Location Independent Living: Profile of a Digital Nomad

The California coastline. Photo by J. Kim Wright. 



Imagine living life “on the road.” No home. No landline telephone. No work cubicle. Maybe no car. Minimal personal belongings. Not just for a week or two, but for years. 

I know many people who’ve done it, and it’s not as rare as you might think. In fact these days, technology makes it easier than ever to embrace the lifestyle of the digital nomad, and think outside the cubicle. And, in fact, it’s incredibly cathartic to pare down your belongings and find yourself calling the very space you occupy at any given moment, “home.” 

Meet J. Kim Wright, J.D., named one of the first 50 American Bar Association Legal Rebels. She’s an attorney, an author and a filmmaker, but what might surprise you most about this highly-successful rollerbag goddess, is that she’s also location independent. 

This guest blog post is contributed by J. Kim Wright, J.D.
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At the end of 2007, I had the opportunity to give up my home and office, to pursue a dream of transforming the legal profession. I see lawyers as peacemakers, problem-solvers and healers of conflicts. When I left, I thought I’d be gone for three months. Four and a half years later, I’m location independent – that is, I don’t have a stable home – and I’m traveling around the world. In 2012 and 2013, I’m playing the “game” of six continents in two years.

People I meet are typically curious about my lifestyle. Here are some of the most common questions they ask.

What does it mean to be location independent?

It can be described in many ways. I travel all the time. I don’t have a home base. I live wherever I am at the moment. My mail comes to a UPS store and they forward it to me wherever I am. My work does not require me to go to an office every day. Instead, it has me traveling around to conferences, speaking engagements, visiting teaching, consulting and to meet interesting and inspiring people.

The Australian countryside. Photo by J. Kim Wright. 

When I started this journey, I thought I’d be gone for three months. I wanted to videotape some interviews and get the website rolling. I was in a life transition that included relocating my office.  I’d been traveling to conferences so much during the last half of 2007 that it didn’t make sense to keep a house. I thought I’d spend a few months on the road, make the videos and then return to Asheville, NC and go back to practicing law. It hasn’t worked that way. After those first months, the next leg of the journey beckoned. At first, I extended the time in three month increments. Now, I can see 18 months into the future.

Do you have an RV?

Well, no, I don’t. In the past, I traveled with a travel trailer on a few vacations and one cross-country trip. It was enough to cure me of the romantic notions about an RV. The set-up, extra fuel and challenges aren’t worth it. I enjoy staying with friends, making new friends, and finding the best deals on Priceline.  [Like $50 for Hyatt Regency in Stamford, Connecticut, cheaper than parking in Manhattan!] If I want to camp, I have a tent – or a sleeping bag rolled out under the stars.

Wright’s mileage a year ago. Photo by J. Kim Wright. 

How long do you stay in one place?

Sometimes I move from place to place almost every day for several weeks. Sometimes I am stationary for a while to teach, think, write or collaborate. Three times, I’ve spent several months in Key West in the winter months. I spent three months in New Mexico in 2009. The longest I have stayed anywhere was Colorado – three consecutive house-sitting gigs had me based there for most of nine months, off and on. (I also made side trips to New York, New Mexico, Arizona and twice to California during those nine months.)  In the last four years, I’ve spent the night in about 37 different states and three countries.  In this next stage, it is beginning to appear that I will be spending several weeks or even months in one place. I am beginning to accept teaching gigs for a whole semester at a time.

Where is all your stuff? 

They find it hard to realize that I don’t have much stuff. Before I started this journey, I had a three level log house on a mountainside near Asheville. It had a hot tub and an amazing view of the sunset over the Smoky Mountains. It had all the usual furniture and appliances and monthly bills that go with owning a residence. It was, as they say, the “whole catastrophe.”

Sydney Harbor, Sydney, Australia. Photo by J. Kim Wright. 

At first, I culled my possessions down to what would fit in a 10×10 storage unit and some furniture that some friends kept for me. After three years on the road, the belongings in storage didn’t seem so important and I ran an ad on Craig’s List, donated a bunch of stuff to the local Goodwill, released the things my friends had, and put a few boxes in my sister’s closet. Things that had sentimental value went to family members who wanted them. 

Months later, after my time in Colorado, I had accumulated a lot of winter clothes and camping gear.  Often when I accumulate things, I donate them when I leave. This time, I decided to rent a 5×5 unit to store them until I finished the next leg of my journey.  I’m planning to circle back in the fall, get the stored belongings and pare them down again.

I think I have way too much stuff. The less I have, the freer I feel. My father says I will eventually get down to a backpack. It is a nice idea.

What do you carry with you? 

I drive a 2005 Honda CRV. I have two cell phones (with different coverage areas), a computer, printer, inverter, video equipment and a PowerPoint projector. I carry three seasons of clothing and emergency supplies, including some food. I have basic kitchen supplies, toiletries and more shoes than someone who has so little stuff ought to have. I have an air bed and linens, plus a sleeping bag, so I’m a self-contained house guest.

When I fly (including when I go overseas), I obviously can’t take it all with me. I tend to err on the side of taking too much technology, enough to fill my rollerbag. I’m pretty good at predicting what clothing I will need. After having unexpected outdoor time in Australia, I will never leave my hiking boots behind again.

And, yes, when I am flying around for weeks at a time, I do check baggage.

Sunset in Sedona, Arizona. Photo by J. Kim Wright. 

Where do you go for Christmas and holidays?  What about when you have down time?

I am blessed with friends around the world, and sometimes I get to visit them as I move from place to place. Many of those friends have issued standing invitations. Most are lawyers who are doing amazing, ground-breaking work. They’re colleagues in the integrative law movement who support what I do and show their support through providing me a place to stay.

When I get a paid speaking gig, I try to book other events on the route or nearby, reducing downtime. I never have time to visit everyone on my route and generally my choice about where to stop and visit has to do with whether I was invited. Occasionally, when I don’t have somewhere else to go and need a break, I check into a hotel or go camping. I visit family and friends for holidays. My kids don’t have a place to come home to – I go to them when we want to get together. 

Why?

At first, I did this because of my commitment to a possibility that is larger than my need for comfort and security:the transformation of the legal profession, a world where lawyers are peacemakers, problem-solvers and healers of conflicts, being midwives of transformation for their clients and the world.That focus lives within a bigger mission of creating a world that works for everyone.

Fall at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Photo by J. Kim Wright. 

Since I had to start somewhere, I chose to start by focusing on a profession that is foundational to our system of government and the way we relate to each other: law. I figure that transforming the legal profession and having transformed lawyers working on problem-solving, peacemaking and healing is a step in the right direction toward a world that works for all.

As I traveled, so much more opened up. It has been a spiritual experience for me. Every day brings a new miracle. I live in the state of amazement. I get to enjoy the beauty of nature along with being inspired and blessed by the people I meet along the way. I have tens of thousands of nature photos.  The places I’ve seen, the people I’ve met and the miracles I’ve experienced have been gifts. I’ve learned to let go of more than things. I no longer feel attached to things going a certain way. My goals are more like suggested directions and I can go with the flow. I love my life and the opportunities for growth and adventure.

How do you afford this?

No, I don’t have a fixed income or big pot of savings somewhere. My expenses are low. For income, I do speaking and training. I coach lawyers. I consult with companies about conscious contracts.

Also, I depend on my community to support this work. For four years, I lived primarily in what is often called “the gift economy.” Lately, the funding is beginning to improve. I’m getting paid more and more often for presenting, a measure of the success of my mission.

Victoria, Australia. Photo by J. Kim Wright. 

Where do you vote?

My legal residence is New Mexico. My car license plate expired while I was there and I changed my residency. I’ll be there this fall to renew everything and vote.

When will you settle down?

Before I went to law school, I drove taxi in Florida. Several of my regular customers were homeless guys who spent the winter down south. They hung out at a truck stop and the town square. They’d call a cab and get a ride between the two places. Sometimes they called because they wanted to get warm in the car and I’d let them ride around with me for a while. We became friends. I recall one particular conversation with Eddie, an elderly man who told me he was almost 80. With Social Security income, he saw that homelessness was a choice for him. He described how it was hard to live in one place when the whole world had been his home. He liked to sleep where he could see the sky and stars, close to Mother Earth. Living in a house seemed constrictive after the expansive life he’d been living. I have never forgotten that conversation with Eddie. I understand it at a new level. I’m not sure how I will ever live in one place again. I love so many places.

Home is truly where the heart is. I’ve learned to be at home wherever I am. There are times when I think of settling in one place but the next trip beckons. I’ll know when it is the right time, when I find the right place to settle down.

How can I get in touch with you?

Some people are reluctant to call because I’m traveling. Don’t be. Since I’m always traveling, I have systems in place. For example:  I have a Google Voice number.  It will reach me, wherever I am. If you leave a message on the Google Voice, I get an email and a text with a transcript of your message. Cell service is sometimes limited – as it happens to be during this summer in North Carolina. I can forward the Google number to a landline or VOIP phone. I am rarely out of internet communication for more than a couple of days.

Of course, like everyone, I am not always available at a moment’s notice. I get backed up with too many emails. I have appointments all day or deadlines. I’ve found that the time opens up when it is really important and that everything happens on the perfect schedule. 

My mailboxes are on opposite ends of the country and I check them once a month or so.  Then it takes time to forward the mail.  Most of the time, I can receive mail at my next destination.

What’s next for you? 

My upcoming schedule (subject to change until contracts are signed):
  • September, 2012: South Africa
  • October, 2012: Denver, CO and Greenville, NC
  • November, 2012: Taos, NM
  • January, 2013: Florida
  • February through April, 2013:  Phoenix/Sedona, Arizona




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J. Kim Wright is a location-independent attorney, author, blogger and filmmaker dedicated to transforming the legal profession. She is a leader in the Integrative Law Movement, author of Lawyers as Peacemakers: Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law, an ABA flagship book and best seller on Amazon.com. She has been named one of the first 50 American Bar Association Legal Rebels, “finding new ways to practice law, represent their clients, adjudicate cases and train the next generation of lawyers.”  

You can reach her by telephone at: 682-463-9529 (her permanent Google Voice number) or 828-279-1957 (cell); by email: jkimwright@gmail.com; or by snail mail at 107 Central Park Square, #165, Los Alamos, NM 87544. 

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Creative Commons License
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at rollerbaggoddess.blogspot.com.
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