Living ‘off grid’ - the antidote to a wired society?

Many people reading this article will be doing so on their phone, waiting for the train or bus, heading off towards another dreaded day at work.

For those of us who find ourselves in that situation, the thought of lying on a beach, swimming in crystal clear waters, with no worries about rent payments or deadlines is very appealing. Many entrepreneurs in waiting would rather just write that resignation letter, turf the phone into the nearest drain, check out of the rat race and actually start experiencing life while it's not too late. But how possible is that dream?

You might be surprised the types of people who are now making this a reality. Leaving their traditional jobs and lifestyles, downsizing, opening businesses and living off grid. However, such a move is not for the faint-hearted.

Read: How to protect your brain from the digital overload

Nick Rosen is one thriving example of an off-gridder. A former freelance Guardian and Channel 4 journalist, Rosen has taken his experience and turned it into a book entitled How to Live off Grid, in which he documents advice from his own experiences as an "off gridder". His website www.off-grid.net has turned into the go-to place for potential off-gridders who want to hear the stories of those who are pioneering the lifestyle. With 75,000 visitors to the site monthly, there is certainly interest from tired and burnt out workers who want to radically change their lifestyle.

In addition to practical advice on surviving with traditional and complementary medicine, how to wire up your solar panels, grow your own food, rear farm animals or survive in extreme parts of the world, the website has a links to where you can find land without having to buy it.

It’s a good place for those thinking about starting their own business away from the traditional nine to five. Clearly, there are major challenges for off-gridders including planning restrictions, finding a suitable off-grid style home and coming to terms with extremely challenging environments which are isolated from any contact with modern day society and all the conveniences that that brings.

But isn't that what is so attractive in the first instance, being the master of your destiny. That some days it's enough to just survive and enjoy doing it? For those dreaming of creating a much plusher lifestyle than merely existing, then it’s a challenge to achieve success as an off-gridder. However, rather than checking out completely, it's often best to retain contact via social media in order to share experience and swap ideas and advice. Rather than feeling trapped by a wired society, many are freed by it.

Read: How entrepreneurs can stay sane in an increasingly connected world

Clearly there is still a need for off-gridders to have a sense of community and support one another, after all, humans are a gregarious breed and enjoy having pack leaders. So perhaps off-grid lifestyle is the difference between taking control of one's destiny and allowing someone else to hold that control. After all, many off-gridders are successful because they have excellent contacts, excellent advice and the ability to make a living online with the use of free solar electricity and a satellite connection. 

Going off grid means total energy independence, no utility bills or power outages ever again… or does it? Going energy independent requires effort and major investment, Renewable energy systems are not cheap and are not eligible for tax breaks. 

Battery storage needs to be large enough to deal with energy demands - whatever the weather. Whether, wind, solar or hydro, off-gridders will need to consider what works best in their environment and you’ll need to consider a generator when their renewable energy system is inoperable. They’ll also need to be, or have access to an engineer to install and maintain systems.

Take Ed and Laurie Essex who successfully live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State and write about their experiences via their website goodideasforlife.com and offgridworks.com. They have documented the ups and downs of growing their own vegetables and the crop successes and failures they have had. In particular they provide lots of tips and advice about preserving food and extending the growing season using cold frames, which is vital given that they live at an elevation of 4,200 feet. 

Read: Your career is under threat - which qualities will save you?

What is clear is that there are many choices that off-gridders can make and most choose to retain some form of contact with the outside world, with many in fact choosing to build off-grid communities. This need to bed down with like-minded people enables off-gridders the freedom from their traditional lifestyles and also the comfort of knowing that there are others who share the burden of everyday survival. 

A happy medium of paying off the mortgage by being thrifty or innovative and then surviving in business is actually what a lot of folk are striving towards, rather than the extreme of living completely off grid.

There are many successful off-gridders who also downsize and use the proceeds of their formerly large homes to living in relative comfort on a small holding which they've managed to buy.  

If you are dreaming of going off grid, it's important to do more than just dream. Be honest about how off grid you want to be. Make sure you do your research, have a gradual plan which will allow you to find other ways to make a living at home such as writing, gardening for others, or trading skills with fellow off gridders. Consider gradually cutting down your hours at work and supplementing your income in other ways, such as growing your own food or using a skill which others need. Learn from other's mistakes and successes, and be innovative.

Above all, be prepared to work hard, harder than you probably ever have before and learn to enjoy the fact that you are in charge of your destiny and your very own business, the business of life.

Ultimately, how off grid you want to go depends on how much of a purist you are and how many home comforts you can afford to relinquish. What is clear is that many are definitely living a very good life going off grid, but have just as hectic if different a lifestyle as those who choose to stay in the rat race.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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