Johannes Voelkner, Founder of WebWorkTravel and DigitalNomad, a coworking and networking adventure across the Atlantic
Last week I had the chance to speak with Johannes Voelkner, a digital nomad and founder of WebWorkTravel. The focus of our conversation was on his most recent undertaking, a coworking cruise across the Atlantic called Nomad Cruise. To set the scene of how he arrived into the world of coworking, Johannes took a few steps back.
Johannes’ digital nomad origins
In 2007, Johannes relocated to Cape Town, South Africa. A German native, he was eager to make a living in this new city. He also wanted to have enough flexibility to travel more than 14 days out of the year in order to keep in touch with his friends back in Germany. He began working as a virtual assistant and enjoyed this digital work style, eventually moving into the world of digital marketing and ecommerce. In 2010, Johannes transitioned into the lifestyle he now labels as ‘Digital Nomadism’.
“This digital nomad lifestyle, it’s really, really good, but it’s only good if you know a lot of other people who are doing this as well. After Cape Town I went to South America and had a job where I could work from wherever I wanted to which was great, but one thing I found difficult was that I was living with so many backpackers and it’s hard to get anything done if you’re not surrounded by other people who are living this lifestyle as well. I also realized that it’s very difficult to meet other digital nomads. I started a guide [what’s now WebWorkTravel] and I was trying to get more people interested in this topic and looking for other people who were doing this because in 2010 there were not really very many. ”
Founding Nomad Cruise
Johannes was motivated by his interest to surround himself with others living this lifestyle. He spent a few years building up a thriving digital network, but then realized he wanted to build a physical network to connect with his new global network face-to-face. Thus Nomad Cruise was born. Johannes still remembers the epiphany that lead him to found the Nomad Cruise.
“One day I saw a super cheap travel offer for a cruise that was going from Las Palmas to Brazil and I just posted this on the Facebook group, thinking we could get all of these people to travel to different continents together because everyone follows the same patterns—you leave in November to escape the Winter. I thought wouldn’t it be great if we just basically all connect on that ship and then go travel and work together?”
It seemed like the perfect concept–this group of digital nomads flocked to the warm weather for the winter months anyway, so why not do it together? In its original voyage, the cruise served more as a means to an end. The actual time spent on the boat was an opportunity to build relationships with these nomads. In the process they travelled somewhere new. This gave the group an opportunity to travel together which–to Johannes–was the true purpose of the cruise. To sweeten the deal, the cruise tickets were quite cheap, since the single-direction “positioning cruise” needed to relocate the ship from the Mediterranean Sea to the Caribbean.
The Nomad Cruise evolves
Johannes was surprised to discover on the first trip that the cruise ships are great spaces to get work done. Physically separating yourself from your day-to-day life and being confined to a ship with lots of private spaces can be very freeing. So can choosing to remove yourself from the internet.
“We have about 30 workshops, we have a hackathon (so you can even build your own business on the ship) and we have unlimited satellite wifi as well so you can really use it however you like. You can take a digital detox and then attend the workshops, you can do basically nothing and then just enjoy being with all of these people on the ship, or you can do coworking and collaborate the entire time.”
Johannes said their wifi provider even joked that the ship will have a better signal than his home does back on land in England. The first cruise didn’t have great internet (64 dollars for 250 minutes) and ended up being more of a digital detox, so this will be a bit of a maiden voyage for a trip that allows the opportunity to do work online while aboard the cruise ship.
Fixing the digital nomad loneliness paradox
These physical, locationally-specific events such as the Nomad Cruise are an interesting solve for the common coworking problem. Traditional professionals quit their jobs to shed the traditional corporate structure, but then—motivated by the loneliness and lack of productivity they experience when trying to work alone—they look for a way to still come together in a physical space on their own terms. In Johannes’ eyes, the easiest way that the coworking movement can grow to accommodate this specific subset of freelancers is quite simple.
“I don’t really understand why more coworking spaces aren’t offering accommodation near their space so that people who are traveling to the city have a place to stay as well, in order to attract more digital nomads and be more accessible for locationally independent workers.”
Johannes shares that a lot of digital nomads he knows don’t use coworking spaces. They’d like to, but outside factors make it difficult. Often the coworking spaces are too far away from the areas in which they can find accommodation, so they just work out of a cafe nearby or out of their room. He would love to see a change towards coworking spaces catering towards the digital nomads. This would be a real win for coworking spaces, as attracting traveling freelancers means a wider range of interests, cultures, and diversity which in turn fuels collaboration.
Becoming a digital nomad is (surprisingly) easy
One thing is clear from my conversation with Johannes–he is deeply passionate about his lifestyle. While it’s decidedly not right for everyone, Johannes shares that he thinks in many cases, one of the biggest hurdles a freelancer has to overcome in order to transition into a more locationally-flexible lifestyle is their own opinions and mental blocks.
“A lot of freelancers and remote workers have the possibility to work remotely and travel, but people make it too complicated to start. What I would suggest is that if you want to try it out, start small. Take a ‘workcation’ and fly to Spain, or to Lisbon. Explore, connect with some digital nomads, and attend some events. It’s not like you have to rent out your apartment or uproot your entire life. Having done it personally for five years, you don’t endlessly travel. You’ll eventually establish a base. People shouldn’t make it so complicated to start. It’s simple to buy a plane ticket to somewhere new, maybe bring a few friends from your coworking space, and see how it works for you.”
Feeling inspired? The next Nomad Cruise leaves on May 28th, traveling from Columbia to Portugal. For more info, visit their website.
About the ShareDesk Blog Series ‘The Future of Work With…’
‘The Future of Work With…’ is a blog series profiling members of the ShareDesk community. We are speaking with our diverse network of entrepreneurs, business travelers, industry thought leaders, freelancers, and flexible workplace operators, and sharing their stories and experiences on how they dream up a more flexible future for work.
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