Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant, Speaker and Writer

Do you have the right personality to be a Digital Nomad?


Ever thought about chucking in the 9-5, the grinding commute, the deadly office politics, and going to open a bar on a beach in Mexico?

You’re not alone.

But whilst in times past the majority of us would just dream about it, in this world of easy travel, reliable and consistent wifi, and knowledge work, it’s become more than just a dream for many.

A new way of working

These brave and unusual individuals have been called ‘Digital Nomads’ (DN) – those who take their work with them wherever they go, use a laptop to create wealth, and combine work and play in a completely new way.

In fact, the lines between work and play are blurred or even erased as Digital Nomads work on a laptop by the pool in Bali, with pina coladas on the beach in Thailand, or, as some of the Digital Nomads I know were doing recently, get their work done around matches in the World Cup in Brazil.

The genesis of this sought-after lifestyle can in part be traced back to the hugely popular book, The Four-Hour Work Week, where, amongst other ideas, Tim Ferris outlined the holy grail of all DNs: passive income. Essentially, this is income where the work is in the setting up of the system, and then after that, the money just rolls in with a minimum of effort. Examples might be the creation of a knowledge product, an online course, software or an app, where once the upfront ‘hard work’ of creation is complete, the product can be sold many times without additional work or cost.


Not the easy option

Whilst this is certainly possible, my experience of meeting many DNs on my own travels in South East Asia is that they are generally much too focused to take too much of a break from their work.

Often entrepreneurs, this new breed are highly independent and crave autonomy, but this autonomy doesn’t stop them driving themselves hard, and setting themselves lofty goals. They are also incredibly motivated to be successful.

And by successful, I don’t – necessarily – mean someone who makes huge amounts of cash as they travel. Many DNs have redefined what success looks like to them as part of their day-to-day.

  • For some, like John Bardos, it can mean a life of simplicity and minimalism, and setting up businesses to create connection and contribution to society.
  • For others, like my friend Caroline Leon, it can mean a life supporting others to overcome their own fears and live a more inspiring life.
  • The couple (a graphic designer and a web developer) I worked with on this site, Further Bound, build websites in order to travel around the world, experiencing new cultures.

In fact for many, this lifelong dream of continuous travel, roaming new lands and meeting new peoples, is what drives them to make the move.

I should confess at this point I’m now mostly a DN. I don’t work entirely remotely – some of the consulting I do is face-to-face work, but I’m flexible about where I do that consulting, and there are a number of projects that I can do with my laptop from anywhere. Right now I’m based in Thailand, but I’ve also visited or worked in Dubai, China, Malaysia, Singapore, France and the UK this year alone…

Personality traits of the Digital Nomad

Before I started my own travels, I had never even heard of this type of lifestyle. I thought that ‘world travellers’ didn’t have jobs, and moved from hostel to hostel, partying or in search of a spiritual guru (I’d read both The Beach and Eat, Pray, Love).

Having been splitting my time between countries for the last 20 months, I’ve met many people who would reasonably fit the definition. I’ve noticed that they tend to be independent, self-contained types, and whether introvert or extrovert, they can go for long periods focused on their own goals without any special need for others’ company or approval. They are often unconventional in their beliefs, and are prepared to buck society’s ‘norms‘ in order to create a life that works for them. There are many online communities and blogs where they find their support, and indeed, many of them are bloggers themselves with strong online presences.

Coffee tends to be an integral part of their lives as they spend time working in cafes, though anywhere with wifi will do at a pinch. But they’ll be able to tell you the download speed of their preferred places, and it will be one of the criteria on which they judge a new home. Certain cities are favoured, such as Chiang Mai in Thailand, Buenos Aires (Argentina), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) and Berlin (Germany). These are usually places with low living costs and good wifi, that perhaps aren’t quite as full of ‘regular’ tourists as the usual.

Digital Nomads are confident using the web to make friends on and offline, and won’t be put off meeting someone they’ve only ever talked to previously online, when they meet them again IRL (in real life) in a country that neither of them calls their own.

I mention these personality traits because although I think it’s a lifestyle that is achievable on one level for a lot more people than one might think, I also think that it wouldn’t suit everyone. Some people would get bored, others lonely. Others might not have the drive or interest in learning new skills to keep developing, keep trying new things, or even just get to know a new place every time they move. Or having family and friends far away, and being without a deeply rooted personal network.

And it can be exhausting.

It can also be liberating, freeing, and help you to focus much more on the things that are really important to you. A Digital Nomad life is one that’s stripped down to its essentials, where possessions are kept to a minimum, and you and your friends have to make an effort to stay in touch. It helps you filter those you thought were your friends by people who take the time to send you an email – and those to whom you actually take the time to send emails in return.

It pushes you to slim your wardrobe down to the stuff you really love, as there’s no room for freeloaders in a 20kg suitcase. And it opens your eyes to a world filled with fascinating cultures, peoples, ideas and views.

Are you a potential Digital Nomad?

Would I recommend it? It depends. As an Occupational Psychologist, I’d say that just like any other ‘job’, some of you out there would be a perfect fit, and others might need to reconsider their preferences and style against the criteria.


Wanted: Digital Nomad

  • Independent, unconventional, creative, commercially-minded individual, who’s happy to set own (demanding) schedule
  • Needs to be equally at ease going for days without human company, and making friends with strangers, building connections and networks at every opportunity
  • Comfortable talking to (or communicating through language barriers with) people at all levels as equals
  • Extremely likely to be spending most of their time with people from other cultures
  • Required to relinquish the majority of what they are familiar with (including possessions), and re-orient themselves at regular opportunities
  • Autonomy and the ability to make a decision on limited information vital
  • Must be highly productive, though also encouraged to find relevant work and life ‘hacks’ to make themselves more efficient in work and life
  • Online skills essential, comfortable with using the internet to source information through relevant communities and websites

What do you think?

Would you be a good Digital Nomad?

Let us know in the comments below whether you’d ‘apply’ for the job!

11 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Terry August 31, 2014, 10:48 am

    This is an interesting article. I personally am looking for more freedom, the ability to travel more, the ability to connect more and to meet more people.

    I went traveling 10 years ago. I had to return after 7 months when I ran out of cash, but I really saw it as a missed opportunity to leave for longer. It has taken 10 years of a new career, bad jobs, bad exes, saving money, friends weddings and moving back home to realise that I want it again more than anything else.

    So now I am leaving on the 5th January 2014 and I am counting down the days.
    Terry recently posted…Make Money Blogging – Choosing a Domain NameMy Profile

    • Ellen September 2, 2014, 4:04 am

      Thanks Terry, and it sounds like if you have already done some travelling, the experience won’t be a surprise. You’ll definitely get the things you’re looking for from the experience, though you’ll need to put in some effort to really connect with people – I find meeting people generally is easy enough, but building strong relationships takes a bit more energy.

      You’ll love it :-) Good luck!

  • Joan September 1, 2014, 8:02 am

    Hey! Great article Ellen. I left Spain two years ago without knowing what could be to live like a digital nomad. Now I know what working while traveling means and how amazing can be a digital nomad’s life. I encourage enyone around the world to try it and share their personal experiences living a comment in this post or ina a groups like this one:
    I’m also giving some usefull tools for digital nomads in my site,
    Congratulations for the site and the post Ellen, i love it :)

    • Ellen September 2, 2014, 4:05 am

      Thanks Joan, and you have great experience to share with people in your FB group – I’m a member now! And I think your website really fills a niche for travellers, as the legals and logistics can be really challenging for people to get their head around. Thanks for reading :-)

  • Caroline Leon September 2, 2014, 7:13 am

    Hey Ellen, thanks so much for the mention in this awesome post! It’s funny to read about what it takes to be a digital nomad now that I’ve been away from the UK for nearly 3 years! I feel I definitely fit the mould in some ways (my addiction to coffee for one!) but as you know, you’ll rarely find me working in cafes as I am far too easily distracted for that but for others who may be similar to me, the option of investing in accommodation with good wifi and air con (if you are in Thailand!!) has always been a great one for me. Having said that if I didn’t have other digital nomads (like yourself) to come over and keep me company sometimes, I might go a little stir crazy on my own at home! ;-)
    Caroline Leon recently posted…Bridging the gapMy Profile

    • Ellen September 2, 2014, 2:15 pm

      Thanks Caroline! It’s interesting, we all have different preferences – as you know, ironically, I like cafes but not to actually talk to people, just to be around the noise and buzz and environment! And I agree that AC and wifi can be pretty critical (especially in SE Asia!).

  • marc September 3, 2014, 3:43 am

    very nice article on the “Digital Nomad” phenomenon. I especially like you mention the challenges and downside. One challenge as you say is the need for single-focus (or at least to single-focus for an intense period each day). This can be at conflict with, say, a completely immersive transformational / developmental experience such as here at Agama Yoga or in a meditation retreat. Secondly, not everyone has a business that is mature enough to support them (yes its cheap here but still $1000/mth to live comfortably IMHO… better than back home i suppose). For those who love travel and adventure but can’t or won’t do the DN thing, there is always the option of working high-paid jobs at home (or else living very simply) and then taking large blocks of time to travel. That is also a very viable option for those of us who can’t tolerate the routine ;).
    You mentioned Timothy Ferriss also as the inspiration for many of us… but that also highlights the single focus problem. The book is a bit misleading actually because he spent 2 years developing business equity (and nearly went mad as documented in his book) before he “found” the DN lifestyle and the alleged “4 hour work-week”… which 4-hour work week incidentally is a fantasy designed for selling books, as everyone who has done this knows. My detailed critique of Timothy Ferriss here by the way:
    xo marc

    • Ellen September 3, 2014, 6:34 am

      Hi Marc, thanks very much for the comment.

      Yes, I think it can be a challenge to balance all the different aspects of life as a DN.

      But that can also be one of the pleasures. My eventual aim is to have a source of income from my online business (this!), doing work where I can share my passion and really help change people’s lives with some of the awesome stuff I’ve learned in my career and life. Then I’m also lucky enough to have a solid income stream from my consulting work, which also continues to be fascinating – travelling to different places. Then I have yet another project I’m working on which I’ll birth at some point, and then I’d ALSO like to travel, have a life, keep going to yoga, see family and friends etc!

      So I think one of the biggest qualities is being self motivated, self driven – you have endless possibilities in how you spend your day, and without some discipline, you’re not going to manage to spread yourself around appropriately.

      And re The 4-Hour Work week, yes, I think it can be inspiring, but you’ll also note my skepticism above about how realistic it is! Thanks for sharing your post about it.

  • Kathryn Dilligard September 12, 2014, 4:07 pm

    I’d like to think so, yes.
    Kathryn Dilligard recently posted…thesiteowl.comMy Profile

  • Darby January 29, 2015, 2:31 pm

    Hi Ellen!
    Being a DN definitely requires some entrepreneurial ability. It’s a lot like starting up your own business; you need networking skills and discipline.
    It also helps to be passionate about what you’re working on. Choosing a niche to promote that you can speak endlessly about at a dinner party will supply plenty of motivation to keep growing.
    I like how you mention life “hacks.” I think that these “hacks” can help those that aren’t naturally very productive.

    Thanks for the post!
    Darby recently posted…5 Secrets that Surf Instructors Won’t Tell YouMy Profile

    • Ellen January 30, 2015, 1:05 am

      Thanks for the comment Darby! Great points – and I agree about the discipline, and ‘hacks’ can definitely help with this. I love discovering new ways to be productive :-)

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