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 they are: Dorene Wharton, 48, a tourism strategist and marketer, and Troy Young, 50, a video producer and editor
Where they do it: Colombia, New Zealand, Laos, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia
What it costs: Housing $700, transportation $50, food $100, entertainment $250, work expenses $1,150 for co-working spaces and website subscriptions, health insurance $250
Dorene: In 2012, I worked in marketing for a global spirits company, and we owned a home in Leslieville. It was always our dream to pick up and leave for a year to travel. We’d already saved about $15,000 and we figured we needed twice that to cover 12 months of travel.
Troy: I worked as a video producer and editor, and around 2013 I started to notice that my income was becoming stagnant—I’d hit a ceiling. I had 20 years of experience in the video business, but people who were more junior than me were getting the jobs. Nobody wanted to pay the rates I charged. In late 2013, Dorene was asked to relocate to the U.S. for work. She declined, and she was fired shortly after.
Dorene: In November 2014, we sold our home in Leslieville for a 150 per cent return. We worked with a financial advisor who helped us invest some of that money so we could reap monthly returns, and that gave us the capital we needed to change our lifestyle completely. We could travel for an entire year without even having to think about work.
Troy: When we left Toronto in January 2015, we initially did a lot of moving around—nine countries in nine months. Eventually, we landed in Medellín, Colombia, and we loved it. The people are extremely friendly. All year round, the climate is like Toronto’s in early summer. It’s a hub for digital nomads, partly because it has a very good health care system. We made it our home base, and we rent a place here. There’s only a one-hour time difference to Toronto, which makes it easy to work with clients at home. I started picking up jobs with some American clients. Now I probably do about three video projects per year. They pay between $5,000 and $10,000 each, which goes a long way in Medellín.
Dorene: Troy and I also began working together after I started a marketing consultancy for local breweries, tour companies and hotels. That’s one of the things about leaving Toronto—Troy and I are together now 24/7. On the flip side, we’ve become entirely different people. We’re not as frivolous with our money—we’re conscious about what we spend. The freedom of being your own boss makes it worth it. We used to be so scheduled in Toronto. Now we can work—and go—wherever we want. So far we’ve been to New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia.
Troy: The one drawback is that we’re not around friends and family for important moments. When we’re in Toronto, we try to make it count.