The Digital Nomads: Lauren and Michael

They swapped cubicles, traffic and wind chill for beaches, adventure and significant savings

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: Lauren Grant Spicer, 35, a project management consultant, Michael Spicer, 37, a primary school teacher, and Hawksley, 2
Where they do it: Bali, Panama, Guatemala, Antigua, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador
What it costs: Exercise memberships $200, child care $450, dining out, entertainment and travel $800,
groceries and child care products $900, transportation $300, rent, electricity, Internet $1,500, miscellaneous $350, health insurance covered by Michael’s employer

Lauren: In 2010, Michael had finished teacher’s college and I was pursuing an online master’s degree in international and community development through a university in Australia. We were living at my parents’ house at Bathurst and St. Clair to save money.

Michael: There weren’t many teaching jobs available, so I went to an international job fair and got hired at a school in Panama City. It came with health insurance, a housing credit and visas for both of us.

Lauren: Panama City is a hectic place, but we were close to remote surfing destinations and had easy access to Guatemala, Antigua and Nicaragua for hiking trips. Of course, there were things we missed about Toronto, like online banking, proper city planning and road infrastructure. But as we continued to live there, the city grew, and I guess we did, too, and those things became much less of concern.

Michael: Lauren ran a wellness company, helping local businesses plan yoga retreats. My teaching job was good and my income increased every year, but the cost of living in Panama City did, too. Groceries cost $1,000 per month. Eventually, we realized we wanted to live a cheaper, beachier lifestyle. We wanted to slow down.

Lauren: Everything changed when our son Hawksley was born in January 2017. Michael began looking for jobs in Asia, and he landed one in Bali. We’d never been to Bali before, but we knew it had a digital nomad community. We also knew that child care was good and affordable there.

Michael: Now we live along the beach in Canggu, a tiny community on Bali’s south coast. Most of our neighbours have children, too. It’s lovely. The hardest bit about being away from home is not being able to see family and friends. Still, we’re lucky that so many beautiful parts of the world are accessible to us. There are nearly 18,000 islands in Indonesia alone, and we want to see as many as we can.

Their travels
Hiking in Panama, October 2016
Beachside in Bali, September 2019
During a yoga shoot in Coronado, Panama, November 2018

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