What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words ‘digital nomad’? For me, it used to be the image of a pair of hipsters with impeccably kept beards sitting in a yurt or in the back of a van typing away on their laptops doing God-knows-what. I never considered that the idea of working online while travelling is a lifestyle adopted by more and more people that have nothing to do with my lame stereotype, and it’s turning into a worldwide movement.
After attending Freedom X Fest, an outdoor conference-festival in the Pyrenees that celebrated the location independent movement, I think of digital nomads as a group of wonderfully open-minded people, a global community of not only travellers but people that want to take control of their freedom. They live according to their own rules, working from wherever and wherever they want, but always staying conscious of the implications of their lifestyle and never losing sight of their responsibilities. I also think of them as messengers of a new era, a fresh mindset that will change the way we think about and experience personal fulfilment and happiness.
The festival was a surreal experience – I could never have imagined a gathering of so many friends disguised as strangers, all taking part in laying the foundations of a new movement. the event was a manifesto for the location independent movement, an attempt to bring together a global community in a secluded village in the Pyrenees.
Here’s what we learned from the talk at workshops we attended at Freedom X Fest and the conversations we had with the festivals organizers and our new-found friends. Here’s how the future of location independence and digital nomadism is being defined.
10 Things to Know About Location Independence and Digital Nomads
1. Location independence and digital nomadism are not one and the same.
While digital nomadism implies continuous travel while working using technology, location independence is a much broader term that encompasses lots of different shades of living a life focused on freedom and personal choice. According to one of the festival’s main organizers and Coworkation Founder Stuart Jones, “Location independence just means that you have a degree of freedom to work when and where you want. And then it’s up to you what you want to do with that freedom. You can structure it however you want. You can be location independent without traveling all the time.”
2. It’s time to take digital nomads seriously.
A few years ago, the term ‘digital nomad’ was “a grassroots term used by bloggers, but there was nothing tangible behind it. Since then, it has become such a solid term that by April 2019, thanks to the Estonian Digital Nomad Visa initiative, people are going to be certified as digital nomads and will have the opportunity to apply for a Visa and get access to the Schengen Area as digital nomads,” Estela Kun, head organizer of Freedom X Fest explains.
3. Being a digital nomad is not tied to a single profession.
No, it’s not just bloggers ow web designers that can become digital nomads. Did you know that it’s becoming more and more common for coaches and entrepreneurs who run their own online businesses to go location independent? The movement is spreading across a wide range of professions, and we’ll be seeing more and more different profiles added to the list in the coming years.
4. People who lead a location independent lifestyle share one basic value.
According to Stuart and Estela, the number one underlying value is the desire for freedom – however selfish it may be. Some people choose to use this desire to do good in the world, others focus on personal fulfilment. Other than that, people that go location independent are very diverse in terms of the values they represent. The movement is starting to niche down based on common sets of values and interests – like environmental consciousness, minimalism, or rethinking ownership – and small, tight-knit groups are forming within it.
5. One of the key changes when going location independent is assuming personal responsibility.
Responsibility is one of the most important questions to be talked about. Understanding that once you break out of “the system” and leave the beaten path behind, you will be responsible for all your choices, finances, etc. is crucial if you want to establish a happy location independent life.
6. The actions of location independent people have an impact on local communities.
… and it is their responsibility to make sure that impact remains positive. Location independence may still be a privilege of the fortunate few, but it carries with it a very interesting opportunity for travellers to positively influence the countries that they’re visiting. According to Estela, as long as it’s “not just another form of tourism”, location independence can bring value to local societies and contribute to the economy in developing countries. Local people may get access to knowledge and resources that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them through educational and social impact projects run by foreigners. Also, as Freedom x Fest organizer John Abbott points out, location independent entrepreneurs can create jobs for local people and pay higher wages than local companies. On the flip side, the increase in the number of digital nomads flocking to certain cities can have unwanted implications, such as driving up rent prices to a point where locals struggle to sustain themselves in their own cities, as clearly visible in Barcelona, Budapest, Bali and many other places around the world. It’s fundamentally important to be aware of these aspects of the rising popularity of locations independence and have meaningful conversations about them.
7. In order to keep up with the demands of the talent market, corporates must start thinking about integrating location independence.
Even though the shift is happening organically, and more and more companies are starting to realize that allowing their employees a certain degree of location independence can be beneficial for productivity and happiness levels, it’s still advisable for companies to start thinking about a strategy. As Simone Vincenzi, speaker and entrepreneur points out, companies need to think about which roles are best suited for location independence: “For example, if you look at the dynamics of sales teams, they usually do better when they’re together in the same environment.” He encourages companies to start exploring “hybrid models” and implement different degrees of location independence.
8. Location independence can mean a fantastic amount of freedom and flexibility for families.
Stay-at-home parents can be one of the main beneficiaries of work-life balance based on a location independent model, says Stuart. This mindset can make it easier for parents to adjust their lifestyle and be able to better distribute their time and create happier families.
9. Education is a huge part of furthering the movement and raising awareness about the benefits of a location independent lifestyle, as well as its challenges.
Estela believes that just like with everything else, it all starts with education. It will be interesting to see how the mindset of location independent people can seep into schools and the young minds of students, so they can make informed decisions about how they want to live their lives and have more options than what current generations were offered.
10. Leading the way
A festival like Freedom X Fest “would have been unimaginable a few years ago,” says Estela. The Freedom X Fest team are the first ones leading the way, and they consider it their responsibility to start conversations and raise awareness about what location independence really is and what sort of impact in can have on society. As John put it: “We have to ask ourselves the questions: what are we leading? What are we standing for? We have to be the shining light. Our job is to do the best job we can as leaders.”
Thank you to all of the Freedom X Fest crew and to Deborah Mendes for providing constant support to the members of the press team and spoiling us with fantastic content at the Visibility Hub.