Is location independence 'unrealistic'?

I'm at my laptop today, working in the cafe part of Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina, reading an article about how doing what I'm doing might be unrealistic.

[ See also: What kind of digital nomad are you? ]

The cafe offers free Wi-Fi, and electrical outlets if you're willing to sit on barstools at two circular, raised tables where all the plugs are.

My wife and I, both lippies (location-independent professionals), came to this city mainly to eat. We heard Asheville is the vegetarian capital of the United States. (My wife writes about vegetarian cooking.) We spent the day, then stuck around for a second day. The plan is to work for awhile here in the bookstore, then go on a long hike in the nearby Smoky Mountains. Hopefully we'll work off some of that organic vegetarian food we ate too much of.

We've been on the road for three and a half weeks now, driving around the US. All the while, we're putting in the usual hours of daily work. We work in the car, in cafes, in hotels and in the homes of friends and relatives we might visit. When we're not working, we're kinda sorta on vacation, seeing the sights and generally goofing around.

The article I mentioned was written by Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian newspaper. His piece reaches no conclusions, and makes few judgments. He points out that all the stars are aligned for him to join the growing lippy movement — no kids, youngish, and "with one of those foppish jobs you can do almost entirely on a laptop " — yet he remains skeptical. "Is it a realistic option?," he asks in the column's deck.

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From my vantage point here in Asheville, where I have finished a column, worked on my book, conducted some research, answered some business-related e-mail and am now writing a blog post, I'd say the answer is: yes.

But Burkeman's skepticism is perfectly valid. For most of my career, I edited technology magazines. I managed staff. I had children at home and a scary mortgage. If you would have told me 20, 10, or even 5 years ago that I'd be able to make a living from anywhere, that I would spend months lingering in far-off locations, I'd have said you were nuts.

But a series of revolutions happened. First, the Internet, then the mobile-computing and smart phone revolutions. Wi-Fi happened. Everywhere. Now, the Web 2.0 revolution sparked a thousand services that make working while traveling more "realistic." And easier, cheaper, and more fun, too.

The world left behind in the wake of these revolutions inspired me to make a series of decisions about big things like career and home, and small things like data backup service and cell phone brand.

The biggest change was to my head. As Burkeman perceptively points out, the whole point of lippy living is "to make a shift in perspective."

The starting point is the desire to embrace a digital nomadic existence. After that, the particulars of your life evolve right along with your shifting perspective.

No, you don't have to be make a radical, all-at-once transformation. It can be minimal and step-wise. As cliché as it sounds, location independence is a journey, not a destination. It's a direction for your life, rather than a complete lifestyle. And, of course, it depends almost entirely on your career choices.

Burkeman's poster children for the lippy lifestyle are none other than Jonathan and Lea Woodward of LocationIndependent.com fame.

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He closes the piece with fodder for his skepticism by saying that Jonathan and Lea returned to their home of Newark, Nottinghamshire, in the UK to have a baby. Newark, he says, "isn't exactly renowned for its sun-kissed beaches." The implication is that location independence sounds romantic, but reality will probably force you back into a normal, location-dependent life.

But that misses the whole point of location independence. The idea is not to force yourself to stay abroad, but to be wherever you want to be. And sometimes you want to be in Newark, Nottinghamshire.

As for Burkeman, well, all I can say is: Dude, you're lucky your life allows you to join the lippy revolution. So stop your pointless arm-chair skepticism, buy a cheap ticket to North Carolina and spend a month or two working from Asheville. I think you'll find the whole thing quite realistic.

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