The allure of the increasingly popular digital nomad lifestyle can be a powerful one: Taking your job on the road while you travel and immerse yourself in new destinations around the world? For anyone afflicted with chronic wanderlust, that’s a pretty tempting setup. Then again, figuring out housing, travel and WiFi and workspace logistics while also trying to enjoy your time abroad can be pretty overwhelming, to say the least. So it’s no surprise that the past few years have seen a serious rise in organizations that facilitate remote work and travel experience for aspiring nomads. “It isn’t going to be cheaper than doing it on your own, but that is not why you do this,” said Jeff Walsh, the founder of Nomo Fomo. “You do it for the community, the ease of planning and the experiences that come by being a part of something much bigger than just a trip around the world.” Ahead, four programs offering varied experiences for all sorts of travelers.
Location: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America
Cost: 12-month program: $5,000 first payment + $2,000 monthly payments; 4-month program: $3,500 first payment + $2,000 monthly payments
Remote Year is arguably the most well-known of the remote work and travel programs out there. With Remote Year, groups of 30-to-80 members travel together for a year or four months (depending on the program), relocating to a new destination each month. “The program itself helps facilitate your work and living situations when you are in the location, as well as educational or recreational tracks that you partake on when you are in a region or country,” said Walsh, who was part of Remote Year’s first group in 2015 and 2016. “These can range from Spanish classes as you spend four months in South America to learning how to cook an authentic Vietnamese meal in Hanoi. You get a private room to live in, a co-working space, travel between cities every month and a programming team that sets up business and social events for you to attend in each city.”
Katherine Conaway, a co-author of The Digital Nomad Survival Guide who participated in Remote Year in 2016 and 2017, found value not only in the community but also the professional network that resulted. “I’ve gotten several clients [and] projects from my Remote Year group and the extended Remote Nation Network, and I’ve booked people from the community for projects with my own clients,” she said. While she admitted Remote Year isn’t inexpensive, “for the combination of tangible deliverables ([including] housing, transportation, workspace [and] events) and other benefits ([including] time saved, community [and] networking), it was worth the price,” she said.
Location: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean
Cost: $2,000 to $4,000 per month, depending on destination
Unsettled offers one-month and two-week retreats, perfect for those who just want a taste of the digital nomad life — or prefer to participate in shorter spurts throughout the year(s). Each retreat takes place in a single location (such as Medellin, Colombia; Bali, Indonesia; or Cape Town, South Africa) and typically includes accommodations, coworking spaces and a local SIM card, as well as things like lunch-and-learn sessions, workshops and social events. (Per the website, the specific inclusions may vary slightly depending on the retreat.) The website notes that most days of the retreat are “unstructured work days,” but there’s at least one weekly group meal (in addition to the other optional activities) during which everyone can connect and catch-up.
Menghan Wang, co-founder of The Travel Brief and Today Well Spent, participated in an Unsettled Bali retreat in April 2017. In addition to the pre-arranged logistics, “they had a local person on the team who help[ed] us with anything foreign staff [weren’t] able to help with,” she said. “Because we were in a rather religious country, they also made sure we were knowledgeable about local cultural etiquettes in the opening session. ...The team was amazing [and the] facilities they picked out [were] out of this world. [The] people I had the chance to share one month of my life with are just phenomenal — super diverse and all very interesting.”
Location: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America
Cost: Approximately $2,100 per month, depending on duration and destination
Hacker Paradise largely attracts digital nomads in the tech industry (including entrepreneurs, designers and developers), but anyone who’s able to work remotely can join. The organization arranges single-location retreats for groups of 20-to-30 people (typically lasting four-to-eight weeks) that include things like accommodations, coworking spaces and weekly group lunches, as well as professional workshops and travel experiences. The trips are themed (options include “Digital Nomadism and Island Life,” “High Tech & Innovation” and “History & Architecture,” among others); and travelers can join for a portion of one trip (as few as two weeks) or cobble multiple trips together for an extended experience.
Conaway, who participated in Hacker Paradise after Remote Year, said the primary difference between the two “was that in [Remote Year], you are in a set group for the duration — in theory — of your program length, whereas the Hacker Paradise model has people come and go according to their own schedule. ...With Hacker Paradise, I think being able to customize more of the experience and commit to less duration is the major benefit.”
The Intern Group
Location: Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, North America
Cost: Varies depending on location and duration
If you missed the boat on studying abroad while in school, but aren’t quite prepared to land a full-time remote job or establish a freelance career; you can get in on the remote work/travel experience with an international internship. The Intern Group facilitates professional international internships with a wide range of companies, NGOs and governments, lasting anywhere from six weeks to six months. Once applicants are accepted, The Intern Group not only places them in internships but also provides accommodations, professional workshops and cultural and social events.
Becca Smith, who interned in Medellin, Colombia in 2016, said she chose The Intern Group after previously studying in Peru and Spain and deciding she wanted a professional live-abroad experience in “a new and exciting location.”
“I completed a marketing internship which was completely in Spanish, where I was able to do a complete overhaul of the company’s marketing strategy and reinvent their social media techniques to fit their vision and future,” she said. “I met with industry leaders from across Colombia and the world, including leaders from IBM, GE, and the U.S. Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State. I met the most amazing Colombians who taught me all about their culture, food and language. I even experienced a few seconds of fame when I was able to meet and act in one of J Balvin’s music videos in the streets of Medellin!”
The bottom line
As with any long-term travel experience, remote work programs are bound to have pros and cons. In Conaway’s experience, she said, “I think the program companies could do better about how we exist and engage with the communities we join, but I also think there are people in the organizations [who] are conscious of that and working on it.”
Aside from that, “you really have to assess for yourself what your priorities are with remote work and travel,” Conaway said. “What is the experience you want to have? Will the program offer that? Can you handle the downsides and challenges of the lifestyle and the community? Do you fully understand what the program does and does not include, value [and] offer? As with anything, if you go in with your eyes open as much as possible about what you’re doing and who you really are and what your expectations [and] goals are, you can have an incredible experience.”