The pandemic took working from home to a new level. Remote working became a way of life and for many people, there’s no turning back to the traditional 9-to-5 in the office. Some folks have seized the opportunity to work from anywhere, leaving the United States, settling in a new country or becoming digital nomads, globetrotting from one fascinating locale to another.
Since moving to Ghana in February 2020, New Yorker Rashad McCrorey, author of “The 10 Expat Commandments,” says he has gained much insight into repatriation and becoming a digital nomad. What’s one of his biggest pieces of advice? “See for yourself. Try your best to physically see and experience where you will be living before committing to a lease. Most people tend to set up their living arrangements ahead of time and end up disappointed. The location can be in the middle of nowhere or what could be a death sentence for a digital nomad, inconsistent WiFi.”
Here are the stories of trendsetters embracing the unconventional.
Corritta Lewis and wife Shimea Hooks and their son left Ohio in August of 2020. “With the overwhelming trauma that Black people were facing last summer (and still face today) we could no longer live in a place where we felt hated. Being in the U.S. was difficult. Even walking down the street we’d have severe anxiety. We’re law-abiding citizens but based on previous experience with the police we felt like targets. We didn’t want our son in that environment, so we moved to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico,” says Lewis
After more than a year there, they don’t see themselves returning to live in the U.S.
“We love our neighborhood and the locals in our area. Our son has been embraced by the local community in a way that brings tears to our eyes.”
They love being digital nomads. “It’s a freedom that we’ve never felt. Being two Black women in the workplace is difficult, especially in my line of work. I’ve been the only Black person in my field for nearly my entire career, which has spanned over 10 years and several companies. It’s difficult to walk into an office every day and never see anyone that looks like you,” says Lewis, an HR systems analyst, who also runs along with Hooks the “It’s a Family Thing” blog.
Hooks was a preschool teacher. She is currently working on starting her own business, which creates lesson plans for kids between the ages of 2 and 5.
Of their new lifestyle, Lewis says, “Honestly, it was a gamble that worked for us. Mexico was the only country allowing Americans in at the time, so we took a chance. We’d been to Mexico, but never the Caribbean side, but we figured it was warm and we could afford it.”
So far, it’s been all upsides. “My family can experience life, without being in constant fear. Being a digital nomad, as a Black person, to me means freedom. Freedom from anxiety, fear, and hope for my son. Hope that he doesn’t have to live in a society and experience the collective trauma that Black people have dealt with for hundreds of years.”
Lisa Marie Jackson
“I leaned into being a digital nomad since the pandemic for a variety of reasons. Like many, I remained grounded during the first six months of the pandemic until I took to the streets to protest the waves of injustice that reached critical peak during the summer. After I went with Equality Should Be Normal to take a cohort of Chicago-based youth to the March on Washington, I decided to continue working remotely as far as WiFi could take me,” says Jackson.
She’s worked remotely from Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Colombia, Mexico, and Costa Rica. “I’ve also launched a travel lifestyle business for BIPOC & LGBTQIA+ remote workers while continuing to work full-time to pay forward pieces of the journey. There is an abundance of pros, however cons have included tech issues when working and taking classes abroad and missing physical proximity to loved ones.”
Globetrotting is nothing new for Grider. He left Dallas in 2017 to travel the world for a year and hasn’t stopped. You can catch his adventures on ABrotherAbroad.com. When the pandemic started last year, he was on Bali, preparing to leave for South America when countries started going into lockdown.
“My travel insurance company gave me a choice, take an evacuation flight back to Texas, or I would have to take my chances on my own during the oncoming pandemic. I was loving life here on Bali, sunshine, great people, surfing on the daily, and I figured being locked down here was better than being locked up in the concrete jungle of downtown Dallas, so I stocked up on the essentials (just in case) and decided to stay here on Bali. It was the best choice I made in a long time.”
For the first six months, the Indonesian government automatically extended humanitarian visas, so he didn’t have to travel. After six months Grider moved to a different part of Bali, Canggu, where the digital nomads cluster. “As tourism died out and expats left, all of the DN’s and expats naturally clustered there and life returned completely to normal. We were allowed to go out and eat, go to the bars, and surf like normal. A friend even had the idea of starting an open mic comedy night to make up for the lost entertainment. That was a year ago and it has since blown up. We all just figured out how to do stand-up comedy afterwork and ended up performing for a 250+ person crowd for months straight.”
Grider has high praise for the digital nomad life. “It’s been amazing, except not regularly seeing family, but I’ve made so much family here (and around the world) I can’t complain! I see the DN path as such an opportunity to own our own futures and create the job and lifestyle that we want in a way that no company will ever give us. I do hope more of the Black community sees this as an option and jumps on the path to circumvent obstacles.”
In January of this year Gabby Beckford, 25, left her mother’s home in Fairfax, Virginia and began traveling the world. She’s visited 12 countries from the UAE to Mexico and Poland. She is currently in Germany.
“I started traveling firstly because it’s been my plan for the past few years to become a digital nomad and try to take my digital storytelling full-time,” says Beckford, a content creator and travel influencer at Packslight.com.
There are some advantages to traveling now, “In this insane time in history, there are generally a lot less tourists, so things are less crowded. I also feel that I am getting to see a lot of destinations how they were before over-tourism, which is an incredibly unique experience. Being African American and traveling right now, I’ve also noticed a stark lessening of microaggressions and outright racism. Tourism and foreign dollars are extremely valuable right now and it’s been interesting to see how dramatically that’s impacted the quality of my experiences.”
However, every day on the road is not a panacea. “The logistics of travel are difficult and everchanging, though a vaccination card is extremely valuable right now. Another negative of being a digital nomad at the moment is having to explain over and over what a digital nomad is when people ask me ‘why I’m sitting in a cafe all day on my holiday!’ It’s still quite an undiscovered lifestyle in many areas of the world. Overall, I love being a digital nomad and don’t see myself ever returning to a normal 9-to-5 office job. The opportunities in remote work and lifestyle freedom are too abundant.”