For the last five years, MBO partners have been conducting an annual study to understand digital nomadism. Focused on the United States, they ask who digital nomads are, what type of work they do, how they travel, their biggest challenges, and how satisfied they are with their work. They also ask non-digital nomads what they think about embracing the digital nomad lifestyle.
The results of their latest survey are called Nomadism Enters the Mainstream, and are interesting, as the report represents digital nomadism in a world that has finally settled down into a new normal after the upheaval and change of the pandemic that allowed many to start working remotely.
Let’s look at the headline findings from the report, which MBO Partners say reflects digital nomadism moving from fringe to mainstream within less than a decade. You can read the full report here.
#1 Digital Nomad Numbers Have Stabilized
Digital nomadism increased dramatically in the United States between 2019 and 2022 by 131%. This is perhaps no surprise as the pandemic forced many companies and workers to figure out how people could work productively and collaboratively remotely. This has changed working practices for everyone and made digital nomadism an accessible lifestyle choice for many more people.
But between 2022 to 2023, the number of American digital nomads increased by only 2%, to 17.3 million. This means that 11% of working American adults call themselves digital nomads. This suggests that it is still a popular lifestyle choice, but that the boom is probably over, and more modest increases can be expected going forward.
It probably also reflects many businesses calling their workers back to the office for at least some of their time. These are known as hybrid rather than fully remote workers. This can be seen in the fact that while the overall number of digital nomads increased, the number of nomads with traditional jobs (rather than independent jobs) decreased by 4%.
According to WFH Research, 80% of traditional job holders who can work fully remotely work from an employer’s office at least two days per week due to company rules.
In response to this, some digital nomads have decided to continue to travel, but stay closer to their employer location so that they can make more regular check-ins. To classify these digital nomads MBO Partners have coined the term “tethered nomads”.
#2 Digital Nomads are Getting Younger
It seems that digital nomads are getting younger, as much of the 2019-2023 growth came from Gen Zers (1997-2022) joining the nomad workforce. This makes sense since the oldest were only 22 in 2019, so many were still studying and had not yet joined the workforce. But this may also suggest that an increasing number of young people will seek to become digital nomads as they join the workforce.
Millennials are still the largest portion of the digital nomad workforce at 37%, followed by Gen X at 27%, Gen Z at 21%, and Baby Boomers at 15%. Men outnumber women, making up 45% vs 43%, and 1% of those surveyed identified as non-binary.
The digital nomad community also tends to be more educated than the population as a whole, reflecting the types of jobs that support fully remote working, and therefore a digital nomad lifestyle. The survey reports that 52% have a college degree, compared to 35% of American adults, and 18% have an advanced degree, compared to 13% of American adults.
#3 American Digital Nomads Are Staying Closer to Home
While more people are choosing to become digital nomads, more digital nomads are also choosing to stay closer to home. The survey reports that 36% of American digital nomads plan to spend more time in the United States next year and less time abroad. While 47% said that they intend to continue traveling internationally as normal, 10% intend to spend all of their time in the US next year.
This could be down to a variety of factors, but the high cost of travel, which increased and has remained high since the start of the war in Ukraine in early 2022. Consequently, traveling abroad may no longer have the same cost of living advantage as it did previously unless you stay in one place for an extended period before traveling again.
Many American digital nomads are also embracing slowmadism and visiting fewer places and spending more time in each. As well as saving money, digital nomads report that this improves their social lives, allows them to learn more about local cultures, reduces travel-related stress, and increases productivity.
#4 Digital Nomads Are Happy
Also, the vast majority reported that they are happy with their work-life balance, 80% reported being very satisfied with their work, and 9% were satisfied, compared to 59% and 17% for the non-digital nomad workforce.
Being able to travel is a bit part of this, as it promotes a work-to-live rather than a live-to-work attitude. But people with a higher level of education who use things that have studied for their work also tend to be happier, as are people who are given independence to manage their own work, which is essential for remote workers.
Despite this satisfaction, the number of digital nomads who intend to continue with their lifestyle for the next 2-3 years has declined. But this may be linked with practical issues, such as companies recalling teams to the office.
Digital nomads are also reporting that traveling is becoming less challenging. There is a reduction in the number of digital nomads reporting issues with personal safety, managing work and travel, and loneliness, reducing from around one in four to one in five.
#5 Digital Nomads Travel with Children
The most stressed digital nomads are those who travel with children. About 24% of American digital nomads report traveling with children, and 71% of those children are school-aged.
The biggest challenges are the cost of traveling as a family, ensuring the safety of younger family members, covering the health of the family, and lack of stability in routine which can interfere with education and socialization.
While some families value the opportunity to world school offered by travel, other struggle to provide greater stability. They tend to do this through traveling slowly and sticking to domestic destinations most of the time.
Read our guide to how to become a digital nomad family.
#6 Companies Need Nomad Policies
Many traditional workers who are also digital nomads are considered “hidden employees”, because their company is not properly aware of where they are. Of the digital nomads with traditional jobs surveyed, 14% reported that their employer does not know that they are nomadic, and another 18% said that they have an unofficial arrangement with their boss.
This represents a major risk for companies that can face regulatory, tax, compliance, and legal issues as a result of having employees working abroad.
Companies need to have better policies in place to let employees known what they can do, track employee locations, and mitigate non-compliance risks. Read our guide to how to create the perfect remote work policy here.
What Next for Digital Nomadism?
Now that we have looked at the state of digital nomadism today, what should we expect to see in the next five or even ten years? While the move to remote working was the big disruptor in 2020-2022, the next big disruptor will almost certainly be AI, which will change what we do for work and how we do it. How this will impact digital nomads is unclear.