A Look at the Digital Nomad Lifestyle
A few years back, I remember listening to a podcast as they discussed the topic of digital nomads. In particular, they brought on two women who embarked on a year-long “workation,” as they called in, which saw them living and working in a different city each month. I was floored. Somehow it had never occurred to me that such things were possible — even though I had personally moved to the middle of the country after realizing that I could do my job from anywhere.
In the years since I haven’t stopped thinking about the nomadic lifestyle and what it would be like to explore new cities in depth while supporting myself financially. More recently, as the travel bug has bitten me once again after months of being cooped up at home, I find myself Googling nomadic topics more often. On that note, let’s take a look at some of what I’ve learned about digital nomads from my time reading about them along with a few of my own thoughts on the subject,
Digital Nomads: Common Questions and Answers (As I Understand Them)
What are digital nomads?
Digital nomads are workers who take advantage of the fact that they can do their jobs from anywhere with an Internet connection. Instead of staying put, they might hop from city to city as they live, work, and explore. While it’s especially common for these nomads to traverse the globe as part of their lifestyle, there are also those who choose to stay domestic instead — especially during the pandemic. On that note, there is also some overlap between those in the digital nomad and van life communities as traveling in recreational vehicles around the country is one of the many possibilities afforded to remote workers.
Why become a digital nomad?
There are obviously plenty of reasons why individuals decide to become digital nomads and each person you talk to will likely have their own specific tale. However, there are a few common themes that often emerge. One is just a desire to explore other parts of the world and learn more about various cultures. While most people may vacation in a city or country for a couple of weeks, living in a new place for weeks or months at a time allows nomads to absorb more of the local flavor.
Another common reason for taking the digital nomad route is what’s called geo arbitrage. The basic idea is that there are places around the world where the cost of living is far less expensive than in the United States (along with some extremely expensive world cities as well). Thus, by spending time in some of these cheaper places, workers can make their money go further — all while enjoying the benefits these cities have to offer. Meanwhile, some digital nomads report allocating a greater amount of their time to staying in less expensive regions of the world to help offset the costs of some of the other locations they wish to visit during the rest of the year.
Who are digital nomads?
Funny you should ask. Aside from the obvious answer that digital nomads are adventurers who want to see the world while working from their computers, data collected by the site Nomadlist highlights some demographic details about the “average” nomadic worker. For example, using the most popular answer in each of their survey questions, it found that the average nomad is a 32-year-old single white male from the United States working in software development.
Obviously these traits don’t paint a literal description of every nomad, but they do highlight certain realities, including that the majority of digital nomads are in their late twenties to early thirties, Americans make up a near plurality of them, and that they are overwhelmingly male (79% compared to 20% female). Elsewhere, other interesting insights include the fact that, while the majority of nomads surveyed identified as progressives politically, libertarians made up the largest cohort in the “non-progressive” category.
Looking closer at the two categories that make up remote work — world cities and jobs — it turns out that Tokyo was the most-liked city among male nomads followed by Mexico City and Chiang Mai. Meanwhile, female digital nomads preferred Lisbon most along with London and Canggu. As for the most common occupations, aside from software development, “startup founder” was the second most common job title among males. Other common work verticals include web developments, marketing, and the vague “creative.” As for the women, “creative” topped the list followed by marketing and startup founders. Blogging and UI/UX design rounded out the top five.
How do digital nomads live, work, etc.?
Again, it’s hard to paint all digital nomads with the same brush and explain exactly how they live their lives. That said, there are a few tips that some have shared. First, when it comes to traveling, it’s important to pay attention to visa rules. For example, while many countries allow U.S. passport holders to obtain visas upon landing, they may only be valid for a certain length of time. What’s more, there may be more restrictions that aren’t immediately apparent. A commonly cited example is in Europe where “A Schengen visa is a short-stay visa that allows a person to travel to any members of the Schengen Area, per stays up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes.” This means that, under the letter of the law, you couldn’t stay three months in Paris and then proceed to spend another month in Amsterdam as both are part of the Schengen Area.
Next, when it comes to accommodations, Airbnbs seem to be a popular option among nomads. Not only do most rentals offer amenities typically not found in hotels but also provide more of a “local life” experience. Plus, those staying for longer lengths of time (30 days or more) may be able to obtain a discount on their rental.
So what about the working part? While the types of work that digital nomads do can vary, it’s safe to say that most rely on an Internet connection. The good news is that fast, reliable WiFi is growing easier to come by. From hotels and cafes to public networks and personal hotspots, there are plenty of options — although it’d definitely behoove you to do research about the WiFi situation in your chosen destination beforehand. Plus, as 5G continues to roll out, it stands to reason that the list of places you can reasonably work from will only get longer.
Another big question that comes up in regards to digital nomads is, “What do you do with all of your stuff?” The answer, as you might imagine, may involve rented storage units in a hometown or even some belongings left with a loved one. However, it is true that being a nomad often means packing (and living) light. Of course, this is where renting apartments or homes where laundry facilities are available can really come in handy.
Knocking out a few other big questions, there are plenty of solutions to be found in regards to obtaining worldwide health insurance, maintaining your finances while abroad, and even managing your physical mail. While I won’t get too specific, there are several how-to guides you can find online. Needless to say, however, a lot of the challenges you might think up have likely been addressed and can be overcome (to some degree).
Would I want to become a digital nomad?
As I’ve written about previously, there are aspects of the digital nomad lifestyle that definitely appeal to me. Alas, I’ve come to learn over the years that, as much as I love traveling, I also love coming home. Thus, although my wife and I intend to take longer trips when possible and lead temporary nomad lives, I don’t foresee us ever going all-in. But, never say never, right?
Despite the pandemic surely throwing a wrench into the plans of many digital nomads, I don’t suspect that the last several months will ultimately hinder the community’s growth. In fact, if anything, I’d guess that there are even more people who are tired of staying put and want to see the world — not to mention all of the workers who discovered that they can now do their jobs remotely. As a result, don’t be surprised if the digital nomad lifestyle continues to gain popularity in the years ahead.