What are digital nomads and how are they changing the travel landscape?

Pic: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

GIVEN the opportunity, wouldn’t you want to live and work wherever you like and travel as often as you wish? But for many of us, this freedom and flexibility is the stuff of daydreams – or is it?

According to predictions, more freelance and remote work opportunities, new technology, better connectivity, cheaper flights and the further decline of marriage and home ownership could prompt as many as one billion people to become digital nomads by 2035.

With huge change seemingly on the horizon, we decided to take a closer look at digital nomadism and the appeal of location independent living.

What is a digital nomad?

While there is no single way to define a digital nomad, many are remote workers that travel regularly. Conni Biesalski, author and digital nomad of five years told Travel Wire Asia: “Someone that lives and works location-independent, runs an online business or is a freelancer, and only needs a laptop and the internet to make an income”.

The lifestyle has significant appeal. Biesalski added, “The freedom to design my days the way I want to and being able to decide where, when and how I work. Not being tied to one place to make a living is huge for me.”

The employment opportunities for nomads are growing as new digital technologies and cloud-based apps emerge, and improvements to telecommunication infrastructures continue.

Beyond blogs, e-commerce, and creative endeavors, digital nomads are increasingly exploring other avenues for entrepreneurship like tech and software development.

Pieter Levels, a Dutch programmer, created and launched 12 startups in one year while traveling including RemoteOk, a database that connects fellow digital nomads with remote work opportunities.

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Where to go and how long to stay?

A healthy work-life balance is essential to get the most from this lifestyle, so when it comes to deciding where to go, digital nomads must consider a number of factors both practical and personal.

“I have a list of things I need in a place that I want to spend more time in: good internet infrastructure; good work coffee shops or co-working spaces; an entrepreneurial, start-up or digital nomad community; yoga studios; healthy vegan/veggie food; a warm climate; ocean and surfing”, Biesalski said.

For those struggling to choose where to head next, sites like the Nomad List can help. Rating 992 cities for cost, internet speed, fun and safety; travelers can pick new destinations with ease based on the things that matter most to them.

Unlike tourists that stay for a short period, digital nomads can remain in one place for pretty much as long as they like – visa permitting. While some maintain a permanent address and travel for a few months a year, others opt for a life of perpetual travel preferring flexible accommodation like Airbnb.

Biesalski described her approach: “Right now I don’t have a home base, nor am I an official resident in any country – so I guess you could say I am always traveling.

“But I tend to stay in places longer, one month or several months at a time. This alternates with phases, in which I travel more frequently, but I don’t like moving around too much, it’s not good for productivity, routine, and health”.

Shift in business travel

Sunny climes and the chance to experience a new culture is reason enough to travel, but for a growing number of digital nomads, there are others: “I also travel a lot for conferences, workshops, retreats and events,” Biesalski said.

As a result, cities from Berlin, Barcelona and Prague to Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh are reporting hubs of digital nomads appearing, especially where there are large events and conferences for entrepreneurs or a strong co-working community.

This new breed of nomadic entrepreneurs has the potential to drive enterprise to countries beyond those normally associated with commerce. So in the future, the business travel landscape could be far more diverse as the market adjusts to cater to the needs of this growing community.

SEE ALSO: Why the sharing economy is a boon for business travel