The term “digital nomad” is rising in popularity, but still greatly misunderstood.
To many people, the whole concept of becoming a digital nomad is a pipe dream, to others, it’s already a reality.
I’m a member of several digital nomad Facebook groups, and I frequently see people in their 40’s and 50’s posting about whether they’re “too old” to become a “digital nomad” – as if you have to meet specific requirements to earn the title.
Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I felt the same way when I became a “backpacker” a couple years ago.
Although I was still pretty young (at 26 years old) when I first started backpacking, I had just finished my master’s degree, was currently going through a divorce, and was trying to break into a new career path as a travel blogger while taking on freelance marketing projects to fund my travels. So I’m sure some of you can imagine how out of place I felt with the 18-year-old gap year students who partied all night every night without a care in the world except to make-out with hot strangers from all corners of the globe.
I didn’t fall into this “demographic” of backpackers, so I didn’t feel like I belonged in the “backpacking” community – even though that’s exactly what I was doing.
At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the “digital nomad” lifestyle, and coworking and co-living spaces weren’t on my radar yet. If I had started backpacking 5-7 years earlier, I would have fit in perfectly with these young, partying backpackers, but 26-year-old me felt incredibly out of place at every hostel I checked-in to.
So, as often as I could, I opted to rent out a room in a local’s home instead. But then I ran into a similar problem of not feeling like I belong, because my “hosts” typically couldn’t wrap their mind around the concept of being a digital nomad and that I did actually WORK to fund my traveling lifestyle…I just happened to work remotely.
During my first year and a half of being a digital nomad, I felt completely isolated. Wherever I went, I never felt a sense of belonging. So I just kept moving on, from place to place, unsure of what exactly it was I was looking for.
Don’t get me wrong, I did more learning and growing as a person during my first year of traveling solo than I had in my entire 27 years of existence, but I still felt out of place and alone.
Then more and more digital nomad communities and businesses started popping up and gaining popularity, and I started connecting (virtually) with other digital nomads, learning their stories, and realizing I wasn’t so alone in this way of living after all.
It’s true that a chunk of the “digital nomad community” are ambitious Millennials who figured out how to turn their hobbies or skills into a personal brand and sell it through social media, YouTube videos, or blogging.
It’s also true that being a successful digital nomad takes a certain degree of tech savviness that Millennials and Gen Z kids were born into and raised to be fluent in.
Much of the world still views the digital nomad life as a temporary phase that some young Millennials are “lucky enough” to pursue before starting their “real career” rather than a long-term lifestyle that is open to anyone.
Even within the digital nomad/online entrepreneur/remote work community, the term “digital nomad” holds a certain degree of social stigma because of this perception from the rest of the world. Several people I’ve met at my current coworking space hate to be referred to as a “Digital Nomad” and I’ve read several blog posts with the same shared hatred of the term.
The truth is though, there is no single definition of being a “digital nomad;” there are no terms and conditions, requirements, or age restrictions – it’s just a location-independent way of living.
Which is an alternative term many digital nomads prefer btw – “location independent.” As well as a slew of other made up words that people use to refer to a lifestyle where all you need to work is a laptop and wifi connection.
It doesn’t matter what you call it – the digital nomad lifestyle is about creating a life for yourself where YOU are in control of HOW you spend your time, WHERE you spend it, and WHEN you show up for each activity.
The important thing is that you actually SHOW UP.
Social media glamorizes the digital nomad lifestyle. Yes, even my own social media accounts are guilty of this. Because all you see are the travel pics and adventures, not the early mornings and late nights of hard work we put in to support this way of living.
The people who can’t seem to figure out how to make the digital nomad life work for them, are the ones who lack the self-discipline to put in the hours and work necessary to succeed.
Many digital nomads – myself included – work normal hours on their “job” (aka the work that actually pays the bills) and then spends most of their free time working on personal/entrepreneurial projects towards achieving their biggest goals and dreams.
I work a typical 7-8 hour day on freelance marketing projects, and then spend several more hours on my own projects like this blog, the Healthy Cookbook for Travelers I’m currently writing, as well as a couple of other writing projects I have up my sleeve. It’s a lot of hard work, but for those of us who figure it out and don’t give up – it pays off in a huge way.
A couple of months ago I took off to travel around Europe. This time I left the backpack behind, determined to find a more suitable community of travelers to surround myself with.
My first two months were a bust. I ended up spending all of my time either completely alone working from my apartment in Croatia, or occasionally, traveling with friends from home who were on vacation.
But that all changed when I got to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – one of the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa that is governed by Spain. Here, I’m working out of a coworking space with other digital nomads and living in a co-living flat with 4 other members.
Living and working around people who live the same kind of lifestyle as me has done wonders for my productivity, motivation, and overall happiness factor…because for the first time, I feel a sense of belonging.
I’ve made friends and connections with digital nomads who come from various backgrounds and countries with different languages, ages, jobs, beliefs, goals, and interests – yet as different as we all are, I’ve never felt so understood and supported.
I don’t mean the kind of “moral support” you get from family and friends, I mean the kind of support that actually advances your growth in one way or another and you can directly apply to your life.
Anyone who has ever felt out of place knows that you can be surrounded by other people yet somehow feel completely alone.
The reverse is also true.
When you’re a part of a community you feel welcome and accepted in, you can take time for yourself – or work independently – without feeling isolated.
Strangely enough, the reason it took me so long to finally join a coworking community is because I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in.
I was more comfortable being on my own and working from my apartment. But even as an introvert who enjoys my own company, it can get so. damn. lonely.
I don’t know whether it was the fear of uncertainty about the type of people I would encounter in coworking spaces, or that I had some stereotype imagined up in my head that intimidated me that was holding me back before. Fortunately though, aside from being an introvert who’s highly prone to social anxiety, I also happen to be the type of person who likes to push myself outside of my comfort zone and face my fears head on.
That’s how I ended up at Coworking Canary Islands and met this amazing community of the most diverse and down-to-earth mix of people I’ve ever met.
They are entrepreneurs, freelancers, web developers, computer engineers, remote employees working for large corporations, customer service reps, life coaches, techies, virtual assistants, language teachers, marketing experts, startup app founders, and countless other varieties of jobs. Some have been living the “digital nomad” lifestyle for decades, others are just getting started and still trying to figure it all out. They come from all over the world and many have created opportunities for themselves out of thin air to live a lifestyle of freedom and happiness.
Although I only have two more weeks in the Canary Islands and with this particular community of digital nomads, I know that I have many more coworking and digital nomad communities ahead of me and can’t wait to meet more of these amazing people who make me feel accepted regardless of our differences.
That could be by going to visit a local coworking space, spending a few days at a co-living house, attending a conference, or joining a retreat (there are heaps of new events popping up all the time so you should have a good chance of finding one that fits your schedule).
Once you get a “taste” of the digital nomad community, I think you’ll be VERY [pleasantly]surprised at the diversity of backgrounds and stages of life the other people in the community are at.
You’ll also likely experience a ridiculous amount of support and new ideas for how to make the digital nomad lifestyle work for you and your particular set of skills and interests.
Before I end, I just want to quickly point out that this can also be applied to other types of lifestyles. There are Facebook Groups and Meetups for virtually everything these days, so even if you’re not in pursuit of a digital nomad lifestyle, start there to find the community that best suits you.