The future of digital nomadism: some predictions

Manzanares el Real

This week marks the third anniversary of us upping and leaving our home, jobs and friends in London behind.

Back then, we thought we were just going on a career break: we’d never heard of the term “digital nomad” – and it didn’t exist outside of a small number of blogs run by people mostly in their 20s, mostly designers or programmers, and mostly travelling on their own or as a couple. Now, the lifestyle is so widely understood that it barely needs its own label – which is just as well, because “digital nomad” is still horrendous and we still haven’t come up with anything better.

Explaining our new “digital nomad” lifestyle to people, at first, never went well – we just couldn’t get across the point that we were outside our home country but not on vacation. After a while, these conversations became more successful and the people we spoke to said they wished that they could do the same. Now, people talk seriously about their plans to actually do the same, or have tried a stint of working away from home already.

What’s changed? Maybe our explanation is just getting better, but I think there’s more to it than that.

For one thing, technology for remote connectivity has truly become mass market. Our generation’s parents are on Facebook and they have an iPhone, so they understand that being away from a home base (or not having one at all) doesn’t mean that you instantly stop existing. They’ve read about Airbnb in mainstream newspapers, and understand its appeal as a traveller even if they’d never let strangers into their own home. They probably have at least some experience of working remotely, even if it’s just answering urgent work emails on their phone while they’re on vacation.

Perhaps as a result, people are also more comfortable having their social and business interactions mediated by technology: even five years ago most people would be uncomfortable about working with a (say) financial adviser they hadn’t met in person, but now the professionals we know say that there’s no point having an office because clients barely want to meet them anymore.

So if a mobile lifestyle is becoming widely understood if not widely practised, what can we expect to change over the next three years?

The death of the digital nomad blog

Nobody needs to be told again how cheap it is to live in Thailand and that it’s totally possible to work from there just like you’re at home – and hey, the wifi can be a little sketchy sometimes but here’s my laptop next to a coconut!

We’re grateful for the genuine trailblazers who made us realise that this was a viable lifestyle because other people were doing it too. When we started our blog we were already pale imitators, but three years on there’s little reason why anyone would read a new blog about digital nomadism – unless the people writing it were on a journey that’s genuinely novel or impressive.

Which leads me to…

The rise of the mobile family

Now people get what we’re doing, the most common response after a short conversation is “…but of course, that will all stop when you have kids.”

Will it? We know of some families travelling full-time with their children, but there are going to be a whole lot more: the generation who are having kids now (ours) has been raised with at least ten years of access to the whole world’s information and opinions, and will increasingly find alternatives to the traditional school and support system.

I think this is fascinating: while the nomadic experiences of individuals in their 20s won’t differ too widely from each other, families will vary massively based on the ages, genders and personalities of their kids, views on schooling, priorities and so on.

Again there are some amazing trailblazers already, but I expect (and hope) that we’ll see far more nomadic families blogging their journey – and resources appearing to help them support and connect with each other.

The ubiquity of the part-time nomad

OK, maybe “ubiquity” is a strong word, but in a few years I think it will be considered pretty normal to go work from another country for a month in the summer while the kids are off school – or for a single person who works from home to move where “home” is for six months (which is all being a digital nomad really is, when you think about it).

I know I’m living in a bubble and there are plenty of professions where this isn’t an option, but there’s a healthy chunk of the working population who either work from home already or will be doing so in the future. And just like it happened to us, when they realise that people like them are doing it, they’ll see that there’s no reason to confine their time abroad to two weeks of vacation.

Distributed teams not just for tech companies

Remote work is becoming more common, but when you look at remote job listing sites the positions are probably 80% tech-based (programmers etc) and 20% general roles at tech companies (like a support rep for a SAAS product).

I think this will change as more businesses realise – as we did with Yellow Lettings – that there’s a massive benefit to cutting the overhead of an office and being able to hire the best talent wherever they happen to live. And as this happens, it will open up remote work to those whose skillsets aren’t in tech: it’s hard to be a remote HR or marketing person when the rest of the team is in an office seeing each other every day, but not when the whole team is distributed.

And as it starts to become known as a viable option, the best talent will start to demand it.

A new type of visa

At the moment people like us fall into a grey area: we’re not strictly on vacation, but we’re also not “working” in any way that would satisfy the requirements for getting a business or working visa in most countries.

In the next few years, I think at least one country will start to offer some kind of “employed elsewhere” visa – basically meaning that you can legitimately stay in the country for longer than a tourist and do work there, as long as you can prove that you’re being paid a wage by an overseas company (including your own). For all I know, maybe that *does* already exist or fall under the remit of a regular visa – but the rules for any kind of visa are so monumentally complicated that they’re impossible to understand if you don’t fit neatly into a traditional employment role.

This is all tied into tax, of course: if you’re spending a lot of time in one country using their public services, it should be possible to pay tax there – then stop doing so when you leave. Unfortunately I don’t see the tax situation changing any time soon.

More tools to enable interest-based friendships

I’ve written before about how most friendships are traditionally based on proximity, and how that’s a challenge (and a benefit) when you choose a lifestyle where ongoing proximity doesn’t necessarily happen.

We have close friends who we’ll only see a couple of times a year (if that), and stay in touch with online the rest of the time – which is totally fine. But to make new friends we need to either meet people who share our interests online then eventually meet up with them in person later, or find people we’re temporarily near who share our interests so we can meet them offline first.

Find A Nomad is our attempt to facilitate the second of those types of friendship, and I can see other solutions popping up too – either specifically targeting people with certain interests to start with, or just solving the problem in a different way from how we’ve done it.

What do you think?

What are your predictions for the next few years of what we unfortunately still have to call “digital nomadism” for now?

Am I way off the mark with any of mine?

I’d love to know, so leave a comment below!