Almost Fearless

A Brief History of Digital Nomading

I wanted to put this together for a while, and I am hoping you guys will help me add things I might have missed. Digital nomading is simple — you travel around a lot and you somehow make a living, usually because you do your job remotely, via the internet. This has only really been possible since 1999 but it shows no signs of slowing down. Personally, I think the heyday of travel blogging has passed, that blogging in general is really only a career option for serious writers and photographers or PR people and marketers.

Still, there’s a silent majority of people who run small businesses, travel part of the year or full time, work online because they are a freelancer or a consultant or work in tech. I also recognize that travel blogging is overly represented here, and that’s simply because while there are, for example, college professors teaching online courses from Thailand to students in Seattle, they don’t have a big online clubhouse to celebrate that fact, they don’t write blogs about it and there’s no data on how many of them are out there. (I think realistically the majority of digital nomads are freelancers using oDesk, Elance or their contacts to get work or have work-from-home agreements with their employers, whether they have a blog or not, but I have no way to prove that.)

In other words, this is my best attempt, but I’m open to improvements. I did think it was necessary to show some of the shifting forces in the community too, like moving away from the 4HWW but still being inspired by it, or the shift of TBEX and some travel bloggers to more marketing-driven writing for hire. It’s hard to pin down all the moving pieces and get a handle on the exact dates and events in this social shift, but I linked to sources as best that I could.


1983 The First

Steve Roberts sets out on a “computerized recumbent bicycle”, he becomes the very first digital nomad. His feature in Popular Computing still evokes travel envy.


Motosat, a satelite system for personal users (mostly RVs and boats) comes into the market and allows nomads to get online anywhere. In 2013, the company closes because wifi and cell service are cheaper and so widely available.

WiFi is born.



There are an estimated 20-30 million internet users


Who coined the phrase Digital Nomad?


Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners publish the book Digital Nomad with educational pubisher Wiley. It’s unclear if they coined the phrase or tapped into one that was already in use, but it’s the first book on the topic. The Amazon review now reads as prophecy:

“New digital technologies promise to enable large numbers of people to work wherever and whenever they wish and to choose between a stationary or nomadic lifestyle. In Digital Nomad, Makimoto and Manners explore the new potential for modern nomadism, beginning with the technology that is making it possible. They cite some examples of current nomads, such as the president of a major European technology company who does not have the traditional perk of the president’s office. Instead, he spends his workweek traveling around Europe from one company site to the next. Digital technology has made it more economical and efficient for the company to work this way. But the authors point out that there is more to nomadism than the technical ability. They discuss how nomads tend to be difficult to track, making them difficult to tax and control. Many governments see nomads as threats and some governments are currently discouraging nomadic lifestyles that have existed for thousands of years. How will world governments react then to those who opt for a high-tech nomadic life? The authors also discuss what parts of the world may be most attractive to tomorrow’s digital nomads, speculating on how future technological developments may further enhance the ability to live and work on the go. It’s debatable if many people really want a life with no physical roots, but Makimoto and Manners’s speculations read like a dream come true for those who’d love more variety in their work lives.”

Makimoto eventually became the CEO of Hitachi and the book focuses on existing nomads in his peer group, which might explain why the book didn’t reach a large mainstream audience. The table of contents is here.


Paypal is launched and eventually becomes the standard for online payments.

Paypal's original logo
Paypal’s original logo

Edward Hasbrouck writes The Practical Nomad. It is currently in it’s fifth edition.

1999 Digital Nomading is technically possible for the masses

Laptops now have wifi, the prices have dropped, the processing speed is better and the battery life has been improved.

For a glimpse into this world, Kristina Johnson (, where she still writes) and her husband were interviewed by via email during their round-the-world trip for this New York Times article featuring so-called techno-nomads. (She informs me in the comments below that, “when we traveled RTW in 98-99 it was strictly dial-up all the way, if we were lucky.”)

Elance a site for hiring or getting freelance work is launched with the tagline, “Changing the way the world works.” Today it has over 2 million registered freelancers.

Original Elance logo


360 million people are online worldwide.


Rolf Potts writes, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term Travel, it’s not about digital nomading, but it becomes the template for a type of travel that many digital nomads adopt.



Google Adsense goes public allowing bloggers to run ads from Google’s network of advertisers. The original website says, “Unleash the full revenue potential of your website.”

Skype is launched and eventually offers services that let you have a static phone number (in the US or other countries) that will redirect to your online Skype account or can be set to send calls to your local overseas cell phone. As of 2012 it accounts for 34% of the international call market.

Original Skype logo
Original Skype logo


oDesk is launched.

Original oDesk logo
Original oDesk logo

2006 The Early Adopters is launched and over time becomes a resource for digital nomads (typically tech-careers who work online) who live in RVs and travel around the US

Blogger Where the Hell is Matt? becomes a Youtube star with his video dancing around the world. He is the first travel blogger to receive major corporate sponsorship and he makes two more videos in 2008 and 2012.

2007 The Awakening

Tim Ferriss writes The 4-Hour Workweek which outlines how to work online and while many digitial nomads don’t necessarily follow his life hacking techniques it inspires a generation of travelers to take their careers on the road. It becomes a NY Times Bestseller, selling well over a million copies. Almost no digital nomads claim to work only four hours a week.


The US Government, realizing the cost savings of telecommuting begins to push for more work-from-home employees.

Lea Woodward coins the phrase “location independent” to describe digital nomading and actively ran a blog with the same name from 2007-2010.

2008 The community organizes

Travel Bloggers Exchange is launched, it’s not for digital nomads, but it’s where many digital nomads end up finding each other.

The NuRVers community is created as a resource for younger RV-based digital nomads.

2009 Brands start to jump on board

National Geographic launches the Digital Nomad blog.

Dell Computers launches a site called Digital Nomads about using technology to work from anywhere. They shutter it a year later.

The first TBEX conference occurs in Chicago after Blogher, and while it doesn’t focus on digital nomading, many travel bloggers try to monetize their blog to travel continuously.

The site is launched by Chris Brogan and others, but is later acquired by Citrix.

2010 Selling the dream

The digital nomad academy is launched, originally charging as much as $1,500 for mentorship.

MatadorU is started and the ads say, “Get paid to travel the world”.


Travel Blog Success is launched, “Do you wish your blog paid for your vacations?”

Global Bloggers Network forms a group on FB saying, “Travel blogging is fun! But it can be much more than that. It can be a source of income and free travel.”

Sean Bonner from Boing Boing writes a special feature on technomads ending with, “going “technomadic” also suggests the possibility of totally revolutionizing my life.” He launches a google group for digital nomads that runs from 2010-2012.

2011 The floodgates open

There’s no source for this, but my view is that there was a large increase in bloggers who attempt to travel full-time by monetizing their travels/blogs in the Lifestyle Redesign, Digital Nomading and Travel Blogging niches.

Late 2011 Keith Jenkins launches iAmbassador to connect travel brands with bloggers saying, “Blog trips are an excellent means to showcase a destination or travel product, with the bloggers functioning as digital ambassadors.”

2012 The movement continues to grow

Navigate Media Group is formed by several travel bloggers, who promise to amplify social media campaigns and to provide content for tourism boards and travel brands.


The Professional Travel Bloggers Association is formed by Michael Hodson, who also runs Navigate Media.

Christine Gilbert and her husband Drew Gilbert raise $37,000 via Kickstarter to finish and festival release their documentary “The Wireless Generation” about people who work online and travel overseas.

There are an estimated 2.4 billion internet users, about 1/3 of the world population and in almost every country in the world you can get online.

More than 140,000 US Government employees now have written telecommuting agreements with their agencies

A study shows that over 40% of the US population are in jobs that could feasibly be done remotely.

2013 The Reality and Myths (Backlash Against Bloggers?)

TBEX is sold to Blog World and there is a marked shift from travel writing to travel writing for sponsorships and free travel. BBC covers the “speed dating sessions” and wonders about the ethics. (Navigate Media Group’s collaboration with Finland Tourism is also discussed.)

The New York Times writes about the shift in travel blogging towards more marketing, in blogger’s attempts to keep financing their travel.

From the New York Time's article.
From the New York Time’s article.

Outside Magazine writes an article about “How to make a travel blog” — because obviously they haven’t been online, ever.

The UK’s The Daily Star writes about When Work is a Non-Stop Vacation

The Australian Magazine The Business Spectator writes about The Rise of the Digital Nomad writes about What I Learned Living Abroad as a Digital Nomad

The “online staffing industry” (read: freelancers working online) is estimated to increase from $1 Billion in 2012 to $5 Billion in 2018.

2020 The Future

According to Euromonitor, by 2020 43.7% of the world’s population will be users of the Internet.

My prediction

I think digital nomadism will continue to grow but it will be largely freelance or remote employment based, not blogging as has been promoted in the last five years or “online businesses” like Tim Ferriss proposed in the 4HWW.

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • “Lea Woodward coins the phrase “location independent” to describe digital nomading”

    I know she had the site by the same name, but did she really coin that phrase? Surely it was used before 2007, though perhaps not specifically for “digital nomads” since that was a new term too.

    Since you mention Digital Nomad Academy and TBEX, I’d also throw in Travel Blog Success launching in February 2010.

    I believe the Global Bloggers Network launched by Janice and Keith was first available in late 2009 or Jan 2010. They beat me by 1-2 months!

    • Lea claims on her website that she coined it. I did a google search by date but the problem is that old posts have it on the side bar because people have since started using it much later than 2007, so I’m getting false positives. I did wonder if maybe it was a 4HWW thing, so if someone has it on Kindle maybe they can search for the term.

      • I’d also add that while the phrase itself is important in that it gives name to something. What Lea does, though, is probably more important because it supports people in creating an LI life, which in turn opens the way for more people to work remotely and freelance from anywhere as per your final prediction.

        • Personally I like location independent better because digital nomad sounds like you have to keep always traveling, but LI just implies you COULD go anywhere. It makes it a broader tent and includes those people, for example, who become expats.

    • Christine – thanks for the shout-out. Great brief history 🙂

      Dave – as far as I know, no-one was using the term ‘location independent’ to describe the lifestyle we were living at the time (beginning of 2007). I’m sure however those words had been used previously – just not in relation to what we were doing.

      We brainstormed the name after we started travelling – trying to figure out a way to describe to people what we were doing but I initially went with the acronym ‘LIP’ for ‘location independent professional’. This happened literally 3 months prior to the 4HWW coming out. If anyone else claims to have used it before we did in relation to this lifestyle, it’d be handy to know.

  • It’s really fascinating to see all this put together! I definitely agree that our movement is becoming more freelance-based. Bloggers will always have a place, but more and more digital nomads are concerned with starting business and becoming successful freelancers, with a blog being secondary.

  • Great article, I look forward to checking out some of those links. Think I may have missed the boat on ‘making money from blogging’ since I have no interest in being a marketer, but it has still been the best thing I’ve ever done. You were on of my ‘firsts’ (blogs I followed), thanks for showing it can be done!! Onwards and upwards 🙂

  • Love the flash back on tech and travel. When we traveled RTW in 98-99 it was strictly dial-up all the way, if we were lucky. I WISH we had wifi back then!

    This might amuse you, from the NY Times in 1999, about “techno-nomads”
    That’s me and my husband featured in the first line. 🙂

    My, how things have changed since then. None of us in that article were working from the road, we were just trying to keep in touch with people back home and share our trips with the rest of the world. And sponsorship? We tried, but there were no takers. We came home when we ran out of money. 🙂

    But honestly, the whole blog + sponsorship thing is a slippery slope to me so I’d rather just steer clear and travel where and when I want. If I could work my regular job from where ever and travel at the same time, would I? Sure, but not every job translates like that. Mine certainly does not. So when I travel I do my best to let go of the job. It’s called a vacation.

    • Thank you so much Kristina for that NYT link, that’s an amazing piece of history. The slippery slope? Well I think it’s like all new things, there will be an eventual adjustment, if it hasn’t started already. I think the recent BBC and NYT pieces show indicate a shift in that direction.

      • Glad you liked it! I see you’ve added it to your timeline which is awesome. I feel like a part of history. 😉
        The entire interview for the article was conducted via email which seemed so cool and new then, rather than to meet in person or talk on the phone. We were in Europe somewhere and the Times writer was in the US. Now it would probably be recorded as a video piece via Skype!

  • What a great timeline, thanks for putting that together! I’m looking forward to digging into some of those links and starting my digital nomad adventures this fall. I’m heading to Baja California Sur. What part of Mexico are you in right now?

  • Fascinating list – really useful. I think iAmbassador should probably fit in there, though. They predated Navigate Media and many of the concepts overlap.

    • The adsense bubble, where people were saying “I can blog and make money!” had already burst before 2007, so I wonder if really applies to digital nomads. I know some people did have a network of sites and did SEO for a period, especially early on, but do you think the number of people who did that AND traveled, i.e. were digital nomads, were more than a handful?

      You comment did remind me though to add Paypal, because that did allow freelancers and small businesses to collect payments and sell things online without going through the process of getting approved to accept credit cards.

      • I find that a little surprising, I wouldn’t have thought that adsense had burst its bubble by 2007, maybe after Penguin? I know lots of people who had adsense sites and travelled; though most were not travel bloggers, and many have since evolved other models. I guess if we were talking about the SEO aspect of it all, then link selling would need to come into it, and I can think of many travel bloggers who’s main source of income came that way, so maybe the birth of the big G was an important milestone; though that income source may be coming to an end.
        Paypal, yeah that was def a gamechanger.
        (love the list by the way 🙂

        • Just saw this, yeah the link selling bit played a part in the shift to working for tourism boards, after Penguin, everyone started looking at how else to monetize and tourism boards plus TBEX plus more media exposure pushed things in that direction (similar things happened in other blogging niches, a rush to work with brands, then a backlash). Not sure how to represent that point without putting in my own assumptions which may not be true (maybe bloggers would have gone towards press trips any way, since traditional travel writing already beat that path).

      • My wife and I did! We lived in Mexico for a few years (Manzanillo, not far from you…), and traveled the world quite a bit. The game keeps changing though, income sources dry up, and you have to evolve. It’s stressful, but it is quite a life!

  • There’s other data points I’m not sure how to pin down… when did online banking become common? When did ATMs become worldwide? What about mail services where they scan your incoming mail online?

  • Excellent post! I’ve had a bunch of ideas laying around in text documents about this short history, it really hasn’t been written yet and I’m so happy you did this. Bookmarked!

    My sense is a big part of the recent history isn’t a hard date, but it’s the nexus of cheap wordwide VOIP calling plans, notably Skype ( combined with improving wifi.

    That opened up the floodgates in my view, it’s hard(er) to make a decent living with no voice connections… a lot of the folks I talk to who were on the road sustainably pre 2007 were much more technical– phones make it “easy” to bring in revenues, keep clients happy, close sales, and manage small teams, i think that’s a huge part of the growth we are seeing now.

    • Skype! That’s another really good one. I have to add that. Yeah there’s just been a flood of all these new services that make everything more portable.

  • Fun and interesting! I wonder if all the digital nomadic families are even a blip on the screen yet? It still seems novel to everyone we meet on the road, although we know hundreds of other families who travel fulltime with their kids. We connect with over 1400 on the facebook group for We have the same digital jobs, the majority not relying on travel blogging I don’t think.

  • I would like to have seen a reference to MotoSat DataStorm mobile satellite systems. We installed ours in 2003 when we went full-time. It is what allowed Geeks On Tour to do what we do.

    • I googled them and the first result says they have shut down… is there a link or resource that outlines the history and why there were important? I’m not familiar enough with lingo to parse out it’s signifigance amongst the many websites out there mentioning it.

  • I really enjoyed reading this, thank you Christine. I think you’re right about freelancing being one of the main things freeing people to travel. Working remotely is great, but time zone differences restrict your options for where you can do this with a decent standard of living. I also think part of the reason SEO and web site marketing appeals to people is you don’t need a particular skill to do it (or at least it’s a shallow learning curve compared to skills like writing, programming, graphic design, etc)

    By 2020 I’d bet there will be an affordable shared working space or café dedicated digital nomads in every major town in the world.

  • What an interesting overview! I can’t believe WiFi has been around for 28 years and is still so bad in so many places!!

  • Very interesting insight. I am a professional techie by trade, so I have a slightly different angle. In the past 2-3 years, I noticed an interesting shift in the tech industry: finally, it became more common to create virtual teams of developers from around the world for enterprise level projects and adequately pay for their work. This is very different from cheap outsourcing that was so popular in the past. It is also different from freelancing using elance or odesk as a main source of projects (which is, basically, exploitation of freelancers). Being a member of this virtual team provides security of steady income and luxury of location independence.

    • When I left GE in 2008 to travel I was a software-install manager for large installs and most of my team was virtual. Tech is so easy to do that way, except for actual hardware, but we’d just dial into their servers and install things, do our training online, have video conference calls. Probably 1/10 of my team members were in my actual office (my direct boss actually lived in Florida and I was in Boston).

  • Christine, thanks so much for the mentions of Navigate Media and the Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA), but I just need to dive in and make sure that people know that the PTBA wasn’t formed by me. There were 50 excellent travel bloggers from around the world (and 10 industry advisory members) that worked long and hard for over a year to get that association launched. I’m proud of my efforts in getting it off the ground, but there is way more credit to be appropriately spread around than just on me. I was just one of many. A great group to work with.

    • Should I say created? I remember the original emails you sent about this, it was your idea and you put the people together. I understand you want to give credit to everyone, but didn’t you start it?

      • I think it would be great to just list it as “a joint effort by 50 travel bloggers from around the world.” The idea came from multiple conversations with multiple people (Dave Dean, Matt Long and more). So crediting any one individual doesn’t really make sense — plus, it really is an entire group effort, with elected officers and a Board and such.


        • You were elected president but no one ran against you, right? I don’t think it’s accurate to say this grew organically, you definitely spearheaded it. I understand that’s a community thing, but you were behind the original concept and this is a historical timeline meant to be a resource for people who do research down the road. I need names, links, dates associated with it. I constantly get research students contacting me so this does end up in grad-level academic work for people studying different aspects of the movement. I have emails going back to when you first wrote to me and other bloggers to “gauge interest”, you created a FB group to discuss it and you created two documents outlining how you think the group should work. Yes you got feedback and no doubt people assisted in the year that followed, and maybe even took over all the work, but I think it’s not accurate to say that it was created by a group of 50 bloggers. Even looking back at those emails now, there weren’t 50 bloggers on them or responding to you. So maybe you mean 50 founding members? Anyway, your objection is noted so if people want to interpret it differently they can, but I don’t think I should edit the timeline at this point.

  • Really nice timeline Christine! Thx for using my lovely eyeball. 😉
    I read 2 books (to me, THE travel bibles!) before I left my FT job in 2006 and started (digitally) working and traveling the world: Vagabonding like you mentioned, but also the Practical Nomad by Edward Hasbrouck, which was originally published in 1997!

    • Nevermind, I did the way back machine and found their old website, says they started in 1985. Wow. Cool story, thanks!

      • MotoSat started with TV dishes on automatic mounts. Not too hard to do because they only need to receive. Satellite Internet was much harder because it is 2 way. Making it automatic and portable was quite a feat.

  • I love the digital nomad timeline! Great idea. This is the first time I’ve seen this.

    Good points you’ve made about bloggers. We only hear about the bloggers so they are definitely over represented. The people making the most money rarely blog about it. There too busy growing businesses.

  • Very cool compilation here… 2007 is when we started traveling with our kids. I remember at the time searching for blogs/websites about people who had actually DRIVEN to Costa Rica from the States. I could hardly find anything, and especially nothing about families with children. I was just thinking that if I did that same search today, there would be TONS of resources… soon driving across borders will be like driving across the country 😉

  • It is really interesting and inspiring to see the development of digital nomading. My dream is to live the digital nomad lifestyle in the near future. I am doing everything I can to fulfill this dream. Thanks for sharing they history of a Lifestyle I want to live.

  • Great post, I think this one will be a resource for everyone documenting the digital nomad phenomenon for years to come.
    I personally think the 4 hours work week gave the spiritual “lifestyle” ingredient that together with technology made this thing/lifestyle boom.
    I am a nomad entrepreneur, so what I have missing (although I know not relevant to every digital nomad) are the following items:
    1)Dropbox arrival and cloud storage are a big factor pushing to location free work.
    2)Facebook and Twitter, for traveler blogs and the surge in Newsletter communication are huge, and gave a real boost to the unique group of travel bloggers (Wish I knew how to use it for my blog)
    3)Coworking- once again, not relevant for everyone, but the dream of working while drinking tequilas on the beach is not that practical, for some of us the coworking trend which is very recent is key.
    4)Airbnb and hostelworld are making our lives easier finding accommodation.

    • Agreed with #4, AirBnB has been a pretty big deal for digital nomads, as they can now easily live for 2-4 months in a city without having to find short-term rent or pay for a hostel or couchsurf. It added a bit of at-home luxury to the nomadic lifestyle.

  • […] Christine and Drew Gilbert have been on the road since 2008. At first, they traveled with two dogs and a lot of camera gear. After 38 countries and two kids, the dogs live in a farm, the Gilberts live in Mexico (for now), and they’ve just wrapped filming a documentary about Digital Nomads called The Wireless Generation. Almost Fearless talks about work, travel, life and food — for anyone ready to start their journey in the kitchen. Read First: A Brief History of Digital Nomading […]

  • […] History of Digital Nomading by AlmostFearless – This post by the renowned almost fearless life blog has not received enough attention in my opinion. The list includes the yearly chronology of how the trend of Digital nomad life started, and when did the tools allowing such a lifestyle appeared in our lives. […]

  • I am a digital nomad, and have lived the lifestyle since June 1, 2011. I write web content for a living, but my true love is nature and that’s where I choose to live most of the time. I either set up camp in commercial sites, or find out of the way places in remote areas of Florida. I connect using mobile broadband. My goal for this year (2014) is to travel the length of the St. Marys river, the FL/GA state line, by canoe..camping and fishing and working as I take a leisurely expedition through what is mostly wilderness.

  • […] I can understand why 4HWW grinds some people’s gears. The writing is so tight and segmented that it reads like a sales letter. And that’s not a bad way to look at it. To date, it is the single most effective sales letter for the location independent movement. I haven’t asked them, but I would not be surprised if 80+% of DCers have read the book. For better or worse, 4HWW is the Bible of the digital nomad movement. […]

  • Awesome post and run down, I joined the party in 2005 just before things really took off, I still remember fondly updating my websites on my tiny Dell laptop and downloading the updates to a memory stick and uploading content in the internet cafes of Southeast Asia.

    So much has changed since then and will continue to do so. I agree that going forward only the most talented bloggers will continue to make a living from blogging, I mean how many of ‘Top 10 places to visit in blablabla” do we need to read.

    Like anything in life, those evolve and move on stay ahead. Keep looking for new cheese.

  • […] a night train to Chiang Mai.  I’m really intrigued by this place, as it is a hot bed for digital nomads, an idea that I’ve always been drawn too. It looks like this may diminish some, as the visa […]

  • Interesting. I quit my day job back in 1998 about a year after I started doing some additional online work. I’ve never looked back since.