The digital nomad lifestyle has certainly seen a surge in popularity over the last few years, as more and more people are attracted to the freedom and possibilities it provides. Individuals who fall into the digital nomad category are location-independent, meaning they can work from anywhere in the world, as long as they have the technology necessary to perform their job. So rather than being based in a traditional office setting, nomads work remotely from the likes of coffee shops, libraries, co-working spaces, and even recreational vehicles.
Why Many are Drawn to the Digital Nomad Lifestyle
In their 2019 State of Independence in America study, MBO Partners found that 7.3 million Americans described themselves as digital nomads, an increase of 2.5 million people over 2018’s results. For many, the idea that a digital nomadic lifestyle offers a better work-life balance than the conventional 40-hour work week is incredibly enticing. People can achieve what they set out to do professionally, while simultaneously seeing the world and collecting countless new experiences along the way.
The leaders in this trend are solo entrepreneurs, but independent workers (freelance, contract, or self-employed) are quite likely to embrace the digital nomad lifestyle, as well. In the same State of Independence study, MBO Partners also found that "83 percent of full-time independent workers report working remotely at least some of the time, and 37 percent work remotely full-time." And with hiring firms becoming increasingly comfortable onboarding remote workers, those numbers will certainly be ones to watch.
Digital Nomad Living Post-Covid
In mid-March, when the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the coronavirus had reached pandemic status, nearly every nation began implementing strategies to slow its spread. While so much is yet to be determined about the future of travel and how that will affect digital nomad communities, it’s clear the industry will look differently in a post-COVID world.
Certain countries may have restrictions
As confirmed cases of the coronavirus expand and contract, restrictions surrounding travel remain in flux, as well. With that being said, the last few months have seen a range of regulations -- from not being permitted entry into some countries at all, to a mandatory two-week quarantine upon arrival.
The U.S. Department of State is a great resource for updated information on restrictions as the world continues to wade through the pandemic. These new guidelines for travel may prohibit a trip you’d planned on taking, but on the flip side, they may also open up alternative possibilities you otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
Shift in coffee shop and co-working culture
For many who participate in the digital nomad lifestyle, posting up in a cute coffee shop or co-working space is par for the course thanks to the reliable WiFi, community of fellow remote workers, and steady supply of caffeine. But with evolving guidelines in place for social distancing, there’s a strong possibility cafes and co-working centers will also have to adjust their daily operations.
Guests may be asked to wear masks while they work, or sit six-feet apart from one another, or capacity may simply be limited altogether. That’s not to say these spaces will become less popular, but it’s probable how they’re utilized will change in the months to come.
Adapted communication and flexibility among teams
With the global onset of COVID-19 came a subsequent shift in how companies manage their team members and business models. This past spring, a significant number of companies who previously worked in a shared office setting made a deliberate transition to working from home.
This development saw tremendous growth of video conferencing and various chat platforms, and in turn, a new understanding of effective communication among distributed teams. If these modifications have shed light on anything, it’s not only the need for flexibility and creative ways to connect, but how possible it is to work at a distance and remain effective.
Many more employees going fully remote
Although most companies moved into a work from home structure as a direct result of the coronavirus, that doesn’t mean they haven’t benefitted from this change in numerous ways. The expansion of remote work has been both powerful and productive, as team members generally feel more satisfied with their work when given autonomy and fluctuation within their schedules.
Conversations have started about remote work continuing even after coronavirus is less of a concern, as distributed teams are now seen as more of a long-term opportunity than a short-term solution. Furthering the digital nomad lifestyle is looking very promising as companies are waking up to the idea that remote work is a practical part of our new normal.
Your Options for 2021 & Beyond
Wait it out
It can be difficult to wait on something without a distinct timeframe, but for countless digital nomads and travel enthusiasts, that’s exactly what’s happening at the moment. Rather than rushing to purchase a flight or pack their bags, many people are simply dreaming of faraway places for now.
Waiting on circumstances to change is largely intertwined with the desire to feel more comfortable and confident while traveling, despite so many lingering unknowns. The hope is by holding out until travel restrictions eventually ease, it’ll be possible to have a fuller, more enjoyable experience overall.
Plan weekend/weeklong getaways
For those who can’t shake the urge to get away, there’s always the option for weekend trips. Is there a sweet small town or bustling big city within driving distance of where you live? If so, this might be the perfect time to hop in the car and explore a domestic destination.
Many Airbnbs remain in operation and may be offering discounted rates as a way to encourage travelers to book. Local restaurants are likely still open with carry-out options, while other businesses may be offering adjusted capacity, as well. This is a truly unique opportunity to support local economies who’ve been affected by the coronavirus, while potentially discovering some hidden gems along the way.
Especially in times when so much feels uncertain, it’s essential to surround yourself with people who feel like a soft place to land. Community is necessary for navigating tough times, so while travel is at a standstill, consider taking advantage of online resources to connect with like-minded travelers.
Platforms like Facebook, Slack, and Reddit can be helpful spaces to express disappointment over canceled plans, to gather recommendations for future ventures, or to stay up-to-date on travel restrictions around the world. People from everywhere can gather together in these digital communities to offer support and understanding you may not find elsewhere.
Digital Nomad Lifestyle FAQs
Is it safe to travel right now?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated ‘travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19,’ which means staying home is still the best way to protect yourself from getting sick. While it’s unknown whether one type of travel is safer than others, airports, bus stations, train stations, and rest stops all have the potential to expose people to the virus.
What is the risk of getting COVID-19 on an airplane?
As the CDC explains, ‘air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces.’ Most viruses don’t spread easily on flights because of how the air is circulated and filtered, yet social distancing could be difficult to practice in crowded cabins (which becomes more of a concern on long, international flights).
Where can I get tested for COVID-19?
There are two kinds of tests for COVID-19: a viral test (which tells you if you have a current infection) and an antibody test (which tells you if you’ve had a previous infection). Testing availability varies depending on where you live, but fortunately, Good Rx has created a comprehensive list of drive-thru, walk-thru, hospital, and clinic testing facilities in every state to help locate a site near you.