Soul-crushing winters, gig economies, eternal commutes—the urban struggle can be very real. But instead of giving in or giving up, some Torontonians are getting out: they’re packing their laptops (and yoga pants and GoPro cameras) and taking their work on the road. Where to? Places like Bali, Sydney and Medellín, which have become hubs for digital nomads and thriving micro-industries to support them. But mostly, the destination is wherever the sun shines, the Wi-Fi is reliable and the living is easy. Scenes from the new frontier of work.
Who she is: Elise Darma, 32, Instagram marketer
Where she does it: The Netherlands, Indonesia, Germany, the U.S. Upcoming: Costa Rica and Mexico
What it costs: Co-working space/housing: $3,000, work expenses: $80 for devices, data, SIM card,
transportation, including flights: $1,000 to $1,300,
food: $500, health insurance: $83
I grew up in a Mormon household. In many ways, it was a prescriptive upbringing with a restricted worldview. When I was 18, I went on a trip to Europe, visiting France, England, Austria, Italy, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands, to name a few, and the experience transformed my life. For the first time, I saw new cultures, people who were living outside my tidy little universe, and they were happy! It was an incredible realization. Ever since, I’ve had the itch to travel.
As a student at Ryerson, I got a job at the university’s Digital Media Zone—an incubator for start-ups—doing marketing and social media stuff. It was a pretty standard nine-to-five job, and I remember thinking it felt so mundane and limiting. I knew I could do much more on my own, so I took on some freelance work for clients in the bridal, fashion and home decor industries, helping them boost their Instagram followers. I decided to go out on my own full time. Eventually, I realized I could take my business anywhere, so I did.
I left Toronto for the first time in 2014, and I posted my rental condo on Airbnb, which helped cover costs. I went to Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, then Ubud in Bali and Oahu and Maui in Hawaii, all of which are well-known hubs for digital nomads like me. In Bali, I booked an Airbnb that was 20 minutes from my co-working space. One night, I left work near midnight and felt unsafe about walking home. The person who ran the co-working space suggested I hop on a stranger’s scooter—they’re like taxis over there. It worked out fine, but now I pay a little bit more for co-working and co-living spaces that offer both accommodation and workspaces under the same roof—Outpost and Outsite are two well-known brands. These spaces also have program directors who arrange activities, which gives me, a natural introvert, the chance to meet people.
The biggest challenge of working from a beautiful location is that I have to remind myself that I’m here to work—it’s not a holiday. It can be tempting to want to see all the best beaches instead of working, but if I don’t work, I won’t be able to afford my lifestyle. My mindset is: work first, then enjoy. Sometimes, dealing with client emergencies on the road can be stressful. How can you run a business from the coast of Nicaragua if your devices won’t connect to the Internet? But the joy and variety compensate for the downsides. When I wake up somewhere new and I look outside and see a beautiful vista, I feel so much gratitude.