Digital Nomads
February 12, 2014 by Brennan Gamwell

Benny Lewis has lived and worked in more countries than many of us can even imagine visiting. Check out just part of his resume (in no particular order):

  • California: Yoga store manager
  • France: Electrical engineer
  • Spain: Photographer
  • Italy: Youth hostel receptionist
  • New York City: Math teacher

Over the past 11 years, Lewis, a Digital Nomad, has charted his own incredible journey through more than 40 countries. Sometimes he stays in each country just a few weeks, but often he stays for months. What inspires him to keep exploring? It’s simple: Lewis finds exhilarating new experiences by taking a step outside of his comfort zone everywhere he goes.

Lewis explained, "Our comfort zones are tiny. And they’re not where we learn or grow as people."

Lewis's journey began when he was 21 and still living in Ireland. In college, he had studied electrical engineering, a subject he was good at and enjoyed. He even planned to find a traditional job as an engineer—until he had the realization that, in spite of his success in school, he hadn't learned many life lessons.

Most importantly, he hadn't learned about other people or cultures—in fact, he could only speak English, even after studying German and Irish Gaelic from an early age.

So just a few weeks after graduation, Benny packed up and relocated to Spain. Even there, he didn't have any luck picking up the language.

Until he stepped outside of his comfort zone, that is, and attempted to converse with the people around him, even with his limited vocabulary and awkward pronunciation. "Once I started trying to actually speak Spanish, I had thousands of mini successes every day. Every time I was understood, I felt fulfilled, and it was addicting. Small achievements build, and you get bigger and bigger achievements," Lewis said.

Benny Lewis, the Irish Polyglot & digital nomad

Benny Lewis at the peak of Mount Teide, Tenerife

Since then, this philosophy of taking risks—of leaving the ultra-tiny comfort zone that's common to most of us—has shaped Lewis's adventures, and even his work, which he does from anywhere in the world.

For years, when Lewis settled in a new country, he would find a traditional job and stay for a few months before moving on to his next destination. But once he realized he could take his work with him via the Internet, he reinvented his lifestyle again to become a freelance translator. Suddenly, his work was completely portable. He could travel more often, anywhere he wanted, and work from the road with few limitations.

He’s since started sharing the lessons he’s learned during his adventures on his blog and in videos like this one.

Some of Lewis's advice includes practical tidbits (click the bolded links below to hear this advice in his own words):

  • Be an imperfectionist. Benny goes out of his way to make mistakes every day. But, he said, "Every single failure is a stepping stone to success and a chance to learn something important."
  • The present is what really matters. Live in the now, don't focus on the end-game. "Don't defer your happiness so much," counseled Lewis.
  • We're all making it up as we go. And that’s true for most people, even the "successful" and "popular" people many of us look up to, according to Lewis.

Lewis approaches every challenge his adventures present with these life lessons in mind. And now, thanks to his spirit of freedom, exploration and curiosity, he is known as the "Irish Polyglot" and runs his own online business, Fluent in 3 Months, which is the largest language-learning blog in the world, with over 400,000 monthly visitors. He's even published a book by the same name to share his language-learning successes with others.

Lewis has another important lesson he's learned throughout his adventures as a Digital Nomad: Get busy living. Said Lewis, "Spend time with others, and you can effectively live something as good as many lifetimes in one."

We can all enjoy incredible new, rich experiences—if we just take the first step outside of our comfort zone with confidence.

Brennan Gamwell

Communications Manager

Brennan Gamwell is a Communications Manager at oDesk, where he focuses on managing the customer reference program to share the inspiring stories of the amazing professionals using the platform. Brennan brings with him extensive experience in non-profit and advocacy communications from his time in Washington, DC, and is just slightly obsessed with grammar and punctuation (especially hyphens). He holds a Bachelor's degree in international communications… read more