They once said the world is your oyster, but now the world is your office.
That much is true for one of the world’s newest workforces. Whether it is a café in Cornwall or a balcony in Barbados, millions of people all over the world have started leveraging technology in order to work remotely and live an independent, flexible and nomadic lifestyle.
These remote workers all fall under the umbrella term ‘digital nomad,’ one of the latest trends in work and travel and seen by some as the ultimate millennial job.
Unsurprisingly, this is a more recent phenomenon fuelled by the digital age. According to the Digital Nomad Survey conducted last year, only eight per cent of people had heard of the term prior to 2012, suggesting that the practice is now on the rise.
One person to take the plunge was 29-year-old Heather Butler. She quit her job earlier this year to become a full-time digital nomad, living in a different city around the world each month.
“I have a background in advertising and worked as an ad executive for many years. I loved what I did, but hated the job. The clients were awesome and the industry was great, but my company and day-to-day desk work was killing me,” explained Heather.
“After 10 years working full time I quit. I wanted to travel and needed a way to sustain myself, so I left my home in San Diego and now I have an apartment set up in a different city around the world, with no plan to go home. At the moment I’m in Berlin, then I’ll be going off to Split next month.
“The transitions have been fairly smooth, but only staying in places a month means that as soon as I really start to feel at home and can navigate places easily, it’s time to leave. I’d say that’s been one of few downsides so far.
“I fall in love with every place I go, hence why I travel so much, which makes it harder to leave for the next destination.
“Right now, for an income, I teach English online in a video chat-based platform to keep me afloat. I am also working on my advertising consulting.
“I work full time, but I also work any hours I want. All I have to do I just open time slots on my schedule and the kids book me.”
“I started the YouTube channel as a creative outlet because I love filming and editing, and people really started responding to it.
“My main goal is to document everywhere I go and inspire my viewers and followers to explore new and unique places. You can’t beat real world experience.
“Don’t wait, just go now, and keep your priorities straight. If it’s really something you want, make it happen.
“I feel at home when I’m travelling. I’m fascinated by the world and I want to see all of it. Different cultures, architecture, natural wonders – absolutely everything. Although I do miss my dog and cat, and quality Mexican food, too.”
But it doesn’t have to be a permanent way of life. Dutchman Kees Colijn has been travelling for 30 years. He works in healthcare, and when his contract expires every two years he travels around the world to work for six months while he waits for it to renew.
Kees has found an oddly-enticing niche, filming walks around various cities across the globe. The videos are typically one to two hours in length and require little editing, but are an example of how he is utilising his time as a digital nomad effectively, whilst also maximising his enjoyment by doing something he wants, not something he has to do.
“People enjoy my videos because they are all different places that some people can’t, or are afraid, to travel to. I have people watching my views who might have disabilities, or are too old or young to travel, but are interested in other cultures and places,” says Kees.
“YouTube stats say my video has been watched over the past 28 days by people in 200 countries and territories. I love my stats and grow by 500 subscribers a month. It’s great and fun and is never hard work. I struggle to see the downsides.
“My advice is to just do it. I am single and do not have a wife or kids, that is why it is still possible for me to do this.”
While working on the road opens doors, it does have drawbacks, which is something that Heather has already found out:
“A lot of locals hate digital nomads, they call us “an invasion.” I’ve had people yell at me when I’ve been working in a coffee shop. They called me rude, and I wasn’t even doing anything other than minding my own business.
“Then here in Berlin I was filming and a guy on a bike rode in front of my camera, flipping me off before spitting at me.
“I think that they don’t like us invading on their local vibe, and a lot of locals just don’t like tourism. Honestly, I get it. I come from a major tourism destination and during the summer the beaches are full of tourists and the traffic is extra horrible.”
In some cases, digital nomadism poses a problem to traditional working life, threatening to rip up the 9-to-5 and replacing it with a new format. After analysing key demographics and social trends Dutch businessman and author Pieter Levels, the creator of several start-up enterprises based around nomadic lifestyles, speculates that there will be one billion digital nomads by 2035.
This means that certain companies and industries will soon be forced into changing their approach, or risk falling behind. The world’s largest travel publishers, Lonely Planet, have already cut ahead of the pack, taking advantage of location-independent staff, explains their PR Manager Phil Harper:
“Lonely Planet has been aware of the ‘digital nomad’ trend for several years. While it’s not limited to travel, with digital nomads working across many industries, it’s the sector where we work with many people who work in countries around the world.
“We see the rise of the digital nomad and increased connectivity as a positive thing, allowing our expert writers and contributors to provide more up-to-date advice on places around the world.
“Many of our location-based writers help contribute updates to our online content, and to our Travel News channel, and their presence in these destinations means that they are often more attuned to new developments and events where they live.”
Whether or not other countries follow suit remains to be seen. But one thing is apparent, that digital nomads are becoming more common and are here to stay. Well, sort of.