What is a digital nomad? A digital nomad is not only someone who is freed from the traditional workplace by means of mobile tech, but who is driven and passionate about completing quality work without compromising on experiencing different parts of the country or world.
Though I’ve known I was born to be a writer since kindergarten, it would take twenty more years before I’d find my second love: travel. After putting aside enough money to move to New York, I landed an editorial gig. And then, once I stowed away enough in savings to get my passport — and get out of the country — at the age of 25, I touched down in France, my first European country. And from the moment I looked up in awe at the Eiffel Tower, I was hooked. I spent the next three years jetting off as much as I could, exploring Spain, England, Denmark, Belize and Costa Rica to name a few.
But the more I took off, the less I wanted to return, and I started to look for an opportunity to make travel a more frequent and well, permanent, lifestyle. One chat with a co-worker and a Google search later, and I found myself applying for Remote Year. This company organizes travel for location-independent professionals by providing apartments, co-working spaces, cultural immersion experiences, and travel buddies. I was accepted into the program and took it as a sign to take that leap of faith every freelancer must bravely embrace. I quit my full-time gig as an editorial director, paid the deposit, bought a one-way ticket, and well, 23 countries and 18 months later, I’m so grateful I gave the digital nomadic life a try.
I’m not the only one either — considering more and more contractors are finding ways to take their work abroad. Even if they aren’t adopting the organized travel trend like Remote Year, a bustling expat community in various cities around the world makes it easy to set up shop anywhere. Most freelancers — especially writers — don’t need much more than laptop and a Wi-Fi connection to build their business. If you’ve seen these superstars posing with their MacBook and a fresh coconut at some beach in Thailand and wondered how they do it — our new series will show you the ropes.
From what a digital nomad is exactly to how to build a bustling, productive and lucrative lifestyle from remote work, you can figure out if it’s best for you. First up? Finally, a definition for this emerging sector of professionals.
So, what is a digital nomad?
One of the greatest challenges of preparing for Remote Year was figuring out what to pack. Though I tend to be a carry-on-only kind of gal for most trips — when you have 12 months to think about, it’s a different story. What I quickly learned a few months in, however, is how little I actually need to live and be productive. With my laptop, a quality set of headphones, a VPM, a hotspot and a mouse, I could meet any deadline or client demand. In a sense, this is what becoming a digital nomad is all about: releasing traditional constrictions or requirements on what it means to be a successful professional.
As fellow travel writer and former nomad Elizabeth Blasi puts it, being a DN gives you the ability to cut ties from a desk, landline telephones and a cubicle office, and to take your career into your own hands.
“It’s someone who is driven and passionate about completing quality work without compromising on experiencing different parts of the country or world,” she continues. “Perceived as a ‘work from home’ mentality, digital nomads are anything but. They surround themselves with people from all different backgrounds. Some join clubs and communities local to the region or area their working from, while others sign up for co-working spaces.”
Though it could be a lonely type of existence, since you don’t have coworkers per se, Blasi says it’s actually a challenge to become more collaborative with fellow travelers without being rooted to one particular location or gig.
What are the benefits digital nomading?
Apart from the sheer wonder that comes with exercising wanderlust daily, taking your career on the road can provide surprising benefits. From the company you keep to the experiences you’re able to indulge in, your mind is challenged and stretched as far and wide as you travel.
1. Ancillary financial benefits
But in addition to shaping your personal and professional perspective, freelancers also experience numerous financial benefits. These include the foreign income exclusion tax, which applies for up to $100,000 annually if you stay out of the country 330 of 365 days. If you qualify, you’re exempt from certain taxes, which a trusted accountant can explain for your personal work.
Another benefit, according to management consultant Cosette Haugen, is not having an annual rent contract, which allows you more ebb and flow in your income. And when you’re buying food, navigating trains and cars and hopping flights abroad, you’ll often found cheaper rates on nearly everything. For those freelancers building their empire, it’s a smart way to start without having too many financial demands to worry about.
2. Personal freedom
Another perk, according to co-founder of Wordly Wanderers, Molly Malarkey, is freedom. Though, sure, as a freelancer, dictating your own schedule is a benefit no matter where you are, there’s a difference when you have the world outside your door. The motivation to complete your assignments and hop on a temple tour or take a yoga class on the beach in Bali will only supercharge your productivity.
As Malarkey puts it, when you’re a digital nomad you have the ability to consciously choose what you want to do everyday. One morning, you can spend hours hiking to a nearby peak and work in the evening. While the next day, you could work until noon and then take a quick flight to a new destination. “You are free to simply do and be what feels right moment to moment. You can stay in once place for as long as you like and leave when you feel satiated,” she adds.
3. Living with a broader sense of family
For consultant Chanel Stoyle, developing a like-minded network and traveling family supported both her career and her personal growth as a nomad. “Nothing will replace your existing family and friendship networks, but having people I loved in the same timezone and the same geographic location not only helped me through the low moments, but we also had amazing adventures, shared all the little — and big — wins, and made some absolutely incredible memories together,” she explains.
Even once you’ve packed up your bags to return home if you choose, these people will continue to be your friends and perhaps, bring in new business for your company. If you think of the unforgettable traveling moments you’ve had, you probably feel tied to the people you shared them with. These kind of bonds are difficult — if not impossible — to replicate in a networking conference room.
4. Evolving your sense of personal balance
For those who are still adjusting to the ups and downs of slow and heavy months of freelancing, Stoyle says traveling can do wonders for your ability to go with the flow. Or in other words, to balance your attitude through whatever blunders come your way.
“Things will always go wrong, and there’s so much we can’t control. But most of the time we can control how we react to it. One of the big lessons for me as a digital nomad was learning to not just take the bad with the good and roll with it, but also genuinely appreciating the value of adversity in making me grow as a person,” she shares. “And hey, sometimes those setbacks lead to unexpected but wonderful experiences or the most ridiculous stories.”
For Blasi, the greatest benefit of being a digital nomad as a writer was the endless source of creativity. Night markets, vineyards, beaches, cobblestone streets and the chatter of various languages all feed the writer’s soul. “By surrounding myself with people of all different cultures and backgrounds, I’m able to see life a little differently than by following my own straight and steady path,” she explained. You can’t reap the same source of ideas by sitting at home — but you can experience it firsthand as location-independent freelancer.
Next up, we’ll highlight digital nomadic writers who have mastered the on-the-go lifestyle, all while building their bylines across the globe.