Not all who wander are lost
— J.R.R. Tolkein, Chris Thile, DevilDriver (the band)
About two weeks ago, I wrote a piece titled ‘Frictionless Business’ which emphasizes Jeremy Rifkin’s concept of a zero marginal cost society and in someways is a good introduction to this article. I would recommend reading it to join the dots but you can even read this article as a standalone subject.
Anyhow, It is beautiful and sunny in St. Louis today with the temperature hovering around the mid-70’s. The sunshine filters through the car window and shines on the green carpet of the grass around my home. Almost like clockwork, i switched on my daily podcast as soon as I step into my car. On the podcast, the host asked Katryna Dow of Meeco fame: what place she considered home?
Katryna mentioned she owned an apartment in Australia but that she calls whichever place she travels to ‘home’. I felt a tinge of jealousy as I thought about the lifestyle of digital nomads. While a gypsy lifestyle is not new, it is gaining momentum with increasing number of professional turned entrepreneurs, corporate CEO’s and millennials earning their lifestyle as world citizens and Digital Nomads.
Who Coined or Predicted The Rise of Digital Nomads?
Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners publish the book Digital Nomad with educational pubisher Wiley. It’s unclear if they coined the phrase or tapped into one that was already in use, but it’s the first book on the topic (source: almostfearless.com)
A “digital nomad” is someone who works online and takes advantage of that fact by traveling and living abroad, often in exotic locations that have largely driven the world’s interest in this rapidly-growing group (source: Forbes)
Stats & Trends
In an article in the New York Times printed on Feb.15 this year, Niraj Chokshi refers to a Gallup survey on the ‘State of the American Workplace’ which states that more people are working remotely and for longer periods of time. Of course, this cannot be confused with a digital nomad who travels out of country in most cases. But, there is an overarching theme of enabling technologies that actively promote remote working especially when organizations want to unburden their P&L’s from the cost of renting and running an office.
It is extremely hard to quantify the number of digital nomads but some estimates put the number to be roughly 99 million and growing to a billion by 2035.
The 4 Hour Work Week: The Tim Ferris Effect
If you don’t know who Tim Ferris is, check out his blog and find out. Tim Ferris wrote a New York Times bestselling book “The 4 Hour Work Week” which talks about his journey from making $40K a year and working 80 hours/week to making $40K a mont working 4 hours a week. This book is touted to be the blueprint to being a digital nomad. Tim also runs a hugely popular podcast The Tim Ferris Show. Tim’s book is considered by many as a guiding beacon and inspiration for the nomadic lifestyle. Tim’s latest book is called ‘Tools of Titans’
Factors Contributing to a Nomadic Lifestyle
Some of the factors fueling the growth of a nomadic lifestyle are quite intuitive whereas some are more deeply rooted in structural and economic changes in the labor force:
- Global growth in entrepreneurship, freelancing, digital ecommerce and other occupations not bound by geography
- A flat world promoted by inexpensive travel in the form of cheap airline tickets and accomodation options such as Airbnb
- Exponential growth in internet speeds and bandwith (LTE, soon to come 5G); ubiquity of wi-fi connectivity
- Growth of an enabling ecosystem and resources such as:
The Digital Nomad Conference:The Digital Nomad conference is a one of a kind networking event for location independent freelancers and entrepreneurs. It is scheduled to be held on Sept 10 this year in Lisbon.
Unsettled: Unsettled offers co-working spaces across the globe where busy executives, designers, experts can utilize these working spaces to travel and carry out their official work. These are mostly 28–38 year old high achievers and experts in their field. Again, this is not a picnic. Its carrying out official work at different transient offices across the globe.
Upwork: Upwork works on the other side of the equation by providing a host of freelancers to outsource work to.
Nomad List: Nomad list provides a list of best cities to work and live. You can search by weather, cost, Wifi availability etc.
Remote Year: Allows its participants to join a group of 50–80 freelancers, entrepreneurs and professionals on a year long journey in 12 different cities.
Hacker Paradise: Hacker paradise arranges workspace, accomodations and transportation from the airport for trips with a duration of 2 weeks to 3 months
Nomad Cruise: As per its website, Nomad Cruise is the worlds first floaing networktation that allows 150 digital nomads, entreprenerus and remote workers on a 15 day all inclusive cruise trip
5. Delayed marriage and/or declining marriage rates in some countries that automatically drives down household formation and ultimately, home ownership
6. The democritization of news and media through social media and the boom in the influencer economy.
How Do You Make Money as a Digital Nomad?
The economics are simple to understand:
Experience and Stashed Savings: A well heeled corporate soldier, with deep insights and experience, who has saved up a decent sum of money providing him/her flexibility to dip into savings when the digital lifestyle cannot sustain all of his/her expenses.
Multiple lines of income while travelling: One revenue stream may not be enough to sustain travel. Therefore, total income can be spread across blogging, freelancing, mentoring and consulting.
Consistency is key. If you feel you cannot sustain performance at an almost breakneck speed, life as a digital nomad can be a tough way to earn a living.
1. The Corporate Gypsy
Yes, there are corporate digital nomads. It could be consultants, project managers in the IT space, sales professionals in the energy space etc. Working a corporate job provides the added advantage of health, insurance and retirement benefits in addition to the joy of discovering new places. Although, the amount of time you can spare for tourism truly varies. Corporations, however are more open to the fact that a healthy work life balance is in their ultimate best interest.
2. The Travelling Co-Worker
Platforms such as Nomad Cruise, Unsettled promote co-working with a cohort of other digital nomads consisting of entrepreneurs, artists, designers, bloggers and freelancers.
3. The Travel Blogger
Photo journalism for social media apps such as Instagram. At 26 and 24, Jack Morris and his girlfriend Lauren Bullen are Instagram sensations. As per Business Insider: Morris told Cosmopolitan he once earned $9,000 (£7,200) for a single post on Instagram, while Bullen has received $7,500 (£6,000) for one photo. (source: Business Insider)
4. The Travelling Virtual Assistant (VA)
A travelling virtual assistant is exactly that — an assistant that is not physically with you. A range of virtual assistants help you accomplish tasks such as identifying suppliers for your products or manufacturers for your design. In short, this is work outsourced to a traveler. Some VA’s also generate income by mentoring or coaching online and selling ad space (Google Adsense, affiliate marketing) on their blogs. Again, it is not all fun and games as VA’s have to work and travel at the same time. It is definitely not an extended vacation.
5. The E-Commerce Business Owner/Entrepreneur
One of my close friends is an e-commerce maven who has an established supplier, an established distribution network and a shop on amazon that allows him to sell his products without ever owning a physical shop. He travels from continent to continent and runs his business by mouse click.
Think about it — consultants always had a gypsy lifestyle albeit travelling from airports to hotels and from hotels to client offices. There is a certain section of the population that thrives on making the most of airline and hotel reward points while seeing the world. But, it is not for everyone.
The grass always does appear greener on the other side until you cross the fence. A gypsy lifestyle may look fascinating but there are trade-offs and also a tremendous amount of pressure to perform consistently which can rob you of a lot of enjoyment.
But, life as a digital nomad is not a moonshot because there are good economic models that allow you to make money if you can differentiate your product or services consistently enough to sustain a competitive advantage. Sometimes, a head start is all you need to get established.