One of the biggest lifestyle changes you can make is becoming a digital nomad. You go from having a stable home to living everywhere, seeing friends and family regularly to much less often, and working in an office to doing work wherever you can. Most digital nomads have lived such a lifestyle for years, but what exactly does the digital nomad life phases look like?
The phases of a digital nomad life from beginner to retirement include the following:
• Youth to young adult (20s to 30s) where you’re just starting a career
• Marriage and family (30s to 40s) where you’re typically more established and may even own a business
• Middle age (50s to 60s) where you have even greater experience in your chosen field
• Retirement (60s to 70s) where you may end your digital nomad lifestyle and live somewhere full-time
Admittedly, these life phases aren’t set in stone, but they’re an excellent guideline to follow. In this article, we will expand more on these life phases, explaining what they mean to you as a digital nomad and what you might expect in your future.
The Phases of a Digital Nomad Life
Before we begin, we want to share a little caveat. As we said in the intro, not everyone will follow these life stages to the letter. These are generalized phases of life. Lots of things can cause you to veer off the beaten path, and that’s okay. Live your life the way you want to.
Instead of taking this guide as something to follow directly, look at it instead as a means of life planning. Whether you have a partner and a family or you’d like to someday, you’re going to have to find a way to incorporate that into your digital nomadism. It’s not impossible, but you may find it very difficult. By knowing what you want, you’ll be on track to meeting your life goals.
With all that out of the way, let’s get started discussing the different phases of digital nomadism, shall we?
Youth to Young Adult (20s to 30s)
It is probably the life phase you’re in now if you’re like most digital nomads. Many people who work and live like this begin this journey when they’re between 15 and 20 years old. Thus, this group tends to skew younger, but that’s not always true.
At this stage of your life, you have graduated high school. You may have decided to enter digital nomadism right out of high school, or perhaps you chose to pursue higher education. Whether you attended a two-year school, a four-year university, or even chased after your master’s degree, you’re educated.
What you may lack in your early 20s is job experience. You could have a few internships under your belt, but any experience you have in digital nomadism would likely be purely freelance work. As a freelancer, you work with maybe one client or even several. You could be a writer, a graphic designer, an artist, a website builder, a photographer, or the like.
You appreciate the freedom granted to you by freelancing, as you get to set your own schedule and work for as little or as long as you like. There’s no more commute, no more business suits or stuffy cubicles.
You may not have a lot of money right after graduation, but you save up through your freelancing. Then, instead of working from home, you begin traveling, bringing your laptop with you. You still turn in your work on time, but now you can enjoy traveling in the time between. Just like that, you’ve become a digital nomad.
As your 20s continue, you find yourself progressing in your career. You may be a pro freelancer by now, making a steady, reliable income from the job and reaping the freedom that comes with it. You could even work with a company as its employee, taking on bigger and bigger projects.
You’re young, you have energy, and there’s maybe money to burn. At this age, you’re at the peak of your life and have lots of exciting years ahead. You can make your life anything you want, which is why digital nomadism suits you so well.
Given your youth, you probably want to travel to lots of popular, opulent spots. You may take countless images and videos of your travels to post on social media, making all your friends jealous. You can’t think of a better career path than digital nomadism since you don’t have to worry about a mortgage or utility bills, just hotel and flight costs. Your life is entirely your own, and you feel like you’re winning in every way possible.
Marriage and family (30s to 40s)
Before you know it, it’s time to say goodbye to your 20s and enter your 30s. You’ve spent close to a decade traveling as a digital nomad now, maybe even longer. With that experience, you have a pretty good grasp on how to manage your finances, plan your trips, and get all your work done while still having some downtime for exploring where you visit. You feel like you’ve got most everything in life under control.
If you met a partner over the last couple of years, then you might look into marrying them in your 30s or 40s. While lots of digital nomads do travel alone, that’s by no means a prerequisite. If you have a spouse or partner who has as much interest in traveling as you do, then the two of you can travel together. In fact, you may have even met your partner while on your digital nomad adventures.
By this point in your life, approaching or into your 30s, you may have one big question on your mind. Are you too old to be a digital nomad? Of course not! In fact, at this point in your career, digital nomadism fits especially well. You may have moved on from a role in a company to opening your own. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a bricks and mortar location, either. You can be a completely online-based company.
You’ve worked hard on your small business, and you can afford to hire employees and pay them regularly. Now, having this extra capital funneling into your business allows you to see those travel destinations you had to skip in your 20s due to a lack of funds.
You’re not too old to be a digital nomad in your 40s, either. If you opened your own business in your 30s, then a decade later, you may have moved onto other more lucrative ventures, or you may still be tending to the same business. You’re a respected professional in your field who knows how to run a business and drive results.
Kids or No Kids?
Now, one thing we do have to talk about is children. If you’re going to have them, many people who do will be in their 20s and 30s. Some become parents in their 40s as well. Now would be the time to focus on whether you want to expand your brood, then.
While you could bring an adult such as your spouse or partner along with you on your digital nomad adventures, it doesn’t seem fair to do the same with a baby. After all, your baby needs a schedule and stability, not the jet setting life of a digital nomad’s.
According to this Reddit thread, there’s an even split among digital nomads about having a family. Most people who have decided to make this their lifestyle go into it knowing they’re not interested in having children or starting a family. They might not even want to get married. Instead, they want to live their lives unencumbered.
It is where planning your future can come in handy. Yes, it can be boring to think years ahead, but it helps. Do you want to get married someday? As we’ve said, you can still be a digital nomad even if you’re married. Do you want to have kids? That can raise some challenges, although it’s possible.
One Reddit poster, who mentions he was 32 and married, has two kids as well. He reminds digital nomads that “you don’t need to travel to be a DN [digital nomad]. You need to have the freedom to travel at any time and place you want to.” He brings up a good point.
If you think you’d like children someday, you can do so, but it will mean seriously changing your digital nomad lifestyle. For instance, in the first few months after having a baby, you probably won’t travel much if at all.
When your children get a bit older, you’ll teach them that home can be anywhere your family is rather than one particular place. You can also enter your children into an expat school program, ensuring they get an education. In between their schooling, you’ll teach your kids another invaluable lesson through their firsthand experience with different cultures.
Middle Age (50s to 60s)
Having children makes life go by very quickly. Your 30s and 40s pass by in a blur of work, childrearing, and traveling. Soon enough, you’re entering your 50s and 60s. You’re officially considered middle age.
Before you can think it, no, you’re not too old to be a digital nomad at this point in your life. Instead of suffering a midlife crisis, you get the chance to achieve your goals and go where you want. You could even become a late bloomer digital nomad. For instance, maybe you had a regular nine-to-five office job when you were raising your kids. Now that they’re off to college, you want to do something different.
Other digital nomads in their 50s and 60s entered this exciting career field long ago, perhaps when they were in their 20s or 30s. They’ve decided to stick with it ever since. Yes, if they had children, it required some schedule modifications. With the kids striking out on their own, there’s no need for such modifications anymore.
Your career is more advanced than ever at this point. Those who stuck to working for a company remotely have probably climbed the rungs of the company ladder almost as far as they can go. You probably have a prestigious job title, advanced responsibilities, and a fat paycheck to match. Thus, the capital to travel is at an all-time high. If you by chance missed any travel destinations in the decades past, you can now check them off your dream list.
At this age, you have to consider that you won’t work forever. You might want to approach retirement between your 60s and 70s. Some even retire in their 50s, although obviously, that’s not everyone. If you freelanced all this time, then it’s not exactly like you have a trusty 401(k) in which to pull your retirement money. How can you retire? Will you ever be able to?
Yes, you can stow away money for your retirement as a digital nomad, but we recommend you don’t start in your 50s or 60s. Giving yourself 10 or 20 years to save up would put a lot of pressure on anybody.
How can you save for retirement successfully? Make sure you follow these tips.
To avoid the crunch of having to save a ton of money very quickly, it’s better to plan for your retirement early. You may set aside some money in your 20s but seriously begin contributing to your retirement fund by your 30s. Again, yes, it’s a bit boring to think that far ahead, especially when you’re that young, but you have to. If you worked a traditional job, you’d have a retirement fund in your 20s or 30s. Make sure you have one as a digital nomad as well.
Watch for Bank Fees
You want to make sure you’re signed up with a bank that’s friendly to travelers. If you take out the money in another country, will you get charged extra for it? Then you need a different bank. We recommend using the following banks:
• HSCB: Our first pick is HSBC, which has a large network of banks. As a member, you may send your cash across any HSBC location without incurring any fees. You can also use any of their ATMs without getting charged fees for foreign use.
• Australia and New Zealand Banking Group or ANZ: if you’re living in the New Zealand area or soon plan to, you might consider using ANZ. You do get hit with a foreign transaction fee, so keep that in mind. It’s only 2.5 percent, but it does exist. You don’t have to pay for automated transactions, though, which means no overseas ATM charges.
• Citibank Plus: You also get a network of banks with Citibank Plus. Make sure you get a Citibank Plus account rather than a standard Citibank account. This way, you can get money and send it worldwide without fees. You can even pay with your debit card on your travels and not get charged for it.
• N26: This is a Berlin virtual bank. Only those in the European Union can use N26. A free account lets you avoid most ATM fees, exchange markups, and foreign transaction fees. If you want, you can also access a paid account through N26. It gives you Allianz insurance, no ATM fees, and other premium features.
• Charles Schwab: You especially want their High Yield Investor Checking Account. This US bank will refund you on foreign ATM withdrawal fees. You also don’t have to worry about paying for checks, maintenance, or foreign transfers at Charles Schwab.
Some digital nomads even prefer a service like TransferWise over PayPal. You can cut down on transfer rates and fees with TransferWise, especially when sending money internationally. The fewer fees, the more money in your pocket.
Always Take Advantage of Discounts
If you have the option to nab a discount on flights, hotels, food, or just about anything on your travels, make sure you do. Sometimes that means signing up for a rewards service through an airline or hotel chain. You then get rewards, freebies, and discounts when you fly or lodge somewhere. Sometimes these rewards apply to things like dining, too.
Look for Inexpensive Accommodations
Today, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on lodging, you have lots of options. If you happen to have a pal that lives where you’re traveling, you can always try couch-surfing. That’s completely free. Hostels are an inexpensive option, although maybe a little too crowded for some.
A service like Airbnb lets you stay with someone for days or weeks at a time, sometimes at a lower cost than what you’d pay to room a hotel for that long. Plus, you get to stay in a home with a shower, stove, and other creature comforts you might have started to miss.
Travel Less, Stay Longer
If you prefer to stay in hotels, then you can still save money. Besides the above-mentioned rewards program, why not consider changing how you travel? Instead of going to four places in two months, visit two destinations at that same time. Stay at Destination A for one month and then Destination B for another.
You’re still traveling, but now you get a chance to explore every nook and cranny of your destination. Not only that, but most hotels offer decent discounts for weekslong stays. You also get to finally settle in somewhere for a bit, unpack, and get comfortable.
It is an idea we’ve advocated many times on this blog. We do recommend it. Running around all the time hopping from one plane to another can make life go by at a dizzying pace. You sometimes don’t get much time to stop and enjoy yourself. Plus, there’s all that jetlag. With this method, you can finally put the brakes on and spend some meaningful time somewhere.
Get a Good Travel Card
Travel cards are a godsend for digital nomads like yourself, but they’re not all created equally. Here are some recommended picks for you to explore:
• American Express’ Platinum Card: This card enters you into the American Express Membership Rewards program. With that, you get points for booking a prepaid hotel through Amex Travel (five times the points) and for using American Express travel or other direct booking airlines for flights (also five times the points). When you stay at a lodging option through the Hotel Collection, you get a hotel credit good for $100. You can also earn an annual airline fee credit of $200 when you fly. There’s even an American Express Lounge Collection with airlines that you gain access to, more than 1,200.
• Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: The Capital One Venture Rewards Card lets you enjoy unlimited miles (10 times) for your hotel stay if you use Venture’s hotel booking site. When making a purchase, for every dollar you spend, you earn yourself two miles. You have unlimited miles that you can use on travel loyalty programs or travel purchases.
• Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card: With this card from Bank of America, you don’t have to pay foreign transaction fees or annual fees. Like the Capital One card, for each purchase you make, every dollar earns you points. This time, it’s 1.5 points. You can use the points on vacations, hotels, and flights.
• Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: The Chase card also lacks foreign transaction fees. Each year, you’d have to pay $95 for the card, though. Per dollar spent on a purchase, you earn a point.
Up to 1,000 points are the equivalent of the same amount of miles. You can also get points for eating and traveling, up to two times the points. If you schedule a trip on the Chase website, you can cut 25 percent off the fees.
Save Some of Each Check
You can also make your own retirement fund. When you receive payment from your clients or employer, take a cut and put it towards an account in your bank. If you do this each time you get paid and you start in your 20s or 30s, by the time you’re in your 50s or 60s, you should have some significant cash saved.
Retirement (60s to 70s)
Finally, you enter the last life stage, retirement. By this point, you have your retirement fund, and you’re ready to cash it out. You might still travel, but now you don’t work. Instead, you take your retirement or even a pension and use it to see destinations at your own pace and leisure.
Some people who weren’t digital nomads until now may enter the field in their 60s or later. These people may have worked traditional jobs their whole lives. They’re empty nesters, as their adult children moved out a long time ago. These retirees tried sitting around and spending their days doing what they wanted, but they became bored with it. They want to work, even if it’s only part-time. They’d also like to do something more interesting with their time.
They maybe won’t have an intensely rigorous travel schedule like a digital nomad in their youth would, but having that freedom to venture where they want to go fills their life with purpose. The same is true of remote work. They have something to do, something to get out of bed for.
If you’ve spent the better part of your life to this point traveling, then there’s no need to quit. You do want to make sure you’re able to travel physically, but if you can, then by all means, please do! As we said, you’ll probably have a much more relaxed travel schedule. Maybe you only travel monthly or bimonthly. You also don’t go nearly as far around the world, but it’s better than nothing.
Now that you’re retired, what you do with your life is truly up to you. Chasing your passions may appeal to some retired digital nomads. Others may want to stop most travel and stay in one place for a while.
The digital nomad life cycle has four general stages. First, you’ll be a post-high-school grad hungry to establish yourself in a career. You may begin digital nomadism at this time. In your 20s or 30s, you have to decide whether you want marriage and a family. You can raise children as a digital nomad, but it’s an untraditional life for certain.
If you still want to continue with digital nomadism into your 40s, 50s, and 60s, you absolutely can. Just make sure you spent the decades prior thinking of and saving for your retirement. After all, if you don’t have a retirement fund because of your unconventional working arrangement, then it’s all on you to pay for your future life.
Some retirees continue traveling, and others still work and travel. You may do this, or you may finally stay in one place, spending the rest of your life, reflecting on your amazing decades as a digital nomad.
As we’ve said, this is the general lifecycle of a digital nomad. You can buck the norm and do things all differently, and more power to you! Through this guide, no matter which life stage you’re at, you can begin thinking about the future.
I’m the owner of Digital Nomad Explorer. I’ve traveled to over 50 countries and been an expat in Scotland, Finland, and China. I was a digital nomad while having my own robotics company and traveled throughout Europe and China working remotely. Currently, I’m location independent with a home base in Kirkkonummi, Finland.