What is a Digital Nomad?

March 2022
– Chantal van Baalen

Digital nomads, remote workers, location independent professionals… These are the terms people keep throwing at us on a daily base. So you just nod respectfully, smile friendly and slowly walk away, hoping they stop talking about these undiscovered aliens. So what in the world are they talking about? What is a digital nomad? Here is a short and sweet explanation.

Definition of a digital nomad

Digital nomads are people that travel the world while working remotely from their computer. Hence the name; digital (computer stuff) and nomad (nomad). These are people that only need a laptop to work from and a place with stable Wi-Fi. People that, instead of going home after a day of work to make dinner and binge-watch at least three seasons of their favorite series, they go climb a mountain with friends, go to the beach for a sundowner session with a big fat cocktail or discover whatever city they are in. Sounds pretty cool right?

What is a digital nomad
Digital nomad life in Cape Town

"It's about the freedom to move wherever you feel most comfortable and inspired to work from."

Where to find digital nomads?

Digital nomads can work from any place that has Wi-Fi and some power outlets. And if there’s no Wi-Fi, they can still use their phones as a hotspot. And if there are no power outlets, there’s always power banks. This means that the options are endless, and I’m 100% sure that this is one of the reasons for digital nomads to choose this lifestyle. They are always searching for the best spots to work from, with the most spectacular views, the best coffee and food and of course the coolest vibes. And they won’t stop until they have found it. Resulting in some pretty rad and unbelievable scenes. From white sandy beaches in Hawaii to tropical rainforests in Indonesia, to the snowy mountains in the Alpes to even the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town.

Working in Uganda
Digital nomad at the pool
Working at the pool

Why become a digital nomad?

I believe that living this lifestyle and working from any place you want has a huge influence on the level of inspiration. Because let’s be honest, if you’re stuck with something at work and you need to have a little brainstorm session with yourself, would you rather stare into one of the office walls nicely lightened by fluorescent beams… OR would you rather take a little break in one of the bohemian hammocks under some palm trees while staring at the ocean, maybe even seeing some dolphins jump out, while listening to the breaking waves on the beach. Alright, I might have exaggerated it a teeny-tiny bit, but you get the point right?

It’s about the freedom to move wherever you feel most comfortable and inspired to work from. And even though you’re working, you enjoy every second of it, because you have made this well-considered decision yourself.

How to recognize a digital nomad

So, how to recognize these creatures? There is a few very obvious characteristics that for 99% can tell you who is a digital nomad, wherever you go.

First of all, look for a laptop. Anyone sitting by themselves in a bar behind a laptop is most likely a digital nomad. Also try to find out if they are just drawing a nice picture in Paint or actually working. You can easily tell this by the intensity of their facial expression.

Then there is ‘the stare’, the one we talked about earlier. Every 10 to 20 minutes you will find digital nomads to have an intense stare into the great nothing. Don’t worry, they are completely fine, it’s just to reset their overexcited brains and try to figure out what the most effective way is to move all those mountains. If you see this happening, lucky them, they are in ‘the zone’. Just don’t distract them.

Then the last sign is the bucket of coffee that just seems to refill itself every now and then. We love a good cup of coffee. Keep an eye on the time though, because at one point in the afternoon, the coffee will be replaced by an ice cold beer as a reward for the again glorious day in digital nomad world. (at least in my case).

How to recognize a digital nomad

Synonyms for a digital nomad

Some digital nomads don’t like to be called like particular term and even mention it to be cringy. So, I’ve done a little research, asking the digital nomad community what is the best term or synonym. The (many) results came in, and without further or due, here they are:

The most typical synonyms are remote worker and location independent professional. But compared to all the submitted terms, these might seem a bit boring.

The word hobo came across more often than expected. Computer hobo, hobo with a laptop, professional hobo or just simply hobo. Other terms that are in line with this hobo theme are: Digital gypsy, digital homeless, houseless, working from homeless and worldwide homeless. These all might sound a bit degrading, but since it was the computer hobo’s themselves who mentioned this, it’s funny. Right?

Others turned the homeless part into a positive aspect and came up with: Glamorously homeless, global home trekker, home-free, location-free worker and luxury homeless.

Others took the nomad part more serious than the digital part and came up with the following terms: Permanent traveler, full-time traveler, professional traveler and working explorer.

And here are my absolute favorites, so when you want to impress a digital nomad, try calling them one of the following names: Wi-Fi wanderer, virtual vagabond, net trotter, space marine, intellectual drifter or just f*cking priviledged. (Digital Nomads Around the World, Facebook, 2022)

Pick-up lines for digital nomads

Do you fancy that (carefully identified of course) digital nomad in the corner staring into the nothing? Here’s some tips and tricks to get their attention.

 –  Hands down; the best pick-up line would be: ‘Would you fancy a cup of this place’s best possible coffee?’ I don’t need to explain this one.

 –  Another one that will work well is: ‘Nice laptop!’ Digital nomads choose their gadgets well, and are proud to show and explain it. Instead of ‘laptop’, you can also pick one of the following words: Headset, wireless mouse, wireless keyboard, power bank, docking station, power socket or laptop stand.

 –  Now here’s one that takes a little preparation:‘How amazing is the  >insert number<  upload (or download) speed in this place!?’ A quick visit to https://www.speedtest.net/ will get you the right numbers.

 –  Finally, when you see this particular jaw-dropping virtual vagabond wrapping up their work, throw in a beer, congratulate them with their successful day and you’re sorted!

You’re welcome.

The downside of a digital nomad life

It sounds like a pretty good life, being a digital nomad. And most of the time it totally is. But we have to be realistic and admit that it’s not rainbows and unicorns all the time.

It might happen sometimes that the Wi-Fi connection is unstable, or even completely lost due to power cuts or other issues. So you’re forced to leave the work for what it is and drag your body to the beach or go for a hike. As long as everyone stays calm, the problem usually resolves itself at one point.

Another extremely unfortunate situation that comes with the power cuts is the lack of freshly brewed coffee. There are ways, but it’s just not the same. Whenever this happens, the moment of the rewarding afterwork beer becomes a progressive during-work-beer. Again, if everyone keeps their cool, there’s not much to worry about.

As a digital nomad, life can get a bit lonely if you don’t meet the right people or stay at the right places. So hereby, if you see a digital nomad that looks a bit lonely, use your knowledge and work those pick-up lines like we’ve practiced! Success guaranteed.

It can also get tricky to find the right places to stay at that are totally digital nomad proof. How about I tell you that I know a pretty rad website showcasing this? Ah right, it’s this website! Still working on it guys, so stay tuned!

Try it out!

Are you feeling a little more informed and want a taste of the digital nomad lifestyle? Just try it! Take your laptop, or even just a notebook. Find a cool spot, maybe just around the corner in your local pub. Sit down and let the magic happen. You’ll be surprised of how well it works out.

This article has been written for digital nomads, by a digital nomad. I’m sure you have noticed a slight sarcasm in this article. There is in no way the intention to offend anyone with this article and it is not to be taken personally. Thanks for reading and keep up the good work!