When Rubén Señor and Lucía Sánchez (something to remember) they started with their life project 10 years ago, the concept of digital nomad did not even exist. Both dedicated to marketing, and with a common passion for travel, they only had one thing clear: they wanted to do just that, but they were having trouble getting started. And one night, after dinner and in front of a bottle of wine, they overcame their last doubts and bought that first ticket to Beijing: “We just wanted to travel. Later, being the owners of our time and our direction became a necessity”, recalls Señor. China, Japan, Chile, India, the United States, South Africa, Cambodia and Colombia are just a small sample of the destinations they have visited. Neither of them (and, if you ask Koke and Tindaya, their two little traveling boys, probably either) contemplate another way of life, and in this they agree with most digital nomads: 92% of them are very satisfied with their job, vs. 68% of people with traditional jobs, according to the MBO Partners report State of Independence 2022.
The most obvious advantages of this lifestyle (working while traveling thanks to technology) involve a high degree of freedom that allows you to decide not only where you work from, but also when to stop, move or rest. But it is also an experience “that opens your mind to new ways of doing things; it makes you an outgoing person, eager to learn from other cultures and people; it helps you to be a more responsible and committed person; and it makes you approach things with a positive attitude, with energy and happiness”, explains Carla Gil, digital nomad and expert in Human Resources in the field of startups.
Has the pandemic influenced the expansion of this phenomenon? Yes, definitely. In the United States, for example, the number of digital nomads with traditional jobs rose 9% in 2022 (from 10.1 to 11.1 million); but it is that in 2020 that number had already doubled, and in 2021 it increased by 42%. Regarding professional areas, and according to the MBO Partners report, the most common are related to ICT professions (21%); creative works (12%); education and training (11%); sales, marketing and public relations (9%); finance and accounting (9%) and consulting, coaching and research (8%). Furthermore, 69% state that they intend to maintain this lifestyle for the next two or three years. But, with everything, it is an option that is not valid for everyone, because not everything is to work from paradisiacal beaches or in front of mountains or lakes. The less visible face also speaks of loneliness, problems to disconnect or personal relationships.
Approximately four in 10 digital nomads (41%) say their lifestyle affects their ability to maintain romantic relationships, a similar percentage to those who say they feel lonely “often or always”, according to the study. The Dark Side of Being a Digital Nomad (2023), from Passport Photo Online, based on the opinions of 950 of these nomads. The right to digital disconnection is not easy to achieve either, because that freedom to work when and from where one wants often has another face: that of the 44% of those surveyed who admit to working more hours than before, many times during weekends. week, answer emails outside of their working hours and even feel guilty for taking time off or disconnecting from work (this, in 83% of cases). Six out of 10, however, work 40 hours or less.
Be aware of the challenges
For Señor, the worst travel companion was always uncertainty, “the B side of the security that a normal life offers. We are the owners of our time and our movements, but we also get involved in many projects that don’t come out… In the end it’s a purely economic issue, but if you can handle it, it’s not that difficult to handle, ”he explains. “And then there is the issue of seeing more or less the family; but there are people who have a very sedentary life and who see it even less than we do”. The feeling of “missing something” (Fear of Missing Out, FOMO, in English) is however very common among digital nomads.
“The most difficult thing for me is being away from friends and family, and missing important moments,” admits Gil, now head of People and Culture at Prophero. “At first you miss a dinner with friends, or a birthday celebration… but, over time, you stop to think that you have chosen that lifestyle that you lead, and that those moments will be there when you return.” Since he found out that his vocation was human resources, he focused on looking for projects that would allow him to combine work with his passion for traveling, and his travel card For now, it bears “stamps” from Thailand, Bali, Australia, the United States, Portugal or Ibiza. Personal safety, the difficulties derived from the time difference and logistics are other aspects to take into account.
“For me, the most difficult thing has been learning to manage the rhythm of the trip, because in the end you are more exposed to things happening to you. And the uncertainty of day-to-day life is wonderful, but at the same time it causes me some anxiety, especially when you have to manage a business”, confesses Isabel Bofill. She began her professional career as a Nutrition specialist, but in her transition to nomadism she trained (and became) a consultant and digital marketing strategist, while Josué Pérez, her partner, is a kitchen trainer vegan. Spain, France, Germany… Both recognize that the difficulties of having a stable social circle is another of the challenges, as is the difficulty of exercising regularly or space. “And not because you have less space to store things, which for me is actually a positive aspect (they travel in a motorhome) because we live with much more than we need and consumerism at the blow of click (…), but because living together with two people and a dog in such a small space limits individual time and makes us have to go more together when it comes to eating and sleeping”, he explains.
Is it a life plan for me?
Being a digital nomad is not, in any case, a life plan that is valid for everyone. “The only thing you have to know before you jump in is that if you want to live traveling and own your time, you have to do it. You cannot keep that inside, because it will take its toll on you. Of course, if you don’t feel it, if you’re happy with the family paella every Sunday, don’t get carried away by trends and the networks. Do not do it; you don’t need it,” advises Lord. And, of course, if you have doubts… the best thing to do is to try it: “I would recommend living the experience first, somehow. Renting, borrowing a vehicle if you know someone who has it, exchanging for a few days… There are many ways, but you have to try”, says Gil. Websites like Planet Nomad are also a good starting point to find out everything you need, including the possibility of looking for jobs to be able to work remotely.
Then, on the road, much of the experience depends on being able to enjoy a good Internet connection. “In my case, I usually choose cities that are prepared for digital nomads, and then I look for spaces for coworking where there is startups and where I can find people with a work rate similar to mine. That allows me to meet new people and do networking”Gil says. “(These spaces) help us to have a separate home and work, and facilitate the entrepreneurial mission that is sorely needed; have internet connection; kitchens; garden; beers and lunch from time to time… And the prices are much cheaper than in an office”, Pérez and Bofill also explain. Spain, for its part, has become a very popular destination within this group, and many cities (Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia…) have developed specific ecosystems to attract them, with spaces for coworking, long-stay residences and cheap accommodation options in rural areas, in addition to the measures promoted by the Government, with the creation of specific visas and tax benefits.
Financial planning essential
Although, in some ways, it is a cheaper way of life, carrying out good financial planning is always essential. “Whenever you travel you have to have financial resources to start your adventure, but it helps if you leave home with a job that generates monthly income. And, of course, having international health insurance”, Gil wields. Señor and Sánchez, Rubén and Lucía, planned their first long trip “in the most obvious way: we sold everything we had, we saved what we could before leaving and we divided that money between 365 days. That’s where our daily budget came from. We recorded all our expenses rigorously, and if one day we went too far, the next we cut back. And then we realized that, contrary to what we thought, we could earn money traveling and we wanted to extend the trip. There was no turning back.”
Bofill, for his part, recommends spending time establishing a financial plan that includes issues such as how much you will need to live each month, how you are going to get it, the savings available or the means to generate income. A plan that, in any case, “is not valid only for digital nomads; so it should be in general in life. Nor are we taught financial education in the current educational system, to control your expenses, to invest, save and generate your own money. So then what happens is that most people don’t control their finances, they control you.” Finally, it is also worth keeping an eye on tax responsibility, because digital nomads are not exempt from it and tax regulations can be complicated in many countries: up to 84% of those surveyed in the Passport Photo Online study admitted having had have to face tax problems on occasion.
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