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The world is my office: why I chose to become a digital nomad worker

From copywriters to computer programmers, people with online-based jobs are seizing the chance to take their work on their travels

By Greg Lea  /  The Guardian

A general view in March of the Kaohsiung Harbour. The southern city ranks sixth on for its nomad friendliness.

Photo: EPA

I dismissed the idea at first. Over a picnic in south London’s Brockwell Park last May my friend Tom asked whether I had ever considered leaving the UK behind and continuing my football journalism career abroad.

“Nice thought, mate,” I replied. “But I can’t see it happening. How would I make it work? Besides, I’d miss you too much.”

That last bit remains true, but the conversation got me thinking, and a few months later I became a digital nomad — loosely defined as someone who uses the internet to work remotely without having a fixed home base.

It’s the best decision I have ever made.

The number of digital nomads in the world today is hard to ascertain: there is some overlap with groups such as remote workers, long-term travelers and expatriate online workers. How often do you have to be on the move to be considered a nomad? Do all your earnings have to be derived from the internet, or can you have other sources of income?

A study last year by research firm MBO Partners found that 4.8 million US citizens identified as digital nomads, and a Gallup poll two years earlier revealed that 43 percent of employed Americans spend at least some time working outside the traditional office environment. In the UK, the Trades Union Congress calculated that the number of remote workers rose by almost 250,000 between 2005 and 2015.


Helen Barlow is a freelance translator from Liverpool who has lived and worked in 15 countries since 2011. The freedom to travel and increased flexibility in working hours were the key factors behind her decision to take her job on the road.

Barlow feels as if she is “on holiday every day.”

“Every day is exciting, and there’s always a new experience around the corner,” she says of a lifestyle which has taken her to Europe, South America and Asia. “I feel like I’m constantly on holiday, and there’s no such thing as the Monday morning blues, or the humdrum of a daily commute. Life becomes simpler and more streamlined as you realize you don’t need many material possessions. And there’s no keeping up with the Joneses.”

Pieter Levels, the founder of — a Web site that ranks towns and cities by their nomad-friendliness based on factors such as cost of living, internet speed and entertainment options — estimates that there will be a billion digital nomads by 2035. That is a bold prediction, but in its support he cites the rise of freelance work, the increasing affordability of air travel and the decline in home ownership and marriage.

Now an industry has sprung up to serve digital nomads. WeWork, a global network of shared office spaces, will soon have 649 locations in 113 cities from China to Chile, Poland to Peru. Selina is a community-focused Web site offering 22,000 beds in private rooms and dorms, mainly in Latin America, plus a few European cities. Remote Year organizes work and travel programs to destinations such as Cape Town and Kyoto.

There are also dedicated Web sites to help location-independent workers find employment, and an abundance of Facebook groups in which members exchange information and advice. The Estonian government is among those on board, offering the world’s first visa for digital nomads.

I was reluctant to label myself a digital nomad before I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam — still known as Saigon by almost everyone who lives here. I found the tag a little pretentious, conjuring Instagram influencers sipping coconut water next to an unopened MacBook on a Bali beach.

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