With digital nomadism becoming an increasingly accessible lifestyle choice thanks to the remote work revolution, a growing number of studies are being conducted to determine whether traveling while working really does produce the better work-life balance and overall improved sense of well-being and fulfillment that people are looking for.
The most recent survey has been published by Passport-Photo Online, which conducted interviews with 950 digital nomads with U.S. passports. What’s the verdict?
Digital nomadism continues to be an attractive and desirable lifestyle choice, and those who embark on a digital nomad journey tend to want to continue with it. The survey reports that 94% of those interviewed intend to continue their digital nomad lifestyle for at least the next year.
But that doesn’t mean that everything is a bed of roses. The survey highlights several major challenges for digital nomads, many of which we discuss regularly on this blog. The survey reinforces the insight that while digital nomadism can eliminate or reduce certain life stresses, it throws up new challenges. These challenges are not always well understood by accepted wisdom in community building and occupation health. This means that digital nomads have to pioneer new strategies, approaches, and solutions to thrive.
Let’s look at some of the key findings from the Passport-Photo Online survey and why these challenges tend to be prevalent among digital nomads.
The survey was conducted in March 2023 with 946 digital nomads volunteering to participate through crowdsourcing. The composition of the participants was 66% male, 33.7% female, and 0.3% other. 13.8% of respondents were younger than 25, 63.4% were aged 26-38, 19% were in the 39-54 age category, and 3.8% were older than 55.
According to the survey, 83% of digital nomads feel guilty when they take time off from work.
This seems to be a bit higher than the population at large. A recent survey suggests that around 60% of Americans feel guilty about taking time off for holidays. This is perhaps not surprising, since there is an underlying perception that digital nomads are already traveling and enjoying the benefits of “holidays” as part of their lifestyle.
But the reality is that digital nomads need to take time off from daily work to refresh and rejuvenate just as much as traditional workers. Read about why digital nomads need to take holidays here.
Digital nomads also tend to struggle with switching off when they aren’t working. According to the survey, 83% of digital nomads check their work emails when they aren’t working. This is a bit higher than 76% for the U.S. white-collar workforce. This is perhaps not surprising since digital nomads are more likely to use their computers and cellphone for both work and personal purposes, making it much more difficult to draw clear lines between working and non-working hours.
Learn about strategies for maintaining boundaries and the work-life balance as a digital nomad here.
A seemingly high 77% of digital nomads interviewed report experiencing burnout at some point in the last few years. While this is a worrying figure, it seems to be in line with the U.S. working population as a whole, with around 89% of Americans reporting experiencing burnout in the last few years.
It is perhaps not surprising that digital nomads would be as susceptible to burnout as their colleagues back home. While traveling and experiencing new places offers some stress relief, constantly catching flights, checking into new accommodations, organizing visas, and so forth can be a source of great stress.
And what about work stress? Around 60% of digital nomads report working 40 hours a week or less. This is consistent with workers in the U.S., the majority of whom work around 40 hours a week. But what about the 30% of digital nomads who work up to 60 hours a week? Or the 10% who work up to 80 hours a week?
Most of those in the 80-hours-a-week category are entrepreneurs who are committing to new ventures and fulfilling multiple roles within a growing business. But the majority of those in the 40-60-hour group are remote workers with contracts, rather than freelancers or entrepreneurs. This could be suggestive of a deeper problem if they are contracted for 40 hours a week but are working significantly longer.
Digital nomads may feel pressure to go above and beyond and work longer hours to prove their value in work cultures where others may perceive them as less dedicated because of their location. It may feel necessary to commit this extra time to be competitive for promotions and opportunities. 40% of the digital nomads surveyed agreed that they work more now than when they were in an office.
Of the digital nomads surveyed, 52% said that they frequently work on weekends. This compares to 31% for the U.S. working population who say that they often use some portion of their weekend to catch up on work. It would have been useful if the survey had dived deeper into this. Is the tendency to work on weekends to keep on top of heavy workloads, or to free up “standard working hours” for travel and other experiences?
A significant 77% of digital nomads reported being preoccupied with their financial stability. Interestingly, this was slightly more common for contract remote workers, who in theory have a stable source of income, than freelancers or entrepreneurs.
One of the benefits of digital nomadism is the ability to live someone with a more affordable cost of living. This could halve your rent and bills and make eating out and otherwise enjoying an active life affordable.
But rather than worrying about day-to-day expenses, many digital nomads worry about retirement funds, health insurance, investments, and taxes! These tend to become things that need to be managed personally rather than by your employer, and things such as decent international health insurance can be expensive. Saving for an uncertain future without access to state retirement plans can also be stressful.
And if paying your taxes in a single country wasn’t complicated enough, a full 84% of digital nomads have reported struggling with tax-related issues at least once. It is not always clear when you become tax liable, and what portions of your income are taxable where.
Read this guide to international taxes for digital nomads.
According to the survey, 40% of digital nomads feel lonely either often or all the time. This is a known phenomenon in the digital nomad world.
Maintaining relationships with friends and family back home can be challenging as your life paths begin to take separate directions. Making close connections in new locations can also be difficult due to the short period of your stay and language and cultural barriers.
While it is possible to make great connections while a digital nomad, it is important to come to terms with the potential solitude before embarking on the lifestyle.
Interestingly, digital nomads do not tend to feel “more lonely” the longer they spend on the road. Loneliness rates sit at around 30% in the first six months when relationships back home may still be strong, and excitement is high! The worst period for digital nomads seems to be the second six months, as they settle into the lifestyle, with around 40% reporting frequent or constant loneliness.
After a year of digital nomadism, around 40% still report regularly struggling with loneliness.
As an extension of loneliness, one in four digital nomads reports that their lifestyle affects their ability to maintain romantic relationships. This may not be surprising. Not everyone is interested in carrying on a long-term relationship. It can also be challenging if you are traveling with a partner since it can force a level of extreme intimacy. This is something that many couples around the world have experienced during the pandemic.
Check out these relationship tips for digital nomad couples.
Approach to Nomadism
Another interesting area that the survey dived into was how frequently digital nomads move and how long they are spending at their various “basecamps”. While many people imagine that digital nomads move frequently, the evidence suggests that slowmadism is becoming increasingly popular.
The survey reports that 60% of digital nomads are now choosing to spend more than one month in any given place. One to four months seems to be the “sweet spot” for how long to spend in any location. As well as letting the nomad thoroughly explore, this is probably also dictated by visas! Most tourist visas let you stay in a country for 90 days. If a visa is not required, most nomads will still choose to move on before 183 days, when they will become a resident for tax purposes.
Those who move around more quickly tend to stay in any location for two to three weeks. The instances of “road fatigue” investigated by the survey are probably more prevalent among this group. Strategies to deal with this tend to be taking a break or slowing down, powering through, or adopting meditation and relaxation techniques to cope.
So, what’s the verdict? Is digital nomadism the key to finding work-life balance and overall happiness? Well, there is no secret key to anything. Creating balance requires work and finding happiness is a lifelong commitment that you make to yourself. For some people, digital nomadism is an essential part of that journey.