Digital Nomad Basics

Young femal digital nomad working on laptop while sitting in hammock.

What is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who works or studies remotely using the internet, online networks, and telecommunications services while traveling anywhere in the world. 

Digital nomads can be freelancers, independent consultants, small business owners, or entrepreneurs. They can also be employed remote workers with flexible employment arrangements or those who have traditional jobs but occasionally take advantage of employer policies on hybrid work and telecommuting. 

A digital nomad is anyone who uses digital tools to exercise their independence and freedom from a physical office or classroom to travel both locally and internationally.  There is no single “digital nomad job.” In fact, there are many ways to make money as a digital nomad.

The idea of a digital nomad has been expanding in recent years.  Students who attend classes online while traveling can also be digital nomads.  Families can travel together while working and studying remotely. 

People who are semi-retired can work part-time online for supplemental income and be digital nomads.  Followers of the FIRE (financial independence retire early) movement may also be considered digital nomads if they manage their passive income sources remotely online while traveling.

Digital nomads can be:

  • Freelancers
  • Independent consultants
  • Employed remote workers
  • Business owners
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Students
  • Semi-retired or FIRE
  • Gig economy worker
  • Anyone who can work from anywhere, independent of location

The digital nomad lifestyle has become easier with expanded WiFi networks and internet access around the world.  Being a digital nomad doesn’t have to involve constant travel, just the ability to work from anywhere and a sense of wanderlust.  The length of travel can vary from a couple of weeks to an entire year. 

A digital nomad may work from a beach resort in Thailand, a sidewalk cafe in Paris, an RV in Yosemite, a university library in Buenos Aires, or a glamping tent on a photo safari in Namibia.  As long as there is sufficient access to the internet to complete telecommunications tasks, a digital nomad can work from anywhere.

Hand holding small globe
Adapted from “To Next” by Porapak Apichodilok via Canva

Where did the term “digital nomad” come from?

Authors, Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners, first used the term in their book, “Digital Nomad,” published by Wiley in 1997.  According to the publisher’s website, the book predicted how technology, “…combined with our natural urge to travel, will once again allow mankind to live, work and exist on the move.”   The book also discusses how governments may respond in the future to a nomadic lifestyle shift in the high-tech workforce. 

There were a handful of publication events in the years that followed Makimoto and Manners’ book that cemented how we use the term, “digital nomad.”

Digital Nomad Name Evolution
Infographic by J Dubois, “Digital Nomad Name Evolution”

In 1999, the New York Times published “A Home Page Away from Home,” about “techno-nomads,” long-term travelers using their laptop computers and various digital tools to earn a living and fund their travels by publishing their travel stories online.

In 2009, the term, “Digital Nomad,” was added to the Macmillan Dictionary.

Also in 2009, Dell published the first crowdsourced white paper on the challenges of the digital nomad, offering a tool for digital nomads and the companies who employ them.  

In 2011, National Geographic started highlighting travel stories by Andrew Evans, bringing the term, Digital Nomad, to a larger audience. 

How did the covid-19 pandemic change the definition of a digital nomad?

The year 2020 became a major milestone in the evolution of the digital nomad definition, lifestyle, and opportunities.

The pandemic lockdowns of 2020 forced a large portion of the world’s workforce to transition to remote work to decrease the risk of exposure to Covid-19.  Some of these people became digital nomads, fleeing the crowded cities where they had once lived and worked, but continued to telecommute online.  Some people changed states or countries altogether to take advantage of cheaper housing, access to leisure activities, and proximity to family.  Some newly minted digital nomads chose to buy RVs and work on the road using mobile hotspots while visiting National Parks and other wilderness areas.  

As countries around the world started to open up to travel again, many companies retained their remote work policies, allowing remote workers to travel and telecommute from anywhere in the world.  Zoom reported that the pandemic precipitated a rise in the use of video chat and video conferencing tools to bring co-workers together online at a scale never before seen.

Digital nomads were once thought to be eccentric digital entrepreneurs who were difficult to track as they hopped from country to country. This made it difficult for countries to tax and regulate their businesses and income.  During the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, many countries began embracing the new trend and started offering visas designed for digital nomads to lure remote workers and boost local economies.

Woman working on laptop at the beach.

Who are digital nomads?

Not all digital nomads are travel writers, YouTubers, or Instagram influencers.  Anyone who can work remotely can become a digital nomad, whether part-time or long-term.  

Although certain groups are more represented (including people from wealthier nations, younger people, and people working in tech), more and more people of all backgrounds are finding inspiration in the lifestyle.

Vanlife couple working remotely from a camper van.

What is the digital nomad lifestyle?

The digital nomad lifestyle can take many forms.  Digital nomads may maintain a home base and only travel part-time.  They may rent out or sublet their homes or turn them into AirBnBs for additional income while they work and travel.  Some choose to become entirely rootless, selling their home and most of their possessions.

Digital nomads may carry out their work at various locations while traveling including cafes, hotels or vacation rentals, libraries, co-working or co-living spaces that lure other digital nomads, and RVs or camper vans using mobile hotspots.

Having a financial cushion can make the digital nomad lifestyle less stressful but it is also possible to be a digital nomad on a budget with careful planning.  Successful digital nomads are able to maintain work productivity independent of physical office space and supervision.    

The digital nomad lifestyle can present certain challenges.  If nomads want to stay in one place longer than allowed by tourist visas then it may be necessary to obtain special digital nomad visasPaying taxes can be complicated when trying to stay in accordance with the laws of the country of residence, local laws, and international tax agreements.  Depending on the type of work, it may be necessary to coordinate large time zone differences with clients and co-workers for deadlines and online meetings. 

This blog is dedicated to helping you with the challenges of the digital nomad lifestyle as well as making sure you make the most of your travel adventures. Think you might want to become a digital nomad? Learn more about why you should choose the digital nomad lifestyle.

Jamie Dubois

I am a freelance writer, wanderer, kayaker, rock climber, and adventurer.

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