Can you be a digital nomad during the pandemic?

Published 2021-02-02 09:11:36
City photo created by marymarkevich -

A digital nomad is a worker who is not confined to a specific location for employment. It is a broad term used to describe people from various fields who are on the move and can meet deadlines and complete projects online from different locations.

The concept of a digital nomad is by far not a new one, but it has been shoved to the fore recently by the pandemic which has forced us all into some version of digital nomad. However, instead of working remotely in some exotic place taking in the sounds and smells of an inspiring location, most of us are confined to our living rooms facing very uninspiring piles of laundry waiting to be sorted.

In the early days of the pandemic, some people saw an opportunity and if they were able, hastily packed up their devices. They raced off to get to exotic places like beachside holiday resorts in Mexico and Costa Rica, mountainside retreats, cities they've always loved, or some even just travelled to family in another country to wait out the pandemic.

New challenges

However, as the situation evolved and various countries closed borders, imposed restrictions, etc. those pandemic-escapees were forced to face the fact that their exotic quarantine had turned into a nightmare.

They faced issue such as:

  • unreliable WIFI
  • feeling isolated in a foreign country
  • closed beaches and restaurants
  • the possibility of getting sick far from home
  • vacation fatigue and boredom

Yes, vacation fatigue is a definitely a thing. Research published in the Journal of Happiness (also a thing!) stated that while vacations have solid positive effects on health and well-being, the effects are short-lived and after eight days of a holiday happiness starts decreasing.

Those that tried to repatriate faced:

  • exorbitant flights, indirect and multiple flights and red tape
  • Tax complications
  • Visa problems--workers could not just cross the border to avoid overstaying because borders were closed

Is being a digital nomad a viable option?

The pandemic has brought about a massive shift in the way people view a regular workday and productivity. The 2020 pandemic saw a surge in remote working by almost 50% compared to 2019 in the US alone!

Companies are now redesigning work processes and introducing new technologies to facilitate this new way of doing things. A recent paper was published by researchers at the University of New South Wales that explored these changes and what it will take to make this paradigm shift in this “new normal” world we find ourselves in.

They explored the space between the traditional view of work, which they referred to as “factory paradigm”, and the digital nomad at the other end of the spectrum to find feasible solutions. The researchers found that many organisations favoured control (usually by using information technology) over workers' innovation, creativity and motivation.  The paper also studied how companies can make the leap from the factory paradigm to the digital one by looking at digital nomads for inspiration.

Possible solutions they found include:

  • encouraging worker autonomy rather than fostering centralised control of the factory paradigm mindset.
  • Encouraging creativity and diversity.
  • Boosting lifelong learning to promote a growth mindset. They discovered through interviews that digital nomads generally embraced learning new skills regularly to be successful in their chosen lifestyle.  
  • Employers can encourage workers to take more responsibility for their professional development and careers.
  • Workers should have more freedom to adapt their working conditions to suit them.
  • Introducing flexibility by offsetting intense work periods with quieter times to prevent burnout in workers. Both workers and employers have to enforce a better work-life balance.
  •  Employers can change outdated organisational structures to suit the new working process.

Whilst the typical digital nomad pre-Covid was distinctly well-educated, able to travel easily and of an entrepreneurial mindset, using their experiences in the research was very significant to how we can work in the future even though the remote worker is in a more traditional job.

Is it a possible way forward for you?

The frenzied vaccine rollout globally has given rise to the hope that travel freedom and “life as we knew it” is imminent. Many are looking at this as an opportunity to rearrange their lives so that work does not once again become the focal point.

Can you make that transition to digital nomad? A few factors to consider when you're making this choice:

  • Is your job mainly computer-based?
  • Are you bound by location? Where would you like to travel?
  • Legal implications of working in another country, in terms of visas, tax implications, etc.
  • Is the healthcare good?
  • Is the country generally tolerant? Are you going to stand out if you're from an ethnically minority group or disabled?
  • What is the your plan for money management in a foreign country? Will you open a bank account in your host country and the costs of transferring money to pay your bills?
  • Will you require expensive equipment to work abroad? Can you afford it?

Forbes magazine recently listed the ten best countries to be a digital nomad based on analyses by the company Circle Loop (full index here). They considered factors like internet reliability and cost, average rental prices and even the Global Happiness Index.

  • Canada was ranked number one because it scored well over most of the parameters it was judged on. The country has affordable high-speed internet and ranked very high on the Global Happiness Index. The population is very multi-cultural-- over 20% are immigrants-- and is known as one of the friendliest countries worldwide.
  • The UK made a startling appearance in the ranking at number two despite the turmoil of Brexit. The high standard of living and the number of remote jobs available may have helped procure its position on the list.
  • Romania stepped in at third place with its low cost of living and a rapidly expanding information technology market.
  • Sweden, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany all claimed positions on this list.
  • The only non-European country to feature in the top ten was Australia which claimed the ninth spot.
  • USA are only ... 52nd!

Regardless of your decision the conventional workplace has definitely changed and how it looks in the near future will depend on the many factors discussed above. However, this may be the opportunity to take control of your life- both personal and career- and mould it to look like what to you want.

Share your experience, participate in the discussion and leave comments in our forum HERE.

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Work & Business

Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.

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