What exactly is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who harnesses the power of the internet to work without a fixed location. Yep, it really is that simple. It could be an online English teacher, a tech-head coder, a copywriter, or an Instagram influencer, it really doesn’t matter. All that’s needed is the freedom to be wherever you like when you get to the “office”. There’s no commute. There’s no set attire (at least when you’re not on Zoom). It’s just you, your WiFi connection, a laptop and your skills.

Digital nomad statistics

Digital nomadism is on the up! There’s no doubt about it. Recent surveys found that a whopping 4.8 million Americans would put themselves in that category. Another industry leader expects up to 50% of the global workforce will be remote by the 2020s. Add to that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the introduction of 5G. Then, you’re looking at a perfect storm that’s set to see the DN lifestyle go mainstream.

Digital nomad jobs

These days, there are more digital nomad jobs than you can shake a USB stick at. Seriously, remote work has become the norm in a real myriad of sectors. Traditional nomad jobs include the likes of photographers and travel bloggers (who blazed a trail back in the nineties and noughties).

But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Developments in internet speeds mean career coaching, TEFL teaching, business consultancy, property marketing, and more video-interfacing professions can now be done without a fixed office space. Meanwhile, the global freelancer platform Upwork notes that its biggest growth areas are in sectors as diverse as urban design, how-to video production, CAM-CAD and remote taxation filing. It’s endless, folks!

The best cities for digital nomads

First, it was Chiang Mai, then it was Canggu, then it was Budapest – where’s next? The phenomenon of the digital nomad city has seen certain locations transform over the last two decades. They’ve gone from classic urban spaces to metropolises famed among the DN crowd for their international vibe, good internet connections and attractive work-life balance. They’re some of the best places to begin that nomad journey if you’re thinking of diving in…

Chiang Mai

The ancient Kingdom of Lanna is the hub of northern Thailand. Most consider it to be the original digital nomad city. It’s easy to see why. Chic condos with pools can be had for $400 a month. There are oodles of great cafés with hand-roasted coffee, vegan eats, and workstations. Oh, and weekends can be about partying with other digital nomads, hitting the Chiang Mai night bazaar, or even escaping on a flight to the gold-sand beaches of the Thai islands down south.

Canggu

Not so much a city as a surf town, Canggu went from remote Balinese getaway to mega digital-nomad hub seemingly overnight sometime in the last decade. These days, it’s awash with hip villas and surf camps, beach bars and co-working hubs. In the morning, nomads can be seen catching the waves in Batu Bolong. By day, they hit buzzy cafés like Nude and Cinta (spots practically designed for laptop warriors!).

Budapest

Digital nomads with their compasses pointed at Europe now flock to Budapest. Why? Well, Hungary’s capital is cheap, so you get plenty of bang for your buck. It’s also a rising star on the gastronomy and bar scene, famed for its ruin clubs and party hostels (yep, there are lots to do after dark). Come morning, you can soothe the hangover in one of the handsome spas, which harness the healing waters of the natural springs that lurk beneath the city.

Lisbon

What’s not to love about Lisbon? Beaches on the doorstep, surf just up the coast, strong internet, brilliant café culture – there’s pretty much all a DN could want in these parts. It shows, too, because remote workers have embraced the Portuguese capital like one of their own. Platforms like NomadX are hailing it as the new home of the global traveller and worker.

Tallinn

Estonia has long had a reputation for leading the world in tech innovation. It created a mini-revolution for digital nomads when it instituted the e-residency program back in 2014, letting remote workers gain access to banking, company registration rights, and payroll without the need for a permanent address. There’s talk the government are going even further, with a fully-fledged nomad visa in the works for 2020/21. Watch this space. In the meantime, check out that handsome medieval old town and its fairy-tale gatehouses.

Medellin

Medellin is a living, breathing example of the transformative power of the digital nomad lifestyle. Once the feared home of Pablo Escobar, this Colombian metropolis is now about creative co-working hubs and sleek penthouse apartments that don’t break the bank. It’s been hailed as the “nomad mecca of the Americas”, thanks largely to its affordability and electrifying nightlife scene.

What’s the digital nomad lifestyle?

There’s no hard and fast rule about how you should live as a digital nomad. There are all sorts of ways to go remote. You could even stay at home (digital homad, if you will). So long as you work online and don’t need to be anywhere to complete the nine-to-five grind, you’re in. Of course, most nomads choose to travel…

Most DNs move around monthly, bi-monthly or at least twice a year, but this changes from person to person and place to place. Platforms like Airbnb have made short-term rentals viable for location-independent types thanks to generous monthly discounts, so there’s nothing stopping you hitting Lisbon for 30 days, moving to Bangkok for the next 30, and passing onto New Zealand for the next.

Some DNs are slow travellers that aim to keep their globetrotting ethical with fewer flights and low-carbon A-to-Bs. Others are adventure nomads who come with the surfboard and the hiking gear in tow but skip cities in favour of Alpine villages and Ecuadorian beach towns. It’s really what you make of it.

Digital nomad advantages

Living the digital nomad lifestyle is pretty awesome. Obvious pros: You get to be where you want when you want. You’re your own boss but have the added advantage of being able to flick open the office in a hammock on a Philippine island. But those aren’t the only plus sides. You also get:

  •       Access to a growing jobs market that prioritises location-independent work.
  •       No commutes.
  •       No office wear (ditch that suit and those pencil skirts, wahoo!).
  •       To choose your own schedule.
  •       To choose your own holidays.
  •       An exciting day-to-day – you can afford to be spontaneous.

Digital nomad disadvantages

We’re not going to pretend that the life of a digital nomad is all peaches and cream. It’s most certainly not. This lifestyle, like all big lifestyle changes, brings some downsides to boot. They’re worth bearing in mind if you’ve been on a diet of unreal Instagram shots and only unreal Instagram shots. Just think about it…

  •       No routine, which can be fun, but also makes it hard to stay motivated.
  •       You can be isolated and find it difficult to forge long-term friendships.
  •       It’s tiring travelling ALL the time!
  •       The same pitfalls as all freelance work – you’ve got to proactively look for projects to keep up the income.

Digital nomad tips

So, you’re thinking of plunging into the world of the digital nomad? Good for you. Things are about to change. They’re about to get exciting. You’re about to have the whole globe at your fingertips. Talking of tips…these little pointers could help you steer clear of the pitfalls of nomad life:

  •       Plan ahead – Spontaneity is great, but there’s no good getting somewhere and finding the internet is rubbish and there’s nowhere to stay. Do your research and always pick your destinations wisely.
  •       Don’t expect an easy ride – It’s a myth that DN life is easy. A complete myth. In fact, a whole load of nomads work way harder than their office-based compadres. Hours can be long and gruelling; this isn’t early retirement.
  •       Travel slow – Just because you can travel, doesn’t mean you have to travel. Taking it slow is the real reward of a digital nomad. You can be in a country for a whole month and not have to worry about getting back to reality.
  •       Stay healthy – It’s easy to let go of yourself when travelling. But you’re not on an extended gap year! You’re living life. Try to keep up a little of that exercise routine. Do morning yoga. Take breaks from the laptop when you can. Go running. Go hiking.

Essential digital nomad equipment

Location-independent workers might not need a sprawling office with a canteen and a staff room, but they do rely on a few pieces of key equipment. Some important bits of tech are:

  •       Laptop (of course!) – this is the “office” of the nomad. Most like to keep it under 14″ on the screen, and nice and light to help with all that traveling.
  •       A mouse – A load of tasks are way harder if you need to rely on the touchpad. Get a decent mouse and use it!
  •   Camera – It doesn’t matter if you’re a travel blogger or not, the chances are you’ll see some awesome things as you move around the world. It would be a shame not to document them.
  •   Plug converters – We’d recommend a global convertor. Getting to a country and finding you can’t charge your gear is a nightmare.
  •   A good backpack – DNs live their lives out of a backpack. Opting for a sturdy, premium brand like Osprey or The North Face is key to keeping things going.
  •   WiFi hotspots – Heading into nature? Going to the world’s remoter corners? A WiFi hotspot could be your chance to get connected and working.

Apps and software for digital nomads

It’s no secret that the life of a digital nomad is all online – the clue is in the name! That’s why apps and software are super important. There are some tools you’ll simply have to install and get used to. They pop up time and time again:

  •   Slack – Working on a team? Slack is a must. Chat catchups, project planning, Google Docs integration – it’s all here.  
  •   Basecamp – A leading project-management app that’s all web-based. This is great for tying up several divergent strands of a business and linking different departments and experts together.
  •   Trello – The modern version of the in pile and the out pile, Trello is what you need to keep track of tasks there are to do and tasks you’ve already done. DNs will use this one religiously.
  •   EverNote – Idea? Story? Opening for the next travel blog? Whatever it is that comes to mind, be sure to jot it down on EverNote. It’s essentially the 21st-century answer to the old journo pad.
  •   Google Docs (obviously!) – From shared spreadsheets to word documents, the G suite now covers all areas of online content creation. Get to grips with this before you become a digital nomad, because you’re likely to be using it a lot!

Must-know digital nomad websites

There are oodles of websites that can help digital nomads. Some offer resources on the location-independent lifestyle. Others provide access to global accommodation listings. And then, of course, there are the all-important jobs portals, where you can find work and feed your income. Let’s take a look at a few every DN should know about:

  •       Upwork – the world’s largest online portal for freelance jobs. They take a 10-20% cut of profits, but there’s no bigger array of opportunities.
  •       Airbnb – The go-to place for digital nomad accommodation. Airbnb has everything from beach shacks in Cali to condos in Bangkok. You’ll also find hefty discounts on month-long or long-term rentals.
  •       NomadList – One of the first and best destination portals for digital nomads. This one ranks all the major nomad spots around the globe with ratings on internet speed, price, pollution, safety and more. Come here to research your next home.
  •       Google Translate – You’ll probably need this one somewhere along the way.
  •       We Work Remotely An upcoming resource for freelance work that has heavy vetting procedures for job posters, which means legit positions with decent money.