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Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Friday, 27 August 2010 16:01 UK

Technology allows digital nomads to work anywhere

Man with a laptop on a surfboard
Digital nomads often have to come up with innovative ways to log on

By L J Rich
BBC Click

Online digital storage devices and innovative internet connections mean working from anywhere in the world while travelling has never been easier. For the 20% of UK workers who spend three hours or more commuting each day living as a digital nomad could be more than just a dream.

Lea Woodward upped sticks three years ago for a life on the road - permanently.

Since then, she has seen her blog, Location Independent, grow into an online community of 22,000 members.

But she says working from anywhere is a little more complicated than packing flip-flops and laptops.

"People romanticise the lifestyle, thinking it is all on beaches and we gad about the globe, but it can be really challenging.

Lea Woodward
Lea Woodward quit her job in London for life on the road three years ago

"A lot of people are often so keen to hit the road and do the travel bit, that they forget the business aspect. It is really hard to cram everything in, including business, travel and sightseeing."

Ms Woodward's hotspots for great lifestyle and good wi-fi include Bangkok and Costa Rica.

But for those of us on the brink of booking that one-way flight, she warns that being location independent can make it difficult to get a business going.

"People think that once they have hit the road, they will have so much time to focus on getting income streams up and running.

"I think 99% of them have found it is completely the opposite.

"When you are working on the road you do not have an office, you do not have a desk to sit at and you do not always know what the internet connection will be like."

'Iraq please'

For blogger and bushcrafter Christian Payne, travelling has become his business and his assignments run further afield than most.

He began mobile documenting in 2005, when he went to see for himself the continued violence following the Iraq war.

"They were not flying directly to Iraq so I got a cheap flight into Turkey, took a camera and tried to travel as light as possible.

I have been known to attach a mi-fi onto a string of helium balloons - not too good when you are walking through the woods
Christian Payne, blogger

"The only way for me to get in was to literally exit the airport and say 'Iraq please, mate' to the taxi driver.

"There was a lot of fuel smuggling going on so it was very easy to find a taxi driver very keen to take me in, because he could bring a massive container of fuel out."

Mr Payne is no stranger to being off the beaten track and miles from an internet cafe.

By using solar power and a personal wi-fi generator to create a personal wi-fi hotspot, he has got his kit down to just hand luggage.

Floating measures

Even so, he has had to resort to more unusual methods when technology has let him down.

"I have been known to attach a mi-fi onto a string of helium balloons. Not too good when you are walking through the woods, not many helium balloons survive," he said.

A look at some of the tools that can help you work away from the office

A mi-fi is a device which holds a SIM card. Powered by battery it takes the cellular signal and transforms it into a wi-fi hotspot which can then be accessed by various devices simultaneously.

"I find it more difficult to attach a mobile wi-fi hotspot to a kite but I have done that," he added.

"Having a data connection is key - then of course a mobile device that enables me to use that data to share multimedia."

Staying connected without resorting to such extreme measures is easy enough.

One thing both adventurers are insistent upon is that back-up services are a lot less expensive than having to recover lost data.

Online storage services like Dropbox allow you to keep 2GB of data in their cloud for free - along with Microsoft Skydrive (25GB) and Adrive (50GB).

Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live also let you view, edit and share your documents online.

Pogoplug device
Gadgets like the pink Pogoplug connect external hard drives to the internet

And, for those who have not sold up and moved out, files can be accessed at home securely using Pogoplug.

Plug the device into the mains, a router and a hard drive, and it becomes a personal storage cloud.

Other secure services, such as LogMeIn, are web-based. These let you control computers remotely and run programmes.

In LogMeIn Pro, a machine can be logged in to even when it is on standby, but the power does have to be kept on.

Being able to explore files while away from the office has ecological benefits too, as Mr Payne explained.

"More people should be free from the chains of having to go to an office. It would be much more environmentally friendly if I could sit in the garden and do a day's work.

"Even if I can work on the train on the way in to work, how much more beneficial is that going to be for my business or the company that I am connected to?"

But although more typically tech-facing companies have warmed to remote working, many bosses remain sceptical of how productive their staff would be if they were not in sight.

That may mean it could take a while before those of us who want to escape the office are allowed to do so.



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