November 6, 2023

Q&A with Michelle Maree: digital nomad lifestyle

Q&A with Michelle Maree: digital nomad lifestyle

We’re happy to introduce you to Michelle Maree – a digital nomad & CEO and founder of The Nomad Escape.

Michelle has created a new way to connect remote working professionals. She has hosted more than 1000 people, organised 30+ retreats, and even more other events across the world.

We’re amazed and inspired by Michelle’s passion for what she does & were excited to see a little glimpse of what it is like to live a digital nomad lifestyle. Today, we’re sharing it with you!

Michelle, how would you describe what you do for work in one sentence?

I host mastermind and network events for location-independent entrepreneurs & teams in exotic destinations, which are focused on personal and professional growth.

Describe your day as a digital nomad. What are the challenges of such a lifestyle?

A week as a digital nomad is hard to describe because I travel a lot and some things are planned & some are spontaneous and dependent on the people I meet, invitations I get & so on.

In general, I’ve got a structured daily routine which I try to apply every day. It is kind of a challenge to maintain the routine when you are constantly changing your location. So, when it comes to my usual day, I wake up around 6 a.m., I do 15 minutes of journaling, I work out, and I do some meditation. Around an hour of self-development & physical development daily is very important to me. After a shower and some breakfast, I start my workday with a team catch-up. I have a lovely team of 7 people working all over the world, so it’s important for us to catch up about our plans and needs for the day. My workday is just like anyone else’s who is working behind a laptop. The only difference is, I can do it wherever and whenever I want.

Although both “wherever” and “whenever” parts can get tricky. In the past, I thought that working any time you want is great, but it often means that you end up working all the time if you lack structure. Digital nomads often joke about escaping 9-5 only to work 24/7 because oftentimes there is no one to tell you that the day is over, especially if you’re an entrepreneur or a freelancer. That is why, even when I can choose, I enjoy working most from 9 to 5.

I know plenty of digital nomads, especially entrepreneurs, who work double the “normal” hours before they figure it out with their business & they often get lost and drained. More experienced people tend to introduce more structure into their days for the sake of business growth and sustainable & strategic work.

So yeah, there is so much beauty in freedom, but plenty of challenges as well.

More and more people are coming back into the office. In your opinion, will the trend of employees striving for fully flexible work will pass? Once you try it, can you really go back?

It is hard for me to say. I haven’t worked for anyone but myself for the last 6 years. Yes, I can see loads of people who work remotely being asked to come back to the office and I see many of them trying to negotiate some terms with their employer. Loads of employers do cave in and offer at least some flexibility (coming in once a week, or one week a month). Still, as a digital nomad and a professional who likes to travel while doing my work, I see that many of people are conflicted. Many employees can genuinely say hey, I can still deliver high-quality results while not being physically there, and I am really focused at home. Sure, standing next to the coffee machine and socializing is great for the connection, but I am not as productive as I am at home. I see people quitting their jobs if the employer is not listening and cannot offer flexibility. There is a lot of conflict because of this.

However, I do understand companies who want their employees back to the office. It does have effect on team engagement, the feeling of being a part of a bigger whole. There is also the legal aspect of it – if you have employees working all around the world and not in the location that your company is registered at, there are certain regulations and tax matters to keep in mind. Another thing I recently found out in a conference – if you have freelancers working for you in another country and you get them some office materials, such as a desk, it means that they need to be on your payroll & provided with health insurance as a regular employee. So yes, there are a lot of complexities that companies have never encountered before and even if they want to offer flexibility, they simply cannot do so very easily. Technology and the way we live are developing so fast that the regulations simply cannot keep up.

To answer your question, I cannot predict anything, but there is a clear trend – employees do prefer working flexibly and if they do not get that, they shift to self-employment.

What do you think people who want to work and travel must keep in mind? Or maybe you have some advice for those starting their digital nomad journey?

I’d say many people idealise this lifestyle. Everyone wants to work by the beach, in swimwear, with a cocktail in their hands. It’s important to understand that it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.

The first question people need to answer is if they want to be travelling all the time. Is that really something they value? It is a challenge to keep structure when travelling all the time. It takes a lot of energy and time to constantly look for accommodation etc. You need to be able to shift fast, make decisions, and allocate time for the logistics.

Someone who works for a company can be a digital nomad, freelancers can be digital nomads, and entrepreneurs can be digital nomads. Totally different profiles though, right? That is why you need to consider how you’re going to earn your income and make a plan on this basis.

Another important thing is community. While it can be beautiful, it is a pretty lonely lifestyle. When you’re moving all the time, it is difficult to form deeper connections. While it’s exciting at first, after a while “where are you from” questions just don’t do it anymore. So yes, building sustainable relationships is a challenge to keep in mind. I know many digital nomads who after around 3 years of living such a lifestyle just get tired, lonely, and eventually stop.

I live in Madeira but I am only there for around 4 months a year. The rest of the time I am travelling. However, I still have a home to come back to – I have my friends there, my community, and I have some form of consistency.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not impossible to go without it – I know someone very successful who has been living a digital nomad lifestyle for 10 years without a stop. Not sure how he maintains it, because I would feel extremely drained and lonely… But I guess that’s the beauty of it – it is a design of a lifestyle. Creating the freedom, the work & social environment that works best for you. Find out what works and what doesn’t until you find a way of living that makes you feel fulfilled.

Do you need retreats after retreats? 🙂

Honestly, yes. One of the reasons I started my company was the loneliness. I was living in Bali among entrepreneurs, and everyone was working by day, partying by night, but nobody was sitting with each other and asking questions such as “What are you building exactly?” or “How can I help”? I missed that so much. I started reaching out to people asking these important questions and found out that a lot of people feel lonely, burnt out or lack support, although they were sitting “in paradise”.

I started doing events and inviting people to connect and share their experiences. People started telling me I was good at this, so although I was a digital marketer at the time, planning to build an agency, I wasn’t super passionate about doing marketing for other companies. I built a concept, a business for myself, and it was really fulfilling. I such an awesome community but it is getting too big for me to handle and maintain. It sometimes drains my energy. So yes, I host it, I attend it, and I disappear to do retreat after retreat.

Nomad lifestyle puts into perspective the things that you need in your life. Do you know the book “4-hour work week”? Ferriss is basically a god, and the “4-hour work week” is the bible of our community. He talked about perspective and creating a high-quality lifestyle. For example, I can pay rent in Amsterdam and maybe have a flat with a balcony or I can live like a millionaire in Bali.

We live in a very unique time where we can design our life, we can build an income in a variety of ways, where we can leverage technology and that is what makes it so beautiful. My advice is – if you’re thinking about it, give it a try. If it’s not for you, that is absolutely fine. If you’re ready to get started, I would also recommend visiting events and networking – you can learn a lot and it’s easier than figuring it all on your own.