So I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole ‘digital nomad’ trend that’s been going on lately.
It might not be so evident to those who don’t look to blogs as a source of travel inspiration, but there are literally hundreds of young people who have tried to quit their day jobs + taken the risk of becoming a full-time traveller.
They live dreamy (well, on the surface, at least), seasonal lives: strolling through sunny Sweden during the summer months and weathering the winters bitter cold Koh Lanta, Thailand.
(all photos via one of my favorite travel-blogger-couples of all, Mr & Mrs. Globetrot)
Here’s some facts I’ve noticed about most of these digital nomads:
1. They’re typically 25-35. Most bloggers I follow fall into this age range; not quite fresh-out-of-college–but not yet at the age where they’re feeling the pressure to settle down + have kids. (Well, at least for the women. Do guys even ever get that feeling? Opinions appreciated).
2. They’re usually white, middle-class North Americans. Okay, this might be a stretch, since I don’t read blogs in French or Korean, so I don’t know if there’s also a digital nomad trend going on in those countries as well. But it seems that many of the major travel bloggers out fall into this socio-economic category.
3. Most of the major bloggers started blogging in 2010-2011. You see this in the big lifestyle + fashion bloggers as well. 2009, 2010, 2011 seemed to have been the golden era of blogging; before Facebook replaced, well, everything. There have been a few bloggers that started a bit later, but it’s getting harder and harder as more people attempt the digital nomad lifestyle, and people’s inclination to even read entire blog posts drastically decreases.
4. Most of these “digital nomads” rely on freelance writing projects for the bulk of their income. The biggest question with these people is always, How the heck can you “not work” and just travel around the world? These people do work–they pick up copy-writing gigs, write articles & guest blogs for major companies + magazines. I believe that most of them make only a bit of money from advertising on their blogs, but many of their trips are sponsored by tourism boards, various hostels + hostels, etc. If they get an assignment for a week-long trip in Italy, they pack up & go (ugh! unfair!).
The only other careers that I could think of that support the digital nomad life aside from freelance writing: wedding photographer, graphic designer, filthy rich heiress with trust fund to blow.
5. They tend to spend a lot of time in Southeast Asia. Most of these digital nomads seem to spend a large bulk of their time in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. The reasons for this are pretty obvious: they don’t make a lot of money, and the cost of living per day is the lowest in Southeast Asia. Since they all work remotely from their laptops, all they have to do is have a wi-fi connection and a plug-in to make some $$$. Also, though this surely couldn’t be a factor, I hear Southeast Asia has some pretty nice beaches.
6. In order to become a ‘digital nomad’, you need to be heavily invested in social media. The requirement: a strong blog site, a Facebook page, a Twitter, a Pinterest–all with tons of followers. The online reputation of a digital nomad is his or her income stream, essentially. It helps them get sponsored to go on trips; get advertisers for their blog, and pick up freelance writing gigs. There are loads of conferences that happens around the world (although seriously–after living in Asia for 2 years, I am now convinced that there is a conference for every. possible. thing one could think of) that help to connect these digital nomads and enable them to share ideas & make professional connections.
So, just how appealing is it to be a digital nomad? I think that my current personal + academic community (I go to a top-ranked university in Taiwan) can’t even comprehend that this kind of life exists. It’s not even that they would or wouldn’t approve. This kind of life is absolutely unthinkable. However, when I brought up the topic to my mom, she simply shrugged & said, It’d be doable for a year or two, but what then? I’ve definitely thought about being a digital nomad. There are so many inspiring posts on the web by digital nomads; variations on “I quit my boring-ass cubicle job and I’m gonna travel the fuck outta the world, YOLO”.
I haven’t even gotten to the soul-sucking cubicle job yet, and here I am, thinking about whether I would want to do this digital nomad thing. I suppose it’s because I’m three years into university and I still have absolutely no idea of what I want to do with my life. What the fuck is up with that? Why can’t they just hand you a life plan along with your degree? I was supposed to graduate this past June; but since I took two years off post-high school to travel & volunteer, I’m still in university while all of my classmates have entered the workforce. I’ve been talking to many of them about their post-grad life, mostly with horribly Machiavellian motives– trying to judge their post-life maturity, you know, so I can make sure I’m not falling behind & on track and all that.
And so I’ve had coffee with people who I’ve seen post Facebook updates being all “OMG LOVE MY NEW JOB, JUST GOT HIRED AT XXX SUPER-HIP COMPANY YOU’D DIE TO WORK FOR”--and suddenly they’re telling me that they actually hate their job, and they pay out 75% of their salary on their rent, and, you know what, the 9-5 grind is actually killing them. What the fuck is up with that?
So, that brings me back to these digital nomads–is it a viable escape from the 9-5 grind? They are the YOLO people: they get to go to Koh Phi Phi on whim to go snorkelling one weekend and get paid to go to Tuscany the next; their Instagrams make the masses weep with envy–but what about when they’re not so young-and-YOLO anymore? They’ll end up with hardly any savings, a huge blank on their resumes (aka, no chance in the competitive pool for high-paying jobs), maybe they’ll have a steady romantic partner–or they’ll have an equally broke romantic partner who they are truly, madly, deeply in love with and want to have kids with and buy a house with and settle down with but they can’t because—
You know what I think of when I think of this dilemma? I think of Frodo, in Lord of the Rings. If anyone could epitomize YOLO, it’d be him, right? He could have stayed in his little hobbity hole and grown fat on cheese, but no–he was all, I will take the Ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way. So he essentially goes on this insane adventure; sees all these lands & peoples & creatures he would have never seen otherwise, accomplishes this great task, and then he heads back to the Shire and everything is destroyed. (Note: If you don’t know this, it’s because you’ve only watched the movies (if this is indeed the case, be fully aware that you are a huge loser), because in the movies they totally cut that part out). So basically Frodo returns from this incredible journey; the Shire has been totally taken over by Saruman, the Party Tree is chopped down–and everything sucks! So then Frodo, Merry, Pippin & Sam have to fight a battle in the Shire in order to kick Saruman out & rebuild the Shire. And at this point, reading, you’re like yay! Now Frodo can return to the Shire and grow old, fat, and content with a hobbit wife. But that’s not what actually happens. because this is what happens: Frodo decides he can’t deal with living in the Shire anymore, because all the people that are around him have no idea what he’s been through. And so he sails away into the West with the Elves!
This is all fine & dandy–but guess what–Valinor doesn’t actually exist and I can’t go there after my incredible YOLO-rific adventure like Frodo does. And this ‘digital nomad’ trend is too young for us to know what happens to these bloggers when they grow tired of the travelling life & attempt to move on. I mean–perhaps I’m just being overdramatic. Perhaps they can settle down into cushy, stable editorial jobs; or work for some adventure company in an office somewhere. But how would they feel? Would they just always be living in adventures past–would they be unable to deal with the inevitable pressures of having a family, having a job to support that family? Would they think they made the wrong decisions with they were young?
Since this post has already reached Smaug-a-rific proportions, I’m going to save my extra thoughts for a later post. But what do you think? Is being a digital nomad worth it? Have you ever thought of being a digital nomad?