Digital nomads have been traveling the world for years, but the pandemic has changed everything. The group of remote workers on the go had already increased from 4.8 million in 2018 to 10.9 million in 2020. But with work continuing to be done remotely and retirement plans continuing to be redefined, older individuals are becoming digital nomads too.
Inspired by the booming trend in digital nomads (and the nearly 1 million tagged photos of #digitalnomads), T-Mobile joined forces with the age-positive professional networking platform CIRKEL to discuss the rise of older nomads. The event, titled “Un-Careers: The Wild West of Remote Work,” featured three real digital nomad panelists ranging in age from 30 to 60+. Here are some of the key learnings from the conversation, as well as resources for how you can get started on your journey.
What is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is someone who decides to live a location-independent lifestyle, traveling across a country or internationally. The difference between traveling as a digital nomad and a vacationer is that digital nomads are typically working while they travel. They have remote-friendly jobs or are self-employed and this flexible work style allows them to cross time zones and borders as they also maintain an income. For example, one prominent digital nomad is Palle Bo, a Danish national who decided at age 50 to sell his house and possessions to travel and work on a project basis. He enjoys most of the same pleasures of travel like making new friends, trying new foods, and seeing the sights, but he also runs his own audio production shop in which he produces podcasts for brands like Lego.
The next generation of digital nomads are 50+
At 56 years old, Palle Bo is a prime example of the digital nomads who do not fit into the 30-something stereotype. While the average age of a digital nomad is 32, many older professionals are leaving their traditional nine-to-five jobs and empty nests to travel and find more personal fulfillment later in life.
In a recent virtual panel event, Palle Bo joined two other digital nomads in conversation about the new face of location independence. One of the panelists was Siobhan Farr, a longtime HR professional turned insurance broker who recently launched the community, Digital Nomads Beyond 50. At 300+ members now, the Facebook group is growing and Siobhan plans to host international co-live / co-work spaces for digital nomads over 50.
Siobhan told the event audience a story of when she tried to sign up for a co-live/co-work space in Medellín, Colombia. The form asked which age group Siobhan fit into, and when she selected the oldest option (45+), a pop-up indicated that the community was not offering access to individuals in this age bracket. While dejected at first, it inspired Siobhan to build communities where the over-45ers could feel welcome.
The rise of un-retirement
It’s impossible to talk about the rise of digital nomads 50+ without acknowledging the biggest force at play, which is the deferral (or elimination) of traditional “retirement.” The idea of leaving work at 65, moving to Florida, and playing bingo doesn’t jive with most people today (whether you’re a current 65-year-old or a future 65-year-old). In a report from 2001, the Social Security Administration found a link between early retirement and death – so you could say that going out to pasture prematurely could be deadly!
For many Americans, traditional retirement is not even something they can afford. A study from Synchrony Bank indicates that the median retirement savings for Americans in their 60s is $172,000. The digital nomad lifestyle invites us to lean into the freedom and leisure that retirement promises while still maintaining the paycheck and purpose that work provides. And as we live longer, these alternative approaches to work and retirement may be what allows us to fund our longer lives – and enjoy those extra years! According to Project Untethered, 38% of American digital nomads earn over $75,000 per year while enjoying a lower cost of living.
5G technology means the time is now
On a practical level, there are a few key must-haves for making the leap to digital nomadism: insurance (health and travel), a digital-friendly bank, visas, and reliable mobile connectivity.
The third event panelist was Adam Maddock, a 35-year-old who spent the pandemic traveling around the southern US in a tricked out Jeep. He visited national parks and lesser known campgrounds working by day and stargazing at night. Adam was able to venture out during the lockdown due to his job at T-Mobile, where he’s a Senior Manager on their Digital team. Adam said 5G is a game changer for digital nomads: “We’re at the tip of the 5G era. I have a 5G-enabled device on T-Mobile’s network and it covers 92% of all interstate highways in America — that’s how I traveled. I had a phone, a hot spot, and an iPad, and that powered me for 3 months [working from the road].”
For Adam, the quality of his network allowed him to use a mobile hotspot and seamlessly email files, upload large photos and videos to the cloud, and Webex his colleagues. He joked that he accidentally fooled his team into thinking he was conferencing in from his home office. “No one had any idea that I was sitting on South Padre Island in Texas … or sitting at White Sands National Park until I flipped my camera around…it’s unbelievable!”
Tips & Tricks
Top sites for remote-friendly jobs
- Indeed (sort by “remote”)
- LinkedIn (sort by “remote”)
Top 10 remote-friendly roles
- Virtual Assistant
- Patient Advocate
- Customer Service Rep
- Online Tutor
- Financial Manager
- Financial Advisor
Top 10 cities to be a digital nomad
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Bangkok, Thailand
- London, UK
- Berlin, Germany
- San Francisco, USA
- Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Hong Kong, China
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Tokyo, Japan
Digital nomad Facebook groups to join
- Digital Nomads Beyond 50 Network
- Workationing: Support for Aspiring Digital Nomads and Remote Workers (Members: 5.1K)
- Digital Nomads Around the World (Members: 16.5K)
- Digital Nomad Jobs – Remote Jobs @ letsworkremotely (Members: 60K)
Popular events to meet digital nomads
- The Digital Nomad Summit
- Nomad City
- Nomad Summit
- Digital Nomads Beyond 50
- Nomad Cruise