The world is slowly opening up again. Flights to popular backpacker destinations have resumed, and more and more countries have lifted their entry restrictions. It seems that COVID-19 is a thing of the past.
The pandemic moved working remotely into the spotlight over the course of 2020 and 2021, but remote work was experiencing meteoric growth well before that. And in that cohort of remote workers, one group stands out in particular. A small, but growing group of so-called digital nomads that work online while travelling the world.
In the first part of the Digital Nomad series, we will look at the reasons why the popularity of digital nomadism has skyrocketed.
What is a digital nomad?
Being a digital nomad means two things. One, that you can work online. And two, that you can choose where to work.
In other words, digital nomads are remote workers who travel and work in different countries. They often live a nomadic lifestyle and use technology to complete their work responsibilities.
Some move from hostel to hostel in Southeast Asia, others alternate between London, Lisbon and Budapest, and then there are the adventurers who buy an RV and cruise across the United States. During their travel escapades, they fulfill their work obligations in coffee shops, public libraries, or the comfort of their (temporary) home.
Digital Nomad Trends
Facilitation of remote work
Due to the COVID pandemic, many businesses were forced to let their employees work from home. They had to drastically adapt their processes to facilitate working remotely. As a result, this form of remote work has seen tremendous evolution.
Even as most restrictions on office work have been lifted, a large number of desks remain empty. Some offices have been transformed into flex-offices, with some employers even encouraging remote work as a way to cut down overhead costs. People have gotten a taste of what it’s like to work from home, and more than half (56%) of employees say they want to post-pandemic.
It’s safe to say: remote work is here to stay. Naturally, only a fraction of remote workers will actual adopt a digital nomad life. But the growing adoption of remote working makes it much easier to run an online-only business. Contact with customers, clients and partners is now mostly via e-mail, chat or video meetings; while in-person contact has become less common. Having a webcam conversation from the living room no longer equates to unprofessionalism.
Increasing popularity of digital nomadism
It is becoming increasingly popular to work remotely as a digital nomad, as you have the opportunity to see many different countries. Worldwide, there were about 35 million digital nomads in 2021, and it is expected that this number will only increase in the coming years.
Telling your family or company you want to move around while you work might have drawn sceptical looks in the past, but it is within reach of much of the Western population today. 90% of the developed world has internet access and almost two thirds of the global population is currently connected to the world wide web. The technology is there, and more and more people are considering working as a digital nomad (for a while).
Digital nomadism is a new way of life.
Businesses targeting digital nomads
Several companies are capitalizing on this trend. Airbnb has shifted its focus from short-stay accommodation to long-term rentals, apartment landlords put their Wi-Fi speed prominently in the description, and some condos offer a large desk with external monitors and other conveniences.
A similar trend is seen in cafes, bars and restaurants. Interiors are designed with people working remotely in mind, with comfortable chairs and an electrical outlet for every table.
However, some coffee shops take countermeasures, preferring to have customers who come in to eat and fuck off, rather than sit on their laptops for hours and order only a cappuccino. So they designate laptop-free zones or give customers a maximum internet duration.
Co-working spaces in popular digital nomad destinations are popping up like mushrooms. Every effort is made to make you stay as long as possible, with lunch and dinner menus, entertainment areas with pool and ping-pong tables, swimming pools or a gym. Some even want you to stay overnight and have turned their coworking into a coliving, effectively creating a congenial community for like-minded digital nomads.
Digital nomad visas
Digital nomads spend much of their time living away from the society of their mother country. Instead, they would form ‘tribes’ or communities based on shared goals, interests and values in different pockets of the world. Ultimately, many of these people would no longer base their identity or stake their loyalties on where they came from or where they were born.
As a result, nationalism and one’s motherland will lose its relevance, and countries will compete with each other to attract these remote workers and the (tax) money they would bring. Several countries around the world – from Iceland to Mauritius, Croatia to The Bahamas, Malta to Dubai, along with many others – have introduced remote work and digital nomad visas to attract a community of digital workers.
“The biggest misconception is that digital nomads travel a lot. Most I know are slowmads and stillmads, who move every 3 to 6 months. The term digital nomad is rapidly becoming irrelevant; better would be people living in multiple places.”
~ Pieter Levels, founder Nomadlist.com
The most popular digital nomad destinations
Canggu, Bali, Indonesia
Bali is one of the perfect places to enjoy a digital nomad lifestyle. The village of Canggu transformed itself from a quiet surfers’ village to a bustling international community of remote workers. You’ll find countless coffee shops, co-working spaces, and relatively fast internet all around. As with most of Asia, the local people are incredibly welcoming and will give you a sense of safety you’ve never experienced back home.
A typical working day starts off with a morning surf, a couple of hours of work at your favorite café, to finish up with an afternoon gym or yoga session. Make sure to hop back on bike in time though, to catch the sunset from a beanbag on the beach.
Estimated cost of living per month: $1,378
Portugal is a safe and expat-friendly nation. It has become one of the most popular destinations for digital nomads, especially when Asia closed its borders during the pandemic. It offers everything that a remote worker seeks: Fast internet, delicious food, lovely weather, long stretches of beach with surfable waves, friendly locals, and cheap rent.
Portugal is now even offering special a Digital Nomad Visa that will allow people from outside the EU to stay up to one year (instead of 90 days).
Estimated cost of living per month: $2,191
East meets West in this bustling metropolis; the Bosporus strait running along the Eurasian border divides the city in two. You can choose to stay on the European or Asian part of town, both of which offer an unique experience. Istanbul offers a rich, cultural history that goes back all the way to the 7th century BC. Expect delicious food, hospitable people, and an unequalled diversity.
Partly due to a very questionable government, Turkey’s national currency Lira has dropped significantly over the past decade. This has made Turkey a very affordable option for foreign travelers. Still, Turkey might not be the best option for certain groups of people (gays, transgenders, Kurds, journalists that value freedom of speech).
Estimated cost of living per month: $958
Beautiful weather and beautiful women, what else does a man need? The city offers some very cool cafes, bars, and restaurants against a backdrop of looming green hills and mountains. You will never be startled by the bill, because food is fairly inexpensive. The community of remote workers is thriving in Medellín, with more and more co-working popping up and Airbnb apartments specifically targeting long-term stays.
It’s definitely not the safest city in the world, but it has made incredible progress from the cartel violence that terrorized the country in the 80s and 90s. A few months in Medellín and you’ll quickly realize Colombia has more to offer than snorting heaps of cocaine.
Estimated cost of living per month: $1,049 (excluding cocaine)