Woman working remotely from an outdoor cafe in Italy.
Digital nomads are individuals who work location-independent, technology-enabled jobs, often using that as an opportunity to travel to new places. — Getty Images/Westend61

Digital nomads are remote workers, including self-employed individuals, freelancers, and employees. They may travel domestically or overseas, and the internet keeps them connected to jobs, co-workers, and clients. Indeed, the nomadic lifestyle is a unique opportunity millions of Americans choose.

However, a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle isn’t for everyone. It can be difficult to stay connected in areas with spotty internet or mobile service and even more challenging to learn how to stay productive while enjoying a new adventure. Explore what it means to be a digital nomad to decide if it’s a good fit for your life.

Who are digital nomads?

Merriam-Webster defines a digital nomad as “someone who performs their occupation entirely over the internet while traveling.” They may work remotely for years or weeks and months. Some cross borders, whereas others never leave the U.S. Their professions vary almost as much as the time zones they live and work in.

According to an MBO Partners research brief, there were 7.3 million digital nomads in 2019. This figure climbed to 10.9 million in 2020 and 15.5 million by 2021. The majority are millennials (44%), followed by Gen X (23%), Gen Z (22%), and baby boomers (12%). Unlike non-nomads, digital nomads tend to hold college degrees and do work requiring specialized education, training, or expertise.

In 2021, the number of digital nomads with traditional jobs rose 42% to 10.2 million people, whereas independent workers grew 15%. More than 70% work full-time, and the other 30% may work part-time or part of a year. About 6.8 million reported earning $75,000 or more annually, and 21% made less than $25,000. Information technology (IT) workers make up 19% of digital nomads, with other sectors like creative services and accounting having less representation.

[Read more: 7 Steps to Setting Up a Location-Independent Business]

Where do digital nomads travel?

Over half of digital nomads will remain in the U.S. while working remotely. Popular cities include Boulder, Colorado; Austin, Texas; Lake Tahoe, Nevada; and Bozeman, Montana. Unlike pre-pandemic travelers, today’s digital nomads plan to spend more time in one area and voyage to fewer locations. However, 48% will spend some time overseas.

The Digital Nomad Index analyzes countries based on internet and mobile speed, monthly rent cost, and availability of working holiday visas. Here are the top 10 locations for digital nomads:

  • Canada.
  • U.K.
  • Romania.
  • Sweden.
  • Denmark.
  • France.
  • Netherlands.
  • Australia.
  • Switzerland.
  • Germany.

Overwhelmingly, digital nomads are “highly satisfied with their work and lifestyle.” And about four out of five said they are satisfied or very satisfied with their income.

Travel mobility and satisfaction

Overwhelmingly, digital nomads are “highly satisfied with their work and lifestyle.” And about four out of five said they are satisfied or very satisfied with their income. Yet, few digital nomads plan to travel for long periods. MBO Partners found that 32% will travel for less than one year, whereas 54% will stay on the road for at least two years.

There are many reasons why digital nomads give up the traveler’s lifestyle, including logistics and expense. Others simply get tired of traveling and miss family or friends. However, MB Partners points out that many former digital nomads intend to resume the lifestyle in the future.

[Read more: Virtual Businesses Take Off: How to Start a Fully Remote Business]

Getting started as a digital nomad

If you plan on traveling domestically, there are fewer hurdles to overcome. Sure, there may be time zone differences, making it harder to stay connected, but you won’t have to worry about visas or country-specific travel restrictions. Check out digital nomad communities like Nomad List and Couchsurfing to get tips about locations and working while traveling.

For those wanting to explore international locations, there are several factors to consider, such as:

  • Health insurance:Your health coverage may differ when traveling. Consult with HR to determine coverage and purchase travel insurance when required.
  • Cell phone usage: Mobile services differ internationally. Ask your phone carrier to unlock your phone so that you can add a SIM card for global carriers.
  • Internet service: Connectivity is spotty in many parts of the world. Review information on the Digital Nomad Index before heading to your destination.
  • Legal and tax provisions: Look for migrant-friendly areas with digital nomad visas or working holiday visas.

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