Digital Nomads Had No Idea COVID-19 Would Have This Impact

A Digital Nomad, dressed in suit, walking at beach with briefcase

Many entrepreneurs who decided to work remotely in exotic destinations during COVID-19 weren't prepared for what happened. (Image: Rawpixelimages via Dreamstime)

The COVID-19 impact on the lives of many business owners, including digital nomads and entrepreneurs, has been substantial.

Those who could free themselves from the constraints of offices — according to a New York Times article — and could keep their jobs had the following logic at the beginning of the breakout: “If you’re going to work from home indefinitely, why not make a new home in an exotic place? This tiny cohort gathered their MacBooks, passports, and N95 masks and became digital nomads.”

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Group of digital nomads working at an exotic location.
Digital Nomads working in an exotic location. (Image: Steven Zwerink via Flickr)

Almost every digital nomad has possibly experienced the gut-wrenching roller coaster ride of emotional turbulence caused by the pandemic and being so far from home.

According to a quote in an editage article about a faculty member at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies in Dehradun, India: “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed my daily life to some extent as I am stuck in my house, like many others, during the lockdown. This global pandemic has affected various aspects of life in different countries.”

People started feeling anxious and confused as to what would happen to them and how they would deal with the pandemic situation so far from home. Many digital nomads worried about whether or not they could even get back to their families and friends in their countries of origin.

The hard choice for digital nomads during COVID-19

There were basically two options that were available for digital nomads: Try to book a flight and get back home or wait and watch to see how things develop. In the initial stages, many people took the pandemic lightly and did not bother getting back home immediately.

Many figured that waiting out the lockdown was the best solution and that things would go back to normal soon, while others decided to rush home to their families. Unfortunately, many of the digital nomads trying to get home got stuck in limbo when airlines canceled flights, or their previous home countries stopped accepting guests.

“I’m not going to lie, when the world went into lockdown, I was scared. I was a fresh nomad, only about 8 months into my journey. And the media and other people were certainly not helpful in making us feel secure! We were told and read stories about all hospitality and accommodation closing down.”

It wasn’t uncommon to see digital nomads having to create make-shift shelters for themselves.

“I had no security, I didn’t know if my home would be able to afford to stay open and I would be left stranded. It happened to people in my community. I saw it on our local Facebook page, foreigners pleading for kindness and shelter.”

For many countries like India, Thailand, and Malaysia, digital nomads are a welcome source of income for the owners of small hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs.

But during the COVID crisis, things quickly changed from digital nomads being welcome to being made to feel excluded or even being pushed out.

Racism and tolerance

COVID-19 was a test on many fronts, especially for the human character in terms of tolerance under tough conditions.

The rush and the bustle during the lockdown in many digital nomad hotspots caused friction on many fronts. Digital nomads who are foreigners in these hotspots found it very challenging to find accommodation during the lockdown.

“Racism towards foreigners started, even though I had been here for a long time. People were scared, especially of foreigners because that’s how this virus was spreading, through people traveling. 

“I started to feel unwelcome in the country that I had loved so deeply. And I considered packing it all up and going back home, but it turns out that wasn’t a possibility. I don’t think that there is a single digital nomad during covid that didn’t have at least a fleeting moment of terror go through them.” 

For many digital nomads in foreign countries, the lockdown also meant being excluded and blamed for the wide spreading of the virus because of their travel habits. (Image: via Pixabay)

When the lockdown bells rang for the first time

Everybody was scared when the first wave of lockdowns was called out. Different countries responded differently during the lockdown period. Foreigners — especially those traveling as digital nomads — that had their flights canceled, had to literally beg for shelter and kindness.

Besides dealing with a new form of racism, many foreigners faced being blamed for spreading the virus because of their travel habits. And slowly, digital nomads began to feel unwelcome in countries that they loved deeply and had become accustomed to treating as their second home. Although many wanted to return, it was not possible. The lockdowns turned everyone’s life upside down.

For sure, many local owners who started rejecting digital nomads did so out of fear and self-protection in a time when everyone was clinging to their health and life in desperation.

The innovative effect of the COVID-19 lockdown

Many digital nomads are entrepreneurs. That means they are very skilled at solving market problems and creating offers around their solutions. Who would have thought that the pandemic environment would also bring out innovation?

Many remote working nomads living in exotic destinations who were stranded with no way home and who had lost their source of income for some reason had to find other ways to get by.

So many of them came up with various kinds of solutions for people and local businesses as alternative ways that they could support themselves. This involved learning a new skill, volunteering for services, or participating in various kinds of social programs.

Different kinds of mental states that digital nomads faced during COVID-19

In the initial stages, many digital nomads thought that the lockdown period would result in increased productivity for them.

Disappointment

They thought they could take up more work during this time and earn more money, believing that once the lockdown was over, they could afford to explore even more of the world and its wonders.

Anxiety

But unfortunately, during COVID-19 and the lockdown phase, productivity experienced a massive hit — especially because the minds of people in all corners of the world were filled with chaos and tension. It is true that being a digital nomad during the lockdown phase of COVID-19 was very difficult.

Inspiration

But many new revelations came up. Many experienced digital nomads were reportedly seen helping locals and other digital nomads without any inhibitions. To those digital nomads with a philanthropic desire, this meant a great fulfillment despite the difficult times that everyone was facing.

The future of digital nomads

COVID-19 has made human social life completely unpredictable. Many countries opened up for a short span of time before the second wave struck, closing everything down again.

For digital nomads, who identify themselves with the freedom to travel and work, times are very uncertain. No one knows for sure when things will become normal and when they can start traveling and being “digital nomads” again.

One thing is for sure. While fear and self-preservation can bring out the worst in some of us, it is also fertile soil for innovation and personal development — both of which are the sparks for great entrepreneurial ventures and services to both economies and businesses.

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