The practicalities of living a digital nomad life

Why are you a nomad?

People become digital nomads or vanlifers or travelers for all kinds of reasons. For some it’s a way to save money, to see more of the world, to find yourself.

For me it was about choosing to live life intentionally and having a bit of an adventure, so I decided I would live in my car as I travel around the coast of England, Wales and Scotland, and that it would take as long as it takes.

What car do you have?

I have a Ford Galaxy with the back seats laid flat. On one side I have my bed (luckily I’m not very tall) and on the other side there are boxes to organise my food, clothes, books, etc. The rear windows are tinted for a bit of privacy but I can still look out and see the world around me. One of my reasons for not getting a van was that I didn’t want to feel like I was living in a box. Windows let me connect with the beautiful places I visit.

How often do you move?

I go somewhere different everyday. Each morning I look at a map and choose where I’m going to go. I never plan ahead more than that day. Not needing to plan ahead is part of pleasure of a nomadic life. If I move on and can’t find somewhere to park for the day I always know I can go back to where I was yesterday, but I’ve never needed to.

Do you get cold?

It can get a little chilly sometimes but I’ve never been really cold. I have thermal underwear but I’ve never used it. I have two sleeping bags, a thin 1 season and a thicker 3 season, which together have always kept me warm at night. My car has heating if I need it and the small space warms up really quickly. For my laptops, getting too hot is more of a problem in summer than getting cold, but I cover the windows and use the car’s air conditioning to cool them if I need to.

Is it safe?

Safety for myself and security for my car and belongings is something I consider quite carefully. The reason I choose the car that I did was so I can park on a residential street at night and no one takes any notice. It’s pretty easy to spot most vans that people are living in, but I wanted to be a bit more stealthy about it, not for the majority of people who aren’t bothered, but for the one person who thinks that if someone is living in their car then they probably have all their possessions in there, which means there might be something worth stealing.

I have a rucksack that has all my important and valuable possessions, which I take with me whenever I leave my car for any length of time. It also has a spare set of clothes, phone battery pack, and all the other things that I’d need if my car was stolen and I needed to go to a B&B for a few days. Going to a B&B is pretty much my backup plan for if anything goes wrong with my car. Doing a risk assessment and having a backup plan is part of being safe (not just for nomads, everyone should do it).

What do you do with your possessions?

I don’t own much. I never have. I threw away a lot of stuff when I started living in my car and I keep throwing away even more. The things I kept ‘just in case’ turned out to not be needed. So all I own is some clothes (still more than I need), my laptop, phone, etc., and books. Too many books, especially given how heavy they are. Maybe I’ll get rid of them too one day.

Do you cook?

I don’t cook. I used to have a kettle that plugged-in to the power sockets in the car but it blew the fuses and seemed more hassle than it was worth. I’m pretty ambivalent about food so as long as my body is getting the nutrients it needs I’m fine with cold food. Occasionally I might go to a cafe for some hot food but I’m really not that bothered. My simple diet usually includes cereal and a banana for breakfast, fruit for snacks and sandwiches or tinned food for dinner.

How do you work?

I work digitally, remotely, and quite often asynchronously. All I need is a laptop, power and mobile phone signal. I have two laptops so that I always have a backup, and an invertor which I plug my laptops into to charge them. I use an app called MastData to find areas with the best signal strength and park there for the day. I look for places where I can switch my engine on to charge my laptops without annoying anyone. Remote working has been an enabler for this lifestyle.

What do you do with your free time?

I go for a walk every day. Usually to a beach. In the winter that might mean walking in the dark but that’s part of the adventure. In the summer, it sometimes means going for a swim too. I work on lots little projects too. I do things like creating the greatest collection of stiles on the internet, writing an email newsletter that offer a different perspective on common ideas, and creating a guided learning course about the skills we need for a successful future career.

Do you get lonely?

No. I don’t miss company at all. I probably have face-to-face contact with another person once every two or three months, and that’s usually someone serving in a shop. I talk to people on the phone, do video calls, chat, etc., but I believe I could go without human contact for a long time without it bothering me. Digital nomad life doesn’t have to be so anti-social but for me it’s an important part of it. It’s part of figuring out what really matters.

What’s the best thing about being a digital nomad?

Most of nomadic life is just like non-nomadic life; eating, sleeping, working, etc., but the best bits are the surprises. When something happens that you know would never happened if you lived in one place, that’s when you really appreciate it. I was swimming in the sea one evening and a seal surfaced about twenty metres away and looked at me. I’ve seen dolphins, walked in dinosaur footprints, watched the most awe-inspiring sunsets, and sometimes felt completely at peace, like no one knows where I am and nothing can touch me. It’s at times like this when I feel my mind open and my thoughts soar.