With the rapid shift to a remote work environment (studies predict that 50% of the U.S. workforce will be remote by 2020), remote work communities are popping up to serve this growing digital nomad population.
Not familiar with the digital nomad phenomenon?
Think it of as study abroad for adults.
Here’s who it works…
Digital professionals (all of whom have their own jobs, consultancies, or businesses that they are able to perform remotely) live and work together while traveling to a different country each month.
The remote work group act as a defacto tour operator, coordinating the accommodations (at a minimum) and often the co-working spaces, the travel from country to country, and the activities and events each month as well.
When I first decided to dip my toe into the digital nomad scene in April 2017, the three leading remote work communities all happened to be Lima, Peru, at the same time.
This blog post is a comparison of these three groups, based on overall vibe, average group size, cost, and commitment level.
Remote Year was my first introduction to the digital nomad lifestyle.
Their ads were all over Instagram in early 2017, advertising an incredible experience of living and working alongside like-minded individuals as we traveled from country to country over the course of a year.
A dream come true for a travel entrepreneur...
But I was no where near ready to commit to a full year of living abroad.
The entire idea was so novel and there were dozens of questions swirling around in my mind...
Could I really get work done while traveling abroad for 12 months?
Would I even want to be away from home for that long!?
And what exactly was a digital nomad???
Remote Year's founder, Greg Caplan, described the digital nomad phenomenon as the "perfect storm" of technology, remote operations, and our generation valuing experiences over things.
Out of his own personal desire to travel, he left his job at Groupon in the fall of 2014 and started making plans to work remotely while traveling abroad...
But he didn't want to go it alone.
So as Remote Year legend has it, Greg created a landing page describing the idea to work and travel aboard together and within 24 hours emailing it out to a few friends, he was flooded with thousands of interested replies.
They finally got a core group of 75 participants together for a month in Prague and Remote Year was born!
Blown away by the initial expression of interest, and having seen first hand the powerful bonds and growth that the participants of that first month in Prague experienced, Greg and his co-founder, Sam, set out to create a 12-month itinerary catered to full-time, remote employees.
To this day, Remote Year works closely with employers to raise awareness of the many benefits of offering a remote work option to their employees and this enterprise level focus is perhaps the biggest differentiator between Remote Year and other remote work communities.
"The Remote Year experience is like an MBA in life," explained Erica Lurie on their marketing team.
There's nothing like travel to augment personal growth and development.
While their first groups averaged 75 participants, they have since cut down the group size to between 35-50 participants.
The 12-month commitment requires a down payment of $5,000 and then $2,000 each month, with the last month free. For a 4-month commitment, the down payment is $3,000 and $2,000 per month after that.
They have plans to roll out more flexible down payment options for those that may not want or be able to put down $5,000 immediately.
12 months or 4 months
If Remote Year is the MBAs of the digital nomad world, then Hacker Paradise would be the techies and creative types.
I first encountered Hacker Paradise at a digital nomad meet-up along Calle Berlin, one of the party streets in Lima's Miraflores district.
Chatting up one of their current participants, I learned that she had recently travel with another remote work group, but being a computer programmer herself, she preferred Hacker Paradise.
"It's really catered to the tech community," she explained.
No surprise there, considering that Hacker Paradise started as a causal retreat to Costa Rica for a group of software developers in the fall of 2014, before remote work programs were even a thing.
From there, the company grew organically via online forums and press outlets like Hacker News.
As the company matured, it diversified its membership to include more creative types, such as artists, writers, and graphic designers - as well as other indiscriminate participants like online poker players and psychologists - but it has always remained dedicated to fostering a community of people not just looking to travel together, but to be inspired by one another.
Outside of its techie origins, the biggest differentiator of Hacker Paradise is their flexibility: participants can join for as little as two weeks and as long as one year.
They also seem to have perfected the amount of time spent in each location.
"We tried the one month model and also spent 3 months in one location. We found two months is the ideal amount of time," explained Dale Johnson, one of the facilitators.
"The burn out is a lot quicker with just one month. Two months gives you more time to integrate into the local culture and community. Once you get past Trip Advisor's Top 20 Things To Do, that's when you can start to discover the real local gems."
I would agree there.
In my experience, one month is just long enough to start getting into a comfortable routine, but not nearly long enough to see all that an entire country has to offer.
Their first groups averaged 30-40 participants, but now that they are running two locations simultaneously, the groups range from 15-25 participants per location.
Between $1,800-2,100 per month, depending on the time commitment. The more time you commit, the cheaper it becomes.
2 weeks to 48 weeks
WiFi Tribe was the group that I ended up joining in Lima.
They also happened to be the only group out of all three mentioned herein that still had the founders traveling with each chapter.
During my initial phone screen with Diego, one of the founders, I got the distinct sense that he genuinely wanted to get to know me in order to determine whether or not I was the right fit for their tribe.
"We're not a program or a retreat," explained Diego. "We're an alternative way of living."
Their focus is on augmenting a self-sustained community, rather than a structured program with regularly scheduled events and excursions.
In WiFi Tribe, the activities and events are all organized by the community members themselves.
"We focus on providing everything for those things to happen serendipitously," says Diego.
And this focus on community is definitely felt, with 90% of the participants who join for one chapter returning for another.
This serendipitous and charitable character has earned Wifi Tribe a reputation as the hippies of the digital nomad world, which fits well, given how welcoming they are of participants from all over the world.
On a typical chapter of 20 people, there is an average of 12 different nationalities represented.
Wifi Tribe also happens to be the most affordable option - in large part because they only offer accommodations and community, no co-working space or travel in between countries, like the other programs mentioned herein do.
Diego explained that their flexible pricing allows for members from countries with lower average incomes to also participate in such a program.
Participants may opt for private or shared accommodations and choose to join a single, month-long chapter, or subscribe to multiple chapters for a more affordable rate per chapter.
That said, it’s most certainly a work hard, play hard environment.
“We expect every member to come with work,” Diego emphasized. “Most have their own companies, freelance work, or are employed by startups that let them work remotely.”
The group size is a minimum of 12 participants, maximum of 25 participants.
$900-2,000 per month, depending on several factors, including the acommodation type (shared vs. private room) and the number of chapters to which you subscribe.
WiFi Tribe also offers a two tiered pricing model based on location, with most Latin American and Asia chapters being more affordable and South Africa and most European chapters being slightly more expense.
1 month (minimum)
While that first month in Lima was just a taste of the digital nomad life, it wouldn't be my last.
I went on to spend another 5 months abroad the following year. And during my time overseas, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my other long term travel experience: studying abroad in Italy - arguably the best experience of my life!
So far, at least.
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