Until recently, remote working was the preserve of 20-somethings, often accompanied by a trust fund that enabled them to work anywhere in the world with a decent Wi-Fi connection. But the pandemic changed all that. Suddenly, everyone who could was logging on to Zoom from their kitchen table and the nine-to-five started to look decidedly last century. Some have even ditched the UK altogether to live and work in warmer climates.
And though still outnumbered by their younger counterparts, the number of older digital nomads is on the rise. According to a 2022 survey by data platform Statista, the 40-59 age group now accounts for 35 per cent of the digital nomad community worldwide, with Americans making up the overwhelming majority at 52 per cent, and the British coming in second at 8 per cent, well ahead of other Europeans.
Lawyer Vicki Prais, who is 51, escaped London last year to work from Paris, Strasbourg and Valencia, renting Airbnbs and a cottage with a friend.
“I love the freedom that being a digital nomad brings me and it’s a great way to expand my horizons,” she says. “Renting privately gives me much more privacy than a hotel and I don’t think I’d like to share with other people now. I can cook and entertain, and it feels more like a home from home.”
In 2022, 43-year-old Sophia Husbands spent nearly three months living and working at the Awid Aman Nomad Community in Tenerife (awidaman-nomadcommunity.com). She has also done shorter digital nomading stints in the United States and Germany. “I realised that I didn’t need to be in the UK all the time. I can do my work from anywhere,” says Sophia, a career coach and IT trainer from Windsor. “It’s fun adapting to a new environment and meeting new people, and the pace of life is so much more laid-back. Just make sure you plan and have a bit of contingency money.”
Not surprisingly, the UK weather plays a big part in the decision. After realising that she couldn’t cope with yet another British winter, 61-year-old Suzanne Noble booked an Airbnb in Gran Canaria, a popular destination with digital nomads due to its year-round balmy climate, its relatively low cost of living and the fact that it is in the same time zone as the UK.
“There is an extensive network of nomads here that I’ve met through various Slack and WhatsApp channels,” says Suzanne, a British-American who runs the Startup School for Seniors, an online business course, and is currently enjoying her second winter on the island. “It’s true that we are in the minority, but I’m seeing lots more people over 40 this year than I did last. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.”
With Spain set to introduce a new digital nomad visa, allowing Britons and other non-EU citizens to live and work in the country for up to a year (bypassing the 90-day Schengen rule introduced since Brexit), the governments of both Spain and the Canary Islands are hoping to lure more remote workers, start-ups and investment.
And that is not the only option – a further 49 countries have introduced similar visas, including Mauritius, Barbados, Portugal and Greece.
Entrepreneur Nacho Rodríguez set up Repeople (repeople.co) in his native Gran Canaria in 2014, providing co-living and working hubs in the capital Las Palmas and Puerto de las Nieves, a pretty fishing village in the north-west. The company now has nine facilities across the island, with more in the offing.
“Before the pandemic the average age was early 30s, but we are seeing a growing number of people over 40,” says Rodríguez, who hosts around 800 digital nomads a year, each staying for about a month. He predicts that the new visa will continue the trend and open the door to new temporary residents, not just those who stay for the odd month or two.
Plenty of budding midlife digital nomads go even further afield, too. John Williams, the 57-year-old founder of the Ideas Lab consultancy firm and author of a couple of books on how to mix work and pleasure, has worked from countries including Mexico, Thailand, Madeira, the US and Bali, staying for up to two months at a time, renting Airbnbs and co-living spaces such as KoHub (kohub.org) in Thailand, and using online nomad platforms such as Selina (selina.com).
“I sometimes worry about being the oldest nomad at social events when others are in their 20s and 30s,” he says, “but no one ever seems to care – it’s wonderful!”
How to master life as a midlife digital nomad
1. Join local Slack, Meetup and WhatsApp groups so you can see what’s going on in your area
2. Learn the language, even if it’s only a few phrases. You will feel more at home
3. Be open to new experiences, whether that is sampling local food or letting your hair down at the al fresco disco
4. Don’t worry about being older. No one cares!
5. Join Nomadlist, a global network of remote workers, for tips and advice (nomadlist.com)
6. Test the water with a month-long stay to see if the lifestyle is for you
7. If you work set office hours, keep in mind any time differences when choosing where to go
8. Make sure you take out adequate travel and health insurance. Holiday policies won’t cover more than 30 days at a time
9. Invest in a VPN (virtual private network), as you will be connecting to Wi-Fi networks with lots of people and your personal details can be compromised. A VPN costs as little as £5 a month