It's Not a Passing Phase; It's a Lifestyle
If you dream of freely traveling between sandy beaches and snow-capped mountains, you'll be happy to know others have made it a reality. Digital nomads are taking the internet by storm and inspiring millions with their alternative lifestyles. Technology allows them to work and live a location-independent lifestyle while still supporting themselves. MBO Partners found that 4.8 million independent workers identify themselves as digital nomads, while another 17 million aspire to be at some point.
There is no cookie-cutter person who's best suited for a nomadic lifestyle. The population varies by socio-economic class, profession, and generation. That said, the data generally skews toward males. It's reported that only one-third of location-independent workers are women.
In this article, we explore the life of a female digital nomad, how their experience is different, and what role technology plays in their life. Instead of just telling you about it, we took the time to talk to the experts: female digital nomads.
Common jobs for digital nomads
A digitally nomadic way of life is a growing trend welcomed by most industries in the workforce. Make no mistake; digital nomads work hard for a living. It just looks different than a 9-to-5 corporate job. While not all industries are compatible, there are still plenty of jobs available. Marta, the founder of A Girl Who Travels, suggests that anyone interested in becoming a nomad secure a job before starting on their journey. She said, "start your connections and network as much (both online and off) as much as possible." Some common jobs for nomads include:
4.8 million independent workers identify themselves as digital nomads, while another 17 million aspire to be at some point.
- Running your own blog
- Freelance copywriter or editor
- Software engineer
- Teacher or online tutor
- Online marketing or social media management
- Illustration or graphic design
If you don't work remotely for a company and want to go down the freelance path, use resources like Fiverr and Upwork to flaunt your skills and find something that works for you! Another option is PowerToFly, which gives women access to jobs, career advice, video training, and coaching.
"If you want to start your digital nomad journey soon and don't have time to learn an entirely new line of work right now, start by freelancing while you figure out what it is you really want to do," suggested travel blogger Katie Diederichs. "Freelance work is great when you're first starting because it's not a big commitment, and it can help you test the waters of working remotely without making a huge leap."
Meet the fierce female nomads
Carolin Pilligrath, travel writer and marketing strategist
Founder of Breathing Travel and Breathing Retreats, Carolin is a marketing consultant and digital nomad. Traveling around the world since 2014, she described sitting in her apartment in Frankfurt, Germany and realizing there must be more from life. "I never hated my job; what I disliked was the lifestyle of getting up in the dark, coming home from work in the dark. Winter and cold are not something I liked much either."
When asked what being a nomad means to her, Carolin said, "It means ultimate freedom, getting up and 'going to work' when I want to. Taking time off over lunch, going for a swim in the ocean and heading to a new country when I want, not when work permits me to go. Life shouldn't be all about work and building someone else's dream; I want to build my own dreams."
Jayme Serbell, co-founder of Gnomad Home
Jayme described a narrative whose threads we've all heard. A husband with a corporate job, juggling three jobs herself, buying a house that was too big for them, filling it with stuff they didn't always need. Realizing they wanted more from life, Jayme and her husband, John, bought a 1996 Chevy Express 1500, which they call Gnomie. They completely renovated Gnomie, took to the open road, and started Gnomad Home, leaving most of their possessions behind. Jayme described her journey thus far as something that "revamped who we are and who we want to be."
"Freedom. Freedom to control our income, to choose the direction we want our life to go, freedom of self." - Jayme Serbell
Here's the inside of Jayme and John's rig; check out how they did it here.
Jenny Lachs, PhD, founder of Digital Nomad Girls
With an academic background as a chemist, Jenny started Digital Nomad Girls as a Facebook group with the intention to ask what questions she had and to hear other women's experiences about traveling as a nomad. Digital Nomad Girls has since blossomed into an online community of female digital nomads. Jenny said that her decision to become nomadic came from the desire to travel and travel often. Starting out, she picked up any freelancing gigs she could find, from writing to social media management to German translating. Now she successfully runs Digital Nomad Girls and offers a thriving community for those who are living as a nomad or are interested in becoming one.
Katie Diederichs, co-founder of Two Wandering Soles
Originally from Minnesota, Katie started her journey traveling and living abroad over a three year period that included teaching English in South Korea. When the money started to run low, her desire to travel (and her need to pay her student loans) didn't lessen. Katie has been working remotely for nearly four years, two of them as a full-time travel blogger. She started Two Wandering Soles in 2014 with her husband, Ben.
Katie said, "Becoming a digital nomad has given me the freedom to build a lifestyle I love and schedule my work around that. I don't have to say 'no' to opportunities or travel plans because I can bring work with me or carve out 'time off.' But all this freedom comes at a cost. I am incredibly grateful that I'm doing work I'm passionate about, but this means that I rarely really 'clock out' or turn off my work brain completely. I have to try extra hard to maintain a work-life balance that doesn't leave me burnt out (which is still something I'm very much working on)."
Di Minardi, travel blogger at Slight North
Di decided to pursue a nomadic lifestyle because of her love to travel and her dislike of how limited vacation time is in most U.S. companies. After graduating in 2014, she started her journey and spent two years teaching in the UAE. During this time, she was able to travel for about 7 months because the vacation time that was allotted was so generous. Moving about every 5 weeks with her husband and 55-liter backpack, Di has been living as a digital nomad since 2017. She is a travel blogger at Slight North, which offers travel guides, nomad tips and some of the mistakes and triumphs she made along the way.
Marta R, founder of A Girl Who Travels
Quitting her office job in northern England back in 2010, Marta spent half a year traveling through south and southeast Asia. She created A Girl Who Travels as a way to inspire other women to follow in her footsteps and take complete control of their lives. Marta cites the freedom to live on her own terms as what started her down the nomadic path.
Sarah Vandenberg, founder of Vandenberg Digital Communications
Sarah's first trip abroad was a sea turtle conservation volunteering program when she was in college. Living as a nomad since 2017, Sarah owns Vandenberg Digital Communications, a consulting company that supports startups and small businesses with innovation and development. Sarah also operates the Frayed Passport, a travel blog that includes travel tips, helpful guides, and destination information.
Johanne Jacobsen, Founder of Climate Vagabond
A speaker for sustainability and climate change, Johanne travels solo around the world. She focuses on demonstrating via her website Climate Vagabond how traveling can be done in an eco-friendly way. Currently living in Indonesia, Johanne recently finished creating a documentary about plastic pollution in West Papua. When asked about her lifestyle, she said, "Being a digital nomad gives me the freedom that I always wanted. I was stressed and depressed back in Denmark and hated going to work and school -- I feel like being a digital nomad saved my life."
Katie Marshall, co-owner of Round The World Magazine
Katie and her partner Nicola have been digital nomads for the past five years. She described the start of her journey as a 9-to-5 job at an IT corporation that left her wanting more. A nomadic lifestyle gave her just that: freedom and flexibility. Katie co-owns Round The World Magazine, which covers topics like living as a vegan, travel, well being, and being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. She spoke about how the LGBTQIA+ experience is unique to both the traditional male or female nomad experience.
Melissa Smith, CEO of the Association of Virtual Assistants
The CEO of the Association of Virtual Assistants, Melissa, has been location independent since 2017 when she traveled to 16 countries in 12 months. Unique among most nomads, Melissa described a lifelong fear of flying that she finally overcame in 2015. She took the trip of a lifetime and attended the Monaco Grand Prix in 2016, and spent 11 days in south France. When she cried almost the entire way home, it wasn't because she was scared. It was because she knew she couldn't wait to travel again.
The female digital nomad experience
Given that most digital nomads are men, specific considerations for female travelers are discussed less often. While there is a lot of overlap, we've highlighted a couple of things that stand out.
Every digital nomad should have safety concerns on their radar, regardless of their gender. Women may just think about it a little differently. Johanne said, "There are also some practical and safety differences when being a full-time traveling woman. I'm in Asia right now, and as I travel alone, there are simply some places that I can't visit. I could, for example, never visit India alone like a lot of the male digital nomads do because it is too dangerous for a solo woman. I chose this lifestyle to live a more free life, but some realities you can never escape in this society."
Sarah spoke about the different cultural considerations women have when traveling between countries. "Different countries' customs and lifestyles are incredibly important, say when it comes to how to dress and how to act in public. While it is a truly amazing lifestyle that affords you a great deal of freedom, it's super important to understand some destinations are more conservative, particularly with women's rights and lifestyles, than we might be used to at home."
Pregnancy and traveling with children
Considerations that are unique to women, especially when traveling, are pregnancy and family planning. When sharing her story, Di brought up the issue of finding birth control while traveling. "It was hard to get extended prescriptions for the pill to cover six- to ten-month trips, so after a year of frustrating calls with my insurance and running out of my pills while traveling." She switched to a Nexplanon implant that only needs to be changed every two years to avoid trouble.
Many women successfully continue their lifestyle as a digital nomad while pregnant and continue to do so after giving birth. Having children does not mean their nomadic way of life is over. It may just change the way they think about it.
Every digital nomad should have international travel insurance if they regularly move between countries. This type of insurance will cover the bumps in the road when traveling, but it does not cover potential pregnancy and any additional doctor visits. Jenny suggested that female digital nomads should consider an international health insurance policy that would cover these things. Make sure you compare all your options to make sure you're covered.
How do they stay connected?
Technology is a lifeline for the nomadic population. Without the internet, digital nomads wouldn't exist. It is the basis of what starts their journey, and allowing them to work from wherever they are, it helps them to sustain their need to travel. The availability of internet connections influences where they live and where they will go next. Katie Diederichs said it is one of the first things she considers when deciding where to set up.
"I use a number of apps, the nomad list slack chat is also very handy, and I have a mobile wifi hotspot as a backup. I often get a local SIM card too, especially when I will be in the country for a while or I know I have to get work done and cannot waste time searching for internet every day," said Carolin Pilligrath.
Ways to find consistent internet
"A quick google search will tell you the state of the internet in any country before you travel there, and some of the results may surprise you," said Di Minardi. "I loved living in Romania because they have some of the fastest internet speeds in the world! However, even if a country generally has fast internet, it can vary from city to city and home to home."
Mobile hotspots are a way of life for those who are a part of the Van Life movement. Jayme cited her successful use of the internet while on the road to her cell phone booster and mobile hotspots. Carolin also mentioned always having a mobile hotspot as a backup, "which has worked great for me around the world and hasn't even let me down while driving around Iceland in a campervan."
Contact your host
Another way to make sure you will have access to dependable internet is to contact the host of where you will stay next. Jenny, Di, and Sarah, who are frequent Airbnb users, suggest that you always ask the hosts for confirmation of internet access and a screenshot of a speed test they ran. Internet speed tests assess the latency, download speed, and upload speed of the internet connection. The score you receive from your host will give you the best possible idea of their internet status.
Some popular speed testers are:
Coworking spaces offer both the opportunity to connect with other nomads but also a steady source of internet. Thankfully, coworking spaces have cropped up all across the globe. If you find you are in an internet gap at any point, deferring to a coworking space or public space with Wi-Fi is recommended. Carolin spoke about how frequented digital nomad spots and coworking spaces make it easier to meet new people and connect over shared topics.
Tips from the experts
From finding the internet to international health insurance, the expert nomads we spoke to -- understandably -- had a lot to say. Here are some of the tips and advice they had for aspiring female digital nomads.
Do your research
Successfully living as a digital nomad isn't something you can go at lightly. It's hard. There are a lot of moving parts, and it can be exhausting. Making sure you've researched your next move will be may help you avoid some potential issues along the way. You want to plan as much as you can, but know that things do go wrong, and sometimes buses just don't come. You have to be ready for change and be able to react accordingly.
"There is such a hype around this lifestyle, and there's a message out there that, 'everybody can do this! Just quit your job and move to Thailand! You can do it! And I think you have to be really careful with that …" warned Jenny Lachs. "This is not a lifestyle that is suitable for everyone because it's actually quite exhausting; you're uprooting your life every couple of months."
Define your values
Sometimes it's easy to be discouraged when you see the success people have on social media. A healthy understanding that it takes time to get used to this lifestyle will serve you well. Take baby steps towards your goals and decide what you want to get out of your experience. Jayme suggests to everyone who wants to be a nomad to "find where your passions and strengths intersect" and then hopefully find a way to make money off it.
When Carolin was asked what tips she had for budding nomads, she said, "Don't compare yourself to other people, just start doing and do it your way, and you're already ahead of everybody else. Remember WHY you started and keep at it."
"Your days aren't necessarily all going to be spent at a pool with a cocktail in hand and your laptop at your side. There will be times when you get tired and lonely and want to give up. And the most important thing you can have is a belief in yourself and your dreams. You'll need to spend time learning skills you were never taught in school, and you'll need to keep up with an ever-changing digital workforce," said Katie Diederichs.
Find a community
Finding a community is a vital part of successfully living as a nomad. Katie mentioned that "one hard part about this lifestyle is that it can feel lonely, especially in the beginning when you are living in places where you know no one. And a lot of digital nomad communities can be quite transient, as people come and go frequently." Social media platforms are a great way to connect and create friends all over the world. If you're lucky, you might even be able to meet up and travel with them. Whether virtually or in public spaces, coworking is another way to meet people and stay connected with your friends.
Jenny emphasized how surrounding herself with people who understand what she was doing was a game-changer and cut out the need to justify her dreams. She went on to say, "surround yourself with other people who are doing it. It's already a scary thing to do something totally new. You have to learn new skills, and you have to put yourself out there."
Katie Diederichs stressed the importance of finding mentors who are already living the digital nomad lifestyle. "Reach out to them with succinct and specific questions (being respectful of their time). Creating connections like this and having someone to ask all those questions swirling around in your brain can make this process so much easier."
Hold yourself accountable
One of the most important facets of succeeding as a digital nomad is personal accountability. At the end of the day, if you are a freelancer or work for yourself, the pressure to do your work comes from you. Find a way that works best for you. Jayme said, "It's up to you if it's going to work out or not." She mentioned using a daily journal to keep track of what her goals are, how she made progress and what she learned.
The life of a digital nomad is rewarding in so many ways, but no one can deny it's hard. From the time of adjustment to the intense planning, this way of life is not something anyone should go into lightly. Thankfully, there are a ton of online communities that foster friendship, travel and the desire to control your life.