I call myself a digital nomad for want of a better term. I run a business that doesn’t require me to be at a fixed address so I take advantage of that by working in locations around the world. In my travels I have met many others who are living a similar life, yet they don’t identify as being digital nomads.
Dave’s point sums it up for me; I use the phrase as a convenient description.
Wes at johnnyvagabond.com has also written about using the term:
It’s a bit of an over-used term these days but I’ve yet to find one that better fits my lifestyle: I am a digital nomad.
When I began my life of self employment I used to say a similar mouthful of words like Dave’s example of a “person whose work doesn’t require them to be in a particular place and can be done largely online”.
I began the life self-employed travelling in 2003 and I can’t remember when I first started using the phrase digital nomad. I also don’t know who coined the term, which is something I would like to know.
I know friends who fit the description that resist the label, yet when I ask for a suitable alternative I get no answer. I have listed some other terms to see if they apply to me as a digital nomad.
Not appropriate for me as that implies that I have expatriated from my homeland to make a home in another. While I have left my homeland I don’t claim residency in another and all that it involves (leases, bank accounts, paying local taxes). The last time I was technically an expat was when I lived in Ireland for a year (in 2002-2003) where I had work visa, a local bank account, and paid taxes. Even then I never referred to myself as an expat; I used to say “working holiday maker” as I was on the working holiday visa.
A remote worker is someone who is employed for a company while working from home (also known as Telecommuting), so this does not apply to me. The term also makes me think of people that are working remotely in the literal sense, like on an oil rig or mining in the Australian outback.
I’m sort of under this category, but I don’t like the presumption that this is a perpetual condition. I always say that I might get tired of this lifestyle tomorrow and go back to live in Australia. It’s too presumptuous to say you will be doing this forever. There is a scrapheap of abandoned travel blogs that have loudly proclaimed that they are going to travel the world forever right after burning all their possessions, only to burn out after a year and return to their regularly scheduled life.
I also don’t fit under this category (if we are going by the description on the wiki page) because I still have a business registered in Australia and I pay tax there. I’m not drifting around the world to avoid tax.
Location Independent Entrepreneur (or insert your job type here)
I like the phrase Location Independent and I sometimes use it as an alternative to digital nomad.
I have used this one often as it’s the most descriptive phrase that a layman would understand. I’ve seen that blank expression too many times when I told someone I’m a digital nomad, so I use working traveller in general population situations.
The only problem with this is that it implies that I am mostly a traveller who happens to work. The description invokes an image of those who are working to travel (usually on a beach), rather than running a business which happens to be from anywhere.
It’s interesting to note that Tim Ferris – the writer who propelled the digital nomad way of life into the mainstream – never mentions the phrase in The 4-Hour Workweek. Instead he uses the term “New Rich”:
For the first time, I’m going to tell you the real story. It involves a quiet subculture of people called the “New Rich.” What does an igloo-dwelling millionaire do that a cubicle-dweller doesn’t? Follow an uncommon set of rules. How does a lifelong blue-chip employee escape to travel the world for a month without his boss even noticing? He uses technology to hide the fact. Gold is getting old. The New Rich (NR) are those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility. This is an art and a science we will refer to as Lifestyle Design (LD).
I have personally never used the term “New Rich” and I have never heard it uttered in the wild. While I love the point he is making of having rich life experiences without being a millionaire, New Rich sounds too much like Nouveau Riche, which is a completely different meaning.
Instead of this phrase taking off, most people who have read the book just default to saying that they are living the 4-Hour Workweek lifestyle. That’s been a boon for Ferris from a personal branding perspective, but the point of the book has been misinterpreted as it implies that you are trying to live a life without work, rather than freeing up your time to put focus on other work or projects.
While “New Rich” never took hold it appears that Ferris introduced the term “Lifestyle Design” which did gain traction. After the book was released there were hundreds of “lifestyle designer” blogs that just came out of nowhere. Usually some 23 year old guy who was gracious enough to impart the sum of their life experience on how to live life.
Again, this is a phrase I have never applied to myself as it has the association of doing the minimum amount possible in order to attain the sitting on the beach lifestyle. It’s a phrase that sounds so 2010 and my eyes would roll into the back of my head if I heard someone say they were a lifestyle designer.
Is there a better term?
So, dear reader, have I missed any phrases? And if you don’t think “digital nomad” is the right phrase I would like to here other suggestions.