What Is a Digital Nomad And How to Know If It’s For You

So, your interest has been piqued. Maybe over the last year or so, you’ve pondered what on earth this digital nomad experience is and wondered if it was possible for you. Maybe you’ve seen knowledge workers in your network pack up and leave but retain their current job, posting pictures on Instagram or Linkedin with a laptop and sunset combo.

You’ll not be surprised to know that since the pandemic—when the majority of us were forced to blur the lines between personal and professional space—the trend of the digital nomad lifestyle has skyrocketed. Some research says it’s up as much as 112%.[1] American workers describing themselves as digital nomads alone has gone up by 49%. Even I did it in 2021!

So, what is a digital nomad? And can it now be a real lifestyle option for you to explore?

What Is a Digital Nomad?

Digital nomads are people who live their life in a nomadic manner, traveling to or staying in different places while engaging in remote work using digital technology. In short, they are remote workers or have the flexibility to work anywhere around the world as long as they have access to digital telecommunication technology.

How I Became a Digital Nomad

Early in 2021, my partner and I sold our home in London without a long-term fixed place to go to. Having been stuck indoors for most of 2020 and adapting to the working from home approach since 2019, we both had itchy feet and I had gotten used to still doing a good job without a location being relevant.

So, we threw all of our remaining gear and the dog into the back of our Hyundai i20 and ventured across the UK staying in Airbnbs for the majority of the year.

At that time, I didn’t think I needed the traditional ownership of bricks and mortar to feel settled. I was content with my job. They were fine with me moving about, and as long as I felt good mentally, it was good to go. So, that was me, officially a digital nomad—scouting the next area to live, the “try before you buy” approach, living and working in temporary homes, solely reliant on Wi-Fi and retaining minimal possessions to move around freely.

But the spectrum is a little wider than that with other digital nomads also being perpetual travelers, jumping from country to country, and timezone to timezone with the tech needed to perform to a level needed for their own business as an entrepreneur or within an organizational setting.

Basically, a digital nomad is someone who combines work and travel to some extent!

Tips to Know if Being a Digital Nomad Is for You

2021 came and went, and we are now back in rented accommodation and will be here for another year at least. But during that nomad experiment, there were some great experiences and some not so great.

So, take a look at this guide to see if being a digital nomad is right for you.

1. Understand What’s Possible

The key thing before you start working out which beautiful part of the world you want to work from is to understand the art of the possible. If you are already employed by an organization and plan to keep that employment but move around, speak to your line manager and HR departments first.

It’s also wise to understand who else has already gone before you. It could save an argument. A line manager or leadership team with fixed mindsets could potentially stop this dead in its tracks before it’s even started.

Consider working with decision-makers on experiments where you work somewhere for a month to test the waters and also to reassure those people that you can still perform to the required level no matter where you are.

Others may feel uncomfortable about you not being near an office, so I’m afraid it may be down to you to give them some flexibility. If you run your own business, you’re the boss.

2. Country Restrictions and Limitations

A boring but worthy piece of research, if you are exploring worldwide being a digital nomad, you may need to check on working visas, required vaccinations, Wi-Fi speeds, cost of living, minimum earnings, and tax, especially if your organization is based in one country and not in a place you’re heading to. You don’t want to be caught with below-expected cash flow in another part of the world on a technicality.

Since the UK left the European Union, digital nomad visas for non-EU nomads in some European countries are encouraged. Countries like Italy, Portugal, and Spain have recently joined Malta, Estonia, Germany, and others around the world in opening their doors to digital nomads to help revitalize cities and local economies that have been hit by that P-word again.

European countries want digital nomads, so now could be the ideal time to start thinking about this.

3. Tech

I got caught out a couple of times with properties that had below-par Wi-Fi, and that did impact the quality of my work.

Zoom calls freezing, quality of sound lower than expected, and frustration when the reception went down by severe weather or random farm animals interfering with things. These issues can’t be avoided sometimes, so it’s good to be adaptable. But I did buy some additional data that I connected to my main devices, so if the Wi-Fi goes down, I could work okay for shorter periods.

I also had two phones, for personal and work, that were on different networks, just in case the place we stay in is in a bad patch for one provider but not for the other.

4. Personal and Professional Growth

One key thing that may not be as widely connected to professional life is that traveling can be just as powerful, if not more so for personal growth, as on-the-job training or courses. These growth experiences ultimately make people better and build a wide range of in-demand skills.

Even just getting by in different cultures helps you overcome challenges, become a better listener, level up problem-solving abilities, and build soft skills—better known as human skills—like resilience, perseverance, communication, maturity, confidence, and prioritization. All of these are key elements for modern talent that organizations would be recruiting for anyway.

According to Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, visiting a foreign place and taking part in the local environment, “increases your cognitive flexibility and enhances depth and integrativeness of thought.”[2]

So, if you are looking for some support in convincing your boss, there you have it. Good for you, good for the team, and good for the organization.

5. Financials

This can swing both ways. The pros we had in 2021 were no debt whatsoever, no mortgage, no rent to pay, and only minimal personal bills. The core outgoings were mainly for groceries and the Airbnb we were staying in.

All other previous general living costs were gone—no home internet bills, council tax, home insurance, household repairs, gas, electricity, and water, as this was all part of being at someone else’s holiday home.

Of course, living and working in countries where your money goes further can help with all of this, but the decisions you make as to the level of comfort and luxury you want to be living and working in will determine all of this.

6. Chasing the Holiday Feeling

We’ve all been there. You visit a place and have such a wonderful experience that you start to wonder what it would be like to live there, to have that holiday feeling all the time whilst getting paid.

I get it and chasing that feeling can become addictive, but this digital nomading lark requires an incredible amount of discipline and organization, something that may be lacking when you’re in that holiday freedom mode. You have to do work.

We’ve heard the phrase “planning is half the fun” and for me, it really is. Creating a year’s worth of digital nomading living in seven different places across the UK, researching costs, negotiating with Airbnb hosts, navigating the local areas, and the rest were also enjoyable.

However, one thing to ask is: will you have the energy and time to capture that feeling of freedom and carefree living?

Overworking can easily creep in, and before you know it, you’ve just been on your laptop all week working in someone else’s house. Nothing else has changed, just your view of the kitchen.

To get the best out of being a digital nomad, you must try and keep limits on how much you work and also put energy and effort into being present, heading out to local areas, finding out what events are going on, and maybe even enjoying better weather!

You don’t want your main impression to be a slightly different zoom background.

7. Creature Comforts and Environmental Impacts

I had got used to taking a short walk to the local shop or ordering Deliveroo. I rarely used a car other than to visit friends or family. But as soon as we spent time in remote parts of the country where there were no uber or shops within walking distance, the use of my car increased massively—daily even.

Simple things like going to get a haircut, buying groceries, grabbing a takeaway. Everything was at least a 20-minute drive both ways, and I was conscious that nothing during that stay would be quick. Every trip away from that house to do something needed an hour slot, even the nearest pub was a drive away!

It took me a few weeks to get used to this, but as I mentioned earlier, I adapted. Humans are pretty good at adapting, but I was very conscious of how much more petrol I was buying and the increased level of fumes I was kicking out while damaging my tiny Hyundai on country roads covered in potholes.

Final Thoughts

So, is experiencing the digital nomad life for you? Only you can decide. But what I can say is that now may be one of the better periods to give this a shot.

Dozens of countries are opening up and have created specific access for digital nomads. Some have even created specific hubs and villages to make it easier to mingle with others. Plus, by leaving your current sofa and exploring more of the world, you are reducing your costs and potentially giving back to the revitalization of local economies hit by Covid.

As companies become more flexible on hybrid and remote working, there have never been more opportunities to work from wherever you like.

Featured photo credit: Peggy Anke via unsplash.com


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