At the start of October I fulfilled my dreams of becoming a digital nomad. It was a long time coming, fueled by my experiences backpacking through southeast Asia in 2018, and enabled by a remote job I picked up at the beginning of 2020. I’m now in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico writing this blog post from my Airbnb.
Amid all of this is the elephant in the room: COVID-19. We’re about eight months into the pandemic of a lifetime, yet here I am with plans to sustain an indefinite travel experience. You’d be justified in thinking that I’m crazy, but let me explain.
But before I fight my case for becoming a digital nomad during a pandemic, here’s a brief description of what a digital nomad even is.
What is a digital nomad?
Digital nomads are people who’ve acquired the means to work and travel at the same time. They usually work remote or freelance jobs that aren’t tied to timezones or physical locations. By utilizing various types of visas, they are able to station themselves in faraway places for prolonged periods of time.
The lifestyle actually isn’t as glamorous as one may think. It’s not an endless vacation, although for some it definitely beats residing in a single location for decades getting caught up in the rat race of life.
In reality, digital nomads are still sitting in front of computers working several hours a day. And there are the stability issues that come from constantly uprooting or not having a full-time position at an established company.
Despite the drawbacks, if seeing the world and not being tied down to a single location is your thing, then definitely consider becoming a digital nomad.
Being a digital nomad during COVID-19
Of course, choosing to be a digital nomad right now is not the best idea for everyone. A huge reason why the current pandemic spread so quickly is because of the proliferation of fast, convenient travel over the past few decades. Plane tickets are relatively affordable and there are thousands of flights taking place at a given moment. World population is also growing exponentially and cities are becoming densely packed.
Now combine that with the allure of tourism and you have a constant stream of people entering and leaving various countries. There is no better time to travel, and no better time to be a virus adapted to humans.
All of this was on my mind as I weighed the possibility of becoming a digital nomad. To be fair, I conceived of my digital nomad dreams well before the pandemic hit. During the first three or four months of the pandemic, this idea had all but gone out the window.
But as time went by, I became curious as to what veteran digital nomads ended up doing during the pandemic. I learned that depending on the countries they were in, they either went home, stayed in the country they were already in or flew to other countries to hunker down. This got me wondering what countries were still open to travelers, which led me to discover a few cool tools that provide this information.
By the time July rolled around, I was convinced that it might actually be possible to get my feet wet in the digital nomad life, and a plan began to form.
First thing I realized was that Mexico was still open to travelers, so I started researching the best Mexican cities for digital nomads. Playa Del Carmen was consistently high on the list, so that’s where Madison (my girlfriend) and I decided we’d make our home base for as long as possible.
Before the pandemic hit I had wanted to embark in October of 2020. Mexico has a six-month tourist visa, so I figured that’s a good timeframe to stay in one place for awhile until things around the world got better around Spring of 2021.
Everyone has their own internal measure of how much risk they are willing to take for a certain reward. For me, the payoff of becoming a digital nomad has always had a high reward. Weighed against the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, I felt that it was a risk I’d be able to manage.
In order to manage the risk, staying put in Playa Del Carmen for six months and doing all the safe things, such as wearing a mask wherever I go, washing my hands frequently, not touching my face, social distancing, not eating at indoor restaurants, etc. were all things I could do in Mexico.
Furthermore, we won’t be partying, attending nightclubs, or hanging out with groups of people.
The way I saw it, I was either going to endure the pandemic in my hometown of Portland, Oregon — in America, which notoriously has the highest amount of covid cases and deaths — or I would do all these same things on the warm beaches of Playa Del Carmen.
Another thing to note is that airplanes are actually pretty safe in terms of COVID risk.
Sure, Mexico is pretty high on the list of COVID cases (top 10 in the world), but all things considered, I was willing to take the risk there rather than perpetuate my stagnant life in my hometown.
Following my dreams
Having been in Mexico for a couple of weeks now, I have zero regrets about my decision. People here are pretty good about following the same guidelines as they do in America; in some cases better, and in others worse.
In the end, this is about doing what makes me happy while minimizing my risk of harming myself and others. Becoming a digital nomad is something I’ve strived for for years, and it’s finally happening!
I’ve made it out of my comfort zone and will simply hunker down in Playa Del Carmen until things cool down and more countries open up in 2021. A vaccine is ever closer to being widely released which will make the world that much safer to travel in.
With all that in mind, being a digital nomad doesn’t mean I’ll be galavanting across the world as if COVID-19 doesn’t exist. Instead, I will be a conscious traveler, not moving around too often, and respecting medical guidelines. For me, this is more of a lifestyle change rather than an extended vacation like my Southeast Asia trip was.
And since this will obviously be a huge theme of my travels, expect to see more posts specifically related to being a digital nomad during a pandemic.