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When the pandemic all but shut down the world, offices closed, restaurants and gyms were locked up, and travel came to a standstill to forestall the spread of the disease and reduce the impact on medical facilities. Everyone had to make adjustments.
One of the adjustments was the expanded opportunity to live the digital nomad life. “When COVID-19 forced employers to go remote, it opened up the possibility of a nomadic lifestyle to entirely new groups of people,” according to an NBC News report.
Like many others, I had to make changes. Governments everywhere were starting to mandate work from home. I had an opportunity to relocate and returned to my home country in Singapore. After five months, my partner and I started traveling and working throughout Europe.
Who are Digital Nomads?
Digital nomads – people using technology to work remotely from anywhere in the world – are not new. Steve Roberts is the original digital nomad. He published his “technomadic” lifestyle in Popular Computing Magazine in 1984.
He called his on-the-road lifestyle a common yearning for independence and self-determination. “It’s a universal lust…for freedom,” he said.
Boosted by the pandemic, digital nomadism was on the rise before coronavirus. According to research, Americans self-describing as digital nomads rose by 49%, from 7.3 million in 2019 to 10.9 million in 2020.
The recent surge is coming from people holding traditional office jobs. “Traditional jobholders now make up a majority of those pursuing this nontraditional work lifestyle,” according to the study.
The Digital Nomad Life Does Have its Challenges
The digital nomad life is not without its challenges.
I like the flexibility, the control and the integration of work and life. On the flip side, the instability is difficult because of the lack of feeling grounded. Since the pandemic, I have visited nine different cities in five countries.
One benefit of being a digital nomad is that you can spend hours intensively at work and then take a break to enjoy things without feeling you are stuck in an office environment. But you have to be disciplined. It is easy to get lazy. You must keep to a routine, even when traveling.
What Makes a Successful Digital Nomad?
A successful digital nomad must be self-reliant. Researching everything — including technical capabilities, available lodging, travel requirements, health care and employer support — is imperative.
Talk to your supervisors about your plans. Stay connected and keep your promise. Nothing is worse than breaking their trust because you failed to meet a deadline or stay connected.
Managing Your Health is Important
Managing your health and safety as a digital nomad is different compared to vacationers, who travel for short periods, or ex-pats who are abroad in a single location for a year or more. Digital nomads may spend years abroad in multiple destinations, in many countries.
There are at least two types of health and safety protections digital nomads should consider, and both should include COVID-related services.
One is health care insurance. Your domestic health insurance plan probably does not provide coverage outside your home country, but check before you travel since a favorable answer could save you a lot of money. If you have Medicare, your coverage does not extend outside of the U.S.
The other type of protection is for travel crises and medical evacuation. If you get sick or injured anywhere in the world digital nomads need field rescue services that will come get them from the point of illness or injury, including for COVID-19, and medical evacuation if you need continued treatment or hospitalization in your home country.
Digital nomadism will continue to expand in a connected world but humans still have a desire for actual face-to-face interactions.
The digital nomad trend will continue as business managers trust that productivity will meet or exceed past performance and employees realize the benefits of working remotely while traveling.
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Author’s Bio: David Koo, a former combat medic and emergency nurse, is an associate director of operations for Global Rescue, the leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services, who become a digital nomad due to the pandemic.