Four days and counting

Tuesday the movers come to put all my things into storage, and I’m fluctuating between exhilaration, panic and denial. The to-do list keeps growing, the time keeps shrinking. Here’s a piece I did for The Buzz Magazine that summarizes where I’m at right now, how I got here and where I’m going.

Location Independent
Digital nomads redefine the office

by Tracy L. Barnett, contributing writer

Last spring, I was handed an amazing opportunity. But at first it seemed like a disaster.
Like millions of others in this recession, I lost my job. It was especially unsettling, as I had moved to Houston not so long ago to take that job.

Nonetheless, I took stock of my situation and realized it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. My daughter was grown and nearing completion of her education; I had no mortgage, no debt, no health problems and a little bit of savings. I had a marketable skill set, and no urgent need to make a lot of money.

This might just be the moment to follow my dreams, I said to myself.

Most of my life I’d worked for someone else: Newspaper corporations, nonprofit organizations, a university. I had always wanted to see what I could do working for myself. And I’d always wanted to take a year for travel.
I spent hours surfing the web, seeking a way to make it happen, and I found that I was far from alone. In fact, an international community has emerged to share ideas and support each other in what is being called the location-independent lifestyle.

Some of these folks are digital nomads, whose virtual office spans the globe. Some are just as happy to work from their bedroom or the neighborhood coffeehouse. Some want to spend time with their family; others want to leave the rat race and strike out on their own.

All are engaging in a fundamental reassessment of work and its role in their lives, a concept called lifestyle design – the notion that you can design your life to live according to your priorities.

As I write, I am preparing for a yearlong journey through Latin America. I’m creating a new media web initiative, a book and a documentary, and while I hope to land a nice grant proposal to support myself, I’m not counting on it. I’m counting on making money through location-independent jobs.

As a travel writer, this may be easier for me than for, say, an insurance salesman or a school counselor. There are certain professions that lend themselves to portability, and most of them involve the internet. Nowadays you can get a signal almost anywhere, as cybercafés and hotspots have popped up all over the world.

Location-independent professionals – or as they call themselves, LIPs – can be Web designers, marketing consultants, editors, content providers, virtual assistants, e-bay sellers, bloggers, lifestyle coaches or something entirely new that hasn’t yet been invented.

I think of my former colleagues, battling traffic as they head to the newsroom each day, as I consider my to-do list: Rent storage locker; line up mover; make arrangements for my mail (my most trusted friend), my cat (my sister), my car (my dad). Research so many things. Which camera? Which backpack? Should I buy a Kindle for all my guidebooks and background reading? (Actually, it turns out I can download a reader for my ipod for free.)

The countdown has begun, and these days as I see my cat curled up in a ball, I take a few seconds to bend down and kiss her furry head. I spend a little more time with leisurely phone conversations with family and friends – I’m asking them to install Skype on their computers so we can talk, but still, a year is a long time to see your daughter’s face only in photographs and webcam.

She knows it’s my lifelong dream to hit the road, head south and keep on going, and now, as a grown woman with her own family and her own acupuncture practice, she supports me fully. But the gravity of the situation hit us both recently when I handed her the folder with my life insurance policy, my living will and my retirement accounts.

She fixed those beautiful brown eyes on me steadily. “I know you have to do this, Mom,” she said. “But please, don’t take any unnecessary chances.”

“I won’t,” I promise, and the moment passes.

Now I am making appointments in Mexico City and Guadalajara and the Yucatan; seek corporate sponsors and affiliate advertisers for my website. Oh, and keep on reporting and turning in freelance assignments all the while.

I think of the words of another friend who was laid off at around the same time and is also going it alone: “I’m twice as happy on half the money.

Now I think I can live with that.

For more information, see www.locationindependent.com and, for job listings, www.freelanceswitch.com.

4 thoughts on “Four days and counting”

  1. Tracy, Sounds like an amazing adventure. Must confess to a wee bit of jealousy. I know you’ll have a wonderful, unforgettable, so-worth-it time! Can’t wait to read about it.