Est. 2020

What are Digital Nomads? (& Other Questions Answered)

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Given that World Embark is going to start covering a variety of new terms, slang, and other technical jargon, I decided to create this introductory (and short) article to digital nomadism. Right below, we are going to define the various words that we, as a team, are going to use. By creating a standard, I hope this makes the writing clear for all future digital nomads, no matter their experience. 

Second, this article is going to contain a variety of questions potential digital nomads should ask. 

As this series progresses, if you have any questions, please let me know on Twitter. I would like this article to become a living document, and will let you know when I update this post. 

I hope this helps. 

 

 

Table of Contents

Glossary 

  • Digital Nomad

Somebody who works in a remote-only option while traveling. For the purpose of this website, I define a digital nomad who stays in a country for less than 90 days, then travels to a new country. 

The primary reason for that definition is *most (but certainly not all and there are exceptions) countries offer visas in 30-day increments, (30, 60, 90, 180, etc.)

It doesn’t matter if someone is a freelance creative or remote programmer for Microsoft, as long as you are a remote-only employee who stays in a specific country less than 90 days, you are a digital nomad. 

  • Freelancer 

A person who offers their goods or services to either another person or company on a contractual basis. This means that once goods or services are performed, at the conclusion of each contract, either party may walk away. 

  • Hybrid Work 

Hybrid work is a combination of an employee working on the premises of their employer for a specific period of days, while also working remotely other days. For example, working in the office Tuesday through Thursdays, while working from home on Mondays and Fridays. 

  • OOO: Out of Office

Out of Office means exactly that. You are away from the office, and people should expect delays in your response. For example, if I was going on holiday, I would place an OOO notification on my email. 

  • Remote Work

Work that can be completed from anywhere. To do this, the employee must be in a virtual environment. I.e. using a computer. 

  • Telework 

For this website, I will use telework and remote work interchangeably. However, it’s important to note, some companies use the words telework and remote work to describe their hybrid work policies. 

  • WFH: Work From Home

Working from Home suggests a remote-work lifestyle instead of a Digital Nomad lifestyle.

So wait…. What are Digital Nomads? 

I am going to use the definition above. 

Digital Nomad: Somebody who works in a remote-only option while traveling. For the purpose of this website, I define a digital nomad who stays in a country for less than 90 days, then travels to a new country. 

The primary reason for that definition is *most (but certainly not all and there are exceptions) countries offer visas in 30-day increments, (30, 60, 90, 180, etc.)

To me, it does not matter if someone is a freelance creative or remote programmer for Microsoft. As long as you are a remote-only employee who stays in a specific country for less than 90 days, congratulations! You are a digital nomad!

Hostels are bad for digital nomads? Read more
Work with a view...

History of Digital Nomads

It is quite fascinating to think about “work,” and the way it has changed throughout time. People have used stone tablets, then papyrus, and paper. Now, we use a machine. (Actually, we use a bunch of machines that can write their own code and speak together? #Freaky) The most recent transition, from paper to machine, was easier than most. The creators of modern-day computers and software, Gates, Jobs, and the sort, named software and hardware creative and memorable things such as “folder” and “desktop.” 

 

Throughout the beginning of the 21st century, Digital Nomads were the ones taking advantage of those recent developments in technology, which eventually became the modern-day laptop. They walked amongst us mere mortals….at the grocery store during the middle of the afternoon. And the mid-2010’s Facebook posts suggested that “I have my life figured out.”

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Suddenly, a large percentage of workers now WFH (working from home) full-time. More information about COVID-19 is below. Remote work was not a new phenomenon in 2020. Instead, it was just the percentage of the work done remotely versus in the office. Many people will attest they always took work home with them prior to the fever-dream of COVID-19. 

 

Now, during the early 2020’s, some people elected to stay in one place and work from home. This is #remotework. Meanwhile, others jumped at the opportunity to become a digital nomad and travel the world. 

I heard some fun stories when I began traveling again in early 2021. Some people got trapped in countries due to lockdowns, others were traveling the world while going to university, and the sort. It was honestly amazing. 

How did COVID-19 change the way we live?

According to some economists and market-observers, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced new trends, lifestyles, and purchasing patterns. However, from my observations, COVID did not actually introduce anything new. Instead, it simply accelerated the adoption of previous societal undercurrents. 

Before Zoom, we used Facetime. Before the current structure of UberEats, people were still ordering food in. But most importantly, there was the rumble of a new thing called life-work balance instead of work-life balance!

Were People Working from Home before COVID? 

Yes, and that’s why I believe remote or virtual work is not a new phenomenon. Between 2017 and 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveyed American Workers. 

29% of the respondents could work from home, and 25% already occasionally worked from home.

It might have been that the respondents working from home were working after-hours. However, the capability was there. People were doing it. Now, instead of the 75% office / 25% home split, the average worker visits the office 25% of the time. Then, they stay home 75% of the time. 

Can everyone be a digital nomad?

I think that there is a misconception that everyone can be a digital nomad tomorrow. Sadly, digital nomadism is generally reserved for people with a college degree AND those who have white-collar jobs. 

From a A Stanford Publication: During May of 2020, what we thought would be the height of the pandemic, 57.8% of people who had a 4 years or more of college were able to work from home. Meanwhile, only 22.7% of the respondents who had a high school degree were able to work from home. 

That doesn’t mean if you have a service-based job that you cannot be a digital nomad (that’s why we wrote Digital Nomad Jobs for Beginners). However, it’s going to be difficult. 

(Granted, there are now restaurants that hire virtual employees for their drive-thrus.)

There is also the community aspect. As someone who greatly enjoys getting to know people beyond the first-level, digital nomadism can be quite lonely.

Can Companies Force Me to Work from the Office? 

Absolutely. Whenever you (the employee) signs an employment offer letter from the company (employer), you are entering into a contractual obligation. Therefore, the language in the contract must include the words such as “fully-remote” or “virtual-only.”

If the employer simply has an office-wide policy for remote work, this could be changed at any moment.

Can My Employer Force me to Work from Home from a Specific Location?

Absolutely, depending on your work designation and contract. 

Remote workers are not due the same amount of salary due to the variation of cost of living. Let’s take, for example, Kansas vs Washington DC. Although Kansas is sometimes great, it is not nearly as expensive to live in as Washington DC. 

If you have ever been a government or state employee, you will acutely be aware of this due to the concept of locality pay. However, if you are new, here is a link to a bunch of charts. 

Is Being a Digital Nomad legal? 

Whenever something is new, (whether a lifestyle, product, etc.) the product (digital nomadism) follows a three-stage life cycle.

#1 Innovation by the product designers

#2 Adoption by the general public

#3 Regulation by the regulators (Government)

Currently, most countries are located between the adoption and regulation phase. However, it is going to take time to answer most of these questions. 

 

  • Do non-residents but workers need to pay taxes? 
  • Most countries in Europe have state-run health systems. If a Digital Nomad has a medical emergency, and they lack insurance, what happens?
  • How do we protect local populations against mass-tourism? 
  • Can we not scare away tourism while also reaping the benefit of it? ($) If someone enters a country on a tourist visa, but they are actually a digital nomad and the country offers a digital nomad visa… Is the person breaking the law?

Is Digital Nomadism Travel Ethical?

I debated writing articles about digital nomadism and travel for a long-time. There is a lot to consider, such as gentrification at a global scale. However, conversations about how we *should travel, approaching people with kindness, and other thoughts that are currently not materialized are necessary. 

Am I the best person to cover this? No. Are these articles going to rank in the Google God’s algorithm? No. Will my mom read these? Probably not. 

But for me, my favorite memories were watching the kids play soccer in the streets of Cannakkale, the babushka I bought a banana from everyday in Kyiv, Ukraine, and other stories. I want other people to experience that for themselves. 

Any hatred of my opinion should be directed to me. So, please, spam my Instagram comments.

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