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Published on July 21st, 2013 | by Daniel

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What Exactly is a Digital Nomad?

For all the buzz and talk that surrounds the principle of location independence and digital nomadism, it is good to take a step back and ask ourselves: how can we define it and what does it mean exactly?

If we were to make an official definition: a digital nomad is a person that uses digital technologies in order to perform their work and support their “nomadic” lifestyle. Due to this digital nomads are able to work from any place where these technologies are in place, of which the most used is the internet.

Although in this day and age the use of the internet among digital nomad is ubiquitous – and in most cases a necessary condition – the principle of digital nomadism presages the internet. For instance, in the ‘70s and ‘80s of the last century there was already a small group of digital nomads. Most of these were active in financial services (i.e. stock trading) and used telephone and fax to conduct their business from abroad.

However these days the term digital nomad has become almost synonymous with an individual who uses the internet to make money. Due to the versatile nature of the internet, there are many ways to make a living, among others: freelancing, online marketing, consulting, IT work and writing. This makes that digital nomadism and location independent professionals encompasses a wide diverse array of individuals.

There are also some quirks about the digital nomad in general that sets it apart from “normal” nomadic travelers (i.e. tourists). Some key elements are:

Presence of the Technological Infrastructure. A digital nomad need at least the internet in place to conduct his or her business – and the internet speed needs to be of good quality at least (anyone who ever did a skype call with a bad connection will empathize). So the digital nomad will be more present in cities and big towns than in the countryside – especially with regard to low income countries.

Travel Frequency. The typical digital nomad travels relatively slow and can be in one place for months. Of course there is a large standard deviation here – also due to different types of location independent work – but on average the digital nomad tends to stay in a certain spot for longer times. One of the reasons is that travelling a lot all the time costs energy and time that cannot be focused on the business. A more joyous reason is that due to the nature of the lifestyle the digital nomad will have all the time in his or her life to see the places they want to see – so why not take it slow?

Work Routine. Digital nomads commonly have work routines, even more so when they become more professional. When you have a online business you will have to deal with customers from time to time. Furthermore, having a routine will make your work flow more efficiently and you will get more work done in less time – so there is more leisure time to explore the local surroundings.

Contact with Locals. Because the digital nomad stays in one place for longer periods and tend to work more in routines they will come in contact with locals frequently. The relationship with the locations they work from is intensified and overall a digital nomad will have a more intense local experience than the common tourist – becoming a true expat and learning the local language in some cases.

All in all I would regard the defining characteristic of the digital nomad as: freedom. Even though the digital nomad on average is working from one place for longer times, has work routines and needs the internet – there is always a choice to change course and to live somewhere else. The needs of the digital nomad in this day and age is basic so there are many beautiful places to work from and to discover. This contributes to the great flexibility of the lifestyle and makes being a digital nomad such a fantastic experience.

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