It’s official. Digital nomading is part of pop culture.
7+ years ago, Results for “digital nomad” search terms used to be dominated by small industry bloggers. Now you’ll see huge names like Forbes, The New York Times, and Pinterest peppered into the search results.
And it’s no surprise. Digital nomads are trending:
As a content strategist focused on SEO, it’s my job to look for cultural patterns in the search results. And as an avid traveler and storyteller, I’ve kept my eye on the digital nomad movement: how it’s evolved, as well as how this evolution is being documented.
By my estimation, there have been 3 waves of the digital nomad movement. I’ll briefly explain my hypothesis and how the content created in each wave has reflected the state of the digital nomad movement.
The term “digital nomad” may have been coined in 1997 by authors Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners, in their aptly titled book “Digital Nomad.”
“Digital Nomad tells us how current and future technological possibilities, combined with our natural urge to travel, will once again allow mankind to live, work, and exist on the move.”-Wiley.com
These guys were clearly onto something. However, their book didn’t make the cultural splash that forward-thinkers publishing in the new century would.
Rolf Potts was one of the first to do this in his 2002 book “Vagabonding.” He took the idea from the abstract to the concrete by providing examples and advice from his own life as a travel writer. This is one of the first documentations of the digital nomad lifestyle – though he didn’t use that phrase.
5 years later, in 2007, Tim Ferriss popularized the concept of “lifestyle design” in his international best-seller “The 4-Hour Workweek.” This book achieved a new level of success for digital nomadism, selling 2.1 million copies around the globe.
These were all part of the first wave of content centered on the digital nomad movement. Of course, there are more examples available, but these were some of the biggest influencers.
And as you can see, all the content was in book format – written by progressive thinkers whose lifestyles were considered…almost revolutionary. They were using traditional publishing methods to push new lines of thought.
It’s also important to note that these books were gaining traction as the internet was really beginning to pick up a rapid pace of evolution and growth. It was connecting the world in new ways. And it provided new methods to share and market ideas.
These books inspired a number of people to design their own travel-centric lifestyles. This is where the modern digital nomad movement really began to take shape.
This next wave of travelers started flying around the world, armed with their copies of Potts and Ferris. They gathered in places like Chiang Mai, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia to enjoy the tropical weather and tourism-based economies where their dollars and euros would stretch further.
They found some wifi and started documenting their travels. And people loved it. Creators like Nomadic Matt, Adventurous Kate, and Mark Manson started building brands and amassing followers. Thus the travel blogging industry was born. This provided bloggers, marketers, designers, and developers with new jobs that could be done remotely.
Plus, they captured a new type of audience.
It wasn’t the established “travel writing” audience that was held by National Geographic and Condé Nast. Oh no no no, this audience wasn’t sitting in their sunroom planning their retirement. They weren’t saving up to take their kids on a week-long vacation next summer.
This new audience was scrolling through Facebook and subscribing to blog newsletters. We were plotting our escape from the suffocating corporate structures and figuring out how to avoid a future that included hour-long commutes from our house in the ‘burbs.
They found the millennial audience.
Bloggers turned to social media and grew their following even more. They inspired their followers to join them, who inspired their followers to join them, and the digital nomad movement began to grow into a global community connected by technology.
By the mid-2010s, there was a legitimate community, made up of thousands of people who had managed to add travel into their lifestyle design. Companies were founded with the intention of hiring a completely location independent staff.
Coworking spaces expanded from the US and Europe and started popping up not just in Bali and Thailand, but in Medellin, Lisbon, South Africa and new ‘hotspots.’ Facebook groups dedicated to the nomadic lifestyle helped people navigate living and working outside of their home country. Nomadlist and other companies started providing insights into cost of living, internet speeds, and the status of the digital nomad scene.
And so began the third wave.
This current wave of the digital nomad movement has grown rapidly in the last 5 years. And not without its fair share of controversy.
In the past few years, there has been a staggering increase in “digital nomad” content creation. Some people are all aboard and want to keep up the pace while others have reservations about this new influx of lifestyle branding.
For simplicities sake, I’m going to say that the third wave of nomads are creating content for two reasons. Let’s call them: Opportunistic Marketing & Community Building.
What I mean by opportunistic marketing is content geared towards making a profit off of trends. Influencer marketing, travel hacking, and the guru marketing approach are examples that come to the top of my head. These content creators see a demand and create the supply as quickly as possible.
Community builders, on the other hand, are people dedicated to connecting and gathering like-minded people around the globe. They create resources and experiences that bring the movement together to talk about their goals and the impact these goals might have on the local communities we interact with.
Many people, especially those who have been around since the ”second wave” have a negative perception of opportunistic marketing, and for good reason. It’s a very mixed bag. Nomad hotspots are filled with people pushing their own self-indulgent itineraries. Profit is the main priority, and the community becomes a means to an end.
This has led a number of people to reject the term “digital nomad” as a label, because many people associate it with Instagram ads and a new influx of get rich quick schemes.
However, the terms opportunistic marketing and community building are not mutually exclusive.
There are also plenty of marketers who genuinely care about the nomadic community and the effect it has on the global population. Personal brands can be a way to make real changes in communities.
The massive amount of content and it’s varying sources and angles are reflective of a movement that is growing rapidly. This acceleration is due to an increase in remote work and a cultural shift towards the normalization of “alternative lifestyles.”
Community builders will outlast those that capitalize on trends for two reasons.
First, there is also a long list of problems facing the digital nomad movement. The COVID-19 pandemic and our impact on global health, the collective carbon footprint from all of our flights, and the impact that our spending has on local economies are all issues currently being brought to light.
Community builders are at the center of these conversations and are working to create a sustainable lifestyle.
Second, the way that people work is shifting. Huge companies like Twitter, Shopify, Square, Facebook, and EA are moving to remote workforces. While this is more commonplace in tech companies, other industries are realizing the pros of a remote workplace. Allstate and Geico are beginning to create remote branches, and others are quickly following suit.
All of these new remote workers will become location independent. This new wave of workers will have the opportunity to work and travel if they desire. (Be prepared for the fourth wave).
And community builders will be there to answer questions, provide real-life examples, and help them determine if the nomadic life is right for them.
And that’s the heart of the digital nomad movement that I fell in love with. The community that inspires each other to confront our challenges and overcome them in the pursuit of our dreams. The community that is determined to forge connections, work together, and solve problems. The community that wants to make the world a better place.
And this spirit of community is best personified by the leaders in Wifi Tribe. Diego, Julia, Karol, Alex, Amanda, Kristen, Andrea, Gabriela, Jordan, Kat, and the rest of the team are some of the best community builders in the world – and they’ve been at the heart of the digital nomad movement since their wanderlust first set their feet (and minds) in motion.
That’s why the Tribe will continue to be at the heart of the digital nomad movement for years to come.
We’re constantly talking about the logistic, economic, and ethical dilemmas that arise from our experiences. And we’re prepared to help all of the new remote workers decide if they want to travel full-time, part-time, or just take a break from their home base.
We’ve got a community of 800+ members from all over the world, working in all types of industries who would love to show you how we set up our remote work stations, manage team calls from different time zones, and create a work/life balance out of a suitcase.
Every week, there are skillshares, masterminds, and social gatherings that provide help you create structured plans to achieve your goals and provide insight into new possibilities.
All while maintaining the Tribe’s core values of:
The digital nomad movement is growing. We’re growing with it.
If you’re thinking about becoming a part of the nomadic community, or if you’re just curious about what’s happening in it, join our weekly newsletter to get insider updates and meet the tribe!