About 300 miles off the coast of Morocco, a small archipelago appears to be the Portuguese version of the classic Hawaiian getaway.
On the one hand, there is a remarkable cultural bond between Madeira and its Pacific counterpart: immigrants from this autonomous region of Portugal introduced the ukulele to Hawaii in the 19th century. Then there is the tropical volcanic landscape, with great terrain for hiking and mountain biking. Now, the two island destinations hope to attract workers from remote areas to help support their largely tourism-driven economies, which have struggled throughout the ongoing pandemic.
In mid-December, Hawaii launched a long-term stay program allowing 50 incapacitated people to work there remotely. Madeira, which has maintained relatively low infection rates, launched a program earlier this month that takes the concept to another level – converting infrastructure in a coastal city to launch a digital nomad community.
Digital Nomads Madeira Islands is like a summer camp for adults. The program offers free coworking space and helps find accommodation that nomads rent privately. The organizers have dubbed it the first “digital nomad village” in the European Union.
A privileged class of workers have taken advantage of the disruption of the pandemic and the rise in remote working that has resulted in becoming nomadic. For some, it has been an experience full of “COVID heartbreak”, “travel shame” and even some controversial deportations. Responsible nomads have temporarily chosen a new home port, but many are planning their move after the pandemic. Advocates for digital nomads say these new workers are signaling a much bigger wave that will break as soon as travel restrictions ease.
âPeople are taking advantage of this new freedom they have to travel and work from different places,â says Gonalo Hall, a nomadic and remote working consultant who first presented the idea of ââa digital nomadic village to authorities in Madeira in September.[Thinking about a remote-work trip? Consider these tips first.]
At first, Hall framed the village as a way for struggling communities to replace lost tourism income. But he sees this pandemic pilot of a hundred nomads – most of whom come from across the European Union, all required to present negative coronavirus tests on arrival – as the start of a growing trend.
âI think this new wave of remote working will allow more and more people to [become digital nomads]âAt this point,â he suggests, âit’s only inevitable.
The pandemic has accelerated several predictions that Japanese technologist Tsugio Makimoto made two decades ago in his book “Digital Nomad”, one of the first known uses of the term. In the late ’90s, Makimoto said the digital revolution would ultimately eliminate the need to live near your employer – or have an employer at all.
In the case of Madeira, thousands of people from all over the world have expressed interest in joining the program at Ponta do Sol – far more than the few hundred organizers originally expected. Of those respondents, around 50 percent have decided to go nomadic because of the pandemic, Hall said.
New nomads say the pandemic has prompted them to take a more location-independent approach to their careers – sometimes out of necessity.
âThe pandemic forced me to stop and reflect on my life, and gave me time to develop myself as a ‘travel reducer’,â Kesi Irvin said in an email. After Covid-19 eliminated Irvin’s job as a host on sailing charters, she quickly had to pivot. As she had already built an Instagram following for her travel content, she decided to become a full-time blogger and then move to Budapest in September.
Pandemic travel restrictions halted the rapid pace of most nomads. But with growing concerns about the aviation industry’s carbon footprint, as well as the negative impact of overtourism, some nomads plan to slow their body roll even when they are able to travel more freely. It is a style of travel sometimes called “slowmad”.
âIn fact, I’ve never been a fan of the frenetic pace of some travelers,â Gabby Beckford, co-founder of the Black Travel Alliance, said in an email. She is best known on Instagram and TikTok as packslight.
A year ago, Beckford quit her 9-to-5 engineering job to travel, but the pandemic has prevented her from working remotely from her parents’ home in Virginia. At the start of 2021, she decided that she “couldn’t stay at home for another year”, so she moved to Dubai. There, she said, she is monitoring the number of cases. âWith the vaccine rolling out,â she says, âI’m giving myself a little time to see how things are goingâ. In the meantime, she is developing a plan for countries where she could “slow down” once public health conditions allow her to take her next step.
Nomads before the pandemic were primarily a millennial niche group, many of whom were promoting #DigitalNomadLife on Instagram. They lived in carry-on suitcases and often crossed borders every few weeks, at a rate set by the limitations of short-term tourist visas.
It was an era of “bromads” and “life hacks” popularized by self-help writers like Timothy Ferriss, who wrote the 2007 bestseller “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich. âFerriss preached a gospel ofâ geo-arbitrage â- the idea that money goes further inâ cheaper âplaces than San Francisco or New York.
If “overtourism” defines the negative effects of an overwhelming number of tourists, then “over-tourism” seems like a good way to describe what happened when this young class of jet-setters descended on popular destinations, from Bali and Berlin to Barcelona and Chiang Mai. , Thailand. With trendy online destinations and the influx of short-term rentals driving rents up, some cities have started cracking down on Airbnb to fight this brand of global gentrification.
But the economic crisis and the covid-19 pandemic appear to have changed the tone in many destinations. A new category of âdigital nomadic visasâ could allow foreigners to stay legally in one place for longer periods. Visas also allow countries to target more conscious nomads in the process.
Last summer, Estonia became the first country to announce a digital nomadic visa, which authorities say appeals to a different kind of traveler. âIf you’re the kind of digital nomad who wants to build lasting business relationships and friendships, a digital nomad visa can definitely put you in a more relaxed headspace when tackling social interactions,â says Florian Marcus, Digital Transformation adviser to the government agency e-Estonia.
So far, the small Baltic country has seen more than 10,000 people register for more information on its visa.
Related programs, including the Barbados ‘Welcome Stamp’ to Greece’s tax breaks for ‘digital migrants’ signal the international enthusiasm for enabling these highly mobile workers to stay longer than most nomads before. Croatia, a popular place for nomads during the pandemic, recently approved the first foreigner, an American, for its new 12-month visa program.
âFrom the start of the pandemic, I was asked what we can do to make Croatia a year-round destination,â says Jan de Jong. The Dutch-born, Zagreb-based entrepreneur wrote an open letter on LinkedIn to the Croatian Prime Minister last summer. “Seeing a global remote working trend accelerated by covid-19, I thought I would start welcoming remote workers to Croatia.”
His viral post ultimately inspired the country to become so far among the few in Europe to approve a temporary residence permit for digital nomads. âMany other countries will follow,â he predicts.
Before the pandemic, Madeira’s tourism sector was booming, with more than one million annual visitors. When designed with the participation of local people, nomadic villages have the potential to generate similar income to seasonal tourists, but with smaller numbers of long-term visitors, Hall says. He says community partnerships could help this new wave of newbies avoid making “the same mistakes” commonly made pre-pandemic nomads, such as “traveling too fast” and “not having a positive impact.” [on the locals]. “
âThese new people can learn from the more experienced people,â says Hall. “I don’t want all OGs. It would still be Bali. And I don’t want all newbies either. It would be a weird environment. This new mix is ââactually quite fun.”