The “Digital Nomad” Stops in Manitoulin: A Vanguard of the New Economy

Digital nomad Nastasia sits in front of her laptop on the shores of Honora Bay. A software engineer, she is one of a growing number of people working remotely while exploring the world. photo of Michael Erskine

HONORA BAY—Nastasia settles down in front of her laptop to start her work day in a small cabin on the shores of Lake Huron. The software engineer is a digital nomad, part of a growing phenomenon in the global economy that has been accelerated exponentially by pandemic mandates.

Digital nomads are remote workers, plying their trade wherever in the world they choose to hang their hats.

“All you need is a good laptop, a stable internet connection, and a quiet place to work,” Nastasia said (The Expositor has agreed to withhold her last name for reasons that will soon become apparent). “You need at least two megabits, but 10 is better, especially for video. Mobile data can work, but I prefer cable, fiber is ideal. »

While some digital nomads work in cafes or other places with free Wi-Fi, those who work with Nastasia tend to seek out quieter places. “In my job, you have to focus,” she said. “Distractions are not a good thing when working on code.” Although modern high-level programming languages ​​like Python and RUST eschew the finer details of old scripts (concentration is still a stock in the trade for programmers).

Nastasia works full-time for a big data company. “I work 40 hours a week,” she said, but her hours are somewhat flexible due to the size and global reach of the company she works for. Although time zones present a minor challenge, Nastasia said she considers it a minor inconvenience compared to all the benefits of being a digital nomad and that, so far at least, she hadn’t had meetings at difficult times of the day. . “I had to get up at 5 a.m. for maybe three or four video calls,” she said, “but it wasn’t that hard.”

Nastasia, 30, has been working in IT since she was 19. “I started out in night tech support,” she laughs when she sees The Expositor grimacing. “No, no, it worked out well,” she said. “I was able to enroll in school and learned how big business worked.”

Although she has worked freelance in the past, Natasia said she preferred the relative stability of a nine-to-five gig and the constant paycheck security of working for a large company. “I like having only one company to work for,” she said.

Nastasia works on the “backend” of software platforms, away from the front lines of her early days in tech support. “Users never see me or what I do,” she said. His job is largely to ensure that the workload of major data centers is spread across multiple mainframes in different jurisdictions in an economical manner. This is extremely important when dealing with such mundane but vital issues as the efficient use of electricity.

She has worked full-time as a programmer since 2014.

Nastasia started exploring the possibilities of becoming a digital nomad a few years ago, as she grew increasingly uncomfortable with the growing oppressive atmosphere in her native Russia. “For example, it’s a crime to call what’s happening in Ukraine a war, you have to call it a ‘special operation’,” she said. While she began the process of leaving Russia long before the current conflict in Ukraine began, the writing was already on the wall.

Even though she’s been out of the country for a while now, having wandered the world as a digital nomad in places like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore, and choosing to vacation in European countries like Italy, Germany and Hungary, she remains nervous about the scope of her home country, even in Canada, hence her request for a measure of anonymity.

“I don’t like what’s happening with Ukraine,” she says, but prefers to stay away from political discussions.

She learned about the digital nomad lifestyle from her friends who had embraced this kind of work. “My friends started doing it,” she said. Even without the desire to step out from under the gathering clouds, there was plenty to find appealing in becoming a digital nomad.

“I wanted to see the world,” she said. “I love learning about the food people eat, how they spend their time, it allows me to do that while keeping my job.”

She learned a number of languages, English being at the forefront. “I learned a lot of my English while I was in Asia,” she said. She started with a little English, but since that tended to be the lingua franca (strange pun), a common denominator of communication, in most Asian countries, she was able to hone her language skills in those countries. . She is currently learning Spanish. “I have an app that helps me learn,” she said. “I spend five, maybe 10 minutes a day and over time, 360 days a year, you get a lot back. It’s so much better than sitting for hours of lessons and videos. So there is an app for that.

Nastasia does a lot of research in order to prepare for moving to a new country. “I look online to see what kinds of internet options are out there, and then I talk to my friends who have worked there,” she said. The bonus of her online job means that, unlike young people who roamed the world in generations past, she doesn’t need to find work there.

When it comes to paying taxes, there are a few simple rules to follow. “I only stay six months in any country, so I only have to pay taxes in my home country,” she said.

This brings us to where she pays taxes now. “Canada,” she laughs. “I’m a permanent resident here, it’s my ‘home’ country.”

Many digital nomads ply their trade through (technically illegal) travel visas, but a growing number of countries are adapting their visa programs to accommodate the new global workforce, and not all digital nomads actually travel abroad. country to another, choosing to move within their own country. —nations with large geographic areas such as Canada and the United States are examples.

Not being a full citizen is another reason why Nastasia wants to maintain a small measure of anonymity. “I don’t have all the rights of a citizen,” she says. “I don’t know how it could affect me.” Apparently, living under a real authoritarian regime tends to leave a lingering mark on the psyche.

As a final comment on becoming a digital nomad, Nastasia said she would like to address one of the prevailing lifestyle stereotypes.

“People think we come to work, put our laptops down and sit in the sun by the beach,” she laughs. ” It does not work. For one thing, the sun is too bright, and even the best laptop screens are impossible to read in bright light. And sand – sand gets everywhere, it’s not good for your laptop. I always find a nice and quiet place to work.

Nastasia has enjoyed her time on Manitoulin, she is currently hanging her hat full time in Toronto. “I’ve seen more wildlife while I’ve been here for the past two weeks than I’ve seen before in my life,” she said. “It’s so beautiful here.”

Coming from a Nordic country, Nastasia says she finds the climate in Canada very familiar. “And if I want to be somewhere warm, I can do that too,” she laughs.

She discovered Honora Bay through her colleague Shane O’Donnell, owner of Little Current’s Heartwood Mushrooms and himself a bit of a digital nomad in his daily work. “We met at a software conference,” she said. Mr. O’Donnell’s description of life at the Permaculture Research Institute of Northern Ontario in Honora Bay was compelling, so she seized the opportunity of an invitation to come and visit for a few weeks.

Digital nomads grew in numbers at a rapid rate even before the pandemic. According to a research study, in 2020, 10.9 million American workers described themselves as such, an increase of 49% compared to 2019. It is a trend that is only increasing, not only among young workers and backpackers, with the lifestyle that attracts retirees or semi-retirees, snowbirds and entrepreneurs.

For Nastasia and many others, freedom, flexibility and the ability to travel the world are major assets. Disadvantages include the challenges of maintaining personal relationships over long distances and periods of time, as well as the potential for loneliness, isolation, and burnout. This means that the digital nomad lifestyle might not be for everyone.

Nastasia notes that maintaining work-life balance is one of the reasons she prefers having just one employer. “It’s easier to maintain boundaries,” she said. As a young person who grew up in the digital age, she finds it easier to maintain her friendships through online communication, especially since many of her friends are also spread across the globe.

Two Canadian cities, Montreal and Toronto, are among the most popular destinations for digital nomads.

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