Technology has provided us with so many different ways to mix living, working and travelling that the hardest part can be deciding what to call yourself.
The problem with the term ‘digital nomad’ is that it covers way too much ground. You might be a non-stop traveller, a telecommuter, an expat, a currency arbitrage specialist, a wanderlust blogger, a location-independent entrepreneur or you might fall under the umbrella of any number of other woefully inadequate descriptors (I’ve even heard the shudder-inducing term ‘lifestyle designer’).
Some people maintain a home base but might spend part of the year house-sitting or caretaking in exotic locations around the world. Some live and work abroad for a month and others stay overseas for years. For some, it’s all about the money. Others aim to combine their freelancing life with other pursuits – you can even find articles on how to combine online self-employment with kite-surfing! There is simply no single term that covers everyone who combines online work and travel.
Take me, for example. I currently live in Australia but spend a third of each year travelling. Does that make me a traveller who writes or a writer who travels? My reasons for wandering the planet vary and don’t always involve ‘work on the road’. And even though I have a home base, I could easily take off on a multi-year global working adventure, laptop in hand, if I chose to do so.
So how should I describe myself? Am I a copywriter who uses his profits to explore the world? Am I an occasional digital nomad? How about ‘online self-marketer and wordsmith’? Maybe ‘remote-area wilderness explorer and freedom-lifestyle solopreneur’ sums it up best. To be honest, I’ve given up trying to compress what I do into a single label. The term ‘Jet-setting Copywriter’ isn’t perfect, but I guess it will have to do.
You often hear the terms ‘digital nomad’ and ‘location-independent entrepreneur’ used interchangeably – but are they really the same thing? I don’t believe so – and here’s why. Many people who refer to themselves as digital nomads don’t make enough money to choose their preferred working/living locations. They only make enough to stay in the world’s cheapest destinations. Their incomes limit their options, so they’re not really ‘location-independent’.
If you’ve perused your share of work-from-anywhere websites, you already know about these budget-friendly nomad hotspots: Thailand, India, Bali, Cambodia, Morocco, the Philippines and anywhere in Central or South America where cheap digs and functioning Wi-Fi can be found together.
Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing your freelancing from any of these places (or several in the same year!) – but are you there because you want to be, or because it’s the only country you can afford? How ‘free’ is your lifestyle if you’re confined to ‘budget nomad hotspots’ and struggle to financially break even?
What’s the difference between a digital nomad and a location-independent freelancer? In my view, the real difference comes down to the amount of income generated. The true test of 100% location independence is when you can travel wherever and whenever you wish – and the location’s cost of living is not a major consideration. When you’re truly location independent, you have more choices because you have more control of your financial future. The entire world then becomes your potential office – not just the cheapest parts of it.
Everyone approaches the work/travel lifestyle differently. Some people gravitate toward co-working spaces in foreign lands (I’ve never used one). Some freelancers prefer the ambience of writing in local cafes (I prefer working from a desk in an AirBnB apartment). Where you end up working as a wandering writer is a personal choice that depends on what your priorities are.
If you’re planning to test out the digital nomad lifestyle, make sure you’ve established a reliable income source with your writing business first. You should be making enough to support yourself (and then some) so you’re not chewing through your savings. Resources such as NomadList can give you some great ideas about possible destinations, but don’t be afraid to branch out and find your own secret place in the world that’s not on any nomad hotspot list. This lifestyle should be about creating your own unique adventure – not flocking to where all the other online nomads are heading this week (Chiang Mai, anyone?).
Some parts of the world just keep pulling me back. I’ve completed over a dozen solo wilderness journeys in the Kimberley region of Australia over the past quarter-century. There’s no other place like it on the planet.