Digital Nomad Programs seem to be popping up everywhere these days. With remote work on the rise and more and more people taking the independent contractor and freelancer route, the concept of the digital nomad has grown beyond the laptop on the beach.
Travelling is becoming a greater priority for many young people, and the idea of staying at the same job for 30+ years seems both daunting and unappealing. With more opportunities to freelance or work remotely than ever, people are taking the opportunity to combine their desire to travel while working from wherever they please.
Cue the digital nomad programs. There are tons out there – from retreats to workshops, to year-long programs grouping you with “like-minded people.” Despite there being options, they are all premised on the idea that “you show up, we’ll do the rest.”
Most digital nomad programs are from 1 month to a year. Those that are shorter tend to be workshops or retreats. More often than not, they require you to already have a job or project that you’re working on.
While working remotely can lead to some drawbacks (hours of logistical planning, loneliness while working or travelling, or lack of external input), digital nomad programs tend to promise a solution to all these issues.
They promise to provide you with beautiful villas or apartments with amazing views. 1-3 meals a day by an in-house chef. Career development via networking events, seminars, and mentorships.
Many also provide opportunities to volunteer or go on excursions throughout the cities and countries you’re travelling through. All while providing a co-working space and planning out your travels for you.
Doesn’t this sound amazing?!
Of course it does. And almost a little too good to be true.
While these trips do provide these things, they come at a hefty price. Programs tend to be $2000+ a month, many requiring a $500 deposit in advance. This also doesn’t include your initial or final flight.
One of the most popular programs, Remote Year, costs a whopping $27000 for the year – and this doesn’t even include meals! Many freelancers (particularly those just starting out) will barely make this, and you’re expected to have $1000 – $2000 more per month in addition to program fees.
But if we move past the money, is it worth it?
I know what you’re thinking, what do you mean “move past the money?” In some cases that’s literally impossible.
So let’s say you either do have the money or find a way to get it and decided to invest it in one of these programs. Is it worth it?
Maybe you’ll learn everything you needed to and will jumpstart your business. Maybe you’ll feel so fulfilled and completely understand what it is you’re meant to do. Maybe you’ll meet the founder of the hottest new start-up and land an awesome job.
I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time. You’ll make friendships that last a lifetime and see some places you’ve never seen before. Perhaps you’ll even get a good amount of work done.
But then again, maybe not.
Many of these programs are known to have a “college” vibe. Late nights filled with too much booze and a try anything once mentality that makes these programs more of a vacation than anything else. They also tend to have participants from countries like the U.S.A., Canada, U.K., and Australia – giving participants a little western bubble regardless of where they go.
While that may be great for some people (particularly first-time travellers), it doesn’t allow for as much cultural immersion or interaction as many would like to have whilst travelling.
The Pros & Cons of Digital Nomad Programs
- Networking. You’ll meet people from different industries with different perspectives from your own. Despite this, they’re in a similar place in their life (a remote worker in a digital nomad program), and you can make some mutually beneficial partnerships.
- Friendships. You’re bound to become close to those you spend a lot of time in close quarters with. Furthermore, these people already clearly have similar interests to you – making it easy to develop friendships and bond quickly.
- Organization. The most obvious and promoted “pro” of these trips. Nearly all digital nomad programs figure out the logistics for you. This gives you more time to focus on your work or fun!
- Familiarity. All of the programs I have seen are ran in English (likely because I am searching in English). These groups are often oriented towards English speakers (though it isn’t always a requirement), and therefore most of the participants come from Western, English speaking countries. Many may find that this helps with culture shock and prefer group travel overall.
- Cost. Many of these programs are prohibitively expensive.
- Work Compatibility. Not all remote jobs cater to public workspaces. Those requiring lots of video conferencing for example (like online teaching or seminars) wouldn’t work well in public spaces. Many people around in a vacation like environment may also cause you to work less efficiently than you normally would.
- They don’t do much you can’t do yourself. Many require you to already have your own job. You can book cheap flights & hotels yourself – more often than not flights aren’t included in these programs anyway!
- Lack of control. While of course, you can leave at any time, with the amount of money invested in the program it is likely you want to follow it and continue with it instead of going off and spending more to do your own thing. This gives you limited control over what you’re doing in some cases for a whole year. While you may be in villas in one city, you might find yourself in a roach motel in the next.
Whether you choose to join a digital nomad program or DIY I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic time working remotely and travelling. While I have yet to take a digital nomad program myself, that’s not to say I won’t ever in the future. At this time, I simply haven’t found one that seems worth it for me. Most of the pros seem social and network based – something I can experience whilst travelling myself by attending local meetups and joining co-working spaces.
There are tons of opportunities for the remote worker who loves travel. Digital nomad programs are simply one of those options. And like many options, what is great for some just doesn’t work for others.
Have you ever done a digital nomad program? Let me know about your experiences in the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.