In the Instagram age, it can seem like digital nomads are living a flawlessly glamorous existence. People in the industry, however, will know that this isn't always the case and no one captures this quite as thoughtfully as Giang Cao. Originally from Vietnam, Giang now lives a location-less existence as an illustrator and graphic designer.
Her online comic Very Nomad Problems shines a humorous light on the everyday struggle of choosing this way of life. She releases a new comic every Tuesday, which you can keep up to date with by joining the mailing list on her website or liking the Facebook page. Despite the humor, Giang is a passionate supporter of the laptop lifestyle and hopes that everyone will have the chance to live this way in the near future.
Giang offers a unique and creative take on digital nomadism. I recently got in touch to discuss what home means to her, whether you can be minimalist as an artist, and what inspiration she can offer to others who are interested in this kind of lifestyle.
Digital nomads seem to be everywhere these days, going against a trend of location-based work which has existed since the birth of agriculture around 10,000 years ago.
Is this just a passing fad or are we entering a new age of employment?Oh, I really do hope that it's not a fad, at least while I'm still enjoying it so much.
Jokes aside, I do believe that the digital nomad trend will just grow stronger, as our technology now permits a lot of jobs to be done online. Companies would benefit from that as well. Who doesn't want to save costs, and have happier employees at the same time? And the legal side of things will eventually catch up with this trend and make itself less of the elephant in the room between us (Yes Estonia, we're all excited to hear about the digital nomad visa!).
As much as I love this digital nomad lifestyle, I still think working in the office has its own values that can't be replaced. So in a perfect future, one would be able to choose to work either remotely or in the office; each to their own.
Your website Very Nomad Problems takes a hilarious, yet honest, look into the life of a digital nomad. When did you start this comic series and what inspired it?The first sketches were made in October 2018, after I started nomading together with Matthew of Permanently Temporary. I almost died from an overdose of his Brit humor. Somehow I survived, and we began to work together on this comic and other projects as well. It started with the name "A Nomad Co-op," but then I changed it to "Very Nomad Problems" so I can draw about solo nomads too.
Since the media seems to polarize when talking about the digital nomad life, either overly positive or overly critical, we'd like it to be light-hearted and poking fun into the less glamorous side of this lifestyle. It does help to find a way to laugh about stressful things and see how the people in the community resonate with that.
You describe your permanent location as being in front of your laptop. Given that you are always on the move, what does the concept of 'home' mean to you? Is it something other than a physical location?It is definitely a state of mind rather than a specific location. I think most long term nomads have developed this kind of detachment from a place and are always ready to make a new home in new destinations.
For me, I feel at home the most when I'm productive, healthy, nurtured, and understood. Good WiFi is a big must, a good food scene, access to yoga places, with good friends around, and of course, interesting places nearby to explore so that I have the motivation to go outside.
Many digital nomads have embraced a minimalist lifestyle, utilizing tech as a replacement for physical objects. As a creative nomad, what do you think of the minimalist trend?I think I've been quite minimalist and have been traveling with a carry on backpack only. However, when it comes to sketching: notebook over tech, please. That being said, I don't carry two full shelves of art supplies with me. I can sketch with any pencil or pen I find and then polish it later on the computer. I have also replaced books with a Kindle.
Which three countries are top of your travel bucket list? What is about these places that have inspired you to travel?This is a hard question as I'm not a list person, and my preferences seem to change all the time. But if I have to pick, then India for yoga training, Estonia once the digital nomad visa rolls out, and Mars for Curiosity. Kidding, I just can't choose the third one. But can I still put Mars there even though it's not a country?
Of course you can! Your approach to work and travel gives off a fun, do-what-you-enjoy kind of vibe. At the same time, you are clearly hard working and realistic about the difficulties of remote and freelance work.
Imagine someone is working a dull office job that they hate but dreams of traveling the world as a freelance illustrator. What advice would you give them?
Living on the road will always look scarier from the outside. Once you've started, it's gonna get a whole lot easier. I have rarely met anyone who regrets the decision to become a digital nomad. There are so many travel blogs out there to help you get prepared.
On the practical side of things, just start! Learn in-demand skills that can be done remotely, look for remote clients, or build that business now. Be sure to save money for buffering time. Finally, have patience because good things take time.
It won't always be easy, but you can at least try and have fun. Giang Cao has a positive outlook, turning negative situations into witty and relatable illustrations. She has taken her hobby and turned it into a career that funds a life of freedom and full-time travel. Hopefully, her words will inspire others dreaming of location-less living to get started on making it a reality.
Written by Thom Brown