When Jack Mann’s alarm clock goes off in the morning, you won’t find him knotting his tie and rushing out of the house to the subway. He’ll be throwing on a pair of shorts, hopping out of his van and taking a hike around a national park.
Only once he’s explored his new ZIP code for the day will he settle down and check in on his work.
“Waking up with the excitement of a new location, the lure of adventure and the curiosity of the unknown out the window or around the next corner makes you feel a different type of alive,” Mann told CNBC Make It.
He’s what’s known as a digital nomad — a new breed of enterprising individuals who make their living while traveling the world. He and his girlfriend, Hanna, hit the road late last year when his business took off and have since worked their way through 15,000 miles and 11 U.S. states in their converted 2006 Mercedes Sprinter van.
Don’t think he’s taken a back seat in his career, though. If anything, the 29-year-old founder and CEO of Vibes believes the lifestyle shift has made him more productive. His “hi-fidelity” earplugs have seen a surge in demand and $2 million in sales on the back of his 2017 appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
“Each day feels like a trip of its own. It makes your brain extra alert and your working days hyper-productive, the same way you rip through your to-do list when the weekend is knocking at your door,” he said.
That’s partly down to technology. Public Wi-Fi and personal hotspots have enabled Mann and Hanna, a freelance social media manager, to switch workplace distractions in their hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota for some of the U.S.’s most serene spots of natural beauty.
“Work is an action, not a place,” he said. “Technology has allowed for non-traditional working environments to thrive in an era when formal work spaces are becoming a thing of the past.”
But it’s also a result of a life on the move. Mann said the transient, nomadic lifestyle has made him more disciplined with his time so he can strike a work-life balance.
“It is very important to maintain a structure for your working day if you’re running a business full-time,” said Mann, who aligns his work hours with colleagues back in Minnesota, regardless of which of the continental U.S.’s four time zones he was in.
Here’s what a typical day looks like for Mann:
5:45 a.m. — Wake up and do some exercise, either running or hiking around the local area or making use of a gym pass.
7:00 a.m. — Start work, most often from the van but occasionally from a coffee shop or a co-working space.
3:00 p.m. — Finish work and explore the local area, do chores and schedule work for the following day.
7:00 p.m. — Travel to the next location and plot the onward leg.
9:00 p.m — Bedtime. In remote areas, he “basically lives by the light,” going to sleep at dusk.
“I didn’t find it hard to maintain a structure at all and just had to be a step ahead to know where your working day would be from the day before,” continued Mann.
In fact, he said it forced certain organizational processes which he will “carryout throughout the lifetime of the business.”
The lifestyle change hasn’t been bad for Mann’s finances, either.
Since buying his van for around $50,000, Mann has reduced his monthly outgoings by 30 percent by subletting his Minneapolis apartment to a friend and parking primarily in free sites. In his nine months traveling so far, Mann said he has stayed at just eight paid locations thanks to the number of free camping locations across the country.
He has also cut back on material possessions and miscellaneous spending.
“When you have 100 square feet of space and limited storage it is a way of forced minimalism,” said Mann.
Nowadays, Mann said his main outgoings are gas — which can “fluctuate pretty dramatically,” depending on how far they travel — and food, which tends to cost around $12 per day and is mostly cooked in the van.
He added that anyone looking to give the lifestyle a go could first try renting a van, as he did, through sites like Outdoorsy to check that it’s for them.
“I was able to rent a few different types of vehicles on a few different types of trips to determine what type of vehicle was best, what amenities were necessary, and if the lifestyle was something I truly enjoyed and felt productive doing,” he said.
As for Mann, he’s now converted and has no intention of changing any time soon.
With his business continuing to flourish, he said he and his girlfriend plan to spend the majority of the next few years on the road, with occasional trips back home to Minneapolis to touch base with colleagues, family and friends.