Lisa Hackett - Digital Nomad on her boar

As a Digital Nomad I Spend More Time on the Things I Love

Lisa’s passion is the great outdoors. Frustrated that her adventures were always cut short by ties to an office and mortgage, she negotiated a remote working agreement and set off in a van to spend more time in the wilderness. More than six years on, she’s created her perfect digital nomad lifestyle.

Do you travel solo or with a partner?

I travelled solo for four years in a van, then met my fabulous digital nomad husband! Now we travel together in our van or on our sailboat. Living on a sailboat was always a dream of mine but being from Idaho I had very few chances to learn about sailing. Brian (my husband)has been sailing since he was young, and had big dreams of living on a catamaran with a dive compressor and travelling the world. And now that’s what we are doing!

Do you have a base and/or how often do you change locations?

We don’t have a base, but we do keep P.O. boxes in a couple US cities where we spend the most time. We live in a van for half the year and on a sailboat the other half. This works well. We get a lot of variety, and are able to avoid hurricane season in the tropics by storing our boat during that time and living in our van instead. We change locations every week or month. Whether it’s the van or the boat, we take our mobile home everywhere we go. Changing locations is low drama for us. There’s no packing or unpacking.

What was your main reason for wanting to live this sort of lifestyle?

I got into technical canyoneering and quickly became addicted to the excitement, teamwork and visual aesthetics of this sport. I met three nomads in the canyoneering community who lived in vehicles and spent a lot of time exploring the deserts of southern Utah. And these were smart, successful, independent nomads. They worked seasonally or part time, owned businesses, or retired early on limited budgets.

I tagged along on canyoneering adventures with them a couple times per year, then I would race back home to Idaho to my mortgage and job after a way-too-short trip. My vagabond friends would continue to enjoy the desert for weeks after my departure.

My lowest times happened right after these trips when I would sit in my office and think about how I wished I were still out there with them. I saw how happy they were and I wanted that, too.

And for a year I tried to bury my growing desire. I kept busy with work, homeownership, property management and a plethora of financial goals, but all I wanted to do was browse creepy vans on Craigslist. I spent hours staring at a canyoneering picture in my office of myself dangling on rappel in a beautiful orange cavern.

It reminded me of how life could feel and what was possible, but it also became one of the things that tortured me enough to shake me out of my rut. I took the plunge and bought a van.

I named it “Vanifest” and started living in it. I sold my house, rented out my duplex and kept my van life a secret for awhile. I continued working my regular job as a developer and stashing all my cash for adventures. Now I write about the pursuit of dreams, remote work and adventures on my blog, www.vanvagabond.com.

How do you make money?

For more than ten years I’ve been a senior level developer for the University of Idaho. I worked in the office initially, and then after a couple years I asked for the ability to work remotely. My director at the time said I needed to make a professional commitment to be in the office each day. I asked gently several times about remote work but the answer was always no. So one morning I handed my boss a classy letter of resignation, and explained how much I love this job but I need more flexibility. Then, I was allowed to work remotely on a trial basis while they searched for my replacement. The remote work went well and they never hired a replacement. Now, more than six years later I’m still in the same position and feel a tremendous amount of loyalty to the University for allowing me to live and work this way.

What do you enjoy about the work? What do you hate about it?

I love programming. I always have. I love solving problems. I love helping people. I love creating new systems. Working remotely with people I’ve never met in person can be challenging, though. I find things go more smoothly if we’ve had a chance to meet and shake hands at some point.

How do you stay productive?

It’s easy to stay productive because I love what I do. I am truly excited to get an email and have an opportunity to help. I have a tremendous amount of free time living in the wilderness and work keeps me engaged, connected and stimulated.
Every now and then developers are asked to do annoying tasks and I am no exception. At those times I remind myself how much this lifestyle means to me and how lucky I am to be out here. Then I get ‘er done.

What does a typical day look like for you?

On the sailboat we get up early when the sun rises, work for a few hours, then go scuba diving. Return to the boat, eat lunch, work, swim. It’s very relaxing. When living in the van our schedule is similar, except we enjoy different sports like mountain biking and technical canyoneering.

What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time to when you were starting out as a Digital Nomad?

I wanted this lifestyle for a long time before I took the plunge. I put it off due to a long list of fears of what might happen, none of which have been realized so far. My advice would be, do not waste time dwelling on fears and instead create solutions to those fears. For instance, my fear of being assaulted in the middle of the wilderness, alone in my van, led to keeping a large canister of pepper spray by my bed each night. This spray is designed to deter Grizzly Bears and had a range of 30 feet. I never needed it, but having it within easy reach made me feel more secure sleeping alone in my van.


Thanks Lisa! You can check out Lisa’s blog: http://www.vanvagabond.com.

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