First it came as a shock: Like many of us being independent, I lost most engagements with the Covid-Crisis spreading around in March 2020. No more conferences to moderate, communication and travel projects put on hold – a nightmare. But along with the crisis came the “new normal”, and work had to be done mostly, if not entirely, online. I decided to turn the crisis into an opportunity, sign up for remote jobs and realise my long-time dream of living in a close-to-nature environment. To say – at least for a while – goodbye to city life.
In April, I left Brussels, my home for the past 10 years, packed two suitcases and moved to Portugal, West-Algarve – turning myself into some kind of Senior Digital Nomad. Only to find out that I am far from being the only one!
There is Becky Simmons, an independent accountant. She left the United Kingdom last summer, got stuck at the Algarve and spent most of the lockdown period there. Being in her mid-50s, she recognised a new trend: “Digital nomads are getting older”. Indeed, with increasing digitalization in almost every area, working from little paradises close to sea- and countryside is no longer reserved for hip youngsters or enthusiastic surfers. More people already in a later stage of their career chose a lifestyle that allows them to combine work, leisure and enthusiasm for nature. For some of us, like Becky and myself, the Covid-Crisis surprisingly worked as the door-opener to a life we had been dreaming of for quite some time.
Others had gone through this change way before 2020 – still, the current situation affected their work heavily. This is true for Sarah-Lan Mathez, an ethnobiologist and international researcher on sustainable development with Swiss roots. Together with her husband, a well-known restaurant owner, she worked for 11 years in Lima, Peru. “On a professional level, we had a good life there and were successful with our careers”, Sarah-Lan says. But on a personal level something was missing. The daily pollution, the fact to live in an expat bubble and the lack of natural surroundings made the family move: to the beautiful countryside close to Lagos, West-Algarve.
I miss meeting colleagues personally but I am more relaxed now and can spend much more time with my family.Sarah-Lan
Since 2018 Sarah-Lan, her husband, their two children and two dogs live in a carefully restored, traditional farmhouse with vast territory, purchased by Sarah-Lans parents 30 years ago. In the beginning, the change was not easy for Sarah-Lan who continued to work for her clients in Peru and Switzerland. “It required a lot of travelling from and to my new home in Portugal”, Sarah-Lan recalls. With Covid-Crisis and lockdowns, this has stopped. “I miss meeting colleagues personally”, Sarah-Lan says, “but I am more relaxed now and can spend much more time with my family.”
Nevertheless, life as a digital nomad in times of Covid does not always come easy. Björn Müller, working for a German company, also fell in love with Portugal, grabbed his laptop and temporarily based himself some 30 kilometers North of Lisbon. In the beginning, his employer was fine with the virtual solution. But now Björn is urged to come back to his work location, as stated in the contract.
While the question of how to deal with the new remote life remains to be solved by many companies, Peggy Penninck hopes for a future with more freedom and mobility. “Many people do not want to be tied-down to a house or fixed base anymore” Peggy says, “and there are new digital income opportunities facilitating such a nomad life”. Peggy knows what she is talking about: as a passionate traveler, she leads a life between Belgium, the Netherlands and Portugal, taking her online coaching business along with her.
The tourism industry would surely welcome Peggys vision. With short-term travel heavily reduced due to Covid, there is hope for a new source of income: “Bleisure Travel” – Business and leisure coming along in new harmony.