13 Reasons Why You May Be a Digital Nomad and Not Know It
"You're like, one of those digital nomads..." my client Josh casually interjected into one of our phone conversations, sometime back in 2013.
"Mmm, a what?" I prompted, immediately tuning out his answer as I opened a tab to begin Googling. My eyes widened as I started reading about... myself. There was this terminology, right there in black and white, casually describing who I was, what I did and how I lived—as the definition of a digital nomad.
It was a surreal moment, not just hearing about this concept for the first time but realizing that there were others like me and that this was “a thing” that merited a label and definition.
Sure, I too had stumbled upon the 4-Hour Work Week in 2007, while I was already living abroad as an expat in Costa Rica. It resonated with me then, to be sure, but somehow, I didn't realize the subsequent boom that would occur in the years since.
For a variety of reasons, the term "digital nomad" now seems to connote, by default, a new stereotypical image of a 20-something on the beach, with a laptop—which has my eyes rolling. It's not completely far-fetched, but being location independent is so much more than just being able to work from a hammock.
Being a digital nomad isn't as unrealistic as it sounds.
In fact, you may actually be one without realizing it! Read on to find out.
But first, let's give this term a proper definition: a digital nomad is someone who can financially support themselves or work remotely from anywhere in the world, typically online. This is usually tied with a traveling lifestyle in some shape or form (because, well, why not?), but it doesn't have to be.
Here are 13 reasons why you may be a digital nomad:
Probably the most mainstream sub-category of digital nomads, freelancers are self-employed sub-contractors who offer their services on an hourly, part-time or project basis.
Some examples include technical careers in programming, graphic or web design, writing and so much more. If you work for yourself, can work from anywhere and invoice for your work, you could be a digital nomad.
2. Remote Employees
Many people assume that to be a digital nomad, you have to work for yourself, but this is not so. If you have a job that consists of driving to work just to sit at a computer, chances are your job could be done remotely.
In fact, entire companies like Wordpress and Basecamp are now 100%, completely remote. Whether you work part-time or full-time, if your boss lets you work outside the office, either at home, on the road or abroad, you could be considered a digital nomad.
From a solopreneur to the head of a global company, many people identify themselves as entrepreneurs. This category is very wide-ranging.
Own an ETSY shop? Affiliate marketer? Drop shipper? Social Media Manager? Video Editor? Influencer? Online coach? Nutritionist? Financial trader?
You and millions of others could be a nomadic entrepreneur. Even the CEO of a start-up and the VC that funds them can both be categorized as entrepreneurs.
4. Seasonal Workers
This one can be a stretch, as sometimes seasonal workers need to be in a specific place to do their jobs, but we'll include them anyway.
base yourself at a ski resort in the winter— whether you're teaching snowboarding lessons, operating a pop-up shop, or working as a physical therapist—then travel or work from somewhere else the rest of the year, or,
if you can work in the capacity of a seasonal worker from anywhere in the world,
...you could be considered a digital nomad.
5. Traditional Self-Employed but Flexible
Similar to seasonal workers, this category can represent job roles where you still interact with clients or customers in person, but you can do it from anywhere. We're talking personal trainers, real estate agents, therapists, lawyers, au pairs, language teachers, small business owners, professional athletes or even baristas.
While there's no need to wait until you're retired to live like a digital nomad, some retirees can be nomadic as well. Typically, retirees are collecting a monthly income or working part-time and can choose to do so from many countries around the world.
It's not uncommon for American retirees to move to Costa Rica, British retirees to move to Spain or Canadian snowbirds to head to Florida or the Caribbean. The options are endless.
Whether you're building Houses for Humanity, working on an organic farm, paying to save sea turtles in Costa Rica or running a non-profit online, you could be living like a digital nomad. Most modern-day volunteers find their assignments online and keep connected throughout their stay.
8. Expats on Assignment
Before "digital nomads," there were regular expatriates, typically multinational employees or corporate executives on short- or long-term international assignments. Usually, such workers are based near company headquarters, but not necessarily, as they could be traveling consultants or moving between locations.
9. Online or Study Abroad Students
All of us are now very well-versed in online courses, whether on Udemy or through a traditional institution. Students from high school through Ph.D.'s can now live and study from almost anywhere.
Whether you’re working or on scholarship, if you're studying abroad or in some remote capacity, you're basically another type of digital nomad.
10. Researchers or Academics
I have met many professors and other academics in my travels. They typically maintain a home base somewhere (but not always) and travel for the purposes of research studies, grants, talks/presentations or to seek inspiration.
11. On Sabbatical or Gap Year
If you're taking paid time off, financing a year traveling the world, or investing time learning a skill, or writing a book, you can also be considered a digital nomad.
These traditional nomads may be spiritual nomads, back-packers, festival-goers, seekers, yogis or other types. Humans have been nomadic since the beginning of time, and this is a less-digitized but still nomadic lifestyle.
13. Financially Independent Jet-Setters
Celebs, royals, Instagrammers and YouTubers would have you believe this is the holy grail of life, but that's to be debated, of course. Either way, if you're independently wealthy enough to own or rent multiple properties around the world and jet/sail between them, you're essentially an upscale digital nomad.
Whether you call yourself a digital nomad, wandering entrepreneur, online professional, remote employee, location independent freelancer, trust fund kid or just a human being, you may already be a digital nomad or well on your way.