The difference between digital nomads and remote workers

by Ceci Amador

So you finally nailed that remote job; you’re free to work from anywhere and you’ve started calling yourself a digital nomad. But, I hate to break it to you, though all digital nomads are remote workers, not all remote workers are digital nomads.

However, if your job allows it and you’re ready for a change, then you might just be ready to become a digital nomad that can work from anywhere in the world

Let’s start with the basics and set the record clear. Below is a short list of questions that help outline the difference between digital nomads and remote workers. 

Are you a digital nomad?

  1. Does your job require that you be in a specific location at all times/most of the time?
  2. Does your job require that you work during a specific time zone’s business hours?
  3. Do you regularly have to meet with people in-person?
  4. Do you find yourself living out of a suitcase and don’t mind having a few personal possessions?
  5. Can you work from anywhere as long as there is a wifi connection (airports, coffeeshop, bus terminal, coworking spaces, hotel rooms, etc.)?
  6. Do you have a mailbox that forwards you mail regardless of where you are?
  7. Do you take every opportunity you have to visit a new place?
  8. Can you work outside of regular business hours?

If you responded yes to any of the first 3 questions, then chances are you’re not a digital nomad. If you responded yes to questions 4 to 8, then you can rightly call yourself a digital nomad. 

Digital nomads versus remote workers

So what’s the difference between digital nomads and remote workers? It’s quite simple, actually. 

The former, as the name implies, are nomadic in nature, meaning they move around from place to place whenever they feel like it, whenever they get bored of a place and its food, whenever they miss a language they can speak, or whenever they discover a new place they’d like to explore. In other words, they’re constantly motivated by wanderlust. 

Some digital nomads also choose to live in certain places because it is cheaper than living at home or in any one place. 

The latter, on the other hand, tend to stay in one specific place, whether it be because their job doesn’t allow them to travel that much, because they are comfortable where they are, or because they are tied to one place for any number of other reasons. You’re a remote worker when your company allows you to work outside of its offices or headquarters, but rather than travelling, you typically work from home, your favorite coffee shop, or a local coworking space. 

Benefits of remote working and digital nomadism

  • You get to work during your most productive hours if you choose, and from environments of your choice
  • No long commutes, or no commutes at all
  • Better work-life balance
  • No office drama
  • Increased wellness
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Less stress

Digital nomad lifestyle and limitations

Being a digital nomad is pretty amazing. You get to travel and discover new places, you live life on your own terms, you’re free to be inspired by new environments, you can avoid winters if you want (yay!), you can have as much vacation time as you want, you can save money (that is, if you pick a place that’s cheaper compared to your hometown), you can learn a new language—the list goes on and on and on. 

However, it’s not all sunshine, and it is definitely not a lifestyle suited for everyone. Seriously, some of us can’t live out of a suitcase for extended periods of time, and need our own private space (and bathroom). There are various advantages to being a digital nomad, but, as with anything in life, it has its fair share of disadvantages. 

Being a digital nomad means you will spend a lot of time by yourself and away from family and loved ones, which can lead to feelings of loneliness. You also spend time in spaces that aren’t your own, meeting people you won’t (necessarily) get to know very well. Depending on where you travel, you might have a hard time communicating with others due to language and cultural barriers. 

One last note: contrary to what social media would have you think, digital nomads don’t work from the beach. They usually work either from their lodgings or a coworking space. So when you’re a digital nomad, it’s not all travel and fun, and sometimes you end up spending most of your day in the hotel rather than roaming around. 

This, however, isn’t to say you shouldn’t give digital nomadism a chance. That is, if can get the chance. There are still plenty of companies with policies that restrict people from working in different time zones or geographic locations. 

If, however, your company or your job doesn’t enable you to be a digital nomad, being a remote worker is a pretty sweet deal in and out of itself, especially if you enjoy spending time with family and loved ones, if you’re the type of person (like me) that needs a fixed place to anchor yourself, or if you already feel like you have your own personal paradise at home (or at least some semblance of it). 

Still feeling the itch to travel?

If, after reading this, you want to try out being a digital nomad for a length of time, here are some steps you might want to follow. 

1. Get the OK from your job. If you work for a company that allows you to work remotely, but it requires that you be around for specific events, meetings, time zones, talk to your manager about giving you more job flexibility. If, instead, you run your own business or are a freelancer… what the hell have you been waiting for?

2. Get your affairs in order. If you rent an apartment/house, make sure you can break the lease without any problems. If you own your home, consider renting to minimize your ongoing expenses. If you own a car, you’ll want to sell it, and make sure to cancel the insurance as well. Financially speaking, make sure you have enough savings, that your credit card can be used internationally, that you have travel and health insurance internationally, and make sure that your bank account allows you to receive international transfers. 

3. Passport and visas. Make sure your passport is valid for at least another six months. Depending on the places you’ll be going, you’ll want to check for visa requirements and work permits. When you’re travelling, you’ll want to travel as light as possible, so make sure you only take what you’ll really need. 

4. Invest in the right technology. As a digital nomad, you’ll be working on the go at all times. Make sure you have a working laptop (especially a lightweight one), make sure you have a good headset, and invest in an unlocked phone so that you can purchase sim cards wherever you go. 

5. Research. Last but not least, research all of your destinations before purchasing a ticket. Remember that you’ll want to go somewhere with reliable internet connections, otherwise you won’t be able to work effectively. When picking a destination, consider the language, the weather, the culture, the food, etc. 

In the end, it all comes down to lifestyle preferences and your job flexibility. I tried being a digital nomad and lasted for about a year before I started feeling exhausted and that I was all over the place, which prompted me to get an apartment, enroll once again in school, and settle down. In the wise words of  Shania Twain, “It was good while it lasted, but now I’m past it.”

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Tran Mautritam.

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