Small Business

The New Nomads


Instead of simply working from home, they are running businesses from remote locations across the globe using virtual communities for support

Do you ever wish you could win the lottery, chuck the rat race, and take off to explore the world? Heck—who hasn't? These days, however, there's a group of independent-minded, techno-savvy entrepreneurs who are turning that dream into a reality. They call themselves New Nomads, and they've transformed work-at-home into work-anywhere-you-damn-well-please.

Whether they take to the road armed with suitcases, laptops, cell phones, and Skype (EBAY) accounts, or settle in at a vacation destination every summer, this band of mobile-preneurs has learned to communicate and support each other with virtual communities like NuNomad.com and LaptopHobo.com. Several of them e-mailed their stories from around the globe to Smart Answers.

Carmen Bolanos, co-founder of NuNomad, is an executive coach based in Texas who travels several months a year with her family. "In 2000, I was a psychotherapist getting started in private practice when I came upon the profession of coaching. I soon figured out that since coaching was traditionally done by telephone, I could close down my brick-and-mortar office and work from home," Bolanos wrote in an e-mail (see BW Online, 03/12/07, "Telecommuting Now and Forever").

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"Since I was born with an incurable wanderlust, it didn't take too many mental leaps to realize that if I didn't need to be in an office, I didn't even need to be in my hometown. We began taking vacations while I continued to work. Those vacations slowly evolved into longer journeys to farther away places. Last year, my three children and I were able to spend two months in Europe (joined by my husband when he could get time) while I continued with my coaching practice."

When Bolanos started blogging about her unusual entrepreneurial lifestyle, she met a kindred spirit, Richard Hamel, who had already started LaptopHobo.com. Hamel is an author and owns a Web design business, dot com Web Works, theoretically based in Santa Ana, Calif. However, he currently resides in Koh Lanta, Thailand.

"Eight years ago, I trained myself as a Web site designer (I service, primarily, nonprofit organizations in California) so I may travel the world and maintain an income. You could say that I'm the original Laptop Hobo," Hamel wrote in his e-mail. Bolanos and Hamel teamed up to found NuNomad.com, which offers tips on travel and technology, product reviews, and forums for wanderlust-indulging entrepreneurs.

Out of the Cubicle

"Getting NuNomad off the ground has opened a world of working travelers to us. We are just getting started building this community and have met amazing people along the way—traveling solo, with families, doing a variety of work. Our culture is seeing the convergence of two dynamics: Communications technology has achieved a level in which immediate audio, written, and video information can be relayed across the world in real time.

"Adults are wanting more to life than a 9 to 5 job where they are strapped to an office desk," Bolanos wrote (see BusinessWeek.com, 12/11/06, "Smashing the Clock"). "As a result, there is a growing number of individuals and families who are adopting traveling lifestyles while they use technology to maintain their incomes from a home base."

One of those individuals is Gregory Moulinet, a 35-year-old logo designer who grew up in France but no longer considers any particular city his "home base." Moulinet got the travel bug as a child, living all over the world while his father worked as a TV reporter and anchor. In his 20s he traveled extensively in Asia. But in 2000, he settled down in New York City, where, he wrote, he experienced the best and the worst of entrepreneurship.

Sofa to Sofa

"It started great [with] some freelance design jobs, such as creating the animation for the TDK logo on the Times Square giant screen," Moulinet wrote. However, after September 11, his fortunes changed. "All my friends in the graphic design field were suddenly in trouble economically and foreigners like me started to come back home. I imagined an online business giving me financial security and independence using my skills as graphic designer."

Two months after the terrorist attacks, Moulinet created his online logo-design firm and hit the road, staying in hotels and friends' apartments in New York, Miami, Paris, and Tokyo. In 2005, he met his girlfriend, Yoko Chiba, who is also a designer and world traveler. The two teamed up on their current company last year. It primarily serves companies in Japan, but they hope to expand to additional countries in the near future.

Like Moulinet, Chiba grew up on the road. "I am from a salaryman family, so from an early age it was part of my lifestyle to move every now and then when my dad was promoted or repositioned," she wrote in an e-mail. "But the first time I went abroad was on my own, when I was 16 as an exchange student, staying with a host family in Alabama." Chiba returned to Japan for a university degree and then studied fashion design in Europe, living on the Continent for seven years in various countries. Although she's now back in Tokyo, she and Moulinet feel that traveling is an essential part of their lives.

Spiritual and Financial Benefits

"The only downsides are that my dream has been always to have a beautiful rose garden and we both would love to have pets," Chiba wrote. Yes, there are cons to the wanderlust lifestyle, though Bolanos calls them "challenges" rather than "cons." "You must work downtime into your professional schedule when you are transitioning from one place to another," she wrote. "I have often been caught off-guard by how many days it takes me to shake jet lag and get acclimated to new surroundings before I can really be mentally available to clients. I've learned not to push too hard when we are moving."

The pros, of course, far outweigh the "challenges"—at least as far as the Nu Nomads are concerned. "I make Western wages, but spend it in developing countries, [which is] about one-quarter the cost of living of Southern California, where I'm from," Hamel wrote. "Personally, I've enjoyed being influenced by the differing communities I have visited and/or lived in, and [have benefited also] spiritually—not in a religious sense, but being able to home in on the core of my value system and learn to love more and fear less."

Anna Nicole Who?

Bolanos also notes the spiritual and emotional benefits of being footloose several months a year: "There is an immense feeling of freedom when you realize you are not tied geographically to your income source. The idea that I could work on a beach in Thailand as easily as in the center of Paris or traversing Canada is incredible. Technology has evolved to a degree that telephone and Internet communication make it very simple to stay in touch with clients, to pay yourself, do your banking while away, etc. My children are getting to experience other cultures and languages as well as see the world in a way that most do not have a chance," she wrote.

"I'm able to keep one foot within my profession as nonprofit professional for causes and concerns that I'm passionate about…and have the other foot in places where people wear flip-flops, live a far simpler and more charming life, and may not even understand the threat of nuclear war, global warming, or that Anna Nicole has died," Hamel wrote.


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