What is a Digital Nomad? The Reality.

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Is it the glamourous one-way ticket to paradise it’s often touted to be? Beyond the hype, we will honestly consider the answer to the question: What is a digital nomad, really? We’ll look at some commonly asked questions and reveal, after three years of full-time nomadism, the truth of my lifestyle.

digital nomad
My current “home” office just a two minute walk from a beautiful quiet beach but the work’s still there when I get back, sadly. (c) Kate Zarb

Digital nomad meaning?

A phrase coined in 1997, digital nomadism isn’t a job in itself but is a way of earning income that has gone from an uncommon luxury to a rapidly growing trend in only a few decades. There has been a sharp increase in jobs that can be done online and the normalisation of working from home (especially after the pandemic) means that many are simply taking that home ‘on the road’. 

It isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme or replacement for an income. It is simply an approach to leveraging technology in a way that gives you more flexibility to earn an income and incorporate your must-see destinations into your everyday life rather than within the confines of an annual 2 week vacation. 

The main work models are: 1) traditional employment done remotely, 2) freelancing and 3) entrepreneurship (often incorporating passive income). Which you choose will depend on your career experience, education and goals. You may use a combination of all three and/or other additional creative side-hustles.

Encompassing people from all backgrounds, some reports have found a concentration of male digital nomads in their early 30s. Others indicate Millennials (≈26-41), followed by Gen X (≈42-57) are the largest cohorts and comprise a predominantly female demographic. All agree that the movement is growing, with a 50% increase in US nomads since 2019.

Those with ‘stronger’ passports that allow them to travel visa-free to more countries with fewer restrictions have an advantage (Australians are #5 on the global power list), but the lifestyle is increasing in popularity worldwide. More countries are offering visas designed to attract remote workers each year.

How many digital nomads are there?

It’s impossible to say exactly how many digital nomads there are, as it is an informal title and rarely recorded in official documents. In 2021, 15.5 million (US) Americans identified as digital nomads (or 4.7% of the US population).  Ambitious estimates state this could rise globally to 1 billion by 2050.

How many digital nomads are in Australia?

Again, there are no exact figures, but a similar percentage of US digital nomad figures (≈5%) in the Australian population would be ≈500,000+ people. With almost 250,000 Working Holiday Visa (417) holders at the program’s peak, this number could be much larger if including those living and working in Australia.

what is a digital nomad
I’d rather wake up to this view any day. Photo by Rachel Claire from Pexels.

What is a digital nomad NOT?

There is a common perception that digital nomads are wealthy, young, Instagram model-types who “work” from laptops on tropical beaches. While there is a profitable reason for glamourising digital nomadism this way, it does not resonate with my personal (much more humble) experiences or those of many others. My entrepreneurial journey was littered with early failures as I discovered how to use my skills to support myself online. 

Popular books like Tim Ferriss’ “The 4 Hour Work Week” have also perpetuated an idea that technology (among other oft-criticised strategies) can be used to almost eliminate the need for work at all. Realistically, a majority still work full-time hours, simply replacing an office cubicle for a more exotic location. 

Oh Nomad! helps share many of the mistakes that I made and to get you on the path to success. Depending on your current career, skills, family and financial situation, you may find it much easier to transition to this lifestyle. It’s a legitimate opportunity to make money online and travel the world but still takes time, effort and dedication.

Is it illegal to be a digital nomad?

No, there is nothing inherently illegal about being a digital nomad, as long as you are following the rules and regulations of the country that you are living in and have an appropriate work visa.

How do digital nomads make money?

The simplest answer is that digital nomads “make money online”. As mentioned, remote and freelance work, entrepreneurialism and business ownership are all popular. Tech (IT, software), creative / language (writer, photographer, designer, editor, translator), education, admin, social media, sales/marketing jobs transfer well …but include many others. 

> Read my post with 180+ best digital nomad jobs for travel and remote work (Australia).

I taught English online for the first few years, eventually starting my own business that I now run while also doing freelance work and working casually at a university. There isn’t a single path and a lot will depend on your existing occupation, education and willingness to either invest in training and/or learn new skills that can be used to earn money digitally. 

Digital nomad reality…

If you are already working remotely or are willing to consider a change to work that can be done so, digital nomadism is booming. For those attracted to the adventure and freedom of a location-independent life, it can be a legitimate and highly rewarding choice. 

If you are willing to accept the challenges (changing routines and relationships, the ongoing need for strong wi-fi and establishing a clear work-life balance etc.), the digital nomad lifestyle can be life-changing. It’s just not a shortcut to ‘paradise’ but simply an alternative route in life, with its own pros and cons. 

If you’re ready to take the leap, get in touch!

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