Google Trends showed that worldwide interest in the term digital nomad was the highest in January 2021. Now in its second year, the pandemic crisis is causing dispirited workers to toy with the idea of traveling for work. Coronavirus immobilized the majority of the world’s population with several countries implementing lockdown to curb the spread. Schools closed and businesses were forced to downsize, if not totally shut down. People were cooped up in their homes and the world shifted to digital with students engaging in distance learning and corporate employers resorting to a work-from-home setup, or otherwise known as remote work.
But even with the easing of restrictions in some countries, it seems like digital is here to stay and workers are embracing it well. In a game of survival, the global workforce sees a new wave of brain drain happening since the virus took a toll on health and economies. Remote work is fast becoming the norm and digital nomadism is the icing on the cake.
The Shift to Remote Work
In The Evolution of the Employee, an article written by bestselling author and futurist Jacob Morgan, he prophetically described the future of work six years before the advent of the pandemic. Among several points, he emphasized flexibility— the ability to work anytime and anywhere to deliver quality output— and the use of any device as the key components to the great evolution.
True enough, big companies, such as those listed on the 30 Companies Switching to Long-term Remote Work, have initiated flexible work plans of varying degrees and combinations for their teams. Canva, the popular graphic design application, recently made news after it announced a new policy for its employees. Contrary to the traditional work setup, the Australian company asks workers to come to the office eight times a year. Meanwhile, companies such as Facebook, SAP, and Atlassian choose to trust their workers with a 100% remote work setup.
Joining the bandwagon are freelancers or independent contractors. Ordinary workers who are not employed at million-dollar companies or those who got laid off because of the current crisis are changing jobs to join what Morgan calls a freelancer economy. A recent Upwork survey discovered that about 10 million people in the US alone are considering doing freelance work. Armed with technical skills that do not require physical presence, these go-getters have the freedom to decide on the terms of their service. The perks of freelancing with a work-anywhere setup are driving job seekers and switchers to explore the possibilities of becoming a digital nomad.
The Digital Nomad
Investopedia.com defines digital nomads as location-independent people who use technology to perform their job, living a nomadic lifestyle. Often, they work in one place for a certain period of time with the option to change destinations as the need, or sometimes the want, arises.
The term was first used in the 1997 book Digital Nomad. Authors Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners somehow accurately predicted the significant role of technology in shaping the future of delivering results. However, the possibility was foreseen even in 1964 with sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of a world where communication would defy distance such that one can conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London.
Pros and Cons
As in all things, becoming a digital nomad has its pros and cons. There is the preconceived notion that it is all rainbows and butterflies for location-independent workers. That they are living trouble-free lives somewhere in the Pacific with sand on their toes is not always true.
Bri of Bucketlist Bri puts travel + work from literally anywhere in the world on the top spot of her pro list. Nothing beats the possibility of pinning an island on the world map and taking the first flight out to get to it. As long as there is a strong internet connection, there is no limit to the places you can go.
On the other hand, one of the disadvantages to becoming a digital nomad is the blurring of lines between personal and work life. There is the irony of seeming to be on a vacation but so much work to do means you instead spend your days in front of a laptop. Also, you cannot stop working because you need income to finance your mobile lifestyle. On her cons list, Bri mentions spending all her money on travel that there is none saved for the future.
The 3-step Guide
To become a digital nomad is no walk in the park. It is neither for newbies nor for the faint of heart but here are 3 simple steps that can jumpstart your career:
- Build Your Emergency Fund
While it looks fun to wake up to mornings in a postcard country, becoming a digital nomad requires a lot of preparation. That includes having the capacity to survive unpredictable circumstances no matter where in the world you are.
Before setting out on the journey of your lifetime, ensure that you have a special fund besides your savings for when you suddenly get sick or lose a job in the middle of a foreign land. How much should that be, you might ask? Wells Fargo recommends setting aside about three to six months’ worth of your expenses. Needless to say, it should be kept where you can conveniently access it even when you are a thousand miles across the globe. Just make sure that once you touch your emergency fund, replenish it dutifully and immediately.
- Map It Out
So you have stashed away your funds, what’s next? It is time to plan.
Where will you go? What will you do? Can your current job support your desire to become a certified digital nomad? These are some of the things to think about when drawing your blueprint. While risk-takers may argue that the beauty of a nomadic lifestyle lies in its spontaneity, it is still best to proceed with caution.
Research on digital nomad-friendly spots either within the country or without. Having a good internet connection and a stable power source is essential. Oh, and let us not forget about digital nomad visas and taxes. Some countries like Spain impose a hefty price on remote workers so that is another factor to consider. Nomadlist.com rates various places around the world using metrics such as cost, internet, fun, and safety. Pro tip: Join digital nomad communities for guide and respite from your daily routine.
- Leave and Cleave
The third step is a two-part process.
Leave. Now that you have built the basic foundation, are you ready to leave everything behind? Whether you decide to do KonMari and dispose of everything that does not spark joy or just leave temporarily to return after X amount of time, go minimalist and pack light. The charm of digital nomadism is based on the freedom to steer your ship. To be able to easily pick up your luggage whenever you have to move is already power on its own.
Cleave. Because a nomadic lifestyle is a commitment. Live it, love it, make it work. It is usually a long-term love-hate relationship that involves all facets of life including family if you have them in tow. It is also both an investment and a gamble.
Do you have what it takes to become a digital nomad? Think ahead and visualize if it is the lifestyle that you desire. If you thirst for work flexibility, freedom, and travel, then digital nomadism is the way to go. Take the plunge just like many remote workers did. Adventure awaits.
Written By: Frances De Guzman