The proliferation of digital innovation over the past couple of decades has been nothing short of staggering. New technologies and solutions are introduced at a blistering pace. With the internet, social networking, the cloud, mobile devices, and the internet of things, the world is a more connected place than ever before. It has given rise to entirely new constructs and lifestyles within the business world.
At the core of this evolution, you’ll find freelancing and online entrepreneurship. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover a growing trend that millennials fondly refer to as “digital nomadism.” And though it’s not right for everyone, it could be something that magnetizes you to a career of meaning and purpose.
What is a Digital Nomad?
A digital nomad is best described as an independent worker who voluntarily embraces a lifestyle of location-independent work that allows them to travel the world and conduct business remotely via connected technology.
According to one estimate, 4.8 million independent workers and entrepreneurs consider themselves digital nomads. Another 17 million professionals aspire to embrace this lifestyle eventually.
In terms of demographics, digital nomads are a fairly diverse group with eclectic interests and professional pursuits. While they tend to skew young and male, 54 percent are over the age of 38, and one-third are women. Common professions include marketing, advertising, copywriting, and IT. There’s a roughly 50-50 split between full- and part-time workers.
The Benefits of Being a Digital Nomad
There’s a reason millions of people across the world gravitate towards digital nomadism. Some of the top perks and benefits include:
- See the world. Although it’s easier/cheaper than ever to travel the world, it seems like fewer people are taking the opportunity to venture out of their backyards. It has a lot to do with oppressive work scheduling and a lack of paid time off. As a digital nomad, you don’t have to compromise. You get the chance to integrate work and travel.
- Flexibility. Digital nomads tend to be freelancers, contractors, entrepreneurs, or business owners. It means they have the option to set their schedules and work when they want, which leads to flexibility in work hours, work location, deadlines, etc.
- Change. If you’re someone who quickly gets bored and loves the idea of change, the digital nomad lifestyle is right up your alley. As soon as you get bored with one location, hop on a train, plane, or bus and venture into a new landscape with new opportunities. Decide you have a fondness for a particular locale? Stay there indefinitely and enjoy the moment.
- Relationships. As a digital nomad, you’ll cross paths with diverse people from all over the world. You’ll meet locals, travelers, and fellow nomads. You may even find people who are in the same industry or niche, which could lead to business opportunities and mutually beneficial professional relationships. Over time, your connections could lead you to pick up free accommodations in other cities and countries.
- Meaning and purpose
- Above all else, digital nomadism injects meaning and purpose into life and work. No longer are you stuck pecking away at a keyboard in a cold corporate cubicle? The world becomes your desk, and life takes on a feeling of excitement and value that you’ve never experienced before.
Every individual gets something unique out of being a digital nomad. While these are the most common reasons people adopt this lifestyle, this is by no means a comprehensive list. You’ll undoubtedly discover your own set of pros.
The Downside of Digital Nomadism
Not everyone is cut out to be a nomad – even if it does come with the comforts of modern technology. Some of the possible negatives include:
- Lack of consistency. If you thrive on consistency, be prepared to have your life thrown upside down. From where you stay to where you work to what you eat, expect everything to change daily. Consistency is rarely found and quickly upheaved.
- Distractions. Your office becomes anywhere; you can find an internet connection. Which means you probably won’t have many private places to work. If you’re someone who needs focus, ubiquitous distractions may throw you off your game.
- It is a big challenge that is rarely discussed. But if most digital nomads are honest with themselves, they’ll admit that they struggle with loneliness.Because let’s face it no matter how much fun you’re having, it’s tough to be miles away from the comforts of home.
- FOMO. People often forget that digital nomads have to work. And when you’re in a foreign country with lots of new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences, trying to carve out a few hours to work can lead to severe FOMO (fear of missing out). You always feel like you’re making trade between work and adventure. This back and forth swings of emotions can be rough on your frame of mind.
- Expensive. Even if you’re staying in hostels and making your meals, travel can get costly. You can’t afford to carry around a bunch of items, which means you have to buy something every time you have a need. Saving money may be impossible. Even breaking is a challenge for some.
Again, your experience won’t be the same as the next person. While you’ll probably deal with one or two of these points of friction, you can also expect your challenges. It’s up to you to weigh them against the positives and make your own decision about the practicality of this lifestyle.
8 Tips for Succeeding as a Digital Nomad
Should you decide to find out what it’s like to live and work as a digital nomad, you need to be prepared. Here are some tips and suggestions for thriving in this new chapter of your life:
- Choose the Right Destinations
Be mindful of where you travel. In the early days of your digital nomad lifestyle, it’s best to stick with prosperous countries and regions that don’t command significant changes.
For example, it’s smart to start with English-speaking countries or countries where most of the locals speak English as a second language. Which ensures you can always communicate with someone.
It’s also wise to consider exchange rates and cost of living. At the moment, the American dollar goes far in nations like Colombia, Costa Rica, Hungary, Japan, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, South Africa, and Poland.
- Pack the Right Items
Digital nomads travel light. We’re talking a small carry-on piece of luggage and a backpack, which means space comes at a premium, and you have to be smart about what you pack. Every item should have a purpose.
In terms of clothing, pack things that you can mix and match. Neutrals and layers are ideal. One or two pairs of shoes are the maximum. In terms of technology and gadgets, things like chargers, rechargeable batteries, and medicine always make the cut. Anything that’s non-essential and can be purchased at your destination is best left behind.
- Use the Right Apps and Software
Your smartphone is your most powerful resource as a digital nomad. In fact, without your smartphone, it would be nearly impossible to make this lifestyle work. With the right apps and correct setup, you can conduct business safely, securely, and efficiently. Here are three specific recommendations:
- Evernote. This powerful app has so many different uses. It can be leveraged for note-taking, photo storing, project organizing, and dozens of other tasks. Best of all, it keeps everything in one place so that you don’t have to use dozens of apps to track down important information.
- Revolut. Sick and tired of bank fees and international transaction costs? Revolut is an alternative to digital banking that offers free international money transfers, instant payment notifications, and global fee-free spending.
- Google Translate. There are a lot of translation apps on the market, but Google’s version is simple, intuitive, and free. You can speak or type and get instant translations. You can even snap a picture of a sign, menu, or newspaper in a foreign language and have it immediately translated into English.
Depending on the line of work you’re in, there are certain apps you can use to improve your workflow and productivity daily. Go ahead and find the ones you like best.
- Find Community and Camaraderie
The worst thing you can do as a digital nomad is to isolate yourself. Before long, the loneliness will set in, and you’ll long for the warmth of home. Thankfully, most major cities around the world have pockets of travelers and digital nomads who share similar ideas and lifestyles.
Make it a point to find the community as soon as you get to a new location. If you’re staying at a hostel, this is relatively easy. The director of the hostel can probably point you in the direction of some different activities and meetup groups.
- Be Prepared for Travel Problems
The life of a digital nomad isn’t always as dreamy as it looks on a glossy Instagram feed. There are plenty of challenges and bumps in the road – particularly when it comes to traveling. Between delayed flights, missed connections, lost luggage, and miscommunication, it’s easy to get stressed out. The key is to be prepared and to take everything in stride. Problems typically work themselves out. Stay calm, but be proactive.
When speaking of travel-related issues, it’s essential to review your insurance before leaving the country. In most cases, your health insurance doesn’t cover extended travel in foreign countries. So it’s critical to pay for additional coverage as a protection against things like infections and doctor visits. You may even want insurance to cover things like canceled flights and theft. Numerous online insurance companies cater to insurance products specifically to digital nomads. Explore these options and protect yourself from the unknowns of travel.
- Learn to Love Free
As previously mentioned, traveling the world is expensive. You can stretch your budget further by utilizing free opportunities, which may include free walking tours, free museum admission on weekends, festivals, outdoor concerts, and holiday-inspired events. Experiences often bring more personal value than material things. Reject the American idea that you have to spend money to have fun. The best things in life often don’t have a price tag attached to them.
- Set Work Hours
One of the advantages of being a digital nomad is being able to set your schedule and live life according to your terms. That being said, it’s helpful to establish some consistency – particularly if you have to interact with customers and clients.
Setting work hours helps you stay organized and in rhythm. It also allows customers and business partners to know when and how to reach you. Even if it’s just one hour throughout the day, this little bit of structure is useful.
- Disconnect and Savor
By definition, digital nomads are highly connected. However, there is such a thing as being too connected. If you want to maximize your experiences while traveling, the best piece of advice is to disconnect and savor your surroundings.
Just as you set work hours, it’s highly recommended that you set hours away from work, email, social media, and digital devices, which enables you to be fully present in the moment. Digital pictures are great, but mental snapshots last a whole lot longer.
Live and Work on Your Terms
Millions of people consider themselves digital nomads. Millions more will adopt this lifestyle in the coming years. The opportunity and benefits are clear – as are the challenges. It’s up to you to determine whether or not this is something that fits your personality, career, and aspirations.
Digital nomadism is all about living and working on your terms. It’s about building a career without sacrificing the opportunity to see the world, diverse experience cultures, and create powerful relationships.
If it’s right for you, then, by all means, go for it.