Student hits the road to research digital nomads

Griffith University PhD candidate Alejandra Ramirez Vidal will spend the next year travelling across Australia in a tricked-out minivan as part of her research into digital nomadism.

Alejandra is one of many people who cast aside the shackles of an office after the upheavals of the COVID pandemic, instead combining life on the road, with work and study.

The Colombian-born Queensland College of Art (QCA) alumnus was previously based on the Gold Coast, where she juggled sessional teaching at the QCA with a thriving graphic design business.

When she decided to embark on a Doctor of Visual Arts (DVA) at Griffith, she undertook to study and work remotely, literally putting her research to the test.

“I combined all my passions — tiny living, sustainability, travel and study.”

“My supervisors have been so supportive, and we’re in constant communication — I chose to do my DVA at Griffith because it offered my incredible flexibility.”

Since October 2020, Alejandra has crisscrossed the continent in a secondhand van, nicknamed ‘Mostaza’, armed with a smartphone, professional camera and drone.

Staying one step ahead of COVID lockdowns, patchy internet and learning to balance work and study has been a challenge, but Alejandra said she was privileged to pioneer a new way to work, travel and study.

“It is such a joy waking up in the middle of nowhere, on the beach or by the mountains — not even the best five-star hotel can rival the views from my van,” she said.

“COVID allowed people to embrace the idea of work from home. This is my home now.

“To be able to live your research is amazing – I feel more inspired and feel strongly that this is the future.

“My doctorate will look at the future of the creative industries and the freelance economy.

“New technology has created enormous potential for people like photographers, designers and filmmakers to work from anywhere in the world.

“There is now a huge community of digital nomads across the globe, and a lot of mutual assistance and support.”

Alejandra works on short-term design projects from the road, instead of commuting to the office.

So far, she has travelled up the East Coast of Australia and spent a month in Tasmania. Locations on her bucket list are Uluru and the West Coast.

“It is a huge country and there is so much to explore — I hope I can inspire other people to take a leap and follow their dreams.”