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Wandering Technomads Can Ditch Their Phones, Too

When living the location-independent life, a million little things can prevent permanent travelers from feeling truly carefree

Bryce Adams is a technomad in the strictest sense of the word. Case in point: when you want to arrange a Skype with him, you go to a page on his website which tells you where he currently is and how many hours ahead that is of your own timezone.

Bryce Adams, NomadSMS founder

So it makes sense that when Adams ran into a problem—he couldn’t access his Australian bank account in Thailand because his bank needed to text him a security code that he couldn’t receive on his Thai SIM card—he spent his weekend building his own app to fix it.

“It’s one of those things I didn't think of until I reached the last straw of ‘I need this SMS code right now,’” Adams, who is a remote developer for WooThemes, said. “It’s not particularly practical to spend a few days building something to get a single SMS, but there wasn’t any other way.”

NomadSMS allows users to purchase a local phone number in a selection of countries. Except instead of purchasing the number in the form of a physical SIM card and inserting it into a phone, it allows the user to receive text messages sent to the local number via their email inbox. This means a country-hopping nomad doesn't have to constantly be buying and switching SIM cards just to receive a local text.

It’s the kind of service that you wouldn’t know you needed until you leave behind the stationary life in exchange for a nomadic one, where simple, mundane tasks become slightly more complicated. Whether it’s how to pay rent with a foreign bank account (TransferWise) or how to chat with location-independent folks who live and work in the city where you just arrived (HashtagNomad) or finding a coffee shop with a wifi connection strong enough to carry out a Skype call at a strange hour (Workfrom), NomadSMS is part of a growing list of tech products that enable a lifestyle that is as itinerant as it is tech-oriented.

Adams built the app using a service called Twilio, which sells phone numbers similar to how GoDaddy sells domains, essentially serving as an intermediary between international phone companies and developers who want to build apps that require phone numbers. Adams says the convenience of NomadSMS comes from the fact that you pay a one-time monthly fee for each phone number—which you can ditch as soon as you leave the country—and don’t have to deal with constantly carrying around multiple SIM cards.

Though Adams created it to solve a practical banking-related problem, he says another unexpected utility has arisen. If, for example, you meet a local person who doesn’t have a smart phone or isn’t connected to the internet all the time, NomadSMS provides a way to keep in touch.

“It never feels different to the person sending the SMS. One user told me that they were traveling a lot and their grandmother knew how to use text messaging but didn't understand email. So it’s nice for them to be able to receive a text-via-email from her.”

The service is currently limited to the 17 countries where Twilio operates, which may be problematic when Adams moves to Korea next month, where he has learned local SIM cards are virtually impossible to obtain as a foreigner. In the meantime, Adams has a plan: he will keep his Australian NomadSMS number up and running, if for nothing else than emergencies.

“It’s nice to be able to have that number up and to know that there’s at least some way to contact me beyond traditional online stuff.”

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