Could I be a digital nomad? Should you? Advice for a reader.

I got a long email from a 19-year-old reader named Dylan this week. It is full of questions about travelling and working as a “digital nomad” – someone who works largely online, and can be anywhere in the world but still able to work. I’m certainly not location-independent in my work yet – most of my income comes from face-to-face training, coaching and consulting – but I’m trying to shift more of my income generation to being online and being able to have a more flexible lifestyle with some more travelling! Anyway, Dylan had a bunch of questions and I thought some of the answers might be relevant to even more of my readers, so here they are.

What should you study at university or college to prepare for a digital nomad lifestyle?

Excellent question. You all might laugh when you discover what I studied at university: mathematics! Of course, that was back in the mid-1990s (when … eek … Dylan the question-asker was just a baby!) so you couldn’t study much that is relevant to my current career anyway, but the fact is, I never really used this degree at all. BUT it was very, very often important to have a degree, regardless of the major. Teaching in Japan, for instance – I needed a degree. It also meant I could enrol in my Masters of Education (in adult learning and online learning) and that has been a really useful factor in the kind of work I do now.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think there is any one subject to recommend. Do what interests you and the rest will follow. This is not always popular advice but I believe it and will tell my son the same.

Teaching ESL in Japan – nobody cared if my degree was in Viticulture or Vet Science or whatever!


Are there already too many travel bloggers and digital nomads out there? Is it worth trying?

Oh yes, it is definitely worth trying. Do a quick survey on the street and see how many people know what a digital nomad is, or what it means to be location independent. Unless your street is really different to mine, you will find that barely anyone knows what these terms mean. Some of those people won’t even know what a blogger is. That to me tells me that there is still plenty of space to get on board in this new and pretty darn exciting way to live and work.

Is it selfish to want to be location independent and a digital nomad?

I can see where Dylan is coming from when he asks this. He has another question that follows on immediately: have you found a way to work towards a cause greater than yourself? And that’s the key. The digital nomads I know are not travelling the world just to prove that they can, or to try and demonstrate they’re somehow better than those people back home in more regular 9-5 jobs. They all have a cause they’re trumpeting, some way they are trying to help other people. I think that’s one of the great benefits of working for yourself online – you get the chance to figure out exactly what you can contribute to the world. For me, some of that is the inspiration and lessons about travel I can impart through this blog, and the people I can help get through reverse culture shock after they move home from extended time abroad.

Does the thrill of new places and people grow old?

I hope not. It hasn’t for me. It is different, though – it is never quite the same once you have already seen a decent amount of the world. That amazement at the smells of South-East Asia is never the same after the first time, the thrill of seeing famous monuments does temper, too. But over time it’s become less the obvious “thrills” that work for me, and more the unique thrills – the very special locals I meet, the unusual obscure town I visit, and there is always, always something I learn in a new place.

Flying into Penang. I still feel utterly thrilled when I’m arriving in a place I’ve never been before.


Does the computer ever trap a digital nomad? Do you find time to relax?

In a sense I’m lucky at the moment as I have a permanent home base and I don’t need to work too much when I do travel. And because I travel with a young child I can’t work too much when I’m on the road. More importantly, I don’t even want to work too much on the road – and I wrote about this last year in a post about how I’m not a typical modern travel blogger. But everyone has a different model. I’d recommend reading and listening to some of Natalie Sisson’s Suitcase Entrepreneur stuff, because I think she’s got the full-time digital nomad thing worked out pretty well.

I should be using this iPad for work while I travel, but Mr3 likes it much better

Hope that helps, Dylan, and perhaps provides some food for thought for other people contemplating a life of more travel. These days there are so many possibilities to work online, explore the world and make your life quite different to how you ever imagined – it’s a very exciting time.

Are there any more aspiring digital nomads out there? Let me know in the comments!




  1. Excellent post! I definitely (and unfortunately) don’t work as a digital nomad, but that’s something I’ve always thought about too. The flexibility of it is what is tempting, but at the same time we want to have a base in Norway where we have now settled in nicely. But yes, a combination of bit of both would be ideal and I’m also trying to find the way to do it, as I think many others are! 🙂

    • I agree with you absolutely Satu – I don’t want to be a full time digital nomad for lots of reasons, but the flexibility side and ability to at least sometimes be somewhere else and still working is very attractive!

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