Digital Nomads: What It Is, How It Works, and Real-Life Examples


Digital nomads are individuals who embrace a location-independent lifestyle, utilizing technology to work from anywhere in the world. They leverage remote work opportunities made possible by innovations like content management software, Wi-Fi, and smartphones. This article explores the concept of digital nomadism, its origins, advantages, and challenges. We also delve into the impact of the 2020 economic crisis on this lifestyle and answer common questions about income and job opportunities for digital nomads.

What is a digital nomad?

Digital nomads are people who lead a location-independent lifestyle, using technology to perform their jobs remotely. They are not tied to a specific workplace or office and can work from various locations. This lifestyle is made possible by technological advancements like content management software, affordable Wi-Fi access, smartphones, and Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) for communication. The rise of the gig economy has also contributed to the growth of digital nomadism.

Understanding digital nomads

The term “digital nomad” was coined in 1997 in the book “The Digital Nomad” by Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners. They predicted a future where technology would enable employees to work from anywhere. In the 21st century, digital nomads use laptops, social media, and mobile phones to work. They enjoy the freedom to choose their work and living locations, spending months in various places, thanks to the availability of short-term accommodations and office-sharing platforms.

While the digital nomadic lifestyle offers freedom and adventure, it also has downsides. Work opportunities may not always align with an individual’s skills or pay well. Maintaining this lifestyle often requires hard work for potentially less income compared to traditional office jobs. To make it sustainable, having a source of passive income alongside contract work is beneficial.

According to a 2020 Gallup poll, a significant number of U.S. remote workers expressed a desire to continue working remotely even after the pandemic’s end.

Who are the digital nomads?

Digital nomads come from various age groups and work in knowledge-based industries such as marketing, design, IT, writing, media, tutoring, and consulting. According to a 2020 study by MBO Partners, there were 10.9 million digital nomads in the U.S., with an additional 19 million Americans considering this lifestyle. Digital nomads can be remote employees or knowledge process outsourcing workers. While most freelancers and telecommuters are technically digital nomads, the term is most commonly associated with people who live or travel while working.

Outsite, an online community for digital nomads, reports an average member age of 35, with many being single or divorced.

When digital nomads settle down

Many digital nomads eventually transition to a more stationary work environment. The client network they build during their nomadic phase often facilitates this transition into full-time freelancing. Strategic choices in location can leverage currency and cost-of-living differences, allowing digital nomads to make their income go further. Some choose to settle down after starting a family, while others continue their nomadic lifestyle with their families, joining like-minded travelers with children.

Advantages and disadvantages of being a digital nomad

Digital nomads seek freedom, flexibility, and the opportunity to travel. They prioritize experiences over material possessions and immerse themselves in various cultures. However, this lifestyle is not without challenges. Earning enough income on the road can be difficult, leading to financial strain. Digital nomads may work non-traditional hours, manage multiple clients, and deal with different time zones. Loneliness and the difficulty of forming long-term relationships are common issues. Additionally, travel health insurance expenses can add up, and healthcare costs may vary by location.

Examples of digital nomads

The concept of digital nomadism gained momentum in early 2020 when the pandemic led to lockdowns and remote work. This period witnessed a 50% increase in the digital nomad population compared to 2019. However, increased competition for resources and border closures forced some digital nomads to return home.

Families also embrace the digital nomad lifestyle, with parents working remotely and often documenting their adventures through blogs or writing. Some opt for homeschooling or virtual classrooms for their children.

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Freedom from traditional office settings
  • Opportunities to travel and learn about new cultures
  • Time to engage in outdoor hobbies like surfing
  • More control over your own time
      • Can be expensive to travel on a regular basis
      • You may have to work for clients in multiple time zones
      • Loneliness or isolation from family and friends
      • Must be highly organized for ultimate life/work balance on the road

The bottom line

As remote work opportunities continue to expand, the digital nomadic lifestyle is poised for growth. The freedom to set one’s hours, work in diverse environments, and explore the world are appealing aspects of this lifestyle. However, achieving success as a digital nomad requires hard work, effective planning, budgeting, and networking skills.

Frequently asked questions

How much money can you make as a digital nomad?

Earnings as a digital nomad vary depending on the type of work and whether it’s done remotely or in a traditional office. According to a 2018 survey from FlexJobs, 40% of digital nomads make $50,000 or more, while 60% earn less than $50,000 annually.

Which digital nomad jobs pay the highest?

Jobs in fields like computer programming, when performed remotely, can yield higher salaries. However, income as a digital nomad depends on factors such as job type, full-time or freelance status, and industry.

What are the best websites for digital nomads looking for work?

Several websites cater to remote job seekers, including We Work Remotely, FlexJobs, LinkedIn, and Stack Overflow, which is particularly suitable for web developers and IT professionals.

How many digital nomads are there in the United States?

While precise figures are challenging to obtain, MBO Partners reported approximately 10.9 million digital workers in the U.S. in 2020, the most recent available data.

How many digital nomads are there in the world?

The global population of digital nomads likely numbers in the millions, with one study suggesting there are 4.8 million worldwide digital nomads, and 17 million more aspire to embrace this lifestyle in the future.

Key Takeaways

  • The term “digital nomad” refers to individuals who work remotely using information and communication technology, allowing them to work from various locations.
  • Digital nomads can be found in various age groups and work in knowledge-based industries such as marketing, design, IT, writing, media, tutoring, and consulting.
  • The choice to lead a digital nomadic lifestyle offers freedom and flexibility, but it also comes with challenges, including the need for reliable internet access and the potential for loneliness.
  • Earnings as a digital nomad can vary, with some individuals making six figures or more, while others earn less than $50,000 annually.
  • There are various websites that digital nomads can use to find remote work opportunities, catering to a range of industries.
  • The global population of digital nomads is likely in the millions, with a significant number of individuals aspiring to embrace this lifestyle in the future.
  • Success as a digital nomad requires hard work, effective planning, budgeting, and networking skills.
View article sources
  1. Digital Nomad Entrepreneurship and Lifestyle Design – University Of Hawaii
  2. How to become a digital nomad – Boston University
  3. Income Exemption for Digital Nomads – Louisiana
  4. Best Credit Cards For Digital Nomads – SuperMoney
  5. 5 Countries With No Income Tax – SuperMoney