Opinion: Digital nomads don’t sit on the beach and travel all the time – this is what life really looks like


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When the COVID-19 pandemic clears up and borders reopen, more people who have had a taste of remote working may wonder how far they could go. Our research on digital nomads – extremely remote workers who leave their homes, cities, and most of their possessions to lead what they call ‘location-independent’ lives – highlights what it takes to make it all happen. by shattering some common myths.

Although articles in the media often describe digital nomads as rich, few of those we have met or interviewed in Bali, Indonesia, one of the world’s largest digital nomadic communities, fit this pattern.

Much more often we have observed hard-working digital nomads, working freelance to pay bills while trying to start businesses they are passionate about. Aside from the small share of trust funders and retired executives, most of the people we met had left jobs working long hours in expensive cities and setting aside little savings. While not entirely broke, almost every digital nomad we encountered had to work steadily to survive.

The truth about what it takes? Bring work. Whether they had a full-time job on the road or a part-time freelance project, those who left home with paid work in hand were much more easily adapting to their new lives as digital nomads.

For those making a fresh start, top digital nomadic destinations like Bali and Chiang Mai, Thailand have a cost of living far lower than Australia, the United States and Western Europe, and even a few small concerts paid for in western currency can make a world. difference in reducing the anxieties of earning enough to get by. We met many nomads in Bali living what they considered to be a comfortable life with the equivalent of around $ 12,000 to $ 18,000 per year.

Myth # 2: digital nomads couldn’t cut it into the ‘real world’

Most of the digital nomads we interviewed were successful at work – at least by their employers’ standards. We were struck by the number of digital nomads whose employers made efforts to retain them as they prepared to leave. Carol, a 37-year-old Australian employee at a tech start-up, was shocked that after telling her boss she was leaving to travel and work online, he said: “We don’t want you to go… just log in and work wherever you are. ”

Carol (all names are pseudonyms, per research protocols) kept a job she loved and got the lifestyle she hoped for.

Realizing that their working lives were not improving even as they paid more and more “dues” in supposedly fulfilling roles, digital nomads quit their desk jobs and took control of their destinies.

As Norman, 37, a digital nomad and freelance marketer from Western Europe, put it: “Companies like Google that are trying to appeal to millennials and others just think they can do it. a ping-pong table in the lobby, and people will be happy there. No.”

What does it take to get this treatment? In a word, skills. Nomads with strong professional skills and knowledge of how to apply them from a distance have been most successful. The average digital nomad we met was in his early 30s, with around eight years of work experience.

Myth # 3: digital nomads never work more than four hours a week

Tim Ferriss’ best-selling Bible for digital nomads, mistakenly titled “The 4-Hour Work Week,” has led many to equate the phenomenon with a life of pure leisure. On the other hand, we have frequently observed digital nomads working as many or more hours as in their former lives in order to successfully reinvent themselves as freelancers and entrepreneurs.

As Brandi, a 32-year-old American digital nomad, told us, “I don’t want to work four hours. I love what I do and want to do it. I am happy to work. I don’t try to take time off from work. ”

While many don’t think of it as work, digital nomads also spend a lot of time networking, developing their skills, and working on professional development projects. The concentration of digital nomads in the trades of technology, marketing, e-commerce and coaching, broadly defined, helps them easily understand what other people are doing and learn from others’ strategies.

MarketWatch / Oxford University Press photo illustration |, Carmon Rinehart


Myth # 4: digital nomads are always on the move (or in the pool)

Traveling is a big draw to being a digital nomad, and nomads fill their social media feeds with ‘office of the day’ photos of the beach, pool, or paddy field. But the truth is that successful nomads often find that they are most productive when based in one location.

Ed, an experienced American digital nomad living in Chiang Mai, says that “honestly you can go backpack-free for a while and post those ‘office of the day’ photos. But no one I have ever met is as productive when they are on the move all the time as when they are not. And I think they’re lying if they say they are.

We encountered a few digital nomads dedicated to long periods of very aggressive travel schedules, but many preferred to think of themselves as ‘location independent’ – ready to travel at any time, but also aware that they could benefit from it. more advantages. of their freedom from certain places by staying longer in a place of their choice.

We found that digital nomads often stayed in Bali for the duration of their two-month visit visas, left for travel periods ranging from a day to a few weeks, and then returned with new visa clocks to the famous Bali’s digital nomad community.

In the longer term, digital nomads often seem to find one or a few communities of nomadic companions on which to base their journeys.

Rachael A. Woldoff, professor of sociology at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, and Robert C. Litchfield, associate professor of economics and business at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, are the authors of “Digital nomads: in search of freedom, community and meaningful work in the new economy. ”

Also read: Hundreds of Americans jumped at the chance to move their offices to Barbados as part of the ‘Welcome Stamp’ program

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