Embracing Freedom and Flexibility: Digital Nomads

Becky in Santa Fe

Over the past few years marked by unprecedented technological advancements and shifting work dynamics (hello, COVID-19 and AI), the concept of the digital nomad has gained significant popularity. One study found that in 2020 alone, there was a 49% increase over 2019 in American workers who reported themselves as digital nomads. Three years later, it’s clear that remote work is here to stay, and employers and workers alike are navigating how to use it to their advantage.

This topic is close to home for us—Carex staff can work 100% remotely and do so most of the time. Although our home base is in Madison, we’re spread all over Wisconsin, and a handful of our staff even live out of state. Because we enable and encourage our team to do their best work, regardless of where the work gets done, some Carexians—like Carex Engineering Recruiter, Becky Hines—are trailblazing a new world of work and testing out the nomad lifestyle.

Read on to hear more of Becky’s experience and some of her best tips for becoming a digital nomad!

Grand Canyon

What’s a Digital Nomad?

Cell phone? Check. Laptop? Check. Wi-Fi? Check.

To put it simply, digital nomads are remote workers who utilize Wi-Fi and portable devices to work while they travel. The underlying theme is that they make their living without being tied to one location, whether they are:

  • People who are full income, indefinite nomads,
  • People who take breaks from work to travel,
  • People who take gigs or freelance while they travel, or
  • People who may work while on a long vacation.

Becky’s Journey

Becky was introduced to the digital nomad lifestyle by her older sister, Madeleine (fondly nicknamed “Nomadeleine”), who spends most of her time overseas exploring different countries. But while she was inspired by her sister’s adventures and “unconventional” lifestyle, Becky’s previous traditional in-lab job didn’t align with her desire to travel. When her eyes were opened to the flexibility of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with her apartment lease ending, Becky saw an opportunity to search for remote job opportunities, which eventually led her to secure a position at Carex.

She quickly discovered that the Carex culture provided the necessary flexibility and support for a nomadic lifestyle. With the support of her supervisor and the operations team, Becky felt confident in her ability to balance work and exploration. Intrigued by the idea of letting go of rigid plans and routines, Becky embraced the motto “Just buy the airplane ticket!” and purchased the one-way ticket that started her journey.

Her journey took her from home in Massachusetts to Austin, TX, then on to Santa Fe, NM, Salt Lake City, UT, then Sedona, AZ. Along the way, she’s been able to reconnect with family and friends, explore new parts of the country she might not have seen otherwise, and experience different cultures. The best part? “I’m not preoccupied with questions of ‘can I do my job?’ My job is what is allowing me to do this,” says Becky. She plays a critical role in our Engineering recruitment division, and because Carex is fully remote, she’s never missed a beat even through all her travels.

“Carex is super accommodating, and even excited for me and my travels! One day I was able to block out a few hours on my calendar to meet one of my relatives, and I was able to do that without feeling guilty because my coworkers are excited for me. It’s just one more reason that I’m excited to go to work and do my job, and so grateful for Carex.”

Back home in Massachusetts for a break now, Becky has plans to pick up her travels again in the fall, heading up to Montana before going back to Austin, TX.

Before You Get Started

A self-proclaimed “digital nomad newbie,” Becky embarked on her adventure with little experience; however, she learned a great deal along the way! Here are some of her tips to help you get started.

Check in with your employer before you pack up and leave.

Are they comfortable with you traveling while working? What are their policies? There are laws that companies must abide by, as well as regulations that control where a company sources their work from and where their workers live—these regulations change from state to state (and sometimes even county to county). This is for many reasons, i.e., tax considerations, certifications, and time zone differences. Therefore, checking in with your employer is step one!

While you’re at it, make sure to discuss expectations with your team. Traveling is fun and exciting, but don’t lose sight of work as a priority, especially if you work full time. For example, if you plan to cross time zones, you may need to shift your working hours to continue to meet your job requirements and expectations and remain available for your team.

Know what you need to do your job, and to do it well and comfortably.

What does your work setup require? At bare minimum, you most likely need a laptop, sufficient Wi-Fi, and cell service. But what else beyond that do you need? An external monitor, mouse, keyboard, headset, Wi-Fi or cell service booster, etc.? What if your work login requires a VPN? Determine what you need to do your job comfortably, then figure out how to ensure you have everything you need at every location you go to.

Becky in Austin

Give yourself a grace period to get set up.

It’s important when you’re on the road to give yourself time to address any issues that may impact your workflow. Nobody wants to go to log in on Monday morning only to find out there isn’t sufficient Wi-Fi. Becky addresses this by traveling on the weekends instead of interrupting her work week—that way she has plenty of time to settle into her new digs!

Get all other aspects of your life in order.

Now that you have a plan for working remotely, focus on how life outside of work may change. Switch everything you can (bills and statements, etc.) to electronic delivery, and make sure the rest of your mail is going somewhere you trust. Get good luggage. Set a budget. Make sure your insurance knows you’re traveling. Find a storage unit if you need to house your belongings while you’re gone—in Becky’s case, she embraced minimalism and lived out of a suitcase during her travels! There’s a whole laundry list of things to plan, but you’ll feel so much better knowing it’s taken care of before you leave.

Set expectations for your trip (or don’t!).

For Becky, it was important to not stress about the little things on her travels, so she approached nomad life with few expectations. She buys one-way plane tickets and only plans out where she’s going next about a month in advance. “There’s no timeline on this, no expectations—I remind myself that I’m doing this because I’m excited about it and it’s bringing me joy. You’ll have great days adventuring and then not so great days, but it’s been a lot of fun, a lot of growth, and experiences that I never would’ve had otherwise, so I have zero regrets. This is MY trip, and I’m doing it the way I want to.” She also recommends taking a lot of pictures and keeping a journal to document your thoughts and feelings during your travels and help remind you why you’re traveling in the first place.

Becky at the Grand Canyon

A New Era of Work

Becoming a digital nomad can sound daunting, but Becky says it’s overall easier than she expected. “Once you’ve done it once, you can replicate it anywhere.”

Becky’s story is just one example of a growing trend of individuals embracing digital nomadism. The pandemic has contributed to a shift in work norms, with more acceptance of remote work and breaks in employment. Whether it’s individuals taking extended breaks to travel, pursuing contract work, or engaging in side hobbies that have nothing to do with degree or skillset, the market is becoming more accommodating to those seeking flexibility and prioritizing personal well-being. The rise of digital work has allowed people to focus more on self-care, mental health, and personal growth, which leads to happier, more productive workers.

Carex is excited to be at the forefront of this new era of work and can’t wait to see where our team travels next!