What it Means to be a Digital Nomad

Photo by  Slava Bowman

Photo by Slava Bowman

There’s an ongoing debate within the digital nomad community about what, exactly, to call ourselves. We’re a diverse group made up of veritable citizens of the world who can be from any country, background or industry. Freelancers, remote workers, offshore employees and other online professionals all co-exist under the same umbrella.

But a digital nomad defined is simply someone who can perform his or her job from anywhere with an internet connection.

It’s a tad ironic for a subculture that thrives outside of the status quo to be debating the merits of a label, but one thing’s for sure:

Digital nomads hold one primary core value in common: self-sovereignty.

The ultimate goal of the location-independent lifestyle is freedom. Control over one’s destiny. Digital nomads are so passionate about this concept that we often eschew an actual physical home base. Because we can.

Sure, there’s already a (rather cliché) laptop-lifestyle stereotype making its way around the Internet. But what does it really mean to be a digital nomad — a term that’s used so broadly — from a casual buzzword to defining a movement?

Let’s break it down into three main defining characteristics:

1. Digital nomads have choices

We choose what we do for work, when we do it, where we do it and with whom. We decide what to create, who to serve, who to collaborate with and how to launch our products and services.

We determine our own WHY — Why we are on the planet? How can we use our talents, passions and skill sets to make a living and feel fulfilled?

We can even decide to pursue a field that interests us, become experts in it and then monetize it (!!). Let that sink in for a minute. This concept completely flips the conventional system on its head.

For humans in 2018 and beyond, living “lives of quiet desperation” in jobs we hate is no longer required. Beginning to live deliberately and purposefully has never been more accessible.

But that’s just the beginning -

Digital nomads determine our cost-of-living and climate. We decide how to structure our day: whether to waste it away in a hammock or shift into a level of intense focus and productivity that’s difficult to replicate in today’s traditional office.

We decide which time zone to live in and which one to work in. We know they don’t have to be the same.

We can make adjustments regarding where we pay our taxes and thus what that tax obligation may be (dependent on many factors; consult a professional).

We dictate when our work week starts, ends and when we take vacations or sabbaticals. We decide where or if we may want to apply for permanent residency in a different country.

In short, we have ultimate freedom. Freedom that truly boggles the mind and has never before been so accessible to so many. A freedom that global society is beginning to wake up to, little by little. A freedom that’s so absolute and so compelling that it’s almost impossible to define in words.

This liberty isn’t bound by national borders or cultural norms. It’s only constrained by the limits of our imaginations.


Photo by  Jared Rice

Photo by Jared Rice

2. Digital nomads face challenges

Digital nomads aren’t just paving the way in our careers and personal lives — we’re blazing a trail for society at large. However, we’re barely beginning to form a collective identity as a subset of the general population. Being fully understood and supported remains a pipe dream.

The concept of digital nomadism is so new that scientific research is scant compared to more established, saturated fields of study.

Google “digital nomad documentary” and you’ll find the lone yet aptly-titled, One-Way Ticket. Naturally, it wasn’t created by a production company or film studio. A Korean blogger-cum-nomad named Youjin Do conceived the idea. She became intrigued by the lifestyle she found herself in. So she bought some camera equipment and started documenting how the people she met along on her journey were living.

This make-it-work attitude exemplifies the mindset of a typical digital nomad.

Do was a freelancer writer who:

  • Had the idea to make a documentary about digital nomads
  • Put it on the Internet to beta test interest in the concept
  • Crowdfunded it to fruition through other digital nomads
  • Landed interviews with everyone from Tim Ferriss to the founders of companies like Basecamp and Wordpress
  • Taught herself the entire filmmaking process from the ground up, including distribution and getting into film festivals

What I want to illustrate is that digital nomads are “figuring it out” in more ways than one. We’re on our own, but we’re not alone.

Digital nomads have many of the same challenges facing everyone in modern-day life but magnified.

In the absence of an organized support system, nomads are helping each other define and solve problems themselves.

Issues pertaining to:

  • Mental health
  • Productivity
  • Dating & relationships
  • Personal finance
  • Loneliness & isolation
  • Long-term international travel
  • Personal development & identity
  • Tax, residency & citizenship
  • Community & philanthropy
  • Expatriate affairs

So we have choices and challenges. What else?

3. Digital nomads have a responsibility

We have many, in fact.

A responsibility to redefine work and what’s possible.

To set an example for the future of humanity.

To rise to the challenge of realizing our highest potential — AND to prove it can be done in a healthy way that helps advance global society.

Digital nomads have a responsibility to create and make an impact without traditional limitations holding us back.

To help others — not solely through our business offerings — but in our capacity to integrate with our local communities and promote cross-cultural understanding.

We can use our creativity and digital acumen for good causes as well as personal development or expanding our businesses. We know how to organize, raise money, gather support and generate visibility online. We’re capable of bringing awareness to an infinite array of global issues and philanthropic endeavors.

We have a responsibility to ourselves and to humanity to seize the opportunity we have at this moment in time, rather than squander it.

If we’re collectively questioning “the system,” turning it inside out and transforming it, then we can show that the current, generally-accepted way of living is not the only way forward. Something better is possible.

Instead of amassing enough passive income streams or crypto holdings to live out the rest of our days in a Balinese villa, we can stay engaged. We can set about furthering a veritable quantum leap in the expectations, output and happiness level of society at large.

Photo by  William Rouse

Photo by William Rouse

What it all means

It’s clear that our current societal structure can’t quite keep up with the pace of innovation and technology. Remnants of the industrial revolution are still all-too-ingrained in daily life. The futility of the rat race is exposed, yet the aspirational ideal of work-life balance seems perpetually out of reach.

But the digital nomad revolution is here. There’s no turning back now.

It’s time for people wake up to the astonishing reality of our new economy and the option to grasp his or her place in it.

This means coming to terms with the realization that perceived barriers between you and your dreams probably don’t exist.

If you’re reading this right now, it means you’re living in a unique time. Our present reality is the culmination of the struggling of many generations, past and present.

If you feel called to join this movement — revolution even — make of it what you will and do what you can. Of course, also call yourself whatever you want. :)

Being a digital nomad means choosing the new level of freedom accessible todaybut not without the inherent challenges and responsibilities that come with it.

Depending on your perspective and world-view, you have either an obligation or an opportunity to live life on your terms.

The choice is up to you.