What is a digital nomad?

The BBC has called digital nomads “professionals who work online and therefore don’t need to tie themselves to one particular office, city, or even country.”

Reddit’s r/digitalnomad subreddit says “Digital Nomads are individuals that leverage technology in order to work remotely and live an independent and nomadic lifestyle.”

Wired has a slightly longer definition:

Digital Nomads can be defined as people who shun nine-to-five, office-based work routines and decide to go “location independent”. Some of them – the Instagram-dwelling type – are just young globetrotters eager to spend a couple of years working remotely from a tropical beach; more seriously, though, digital nomads are high-value freelancers and consultants, mobile entrepreneurs and company employees that decide to embrace mobility and work from outside the office – from their homes, in other cities or countries, or in cosy coworking spaces.

In the book, I define a digital nomad as a person who lives nomadically (or travels at will) and works digitally while traveling.

It is, in many ways, a rewiring of the fabric of how life is for people. Since this is still such a new way of working and living, there’s more than one term that tries to address it:

  • ‘Telecommuting’ and ‘teleworking’ were commonly used during the 1980’s and 1990’s, but today they feel like relics from those eras.
  • ‘Lifestyle design’ addresses how one might live, but it says nothing how one works.
  • ‘Remote work’ addresses how one might work while traveling, but it says nothing about how one lives.
  • ‘Location Independent’, a term coined by Lea Jovy (née Woodward), works for some people since it implies they travel and work.

While I acknowledge the term ‘digital nomad’ is a cliché to some, it best encompasses both sides of how one lives and works.

A digital nomad lives nomadically — traveling as they like, where they like, for an unfixed amount of time. Some nomads will choose to travel for a part of the year, then use an apartment or house as a base for the rest of the year. They need not be constantly traveling to be nevertheless thinking about and planning their next stop, their next trip, and so on.

A digital nomad works digitally — meaning your work and money-making endeavors are typically done on your computer or smartphone and through an internet connection. They’re not usually tied to your physical location, though some gigs might be.

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What do digital nomads want?

Ask 100 digital nomads and you’ll hear 100 different answers.

This is a classic example of what happens when each person defines their adventure for themselves instead of going off of some rigid, prescribed definition. The better question to ask here is ‘What would your life look like if you could freely chase what you want, without limitations?’

Digital nomads want to live their life their way, on their terms. The digital nomad lifestyle is one that’s consciously and proactively chosen every step of the way. As a result, it will feel different to many people because of how defined their lifestyle is based on their job, their culture, their family, and their friends. Digital nomads redefine their connections to these elements by choosing which elements are worth keeping and which are not.

While there’s plenty of types and sub-types of digital nomads out there, two of the largest types are:

  • ‘Premium’ or ‘luxury’ nomads who enjoy the high life, the penthouse, and so on
  • ‘Budget’ or ‘backpacker’ nomads who focus on living cheaply

Beyond that, digital nomads work, live, eat, drink, socialize, party, travel, shop, engage with local cultures and traditions, and so on. They live according to their beliefs or religion, and they need not follow the traditions, gender roles, or beliefs of their friends or family if they don’t want to.

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What do digital nomads do for work?

Digital nomads work in many different fields in virtually every country on the planet. Their work is predominantly done on the internet, and can be done collaboratively with other people anywhere else on the planet. So long as you don’t have to physically touch someone or be in the same room as the person you’re working with, there’s probably a way to turn it into something a digital nomad can do.

Working as a digital nomad means you’ll be following at least one of these four paths:

  • Consultant — offer advice, counseling, or information to clients.
  • Employee — make stuff or offer a service for your employer.
  • Entrepreneur — run your own business, making products or providing services.
  • Freelancer — take gigs and deliver a product / service in order to be paid.

Some jobs are easier to take on the road, of course. Some of the most common jobs digital nomads have include:

  • Blogger / podcaster / video producer
  • Computer programmer / system admin (creating apps or keeping servers running)
  • Customer service, public relations, or marketing
  • Editor / proofreader / writer
  • Graphic designer / artist / photographer
  • Sales and marketing
  • SEO optimization or management
  • Social media management, content creation, or consulting
  • Teacher (in a classroom, via a webcam, or as part of an online course)
  • Virtual assistant
  • Website developer

A large part of Step 3 is a comprehensive list of things digital nomads are doing for work, along with examples and stories of people that do them.

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This is just getting good.

Hey, I’m Chris. That’s my book to the right, Becoming a Digital Nomad. It’s a step-by-step guide that helps you test and transition into the digital nomad lifestyle. It comes with access to 12 worksheets and access to a Facebook group to connect with other digital nomads.