The New Digital Nomad Has Money 💰 💰 💰—And There’s No Backpack in Sight

December 13, 2022

Digital nomadism is growing at a faster clip than ever in history. But, it’s a completely different brand of digital nomad than before. One big difference? Far superior earning power.

Ah, the joy of fantasizing about another life.

It’s the perfect thing to do on a Sunday morning: Grab a plate of mediocre eggs. Pull up Zillow. Search for “Woodstock, Vermont.” Wonder what it might be like to live at 89 Academy Drive, built in 1831, surrounded by Orange daylilies, and a creek bed, and people who say things like “Down yonder, by ye old covered bridge…”

(I don’t actually know if anyone in Vermont says “down yonder,” but if you could ever be a serial killer and get away with it, that’s definitely what I’d recommend.)

I do this often. (The fantasizing, not the serial killing.) Apparently, I’m not the only one. Three-thousand years ago, in 2016, Melody Warnick wrote about the fantasy of online real estate:

Because, in the end, Zillow is about the fantasy of living other lives. We look at online real estate for the same reason people binge-watch House Hunters **or tour model homes they can’t afford – because **what would it be like to live in that place?

Yet, as a digital nomad, this is te-e-e-e-eeeeechnically supposed to conflict with my chosen lifestyle. I’m not supposed to want houses: I’m supposed to want freedom! And adventure! And three-day-old jelly donuts that I got on discount while backpacking around the world with a guy named Chris!

But, let’s be honest: jelly donuts are disgusting. And secondly, that life I just described? It’s (kind of) disgusting too. At least, it is to people like me: a thirty-eight-year-old Rumplestiltskin of a writer who has little patience for chub rub, noise past 8pm, or anything that requires me to squat. (You can just kind of picture the life of the young digital nomad, right? PERSISTENTLY SQUATTING.)

The term “digital nomad” has a hell of a PR problem.

It’s historically referred to the shot-gulping, sandal-wearing, tattoo-donning backpacker crowd, armed with a Macbook, $2,000 of life savings, and a literal, actual, visual set of abs. In fact, it’s such a cliché can’t even read that sentence without regurgitating chewed ham, having seen the words “globetrotting backpacker” way too many times in tandem.

And, I was one. (Okay, fine: I never had abs. And I never used a backpack, either. Personally, I really enjoy the masochistic thrill of lugging an oversized suitcase through rush hour in Paris.)

I started one of the very first blogs about it.

I stayed in hostels and I kissed boys from England and I train traveled on a whim and wrote creative copy for clients from around the world.

When Airbnb launched, I was one of its first customers.

I rented a room in a flat in Barcelona, and went to the end of the earth to Patagonia, and spent Christmas with strangers singing songs in other languages.

It’s been fourteen years since I’ve had to go to an office. My Macbook charger is considered an appendage. And the only person deciding how much I get paid this year is me.

And yet—previously, my life was an anomaly: most people didn’t make this choice. Sometimes it was for a lack of desire (kids! soccer! school!), but oftentimes it was short-sightedness with what was possible. Most people could not fathom a world in which you didn’t go back and forth to an office. Most people couldn’t see what was right in front of them: that the world was changing, and that included the way professionals earned a living. My lifestyle was written off as a risk most people were not willing to take, usually because of some combination of work, family, and a general lack of imagination around trivial items, like “what will we do with our stuff?

And then it happened.

The pandemic forced a new reality on all of us.

The pandemic showed people that working remotely was actually a thing, and that maybe they liked their life better as a result. It was like, wow, I actually can be with my kids! We can actually do things together! And we can do it in Utah, overlooking some rocks!

Maybe this isn’t a selfish lifestyle, but the most selfless thing I could do.

Right now, digital nomadism is growing at a faster clip than ever in history.

And, it’s a wonderful thing. I choke up to imagine all of the people who once thought me crazy, irresponsible, flitty, now enjoying the sweet nectar of LIFE. Look at the size of those mountains, Mikey! Wouldja just look at that cheese board! You mean I can work on my laptop AND drink a beer the size of a wrestler’s neck?

All walks are joining in: old, young, married, unmarried, corporate, non-corporate, families, partners, mom, dad. It’s the NEW digital nomad, and I am here 👏🏻 for 👏🏻 it 👏🏻.

But, it’s a completely different brand of digital nomadism than before. Age plays a role, as does the presence of family, partners, professional experience, standard of living, and general interests. This is not the backpacking crowd. These are not the people going to fly shots in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

And frankly? I’m not, either. Like so many OG nomads, I’ve outgrown so many of the “characteristics” of the typical digital nomad (except lip gloss. LIP GLOSS FOR LIFE). This is why I find myself on Zillow now more than ever: because today’s digital nomad IS different. And one of the biggest differences?

Far superior earning power.

The original generation of digital nomads are today’s online executives—you just can’t see them. They aren’t wearing suits while dining at Jules Verne and eating Calotte de Boeuf before waiting for the valet to bring them their Mercedes.

They’re Nathan Barry. He started out as a web designer. Then he built an audience. Then he built ConvertKit. Now, ConvertKit earns $25MM a year, and recently he bought an entire ghost town.

Or how about my friend & business partner Jamie. We met online in 2009. Met up in France and L.A. She’s a writer and designer. Today, she’s written two books, and her latest is being optioned as a movie. She has a course and a business. She just hopped on a plane to Paris this week. She doesn’t have to answer to anybody.

And then there’s someone like me. I never wanted a big team. Never wanted to feel claustrophobic inside my own life. But what I did want? Was the freedom to explore this big, beautiful, creepy world in grand style. With the people I love. Doing the things that matter to me. With a hunk of grana padano in my mouth, and spaciousness in my days, and creativity in my soul. Perhaps the ability to study architecture in my free time. And photography. And to roll up my cuffs and tiptoe into the blue lagoons of the Andes. And spend hours walking through forests and along cliff sides and making friends with locals in pubs. And, I wanted to write. And write, and write and write. And, that’s exactly what I did. By the time I was 35, I had made $5M from my writing. Not because I am special, but because I am so clear about what I want, that it becomes easy to say “no” to the things that do not fit my life.

Yesterday’s nomad grew up, and our earning power grew with it.

This is, perhaps, the characteristic we most share in common with the all-new, professional-class digital nomad: years in the workforce, learning how to earn. The new professional-class digital nomad has also spent a decade or two climbing some ladders, growing their skillset and their value, and increasing their earning power. They’re used to making six figures. And, whether they’re working remotely or they’re dipping their toe into the world of remote entrepreneurship, that’s not going to change.

And so, it’s a much different reality than the traditional globetrotting backpacker, often filling up Reddit forums with questions like, “What are the cheapest places for DNs under $1,000 a month???”

So different, in fact, I’d argue we need a separate title entirely. The term “digital nomad” is no longer accurate for us all: it feels a little bit like putting on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle PJs from the 4th grade. We are a hybrid social group, falling somewhere in between the freedom and adventurous ambitions of our younger counterparts, and the stability and “I own a fringed fucking lampshade” sensibilities of our more established selves.

Most notably, however, this shift in both demographics and earning power of the remote workforce means that cities, towns, places, and the travel industry are going to experience a critical shift, too:

  • From DNs primarily staying in hostels to staying in Airbnbs & subscription hotels
  • From traveling to budget destinations to venturing toward the most in-demand destinations
  • From existing on street food to pursuing dining experiences those that reflect a sophisticated palate
  • From seeking out a party atmosphere to seeking out a family atmosphere
  • From appreciating the architecture to wanting to own a piece of it
  • And, from having the reputation of being piranhas on a place, to being able to contribute in more meaningful ways to the local economy: earning power translates into spending power, and that means that the new professional-class digital nomad can now support local businesses in ways that weren’t possible before; ways that the young twenty-something backpacker never could

This last piece is important, and will be a defining characteristic of this new class of nomads. This shift can finally offer increased financial benefits to the local population, ensuring a more mutually beneficial ecosystem between host community and nomad.

(Backpackers don’t offer it, and luxury vacationers don’t either: only $5 out of every $100 spent at corporate, globally-owned resorts and hotels goes back into the local economy.)

Yes, perhaps one of the greatest silver linings of the pandemic is the chance for human beings to rethink their quality of life.

Guilt-free. With a newfound appreciation for time. And a new lens with which to view the world.

Turns out, a life of adventure and a life with a home aren’t mutually exclusive anymore. In fact, today they’re mutually complementary. I mean, who doesn’t want to cozy up and hibernate in a New England lodge for the winter before setting off to explore the mountains of Norway in the spring? Who doesn’t want the comfort of home, when it’s time to come home, and the financial resources to roam, when it’s time to roam?

It’s not an either/or discussion anymore. It’s a both.

Home, and roam.

Family, and travel.

Stability, and adventure.

Yes, and…yes.

Which is why I sit here with my mediocre eggs (they’re long cold by now), pulling up Zillow, wondering what it might be like to purchase the property at 89 Academy Drive, built in 1831, surrounded by Orange daylilies.

Because I am no longer forced to choose the world’s playground or a backyard of my own.

I am no longer forced to decide between decisions that make me happy, and decisions that make me wise.

And I am no longer forced to travel and feed my soul, or stay, and feed my heart.

Because over here, down yonder?

The best kind of living gives both.

Now all I need are some abs.

New Selfish Workshop!

If you want to create a nomadic lifestyle, you’ve got to create a nomadic workstyle. You need to make different decisions than most people. You need to have different priorities than most people. And you need to design your work differently than most people.

You can’t work like a typical freelancer. You can’t build a business that never lets you leave the house. You can’t be chained to your desk for 90 hours a day trying to bill enough hourly projects to afford underwear.

Not if you hope to ever see the outside of your Airbnb.

And——————you can’t exclusively make yourself the product, either.

Exclusively selling your services is not compatible with your goals if your goals are to:

1. Maximize return on income
2. Maximize return on time

Every decision you make costs you time. And, time is the new income.

It doesn’t matter if you’re earning three million dollars if your life is not yours. It doesn’t matter if you can afford a mansion in New Hampshire if you can’t also f*ck off to Scotland.

The concept of time as income is so important, I measure it as a real metric of business health—I qualify this as $T. The goal is to optimize both $USD 💰 and $T. 🕰

Because here’s the truth:

⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

If your financial health is high, but your time health is poor, then you are poor.

If your time health is high, but your financial health is poor, then you are poor.

You will always have a poor quality of life if you don’t have balance between money earned and time to enjoy it.

The key is in figuring out which business activities produce both income health ($) and time health ($T).

Unfortunately, most businesses only optimize for one.

​⬆️ ⬆️ ⬆️ ⬆️ ⬆️​

I’ve been developing a framework to maximize both of these, allowing you to create a successful remote business you can run from anywhere in the world. Maximum return on earnings. Maximum return on time. (AKA more of both.) If that sounds like JUST the thing you need this year, (a) Stay subscribed because this is going to be a real rager, and (b) Sign up for my free workshop, below, before I run off to Vermont and really do buy that house. 😏

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