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What Defines Digital Nomad Life?

Julie Ewald Digital Nomading Leave a Comment

I love my location independent lifestyle, but I had a recent interaction that made me really think long and hard about what defines being a digital nomad.

Here’s what happened:

When I was doing outreach to other location independent folks and freelancers for posts, I had one lady give me a ton of crap.

First, I wasn’t enough of a digital nomad for her.

I’d only recently gone full nomad, and had a home base until the end of February. Forget the month-long stints in various foreign countries and US cities, or the one or two-week “residencies” in cities across the US and Canada! How I chose to enjoy my location independence wasn’t good enough to her.

Second, she told me I had no business talking about freelancing because I started a “regular” business.

Nevermind that I still freelance or regularly hire freelancers or have consulted for a few freelancing platforms (both popular and up-and-coming). According to her, I wasn’t on the grind struggling for freelancing success long enough–I was successful too soon.

I’m not sorry about my successes or my lifestyle, but I am sorry for how ridiculously eager she was to try to tear someone else down.

But she’s not the only location independent person I’ve heard talking about whether or not someone is nomading the right way. Could I be that far off base as to what my lifestyle really is?

What does “digital nomad” mean?

digital nomad life

I think Chris at Lessons Learned Abroad may be my new favorite digital nomad and blogger. Despite Chris really hating the former of those terms.

When I asked about the term digital nomad, here’s what Chris had to say:

I think the term digital nomad is, to put it bluntly, dumb. It’s a term made up by folks who work remotely to glorify their remote position. Much like “freedompreneur” and other such self-aggrandizing titles, I think it’s silly. I prefer to use “remote worker” because, let’s face it, we ARE workers. We are working. Real nomads go anywhere, anytime. Digital nomads go where there is wifi. So I hardly think it’s an accurate title.

It’s a catch-all term, suitable for bloggers and freelancers and virtual assistants and day traders and anyone else who makes their living from their laptop. Truth be told, it makes what we do seem WAY more glamorous than it is. For every photo you see of some remote worker sitting by the pool, there are a hundred thousand more of them cramped in a dorm room fighting for power outlets while they slowly catch up on emails.

I think the term digital nomad is, to put it bluntly, dumb. - @learnedabroad #remotework Click To Tweet

Chris really hit the nail on the head. At least I feel like that because this is what I’ve been thinking.

When I first had the idea of getting (or making) a job that I could do anywhere, anytime, I was obsessed with the idea of portable careers. I didn’t care what I called the lifestyle or who else was doing it–that’s just what I wanted for me. But those glam pictures splashed all over Instagram make me wonder: am I doing it right?

Maybe I am. I talked to Jeremy at Living the Dream, and his definition of digital nomad is in line with the one I had rattling around in my head. He said,

My opinion on being a digital nomad is fairly simple: it is a traveler who is able to work remotely. I don’t think you necessarily have to travel full-time or live an exotic local to be a digital nomad, but rather have to at least have a work environment that allows you to work wherever you choose without any barriers.

You don't have to travel full-time or live an exotic local to be a digital nomad. - @livingdreamrtw Click To Tweet

Sharon, of Where’s Sharon fame, echoed this sentiment. She says that to her, “being a digital nomad is all about freedom. The freedom to choose where we live, how we work and when we work.” Well said!

So you can be a digital nomad in your backyard–at least according to Chris, Jeremy, Sharon, and me–regardless of what my hater says.

From @wheressharon: Being a #digitalnomad is all about freedom. Click To Tweet

What it isn’t

digital nomad life

When I talked to David over at The Luxpats, he pointed out something that I notice when I’m lurking around some digital nomad-related subreddits.

About the digital nomad designation, he told me that he thinks “a lot of people get stuck on this term for longer than it deserves. I would define it as someone who has managed to merge their career with travel.” He goes on to say:

Too many people read “digital nomad” as a career or something you can just pay a lifestyle coach to sort out. Of course, there are careers that are more amenable to travel, but in my definition, it assumed you’ve sorted out the career side of things prior to traveling. Therefore, you could be a digital sailer, digital homesteader (non-nomad), etc. Where people seem to be misled by the term/lifestyle is that they move to Thailand they can become a digital nomad…sort of cart before the horse scenario. I encourage nomads-to-be to focus on the work first, not the lifestyle it provides.

David of @theluxpats points out that too many put the cart before the horse. #digitalnomad. Click To Tweet

Almost daily I see a post where someone asks what they should learn or what field to go into in order to become a digital nomad. I get that–you want the lifestyle, and the job is just a detail. Good for you!

Then there are those who say they already are digital nomads. But they just arrived in Portugal or Brazil or wherever, and now they want to know where to find digital nomad jobs!

It seems that these folks thought you just show up at a coworking space in a random country and there would be a startup founder dishing out jobs to any expat who stumbled in the door. Or that you can just declare yourself a digital nomad and start making money as soon as you scooped up a laptop–no skills or clients required.

Thankfully, some of these folks figure it out and make a go of it. Others max out their credit cards on flights home sooner than expected.

What I wish it wasn’t

digital nomad problems 3

Back to Chris, my new favorite blogger.

Chris’ blog has this brutal post about some of the most egregious and cringe-worthy digital nomad BS out there. And it’s a great reminder of some of the ugly that the throngs of computer-armed expats bring with them to whatever beautiful location they choose to call their temporary home.

And I wish this would stop!

Too many digital nomads are all too eager to pet doped up tigers, ride elephants, or swim with dolphins.

Others try to help the “poor” locals and toss some volunteering in the mix… undermining local communities and putting locals out of work in the process.

And I could keep going. But you can also read Chris’ post.

What it’s really like

There is a lot of awesome stuff about being location independent, having a portable career, being a remote worker, living the digital nomad lifestyle, or whatever you want to call it. But as with everything, there are downsides too. Heck, I just talked about this in my last post on what it’s like being a digital nomad!

To me, being a digital nomad means having great freedom and flexibility to live the way I want. That’s why I’ve chosen this all-remote lifestyle, and I don’t plan on ditching it anytime soon!


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