live your van life

July 15, 2019
digital nomad

Digital Nomad: traveling, location independence, and travel flexibility is the future. 

Joseph Raetano symbolizes a new definition of the modern high-tech digital nomad.

He takes his job everywhere in his high-tech cutting edge mobile research laboratory.

This fall, I had the opportunity to meet up with Joe in Toronto, after he and and a team comprised of an OEM and local Startup won a very high-impact AI funding grant.

His energy and guidance has inspired me to travel, to discover, to learn, to apply, and to teach back all that I’ve learned. That traveling doesn’t mean you have to put a hold on your career, life or personal growth. In his case, they are all a part of an intricately woven fabric of his life which is an awesome balance.

#Vanlife Traveling While Exploring The World

digital nomad

Traveling doesn’t mean you have to put a hold on your career, life or personal growth.

There is no surprise that we are seeing the rise of working digital nomads around the world.

Joe has taken this global trend and his ideas and is running full steam ahead with them, all while exploring North America and beyond.

In this interview we discovered Joe’s nomadic lifestyle. We include tips for making it work as a professional when the world is your office.

Seeking Adventure In Far-Off Locations

digital nomad

The world is your office!

Greta: Can you describe your job as a high-tech digital nomad?

Joe: I was recruited to Oak Ridge National Laboratory after almost 25 years in the US Navy where I focused on large moving national level Research and Development.

As a computer scientist I have had some seemingly incredible opportunities to learn and grow in the area of R&D. During my research in Intelligent systems and AI, I sought after a platform to test some of my research ideas. I was then recruited to one of the largest Recreational Vehicle (RV) companies in the world which an interesting twist of fate.

Being brought on as their first computer scientist was a pretty unique opportunity. I get to do interesting things that no one else has ever worked on or tested before.

With the mobile research laboratory, I can immerse myself into any given land environment and experience the living conditions first hand thereby creating whole new concepts and scenarios.

I can take the vehicle down a trail head or to a hiking path after a long day of work to relax, rejuvenate and explore. I can likewise, visit with researchers in their own element to discuss interesting technologies to incorporate into my R&D.  And since the vehicle doesn’t look like an RV, I can Boondock where RVs are normally restricted. I can squeeze into a regular size parking spot backed over a curb. I can analyze smart city capabilities and do it very comfortably.

The lab has been designed and built with the latest in advanced capabilities to analyze and assess new ideas for use in every economic sector.

Digital Nomad – The Art Of Possible

digital nomad

The lab has been designed and built with the latest in advanced capabilities


Greta: What are the two best concepts that have come out of this lifestyle?

Joe: Being mobile and proving out new mobility concepts.

I love #vanlife because it allows me to travel independently to research laboratories and universities to work with researchers directly.

It’s a great way to show them some of the new capabilities, share new ideas, and make award winning capabilities.

I can stay on station for long periods of time and serendipitously work on something super interesting that comes up during research meetings.

digital nomad

I love #vanlife because it allows me maximum mobility

Code Camping: Creating New Capabilities For Vanlife

digital nomad

Team of students work on new capabilities for #vanlife

Another incredible capability is creating code camps in the middle of nowhere in some of the most beautiful places. 

Code camps spring up to focus on new technologies and languages, but in this instance we’re actually doing both coding and camping enjoying the expanse.

digital nomad

Code camps spring up to focus on emerging mobile technologies

Escaping The 9-5

digital nomad

I think most people, especially Millennials want to get out of the cubicle cities

Greta: You are a working traveler which I found very fascinating, what made you decided to leave a 9-5 desk job?

Joe: I think most people, especially Millennials want to get out of their enclosed offices.

It feels a bit like slave labour. The hair goes up on the back of my neck remembering all the days locked away without sunlight. I had the quintessential 9-5 (really 6-6) job working on tough problems. I would get into work before the sun rises and leave after sunset. I was working on very important things, and decided I did not want to live my life like that.

There certainly needs to be a better balance. Creating easy to use adventure travel vehicles is a great way to help folks achieve balance in their working years and not wait until they’re fully retired to live the lifestyle.

Traveling as a digital nomad is a great way to immerse yourself in the cultural diversity that each city has to offer.  Don’t miss out on these travel opportunities by checking out events near me to discover unique festivals and epic events.

Being A Humanitarian

digital nomad

Humanitarian assistance in Puerto Rico

Greta: Any enriching experiences to share?

Joe: I had the opportunity to work in Puerto Rico to assist in Humanitarian efforts; there I provided much needed communication technical support to nurses, doctors, police, law enforcement and civilians in the hardest hit areas.

I dedicated a portion of my comms system to FEMA so they could focus taking care of the folks with real time connectivity back to DC into their network. As FEMA was connected, the locals were also getting emails and text messages with their FEMA confirmation.

They could also communicate with loved ones off island since there was no power or communication available.

This mission was hard, but really rewarding. I’d like to thank all the volunteers and supporters to that mission to include Kymeta, Intelsat, EHGNA, and Liberty Global.

There are so many environmental disasters that can destroy power and communication grids quickly and without warning. When Hurricane Maria ripped through the island of Puerto Rico, we thought, wow we just created something that could help out. 

digital nomad

There are so many environmental disasters that can destroy power and communication grids quickly and without warning

Finding A New Purpose

digital nomad

Giving back to society and help those in need

Greta: How do you view life now in this lifestyle?

Joe: Anything is possible. This vehicle/lifestyle not has only given me the opportunity to work while discovering the world, but also to give back to society and help those in need. It’s a powerful combination.

Check out RV Care-a-Vaners for just one simple way to give back in this lifestyle.

Established in 1989, Habitat RV Care-A-Vanners is an all-volunteer run program with nearly 2,000 active volunteers traveling and building throughout the year.

Being a high-tech digital nomad has provided me a whole new way to look at things, to work and to try new adventures.  You have plenty of time to focus on work and then switch gears easily and have a lunch meeting with new people or head to new places to discover. To interact with people, places and  things you would not have normally experienced.

The weekend hits and all new options are presented to test out new capabilities for each new city or town I’m in.

Expedition Happiness

Digital Nomad

I stop to the smell the roses someplace interesting

Greta: Being a tech-savvy digital nomad, tell me your most favourite thing about work while traveling?

Joe: One of the biggest things for me is coming up with great ideas and putting a plan together when I’m driving or overlooking an awesome destination. I then plan on how best to implement those ideas.

It’s akin to when you take a flight somewhere, you have that 30,000 foot view, I always re-evaluate what’s important to me, my family, my friends, and my projects. I stop to the smell the roses someplace interesting, meet new folks and refine those ideas. It’s an awesome cycle.

The #vanlife community is so unique; you have so many people actually doing it now. It’s one of the reasons that attracted me to Roadtrek and the Erwin Hymer Group.  

The growing digital nomad community helps each other by making the experience more memorable.

This idea of leisure travel and integrating your work is awesome, there is almost no better way to live and work. And even if I didn’t have to work, I would still love to travel this way. It Is so much fun!

Serendipity Adventure

digital nomad

Connecting the dots between Work, Family, and Academic research is one of the most challenging experiences any one person can juggle

Greta: What is the most challenging issue or experience so far?

Joe: You do spend a lot of time on your work in order to be successful. If you don’t, you won’t be very successful.

I’m also conducting dissertation research for a computer science PhD. Connecting the dots between work, family, and academic research is one of the most challenging experiences any one person can juggle.

I find the combinatorics of this challenge stimulating and actually quite fun to solve.

Life’s Real Priorities

digital nomad

The happy life cycle

Greta: How do you balance work and family?

Joe: This is why I’m so grateful for my wife, she takes care of everything at home and for our kids so I can travel. She will fly to meet me in interesting places so she can also be a part of the experience as well.

It’s so fun to share these experiences with others and that’s why you see such a huge social draw to #vanlife and digital nomadic lifestyle.  

My kids are both in college and I’ll drive to their school to visit them for an entire day and see how they are doing, they both are burgeoning computer scientists. And because everything at home is awesome, I’m tremendously happy. And with that I bring immense energy and focus at work and because I’m tremendously happy at work I bring immense energy and focus back at home.

It’s more of what I call, “the happy life cycle”, than a work-life balance, which implies you have to have trade-offs.

Being a digital nomad allows me to visit family members without being a burden on them since the Roadtrek allows me to park anywhere while I visit them without interrupting their living situation. 

Growing up, family get-togethers on the weekends were a big thing. Nowadays, families are scattered and there aren’t that many gatherings anymore. In this lifestyle, I get to reconnect more. 

With almost 30 years in military and government, we have moved around a lot so we’re use to picking up and traveling. #vanlife is a natural progression for military retirees and has allowed me to reconnect with people on their own terms: they don’t have to travel to me. I get to meet each member, one on one, focusing on what’s important to them thanks to this mobile environment.

Family is huge for me, I’ve been away from everyone that is important to me for so long. The military and government friends and families that we have met during our journey have become a part of our family.

It is safe to say the digital nomad lifestyle that Joe is living, is one of the fastest growing lifestyles today. You are simply happier when you are in control of your destiny and discovering events near me and experience fascinating family friendly cultures.

Who You Admire Reveals A Great Deal About You

Empower Yourself

Greta: Who do you admire?

Joe: That’s easy.  Mike and Jennifer Wendland. They are a great team who I admire and that has inspired me. They embody this adventure spirit and help to spread information and guidance on the RV Lifestyle.

There are so many though, that I admire. From the tireless folks at EHGNA and the startups I work with that have become great friends, to my kids that are following in Dad’s footsteps, to all the #vanlife travelers who are seeking adventure everyday, and to my endearing wife who takes great care of the family and I.

I learn something new everyday from everyone’s life I’m in contact with and it makes such a wonderful experience.   

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” ~ Life Magazine

Update: The New Mobile Condo

For our readers wondering where Joe is now, listen to the latest podcast from Mike Wendland at RV Lifestyle.  Our friend Joe Raetano shares with us how commuting to his high tech North Carolina job in his RV and then staying in it during the week saves him lots of money and yet still provides all the comforts of home.

If you find yourself traveling like Joe, take time to discover  events near me  during the weekend.

By Greta Hernandez

Greta Hernandez writes for Chillwall on trendy events near me and around the world

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