I love that phrase. It evokes in me an image of a robot astride a camel … a T1000 Lawrence, if you will.
But since Jane and I got into the travel blogging thing, we’ve seen the term again and again. It’s used to describe people whose means of earning an income does not require them to be in a fixed place because they are part of the digital economy. And, as such, they are free to base themselves anywhere – short or long-term. All they need is a laptop and a reliable internet connection – which, let’s face it, is most places on the planet these days. Working days are spent on a PC or a Mac, including making calls and video-conferencing.
It’s easy to see the appeal. Income can be generated in hard currency and yet the cost of living can be pretty cheap in many beautiful places. Popular destinations for digital nomadism include southern India and South East Asia. As an example of the cost, when Jane was booking our hotels in Vietnam a couple of months ago, she was struggling to spend £30 a night. That’s much cheaper than a night in your own house in the UK – and somebody else is cleaning your plush room every day! Take a short term rental or AirBnB in South East Asia and it’s not hard to keep your entire monthly expenses down to £1,000 per couple. And that includes an allowance for getting there and back, assuming you’re staying a few months.
And, of course, you have the flexibility to explore the area you’re in from a local base. Proper travelling without the travelling. Site yourself in the right place, with easy access to a rail, bus and/or flight network and take yourself off for a long weekend, or even a week or two at a time.
For people with incurable wanderlust AND a line of work that can be undertaken remotely, this sounds very appealing. I have real admiration for those whose stories I’ve read where all possessions have been sold and a new way of living and working has been embarked upon. It takes courage and determination. Would it be for me? Well, in truth, the answer is equivocal.
I certainly have the wanderlust and I can do some of what I do (as a freelance business coach and management trainer) without being face-to-face. But factors including missing family and friends, being away from the many things I love about the UK and enjoying the social interaction of my work would hold me back. But, if the situation arose, I could envisage doing short stints as a digital nomad. I could see how it might extend a period of travelling by earning some cash whilst abroad. One month could lengthen to three, for instance, by fitting in some paid work.
I appreciate many people do not do work that would suit this kind of lifestyle. Most digital nomads I have read about have been freelancers for some time and, when based at home, would rarely need to venture out of the house. But maybe that applies to more and more of us these days.
Are you a digital nomad? Know anyone who is? What is the reality like?
Could you imagine yourself doing it? What would hold you back?
Please comment below, as I’d love to get a conversation going about this subject.
[By the way, while looking for a photo to accompany this post, I discovered that robot camel racing is actually a thing!]
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4 thoughts on “Nomadism in the 21st century”
Digital Nomad is definitely a buzz word (guilty), but the idea of it has appealed to me since I moved abroad six years ago. As the years have passed and I’ve read and researched more and more how to make a living from anywhere I have worked on my own plan to make it happen. My partners job is very much fixed. He is a soccer coach and so obviously this is something where we need to be somewhere. Me going digital has meant we can go anywhere his job takes us (which is currently Mexico!) and I don’t have to sacrifice my career at all.
That’s interesting that you’ve developed it for yourself to make moving with your partner easy. So I’m guessing you’re not moving on very regularly – hopefully not more than once a season! 😉
The interesting thing for me (Nigel) is that some of my work is definitely face-to-face (running a management training course, for instance), but even now, I regularly spend 2-3 days a week working from home.
Thanks for your input. It’s a great take on the subject.
It is a fascinating concept and so amazing that it is possible nowadays to work from just anywhere. I can’t imagine it for myself right now but who knows maybe in the future …
If I think of the jobs that my friends and family do, there are many where this lifestyle wouldn’t work. But, equally, there are many where it would. I was thinking only yesterday that I would miss some of the most enjoyable parts of my work (such as running management training courses) if I was to be a full-time digital nomad. And I’m not sure I’d want to give that up.But the idea of extending travel with the odd day of billable work abroad does appeal. -Nigel.