferences there like HillHacks. Then Leh - for which I had stopped work and took leave as internet connectivity wasn't good. But then I worked for one hour at KhardungLa – the world's highest motorable road. At 18340ft, I did my highest code commits! Before starting with other countries, I wanted to travel in India first, which I did for around eight months. Currently I am travelling in USA, and three months later I will be in Mexico, followed by more south American nations. Next on my list are Europe, Australia-New Zealand, and south east Asia. I have heard a lot of good things about Chiang Mai in Thailand considered the Digital Nomad Capital.

Why nomadic? When I graduated in 2010, I joined a start up, declining an offer from MNC. After one and half year of experience in that startup, I started my own company called RainingClouds technologies. Three years after starting the startup, I felt burned out - working 80 to 90 hours a week! I had always dreamt of travelling and staying in different cities and this was the time I decided to quit my startup and start my travel. So, I started working as a remote consultant for BigBinary LLC, a company based in Miami, USA. BigBinary doesn't have any office anywhere and everyone works remotely. This setup was perfect for me to combine travel and work, as I didn't have much in terms of savings to quit it all and start travelling. The company culture is perfect for remote working — more emphasis on asynchronous communication, avoiding meetings, and integrating tools to make sure production doesn’t suffer. This makes work and travel possible.

Typical day: I aim to work 35 hours a week. So depending on place I am staying at and type of exploration plans, sometimes I work first half of day and go out to explore in second half. Working on weekdays and going out on weekends is always there, but some cities have lot to offer, and in that case it works best to use second half of day to explore.Start day early, use first half of day on work with no distractions and get much work done. In second half of day go out explore, get good photos. End of day, try some good food if possible in that particular place and city. And most of the days, I even put 1 or 2 hrs at night to work before sleeping.

KAUSHAL KARKHANIS (35)

Work: Brand consultant, have lead creative teams in the digital space. Working on being a better investor, entrepreneur and writer too.

Find me at:>http://exoticgringo.com/

Currently in: Mumbai

Why nomad? Honestly it happened very naturally, after I switched from a desktop to a laptop - there were no plans to turn digitally nomadic. The major change that I've brought about is being ruthlessly minimal. Everything important I own fits into the backpack I carry daily.

How others see me: Very few people look upon it as weird (like my grandma, who just wants to see me married and “settled”) - most others envy or feel inspired by my lifestyle (may this tribe grow!).

How I pick a place: My ultimate inspiration is NomadList.com - THE ultimate tool for digital nomads. I went to explore Thailand primarily because how favoured it is among the community here. Otherwise, it is based on known data around quality of life and how exotic yet reachable and liveable a place is, based on lots of research. Sometimes it's just a gut feeling.

Does this really work? No, it doesn't. I've failed multiple times, and i don't want to paint a rosy picture of this lifestyle. Like anything worth aspiring for, it needs patience, honing your skills, learning from the past, and most importantly - managing your finances. My best advice for anyone pursuing such a lifestyle would be to not depend on cash flows and always save, invest and grow your money as much as you can. I started late, but it's never every 'too early'. Currently i depend on my services income, but the vision is to break down income into services, royalties, product sales and ultimately - just profits from investments and advising brands and startups. Do i love this lifestyle? Absolutely! - Almost feels like i'm leading mini-lives! The only thing i can't answer is whether i would want this forever - we never know what our future selves will want, but I'm loving the present!

SHIVYA NATH (27)

Work: Travel blogger, writer, social media consultant

Find me at:>http://the-shooting-star.com

Where I am…For the last 2 years, I haven't had a home base. In August 2013, I gave up my apartment, packed all my belongings into a backpack and hit the road indefinitely. I just wrapped up two months of travelling in Georgia in the Caucasus region, and am currently in the Rheingau region of Germany. I've lost track of how many countries, I guess between 20 and 30 (have travelled through Australia, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America).

Why nomad: I wanted the freedom to work and live on my own terms - whenever and wherever I chose. As a digital nomad, I can work (and hence live) wherever I have good internet connectivity! I love social media, and use it both personally (to socialise and keep in touch with friends and family), and professionally (as a travel blogger and to find leads for freelance work when needed). Of course, my blog is online and the core part of my life as a digital nomad.

How family and friends look upon me: It's a mix of emotions - many people find it hard to believe that I can make a living on the go from anywhere in the world. But think about it, the world IS online, every brand is online, every consumer is online, most information we consume is online - it's not that hard to make a living from it and free yourself of being bound to one cubicle or one place if that's how you really want to live.

Managing money: Since the time I became a digital nomad 4 years ago, I've delved into freelance travel writing, social media consulting and running my own responsible travel startup (sold in January 2015). Now I earn 90% of my income through my travel blog.

How I decide where next…It's quite random really. Sometimes I crave the mountains and the anonymity of being in a country where I don't know the language - that's how Georgia happened and I absolutely loved it. The Caucasus mountains are beautiful, the people are friendly, the food is great (I'm a vegetarian by choice), it's affordable and still very untouched. In Germany, I'm traveling in collaboration with Germany Tourism - on a special mission to experience all things wine. We're calling it #NotJustBeer. As an Indian passport holder, ease of getting visas is also a big deciding factor.

Does this work in terms of having enough money, managing work, and enjoying life? I've been on the road for four years, and I can proudly say YES. I make enough money to fund my travels, I love blogging and social media, and I sure as hell enjoy life! Nothing is impossible once we set our minds to it.

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SHABINESH SIVARAJ (27)

Work: Software engineer, been a digital nomad on and off for 7 years

Current location: Rishikesh, learning yoga, just back from a refreshing bath in the Ganges!

Find me at:>http://thepedestrian.in

Why nomad? I have a passion for travel and wanted more freedom than safety in life. I wanted to stay and work anywhere I wanted. In the It industry there are many opportunities to work remotely. I develop products for startups, so I can freelance. I had only recently heard of digital nomads and found it to be a cool concept.

How I work… It takes a lot of discipline to be a digital nomad, in terms of work. You have to be productive in order to be able to enjoy things. In a day I work about four hours. I wake at 4 a.m., walk, read, learn yoga, eat. I mostly stay at backpacker hostels. I write blogs, learn new things. I start work by about 10.30 a.m. and finish by about 3.30 p.m. Then I start going out, com back for another yoga class, go out to cafes at night. I love travel as much as I love computers. And I have to sustain to keep afloat. So this gives me the best of both worlds. I’m super productive right now and it’s satisfying. My thirst for travel is quenched. The only disadvantage you have as a freelancer is that your have to first establish yourself — working like this is about having god people networks and getting good work references.

Must haves: I have to be in a place where there is a network availability. I have a 4G connection. I carry two or three wifi modems. Most backpacking hostels have wifi connectivity.

Where next: Next I am headed to Chandigarh, and then Leh, maybe Nepal sometime too.

Myths I’m busting: I’m so totally busting myths that travelling is costly. (You’ll learn how to save as you go along). Time is money, so take a flight. I have a house, I have a housing loan, and yes, I pay my EMIs! It’s possible. My mom says it’s “too early” for me to be a digital nomad. She thinks I must get married and then do this. I tell her then it would be a honeymoon!

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Printable version | Aug 21, 2017 4:12:58 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/say-hello-to-indias-digital-nomads/article7565751.ece