With the number of digital nomads predicted to rise to 1 billion people by 2035 (Levels, 2015), there will be even more remote digital workers wandering the globe. However, will escaping the 9-5 really live up to expectations?
Words by HANNAH-MARIE LUCE
Anyone who has ever travelled will know that visiting a new place and its culture is a very enriching experience, so it’s no doubt that the idealistic life of a digital nomad is appealing. But will a location independent lifestyle allow you to experience the world as it seems to promise? Adi Gaskell, a Forbes contributor, outlined multiple studies showing benefits of the lifestyle. It seems that while flexible workers accomplished more and were happier, they worked much longer hours than usual (Gaskell, 2016) which results in little spare time to experience the place that they are staying.
Anna Hart, a travel columnist, verified these results when her experience of the remote working trend found her putting in extended hours due to conflicting time zones between her and her work (Hart, 2015), and when asked if this was true for him, Jahan, a 22-year-old UX designer currently in Hong Kong, responded similarly. “I spend a lot of my time working. The nature of the work is that it’s quite chaotic and it can be tough not to get bogged down” (Author, 2018).
However, if most of their time is taken up with overworking, what benefit is living a nomadic lifestyle? Most importantly, digital nomads still have the opportunity to experience another culture. Jahan can still walk out of his rented apartment and into another world, he just doesn’t have enough time to pursue experiential tourism that so many online platforms are offering.
Online portals like Airbnb Experiences and Marriott Moments offer dozens of activities and excursions that are available to book with one click of a mouse, but what about the people who don’t have the time to spend three hours cycling around the top attractions closest to them? Furthermore, can multicultural experiences be measured by the number of museums visited or recommendations on the best places to shop?
A study by Leung et al. (2006) proposes that multicultural experiences can be determined by the extensiveness of interactions with foreign cultures, specifically with people from different national or ethnic backgrounds. Likewise, Jahan agrees. He explained that it’s hard, if not impossible, to get an authentic experience in a short amount of time, but that there’s a lot more underneath the surface that locals can help you experience. “It has been refreshing to meet people who really know where they are, and they know all the best places to go that are off the beaten track” (Author, 2018).
Websites like meetup.com and various Facebook groups aim to connect people across the globe, but it usually results in people from similar backgrounds socialising rather than integrating with locals.
So, what’s stopping digital nomads getting together with locals? Aside from a disproportionate work-life balance, meeting new people can be a daunting social situation.
Geoffroy, a 34-year-old French UX designer, finds it hard to push himself to interact with members of foreign culture when he is travelling alone. “I was at a hotel reception in China, waiting for my Chinese colleague to come down. So, I asked the reception if they could call his room and none of them could understand me. For at least 10 minutes we were gesturing without being able to understand each other. During these moments, you really feel lost, and it creates reservations about socialising again.” (Author, 2018).
A study by Ina Reichenberger confirms that difficulties socialising isn’t a rare subject within the digital nomad society. The study features various digital nomads across the world that agree that getting around within a new community, finding good restaurants, and figuring out how things work is challenging (Reichenberger, 2017).
However, it doesn’t need to be challenging. From the local’s perspective, involving us in their culture is beneficial, and they are very open to doing so. A study about residents’ perceptions of the cultural benefits of tourism shows that locals see visitors as a means of helping them learn more about, share, and preserve their culture (Besculides, Lee and McCormick, 2002). Similarly, when asked for his take, Jahan said: “a lot of the time, locals are interested in a cultural exchange, and it can be a really good way to meet people” (Author, 2018).
With the massive projected rise in remote workers, the need to connect people from different cultures will only increase. So, with this perspective, the gap between locals and digital nomads needs to be bridged so that we can move towards a reality where digital nomads can experience the world and life-enriching culture their lifestyle promises in the time that’s available to them.
Hannah-Marie Luce, Author — Amin, J. (2018). Discussion about his experience of digital nomadism.
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Hannah-Marie Luce, Author — Gaborieau, G. (2018). Discussion about his experience of digital nomadism.
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