Is the dream of the digital nomad dead?

Join Lauren Razavi on stage at TNW 2021 while hosting a panel on “Hustle Culture and the Burnout Generation”.

With the closure of borders and the rise of remote working, the rules of the game changed overnight. For digital nomads, this has brought unexpected challenges – and new opportunities.

Closed borders, national lockdowns, travel restrictions, fewer and more expensive flights. It sure seems like a bad time to be a digital nomad. Yet in the emerging post-pandemic landscape, more people are working remotely than ever before and general interest in nomadic lifestyles is skyrocketing. So how did we get here and what happens next?

The first digital nomads

The digital nomad movement began in the 2010s, when remote workers from North America and Western Europe began to move to lower-cost destinations including Thailand, Indonesia and Colombia. Inspired by Tim Ferriss bestseller The 4 hour work week, these early adopters combined online work and international travel, building careers and lives on the road.

When the pandemic struck in March 2020, many nomads returned to their countries of origin to await the end of the crisis with their friends and family. A smaller number continued to travel, albeit more slowly and with new restrictions on where they could go. Interestingly, however, the nomads found themselves with an unfair advantage: They are some of the most experienced remote workers in the world and had the expertise and knowledge to guide the global hub to the distance.

Remote work and travel

Dutch entrepreneur Pieter Levels, founder of the city ranking site Nomad List, predicts that there will be a billion nomads by 2035. In the wake of the pandemic, he could be right. All kinds of businesses are starting up “Work from anywhere” policies, and people are move to “Zoom Cities” in the United States and “digital nomadic villages” in Europe.

Today there are more remote workers than ever before, giving many more people the opportunity to envision a lifestyle change. Research by MBO Partners found that 10.9 million Americans already have identify as digital nomads, 19 million more plan to become nomadic within three years, and another 64 million plan to do so. If these numbers prove to be correct, 30% of America’s population could be digital nomads by the middle of the decade.

Nomadic visa

Adding to the fury, a growing number of countries are actively competing to attract talent from a distance. Policymakers hope to replace tourists with remote workers, and from climate to affordability, there are clear incentives for people to consider becoming nomads.

Barbados and Estonia were among the first nations to launch “nomadic visas” in response to the pandemic. Such visas allow remote workers to settle in the country for up to 12 months, marking a change from the short-term tourist visas that nomads used to travel in the beginning. Innovation has been concentrated in major capitals like London, Paris and New York over the past decade, but new competitors could take their place in the years to come.

Living subscription

Hotel brands also have responded with experimental subscription products. WeWork introduced a global coworking pass, while Airbnb chose 12 attendees to spend a year living in rental apartments through the platform. European hotel brands Zoku and citizenM have launched room subscriptions, giving guests flexibility in their locations in different cities.

Slow travel was on the rise before the pandemic, and border restrictions made too frequent travel more difficult, increasing the trend. Remote worker travel is not limited to vacation days, which not only makes it possible, but also desirable, to spend months, if not years, in one place. The tourism of tomorrow may be more like a temporary expatriate’s life than a two-week break in the sun.

As borders reopen, the digital nomad’s dream is not dead. In fact, it’s only just getting started. Remote working has unlocked new incentives and opportunities for designing a different way of life – the question now is how quickly people will act on it.

This story was originally published on lraz.io. Check it out here.

Lauren Razavi is an award-winning writer, speaker and activist. She was one of the first to adopt remote working and has been a digital nomad since 2013. Her first book, Global Natives: the new frontiers of work, travel and innovation, is available for pre-order now.

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