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Kayla Ihrig4 min

Becoming A Digital Nomad: What Is It And Who Is It For?

On an utterly normal workday in 2016, I was chatting with colleagues about how we wished that we could fast-forward through winter. The office secretary shook her head and said, ‘Isn’t it sad how we are wishing away our lives,’ as she walked back to her desk. At that moment, my life path was altered.  Have you been wishing away your life? It’s something we’ve all been subconsciously guilty of: waiting all day for 5pm, waiting all week for the weekend, and wishing that we could skip months ahead to our holiday.  I don’t know what the answer to everyone’s discontentment is. But for those of us who love to travel and have the ability to work remotely, digital nomadism can be a portal to an aligned life where you’re engulfed in today In the most literal sense, a digital nomad is a person who works remotely without a home base. Some digital nomads live on sailboats, are hostel-hopping backpackers, or remote workers living out of Airbnbs and slowly moving from city to city.  Personally, I don’t think the specifics matter. Want to keep your home base? No problem. Just want to use digital nomadism to fund a working gap year? Brilliant. Curious enough to dip your toe in the waters by taking a remote working vacation? You’re welcome here.  There’s no need to be precious about the labels: anyone who uses remote work to travel in any capacity is a digital nomad in my book. But I’ll share a secret: digital nomadism is only about travelling on the micro level.  Zoom out and you’ll see that flexibility is the real currency nomads seek. Digital nomadism could offer the flexibility to be where you want, prioritise your wellbeing and live intentionally. In fact, it complements those pursuits beautifully.  The nature of the digital nomad lifestyle requires you to choose your environment instead of always working from home or the office as your default. This allows you to choose what brings you the most peace. Pick the environment that makes you the happiest, or makes your goals easier to achieve.  Sometimes our surroundings fight against our ideal selves. The desire to be less materialistic or consumerist clashes against a society that surrounds us with advertisements and encourages us to buy happiness. A backpack or suitcase can only fit so many items; travel lets you swap possessions for experiences. Go to a destination where you don’t speak the language and materialism will release its grip in a way that’s impossible to achieve at home.  This lifestyle can help remove some of the negative aspects from your life, and it also makes more room for the positive. At home, the intention to take more walks might be easily suppressed by a cold winter climate. Trade the greyness for walks along the Mediterranean or strolls through a Bangkok night market and you don’t need any persuasion to leave your work behind and get your steps in. Travel naturally translates into spending more time outside and increased movement. The physical and mental stimulation breed creativity and energy.  This change in lifestyle can lead you back to yourself in beautiful ways.  Life as a digital nomad means swapping out routine for change, for better or worse. I’d be remiss to imply that it only gives peace and never takes it from you. Loneliness, constant change and decision fatigue take their toll on your peace and mental health.  The shiny image of this lifestyle serves as an intoxicating daydream, but all of our internal problems come with us when the train pulls away from the station. Given the removal of all of life’s normal distractions, it’s more confronting than life at home in the long-run. Difficult as it may be at times, travel demands that you do the internal work. Lying underneath ‘I hate my job’ might be the realisation ‘I regret this career,’ or ‘I wish I could start my adult life over’. The idea of complete escapism is a fantasy; you take you everywhere you go.  Before travelling, I told myself that I worked so much and didn’t have any hobbies because my career demanded it. Then I unearthed the realisation that I worked constantly because I felt that I always needed to be productive and didn’t really know how to find joy in other aspects of my life. I was deep inside an unflattering cycle of working all day and watching Netflix all night, and that didn’t change overnight.  This is a low-point of digital nomadism that comes for most travellers and it’s a moment to become a better version of yourself. A little deconstructing is good for the soul. Let the cracks be filled with the exposure to different cultures and countless people who have radically different worldviews. My world has expanded ever so slightly with every step, conversation and moment of mindfulness that I’ve taken. How I show up day to day in every aspect of my life is coloured by this.  The opportunity to have new experiences alongside our careers is one of the many gifts that remote work offers us. Whether you see yourself pursuing a remote career and travelling or you just want to find a way to be more engaged with life, look for ways to intentionally shape your environment today.  Look around your space and identify anything that’s subconsciously making you feel bad. Maybe there’s a book on the shelf you never finished reading or a pair of running shoes in your closet that you feel guilty about not using. Remove it and replace it with something that makes you feel good.  Tune into how your surroundings make you feel, then ruthlessly edit it to bring you more peace. Little by little you’ll create a life that you don’t want to fast forward through. 

Kayla Ihrig

Kayla bought a one-way ticket out of the United States in 2017 and has spent most of her time abroad ever since. She is the author of How to Be a Digital Nomad: Build a Successful Career While Travelling the World (out now, Kogan Page).

Instagram: @kaylaihrig Twitter/X: @KaylaIhrig