What Being A Digital Nomad Really Means

(ESL learners – click on the bolded words to see explanations and notes. Try the exercise at the bottom after! πŸ™‚ )

Picture this.

You’re sitting in a coffee shop. You’re sipping your coffee, staring absent-mindedly out the window and mulling over some decision or problem that certainly won’t matter one month from now.

You glance down into your cup, see that it’s almost empty, and reflexively look around, wondering what to do next. Your eyes fall on a lone person sitting in the corner seat next to the window. They’ve got their laptop on the table, with a planner open next to them. They upload an attachment to an email, click send, check off the last box on their to-do list, and close the planner.

A smile spreads across their face, they sit back and rake their hand through their hair. They pick up their phone, dial a number, and after a few rings, they say, “Hey! I just finished up at work. Want to go grab a beer?”

By this point, all of us have grazed against at least one of these mystical creatures: digital nomads. Maybe you’ve heard of one. Maybe your mom’s friend’s cousin’s boyfriend’s neighbor is one. Maybe your best friend is one. Maybe you are one.

I didn’t know I would end up becoming a digital nomad, at least not immediately after graduating. I didn’t have a mastermind 10-step plan to make it happen. I was just trying to follow my heart, and this is where I ended up.

I might one day write a more detailed post about the story of how I got here, but that will be for another time. First, there are a couple things I realized about digital nomads in the process of becoming one, which I wanted to share.

It’s Much More Than Just Frolicking

When people think of digital nomads, many of them immediately think of tanning on the beach, hiking up mountains, or sipping on margaritas while gazing at a beautiful sky.

What these people are describing is called a vacation.

The things above may be the reason why many people say they want to become digital nomads, but that’s really not what the term means, and if that’s your only motivation, you may not do so well at the lifestyle. Digital nomads still have to work! Working remotely does not mean frolicking around the city all day. It means putting in the same amount of work as you would in any other job, just in a different place and in a different way.

Of course, as a digital nomad it may be 10X easier to take a vacation, or to live in a place where your free time is like a vacation. But make no mistake, there is still a good deal of hard work to be done. It’s impossible to sustain a lifestyle like that without working very hard for it.

It’s really about the passion

Being a digital nomad really isn’t about working from your computer, or having no boss, or having flexible hours. After all, you can have all of those things from a fixed-location job as well. The real point of being a digital nomad is the same point of having any other job: working with your passion.

Imagine working remotely from any place, whenever you want to during the day, but having to do something you despise. Firstly, it will make you positively miserable. Secondly, as a digital nomad you (usually) don’t have a boss, but you will almost definitely have clients, and whether or not you maintain those clients depends entirely on you and the quality of work you put out. If you hate what you do, it usually shows in some way, and that’s not the best way to convince people to keep paying you.

Digital nomads usually become so through relentless chasing of what they love to do. Sometimes what you love to do cannot be done in a traditional job. But sometimes it can, or must. I know plenty of people who are amazingly happy in their nine-to-five job, and who wouldn’t give it up for the world, and there’s no reason why they should. Some jobs require you remain in one location, and there are many wonderful things about that: strong sustained face-to-face relationships, continued involvement in a community, stability, long-term commitments, constant access to a house/car, being able to keep more possessions, often fewer expenses, to name just a few.

As a digital nomad, I greatly appreciate all the good things that come with this lifestyle. But I have also seen a couple particular digital nomads flaunt their lifestyle in a haughty, almost aggressive way on social media, trying to sell their personal brand. I would just like to say that digital nomads are not an elite class that everyone has to aspire to be in, and whether you’re doing something personally fulfilling and meaningful to you is much much more relevant and important than where you work. There’s a pervasive need for respect for one another and our personal choices and differences, which goes way beyond petty things like showing off and invoking jealousy. One person’s pros may be another person’s cons.

Life Is Never Perfect

Despite what many people on social media might want you to think, this lifestyle also comes with its challenges. (As does everything!! I challenge you to find one way of life that does not have any challenges). For example, as a digital nomad, you often have to worry about finding your own clients. You are directly responsible for the amount of money you make each month. Which can make it hard to pay bills, or have any semblance of financial stability. Which can lead to a not insignificant amount of stress.

Don’t get me wrong: I know we are lucky in so many ways. I know we have lots of wonderful things, and I’m not complaining or being ungrateful. But it’s just a fact that there are some setbacks to literally every job that are not always immediately apparent. Don’t be fooled and think that any one person on the planet leads a perfect, problem-free life.

Those are my three main thoughts on the subject so far! Got any more insight to share? Feel free to share in a comment below! πŸ™‚

ESL Notes (25 words / expressions)

Sip (on) something: to drink something slowly, by drinking small amounts at a time. For example, if you’re drinking very hot tea, you have to sip it. People usually also sip on their wine, rather than drinking the whole cup at once. You can use “on” with this verb, but it’s not necessary: you can say you’re sipping tea, or sipping on tea. (Back to the text)

Absent-mindedly: if you’re doing something absent-mindedly, it means you’re doing it without paying attention, because you’re thinking about other things. In other words, your mind is somewhere else (it is absent from your present activity). Here are two examples from Cambridge dictionary: “She absent-mindedly left her umbrella on the bus.” “He went to call his wife, only to absent-mindedly dial his boss.” (Back to the text)

Mull over something / Mull something over: to think about something carefully and for a long time. This is a separable phrasal verb, meaning you can put the object at the end, after “over” or in the middle, between “mull” and “over”. If you use a pronoun such as “it”, you must put it in the middle (mull it over). Here are some more examples: “I need a few days to mull things over before I decide if I’m taking the job.” “McLaren had been mulling over an idea to make a movie.” “He paused to mull over his various options before making a decision.” (Back to the text)

Glance: to look at something quickly and for a short time. This can combine with several prepositions. Here are the common ones:

glance at is like look at, but quicker and shorter. Example: “I glanced at my watch for the 20th time that morning.”

glance up means that you were looking down, and you look quickly and for a short time in the direction of “up”. Example: “He glanced up from his book as I passed.”

glance over your shoulder means you give a quick and short look behind you, “above” or past your shoulder. You can also say “glance back” here. Example: “She glanced nervously over her shoulder to make sure no one else was listening.”

glance over (at something) would mean to look quickly and for a short time at something farther away. Example: “I glanced over at the clock on the wall, but only five

If you glance around, it means you give a quick and short look at everything that is around you. Example: “She glanced around the room to see who was there.”

glance through means look quickly through a text or book, or look at all of something quickly. “glance over” is also sometimes used here. Examples: “I picked up the phone book and glanced through it”.

Glance also exists as a noun, for example you can “give something a glance”. This is less used then the verb. A popular expression though, is “at first glance”, which means the first time you see something. Example: “At first glance I thought it was a dog (but I was mistaken).” (Back to the text)

Fall on: in this case, if your eyes fall on someone, it means you’re looking around, and your eyes stop or pause on a particular thing. In other words, you’re looking around and then you start looking at a particular thing or person. (Back to the text)

Lone: alone, or only one. For example, “He was a lone voice (= the only person) arguing against a reduction in payments.” (Back to the text)

Check off: if you check off an item on your list, it means you write a checkmark (βœ“) next to it, as in you have completed that task. (Back to the text)

Rake your hand through your hair: to put your fingers in your hair, as in to brush your hair quickly and roughly with your fingers. (Back to the text)

Graze against: to graze against something means to touch a surface lightly. In my text, it’s metaphorical. You can also often see this without “against”. Here are some examples: “He was lucky, the bullet just grazed his leg.” “The airplane grazed the treetops as it landed.” (Back to the text)

End up: this is a phrasal verb which has two main meanings. You can see both of them in this paragraph.

1 – to end up doing something. This is when you do something that wasn’t in your original plans. In other words, you have a plan, but you don’t follow it, you end up doing something else. For example, “I planned to study on the weekend, but I ended up watching TV all day”. Note that you must use a gerund after “end up”.

2 – to end up in a place. This is when you find yourself in a place you didn’t plan to go to. In other words, you are in a place by accident, not because you wanted to go there. For example, “I was driving to Toronto, but I guess I took the wrong highway, because I ended up in Montreal”. (Back to the text)

Think of: this is a phrasal verb which has particular uses. Many Italian and Spanish speakers mistakenly use it very often when they really mean “think about”. It’s best to study the uses of “think of” one at a time, so you learn each situation well and understand how and when to use it. In this case, it means something like “imagine”. Here are some examples:  “All the hate welled up inside him as he thought of Carrie and Mikey.” “We thought of Chet and dozens of individuals like him, sitting glumly in their offices and looking to get out.” (Back to the text)

Gaze at: to gaze at something means to look at something for a long time, often with admiration or in a dreamy way. You might gaze at someone you’re in love with, or at a beautiful sunset or night sky, for example. (Back to the text)

Frolic: the infinitive of “frolicking” this is to frolic (without the “k”). The past tense is “frolicked”. To frolic means to play or act in a happy, care-free way. For example, “A group of suntanned children were frolicking on the beach.” (Back to the text)

Put in effort/time: to invest effort or time. If you want to specify the goal, it becomes “put a lot of effort/time into…”. For example, “If you want to succeed, you have to put in the effort”. “I put a lot of effort into learning French in high school so that I could study at a bilingual university”. (Back to the text)

A good deal of: a large amount of something. This is somewhat formal. If you want to emphasize even more, you can say “a great deal of”. Some examples: “She spent a good deal of time on the project.”. “A great deal of research has been done already.” (Back to the text)

Despise: a more formal way to say “hate”. Examples: “She despised him for the terrible way he treated her sister.” “He despised himself for being such a coward.” (Back to the text)

Positively miserable: This is a collocation, which means two words that are frequently seen together and that sound good together. In this case, positively means “a lot” or “very much”, it doesn’t mean “good”. It’s often used with negative adjectives to emphasize them. For example, “That sales assistant was positively rude to me!” (as in, was really rude to me). (Back to the text)

Put out: this is a phrasal verb which has many different meanings. In this case, it means to generate / create / produce. For example, “This computer is powerful, but it puts out an absurd amount of heat.” I would recommend studying the meanings one at a time, so that you can learn each instance well and understand it fully rather than trying to learn too many words at once. (For this reason, I’m not listing all the other meanings here, as there is already a list of 25 new words.) (Back to the text)

Relentless: continuing in a severe or extreme way. For example, if it is 35 degrees C every day for a whole summer (June-July-August), there is relentless heat. Also, if your teacher constantly criticizes you, he or she is giving you relentless criticism. (Back to the text)

Chase: to hurry or run after someone or something, in order to try to catch it. Some examples: “The dog ran down the street, chasing the cat”. “The police car was going so fast, it must have been chasing someone.” “The little child chased after the butterfly”. As you can see in the last example, you can add “after”, but it is not necessary. (Back to the text)

Flaunt: to show something you are proud of in an obvious way, in order to try to get admiration. Some examples: “Flavio was flaunting his tan in a pair of white trunks.” “He’s got a lot of money but he doesn’t flaunt it — he dresses very modestly and drives a plain Toyota.” “They drove around in Rolls-Royces, openly flaunting their wealth.” (Back to the text)

Haughty: arrogant / overly proud. A person who is haughty often considers himself/herself to be superior to other people. An example of haughty is a person who drives an expensive car in a poor neighborhood, while talking badly about the people who live there. (Back to the text)

Petty: not important and not worth giving attention to. Often petty behavior results in overreactions for small things. Here are some examples: “Susie is upset the teacher didn’t call on her after answering three times in a row. She’s petty.” “He was miserable all the time and fights would start over petty things.” (Back to the text)

Setback: an obstacle that delays a plan or makes it more difficult. Some examples: “Sally had been recovering well from her operation, but yesterday she experienced a setback.There has been a slight setback in our plans.” (Back to the text)

Fool: you may know “fool” as a noun, as in a person who acts in a silly or stupid way. Some examples of this: “He said he would pay me back and like a fool, I believed him.” “He’s a fool if he thinks she still loves him.” “I felt like a fool when I dropped my phone in the toilet.” You can also use it as a verb, as my example in the text. To fool someone means to trick someone. For example, “She tries to fool people about her age by wearing heavy makeup and coloring her hair”. You can often see this in the passive voice, which is how it’s used in my text. Some more examples: “She said she was doing it to help me, but I wasn’t fooled.” “Tim was fooled into believing that he’d won a lot of money.” “Don’t be fooled by his appearance. He dresses very professionally, but he’s rude and childish.” (Back to the text)


Want to start using these words and make sure you don’t forget them? Try this exercise! Think about these questions (discuss them with someone) or write down your answers, using the word or expression in your discussion or answer.

  • Do you try to drink lots of water in a day? Do you ever bring a bottle of water to sip on at work? Do you think drinks taste better if they are sipped rather than drunk quickly?
  • Have you ever gotten dressed absent-mindedly and later realized you put your shirt on backwards or inside out? What’s something else you did absent-mindedly that led to a small mistake?
  • Describe a decision that you mulled over recently. Do you have any friends who mull over even tiny things?
  • How often do you think you glance at your phone or your watch throughout the day? Do you think it’s useful to glance at your phone or watch often?
  • Do you ever see a lone person sitting at a table in a restaurant? How do you feel about this person, do you feel proud of them for being confident enough to eat alone, or sorry for them? If you walked into a restaurant and inside you saw that there is a lone person eating in the room, the rest of the tables are empty, would you still eat there?
  • Does it feel good to check off tasks on a to-do list?
  • Do you think it looks vain if a person rakes their hand through their hair very often?
  • When driving, have you ever gone so close to a wall or another car that you grazed against it? Did it cause any damage?
  • Do you always end up doing what you planned to do on the weekend? How often do you plan to work or study or do something else productive, but end up browsing the internet instead?
  • Have you ever turned in the wrong place while driving and ended up somewhere different from where you wanted to go?
  • If someone tells you to imagine a perfect vacation, what do you think of? Is there any song that makes you think of a friend or a loved one?
  • Do you like to gaze at the sky?
  • Would you say you put a great deal of effort into your job? In school, did you put a good deal of time into studying?
  • What are some qualities that are necessary to do your job? Use “a good/great deal of”. For example, “it takes a good deal of patience to work with children.”
  • What is a food that you despise?
  • What’s something you think is an unhealthy habit? Use “positively miserable“. For example, “If you force yourself to exercise 2 hours a day, you might become more healthy, but you’ll also make yourself positively miserable”.
  • If someone you don’t want to talk to calls you relentlessly, would you end up answering their calls, or would you ignore them? Have you ever called anyone relentlessly, or asked someone for something relentlessly?
  • Why do you think celebrities like to flaunt the fact that they have a lot of money? If you were rich, would you flaunt your wealth too?
  • Do you know anybody who gets upset about petty things, or who starts arguments about petty things?
  • What is a setback you’ve experienced in one of your goals lately?

Feel free to try writing some more sentences, or a text, of your own to practice some more.

Thank you for reading! These ESL notes, links and exercises each take several hours to make, so if you found this useful, the kindest thing you can do is to like the post, leave a comment, or share with anyone who needs it. Have questions about any other words? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply! πŸ™‚

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