With the Corona Virus impacting all of our lives I can’t help but wonder if the era of being a Digital nomad is over for awhile at least. The allure of being a digital nomad is closely linked to Travel, which is the hardest hit industry. Countries have closed their borders to foreigners, and even transiting through an airport is not possible at the moment. Airlines and Airports have started to downsize staff, and operations making less flights available. I and some friends are currently in various parts of Asia went this pandemic suddenly accelerated into a full lockdown.
The last 7 years have been a bit of a roller coaster with ongoing travel and what seems non stop hustling and grinding to scale our businesses. It’s also a good time to reflect a bit on highlights of the digital nomad lifestyle.
I would like to share a bit of background before I continue. I have been a digital nomad since 2013 before I even heard of the term in Taiwan. I first heard of the term from a Canadian Digital nomad named Nigel while in Taipei in 2014. I’ve been able to earn an income regardless of location using my video and creative skills in freelancing and online business and sustain it for 7 years. I consider myself a veteran in this game due to my age and time in the game and share my creative, travel, and business knowledge in my Creator Academy School. I have digital nomad friends that are 10 years my senior as well as the younger group that are 10–15 years younger than I am. Although I don’t consider myself a digital nomad because I tend to stay in a location for 3–6 months I do identify most closely with this group.
Traveling itself was never an essential requirement of being a digital nomad although it has been one of the perks being able to travel primarily to lower cost countries with a good lifestyle. The term nomad implies not having a home base, and there are different flavors of the digital nomad from slow to binge traveler. The issue is that regulation and government visa’s haven’t adapted to technology and the new lifestyle possibilities that digital nomad’s have enjoyed in recent years using tourist or social visit visa’s. Digital nomads often use creative means like visa runs where they change location every 1 to 3 months to another country often returning to their home base country to reset the duration of their visa. If you spend any length of time in Thailand especially in Chiang Mai you’re bound to hear a visa run story
If the traveling lockdown does ever end and I think we may be looking at a very different environment for travelers and digital nomads. Travelers are already in the crosshairs of governments seen as the primary carriers of the coronavirus. In the future we may be looking at countries that make non essential travel a lot more restrictive than ever. Of course digital nomads are just a minority of the potential victims of a post corona fallout. We’ve already read stories of airlines, hotels, tourism operators, and travel companies like Lonely Planet take a hit.
Human’s are naturally curious and I think the rules will relax over time to allow travel again. I’m not sure how long this period could be. It could be 6 months, it could be a year or many years. By this time there will be a larger group of people with home base businesses with the ability to live a digital nomad lifestyle. There may come up a point where pent up demand meets a relaxation in traveling again potentially creating the next larger wave of digital nomads.
How are Digital Nomads coping with the lockdown?
For this year 2020 at least I think the established Digital Nomads are in good shape partly because most will benefit from the rest of the world spending more time online than ever. They had a period of 5 years to ramp up their knowledge and skills to make a sustainable living without the need to return back to their home countries. They are highly independent and it is normal for them to solo travel and work in isolation at home or from a co-work space or cafe.
I myself teach online courses and I have seen all-time highs of my teaching minutes as well as watch time on my Youtube Channel. Most established digital nomads are able to earn an income purely online so that they don’t have to be in physical contact with people. They have learned specialized skills in areas of affiliate marketing, online teaching, dropshipping, ecommerce, youtubing, video editing, teaching english, teaching online courses, translation, search engine optimization, stock trading, licensing video and templates and more. It’s true there has probably never been a better time for someone to make a living online due to the technology we have available and the number of people spending time online in isolation.
We are fortunate that technology is where it is today in 2020. Internet speeds, smartphones, laptops, and essentials apps and platforms have made this lifestyle possible. Starting in the period between 2013–2015 developing and lower cost countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia offered everything that a Digital nomad needed and then some. Things like good weather, safe environments, cowork spaces, fast wifi, nice places to stay, and the opportunity for new friendships and relationships. Established digital nomads are quite tech savy, adaptable, flexible, and can operating a business lot of overhead. My Videography production side of the business has been impacted, but I had build a business on the foundation of diverse income streams. For example, I have online course, license footage, and still freelance by video editing for clients.
Co-work spaces were also an important, but not an essential requirement of the digital nomad. In fact it was in 2019 that co-working spaces had reached the mainstream where giants like we-work had become the domain of team startups and even larger firms. In Thailand and Malaysia I had seen cowork spaces sprout up to serve Digital nomads, students, and businesses. Co-work spaces for some were essential to get the necessary environment to do their work, for some a place to get inspired and get out of the house, and for some it was a place to network and community. However many cowork spaces will likely loose a lot of money and business during the lockdown and may even shutdown and not reenter the market. I hope this is not the case.
Chiang Mai, Thailand was considered the global capital for Digital nomads. In my opinion it reached it’s golden age in 2015 where there was peak interest and there was a strong organic international community. It was a great time to meet other like-minded people, exchange ideas, get inspiration, make friends, and attend business and social events. This year in 2020 the dreaded burning seasons started as early as January and still continues to plague Chiang mai even into April. Digital nomads value the basic essentials like fast wifi, good weather, but also value good air. I see digital nomads spending shorter periods of time here in the future unless this changes.
When stripped down to the bare essentials needed to run my online business it is fairly basic. I need a power laptop, hdmi cable, fast internet, monitor, and comfortable desk and chair. If this is the last season for awhile to being able to enjoy this lifestyle I will have no regrets. I’ve had a lifetime of experiences being able to make good international friendships, relationships, scaling my business, and experiencing living in different cities around the world. Some digital nomads and travelers currently abroad including myself are currently in Asia anxiously awaiting to see what will unfold during the lockdown. There are many factors at play like government decisions on lockdown’s, visa length, airport closures, flight costs, and even health and safety being in a plane and airport with other travelers.
I will treasure the remaining time abroad. As I write this in June 2020 I managed to find a flight back home to Canada. It was unclear if I could renew my visa in Malaysia so it was time to come home. They did a great job during the lock down by the way. Co-work spaces did open up during the easing phase before I left. Travel is still currently restricted, but I think some countries are beginning to open up borders. Will travel be forever change post pandemic? Will costs increase? will more questions be asked? Will there be a cut in Airbnb’s around the world. Will co-work spaces close? We will have to wait and see. Most established Digital nomads that I know are doing ok and are experiencing their best business months during the pandemic. I know many digital nomads that are still in Thailand or Bali. Chiang mai has started to open up their businesses and even massage businesses are opening up. I heard that crime is increasing in Bali. They are not in a rush to come home. I’m sure most of the established digital nomads whether at home will be ready and eager to travel again. For myself I think it is good time for work on my business and see how things play out from Canada.