Few things are quite as appealing as a life dedicated to travel, and more people than ever are making this a reality. ‘Digital nomads’ have become a solid part of the modern workforce, combining remote working and travel into an enviable lifestyle of exploration.
The numbers of people embarking on this personal (and physical) journey are significant, and look like they’re set to increase in the near future – but will this trend continue, or will digital nomadism prove unsustainable down the line?
Digital Nomad Stats
So who exactly are digital nomads? Much talked about in the media in recent years and months, digital nomads are millennials seizing the proverbial bull by the horns when it comes to remote working. Traveling the world as they work, usually in creative or web-based industries, digital nomads take freelancing to the next level.
It’s easy to make assumptions about the types of people who embark on lives of digital nomadism, but they’re actually a surprisingly diverse group. A comprehensive study into the demographic found that the majority are in their 30s (with 18% being older than expected, aged between 37-45), are mostly male (64%), visit between 5-10 countries a year, and stay in one location for an average of 1-3 months.
There’s plenty to suggest that digital nomadism will continue to rise in popularity – but there are also factors that could mean today’s nomads will eventually either need (or choose) to settle down.
Digital nomads are, for the most part, millennials. And millennials tend not to want the same things their parents did. There’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest that the long-term life choices of millennials are subverting traditional norms – which could mean that the free-flowing lifestyle of the digital nomad might not just be a ‘phase’, but a viable option in the long run.
Traditional lifestyle choices that might ‘tie people down’ are becoming less popular. Marriage levels are decreasing, for instance, with some reports estimating they will be as low as 40% by 2035. Home ownership is dropping too, as house prices rise and it becomes increasingly difficult to get on the property ladder (plus, marriage and homeownership are historically associated – people tend to buy homes with and for their families.)
It seems that millennials are gradually abandoning the long-held aspirations of their seniors: to settle down, get married and have a family. If this trend continues, digital nomads may choose to continue their life of travel indefinitely.
Changing world (economy etc)
It’s not only the players that are changing; it’s the game, too. The world is rapidly evolving in all kinds of ways, and as millennials approach the peak of their working lives, modern civilisation is shifting to adapt to their needs and desires.
Technology is evolving at an increasingly rapid rate, and is making our world ever more interconnected and accessible; as a result, the life of the digital nomad is becoming easier. Mobile internet speed is improving swiftly, and it’s becoming available in more places than ever – meaning the number of potential workspaces for nomads is growing, and is set to continue its expansion.
There’s also an economic argument: businesses are starting to adapt to the needs and mores of nomads, with remote-working ‘hubs’ becoming successful and popular places for remote workers to set up shop. Apps and digital travel services are making a globe-trotting lifestyle easier and more convenient, and businesses like Couchsurfing or Airbnb are making finding places to stay simpler.
Nomads are known for living and working on a tight budget, but as remote working and freelancing grows, the demographic is likely to widen, and businesses are even finding ways to cater to the sensibilities of affluent traveling millennials.
High net worth individuals with a passion for travel are increasingly turning to things like international property clubs offering fractional ownership of properties. This is particularly appealing to wealthy millennials who want to pursue a digitally nomadic lifestyle, and reject the traditional model of homeownership.
Digital Nomadism Vs Remote Working
There are a few things that indicate that digital nomadism might not last, however. The number of people freelancing and working remotely is increasing, but part of the rising popularity of digital nomadism is its novelty. Remote working is still a relatively new concept, and being able to take advantage of this by combining it with travel is endlessly appealing.
But in years to come, remote working could potentially become the norm. Some predictions state that by 2025, 50% of workers could be freelancing and working remotely. If this is the case, then remote working and digital nomadism may cease to be synonymous, as it is now. After all, if everyone is working from home, then it’s not a specific lifestyle choice.
The number of people choosing to travel may go up, but choosing digital nomadism as a way of life could become less novel – and appealing – if half of the population work remotely anyway.
One other possibly catastrophic hurdle for nomads in the future is the issue of regulations. Taxes and financial obligations for instance, along with the restricted accessibility of global travel, could make digital nomadism difficult.
Ultimately, this comes down to the fact that the world has become a more politically uncertain place. In theory, this lack of stability could lead to a situation where remote workers or travelers are deemed more of a burden than a financial asset. This in turn could lead to restrictions regarding visas (or other permits and allowances) that could constrict your ability to travel the world as you work.
Similarly, as digital nomadism is a recent development in the international community, it’s still something of a grey area when it comes to things like taxes. It’s perfectly feasible for many people to work abroad now, but if business tax rules change, the possibility of being restricted in terms of what you earn and who you pay could cause trouble for nomads. In the worst case, nationality and citizenship could determine whether digital nomadism is even an option for certain people.
The growth in popularity of digital nomadism owes itself to a rapid period of development in modern society. The world of tomorrow will likely be unrecognizable from the world of today, and advances in technology and attitudes could make digital nomadism not only easier, but also more popular than it already is.
While much of this is speculation, the question of ‘will people be able to live a digitally nomadic lifestyle?’ seems redundant, and answerable with an undeniable ‘yes’. The real question, which only time will be able to answer, is ‘will people still want to live a digitally nomadic lifestyle?’.
If things continue to develop and change at the rate they have in recent memory, then this whole discussion might even become irrelevant. Who knows – maybe one day, we won’t even need the term ‘digital nomad’, as it could apply to us all.