VIRGIN.COM - Digital nomads and a 21st century approach to adventure

  • Natalie Reiss

Commissioned editorial for Digital nomads and a 21st century approach to adventure Say 'adventure' and most people will associate the word with travel, an activity which, once upon a time, was only afforded to the wealthy and privileged. Fast forward to present day and not only can you adventure with your eyes as you scroll through Instagram, but you can also build a life of adventure as a permanent business traveller - or digital nomad - freeing yourself from the shackles of fluorescent lighting, a monotonous route to the office and the same desk day in and day out. However, as this relatively new model of flexible working becomes more mainstream; are we losing our sense of adventure by marrying travel with business? Or rather, are we economising our lives, and maximising our levels of enjoyment by attaching business to our adventures? Quoting Fight Club’s Tyler Durden ("Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need") Matt Sclarandis - a remote UI/UX designer, art director and photographer - began life as a digital nomad just two years ago, curious and inspired by his father’s (Piergiorgio Sclarandis) adventurous and nomadic lifestyle some decades earlier, "at 23, he quit his job, bought a 150cc Lambretta scooter and set out alone from his home in Italy to travel all the way to India and Nepal. Just a year on the road determined the rest of his life as a journeying cameraman... he spent the next 53 years photographing for the likes of Forbes, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vogue and more." While Piergiorgio would have to use special post and wait 24 to 48 hours to deliver an urgent image, our current age of connectivity means that so long as there’s an internet connection/WiFi, deadlines can be met and images submitted immediately, even if we’re camping in otherwise remote areas. The ability to be online and always available has its advantages, however, it also assumes that people have the discipline to self-monitor and switch-off or 'unplug', which is not necessarily easy behaviour to adopt after being handed virtual keys to the endless scroll. The nature of being always accessible has also changed the way we adventure and travel, and it begs the question, how many of our adventures are we fulfilling for curiosity and pleasure, versus 'doing it for the gram'? "It (social media) has changed the way I experience my travels," Matt explains, "since I have an Instagram account, I sometimes get conditioned to go to a certain place instead of another because of its photographic appeal." However, Matt doesn’t see this shift as entirely negative and he draws a parallel to his father’s work and photographic adventures, "it’s pretty much the same way my dad used to do it... he had to photograph certain things and certain places that he was commissioned to photograph. Of course he also had spare time to wander around and take pictures for himself, or sometimes even leave the camera in the hotel room for some experiences he wanted to keep for himself." Social media strategist and Gothic Gardener, Syd Hargis, invites the access and knowledge that social media affords, and describes working in the field as being in constant flux, enjoying the influence connectivity has on our modern-day adventures, "I am more informed about what is around me… I want my travels to have a layer of information and recommendation to them, from others who have been or who know better.​" As the lines between travel adventures and business continue to merge, and nine to five presenteeism is lost on the road, the success of a digital nomad rests largely on their ability to self-manage in terms of time and projects, suggesting a particular personality type that would be suited to such a lifestyle. Matt’s decision to mix adventurous travel with work was a carefully mapped-out decision, and while his day-to-day provides freedom in terms of hours and location, he does have his own version of the grind. "You can’t just live from one day to the next, you have to meticulously plan it. I don’t make money out of a travel blog or anything like that. I have to actually spend a good amount of hours during the week in a quiet place with good internet connection, in order to communicate and deliver my work to clients around the world." Our world has changed significantly since the Industrial Revolution and its 40-hour week movement, and given the rise of the Internet and its subsequent windows into different ways of living/being, it makes sense that we’re questioning existing working models and institutionalised methods of conducting business. While this digital age is pushing our productivity levels further and faster, we’re also more conscious of enjoying ourselves and living full, adventurous lives (and projecting said enjoyment and adventure through social media). As our definitions of adventure and business grow ever more fluid, perhaps the distinction between the two is less of a divider and more of a connector, thanks in part to our digital landscape and our desire to share what we see while working and travelling, "to travel isn't to necessarily plan disappearance from all responsibility for an amount of time", Syd said.