The Rise of the Digital Nomad.
Words by Victoria Bevilacqua | Photos by Spring Morris
It’s no secret that Millennials sometimes get a bad rap. Apparently our love of avocado toast is keeping us from becoming homeowners. A milestone previously held as the gold standard of success by generations past. This demographic has already experienced its share of ups and downs when it comes to navigating life and work in a post-recession era. And, like most defining economic moments of any generation, what’s emerged from the rubble of a North American housing crisis, under-employment, and rising debt burdens is a new way to live and work – from anywhere in the world. Millennials, the generation born between the years 1985 to 2000, resoundingly list ‘travel the world’ as part of their benchmarks of success. Notably, the rising trend of what’s known as the digital nomad is becoming increasingly enticing. This group no longer wants to feel restricted to a traditional, 9-to-5 job.
For many, the digital nomad lifestyle is the new dream. It is a far cry from the goals and aspirations of past generations. Unlike their parents or grandparents generation, for Millennials, climbing the corporate ladder and buying a home no longer holds the same caché it used to.
Digital Nomads Are Trending Away From Traditional
Young professionals are leaving the corporate world en masse in search of more flexibility, freedom, and personal and professional fulfillment. Remote workplace provider, IWG, found that globally, at least 70% of all workers telecommute at least once per week. 53% work remotely at least half the week. And, this trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. By 2020, Citrix predicts that 50% of the workforce will be completely office-free. Meanwhile, Intuit predicts that the gig economy will make up 43% of the workforce. This is due, in large part, to the rapid growth of companies like Uber and Fiverr.
The digital nomad lifestyle has become so popular that a number of businesses have sprung up to accommodate this new type of professional. From hostels that double as co-working spaces, like Roam, to programs like Remote Year and Outsite, which help young professionals get set up to work remotely in various cities around the world. It is clear that what was once a countercultural move is fast becoming mainstream.
Is The Digital Nomad Lifestyle As Easy As It Looks on Instagram?
Millennials don’t want to have to sit at the same desk day in and day out. They don’t want to have to ask for vacation time to go on a trip. So, what does that make us? Entitled is the label that gets thrown around most often. Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, says:
“Apparently, Millennials as a group of people, which are those born from approximately 1984 and after, are tough to manage. They are accused of being entitled and narcissistic, self interested, unfocused and lazy – but entitled is the big one.”
Sinek goes on to explain that the word is hardly a fair reflection of what is really going on with Millennials and the way they view their careers. A deeper look at typical North American Millennial culture and values goes beyond labelling us the generation that just wants free stuff and time off. Contrary to popular presumptions, digital nomads, in fact, work. A nine-month study conducted by Stanford University found that remote workers took fewer sick days than their in-office counterparts. In addition, they were 13% more productive. Digital nomads also aren’t skipping out on work early to hit the beach; 23% say they are willing to put in extra hours to get the job done.
Freelance graphic designer Emma Johnson shares, “I left Canada to live in Bali and Australia, even though most of my clients are Canadian and American. This means we’re on completely opposite time zones. When I’m up, they are asleep, and vice versa. This means I’m working late into the evening – we’re talking midnight Google Hangout meetings and not closing my laptop until four in the morning.” She says she’s motivated to put in the extra time because she is slowly crafting the career and the life she’s always dreamed of.
Digital Nomads Are Getting Money, Honey
DoughRoller predicts that remote workers can save up to $7,000 a year on commuting costs, clothing, child care, and food. But, they’re not the only ones benefiting financially. Employers who allow their teams to work remotely can also save up to $11,000 per employee according to a report by Global Workplace Analytics. Gallup reports that employers are also seeing better retention rates when they provide remote work options.
Johnson who travels across Southeast Asia while working remotely, says, “my monthly spending is half of what it was from when I was living in downtown Toronto. I’ve also earned double my income from my last salary job. If anything, becoming a digital nomad has financially benefited me greatly. I’m spending less and earning more.”
Tameika Gentles, a Canadian social media influencer and online fitness coach who currently lives in Bali and travels, at the very least, once a month. She’s the co-founder of The Whole Experience, an international health and fitness retreat which empowers women of colour to get fit, travel the world, and live their best, healthiest lives. The biggest hurdle she has had to overcome as a digital nomad was self-doubt and others’ opinions.
“I’m constantly reminding myself to follow my own path and ignore the negativity of others. But it can be trying at times – especially because my life is so outside of the norm. Many people, especially my family, don’t understand what I do, nor do they understand how lucrative it can be. The digital nomad space is hard for some to comprehend” says Gentles.
She also warns, “there is loneliness from time to time. You are away from family and everything you know.” Gentles explains the financial and logistical challenges she tackled in order to work for herself full-time. “Before taking the plunge into full time entrepreneurship, I planned. A lot! I ensured I was fully out of debt, and saved a bunch of money. You constantly live in fear – the good kind. It forces you to live outside of your comfort zone and […] realize your potential. The possibilities are infinite.”
There Are No Shortcuts to Success for the Digital Nomad or 9-to-5er
Whether you’re a digital nomad or working a corporate, 9-to-5 job, the collective pursuits that drive so many Millennials, “confounds leadership”, says Sinek. “Leaders will say “what do you want?”, and Millennials will say “we want to work in a place with purpose, we want to make an impact, we want free food and bean bag chairs.”
But, he warns that there is no shortcut to impact and purpose. “Some things that really, really matter, like love or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self confidence, a skillset, any of these things – all of these things take time.” Sometimes you can expedite pieces of it, but the overall journey is arduous and long and difficult.”