The bustling streets of Mexico City are rife with exquisite architecture, lush greenery, world-renowned culinary offerings and rich history—and, recently, a new influx of digital nomads.
In addition to locals and ever-present tourists, remote workers have descended upon the city, taking advantage of Mexico’s relaxed immigration requirements and a location-agnostic employment landscape that was redefined by the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s not just Mexico City.
Since the pandemic, the digital nomad movement has exploded. Forced remote work allowed individuals to adopt location-independent work indefinitely. Many have transitioned that adaptation into a lifestyle in places like Portugal and Costa Rica.
“I always believed that nomadism was going to become mainstream one day,” says Mita Carriman, a six-year digital nomad and founder and CEO of digital nomad travel club Adventurely. “I just didn’t expect it was going to happen in the way that it unfolded.”
The digital nomad boom
Since 2019, the number of Americans who consider themselves digital nomads has more than doubled, according to MBO Partners’ 2022 State of Independence in America study. Last year, 16.9 million Americans were living a nomadic lifestyle, compared to 7.3 million in 2019. They are taking residence for weeks, even months, at a time across the globe.
The impacts to the workplace have been much discussed, but becoming a digital nomad doesn’t just affect you and your employer. The rapid rise in digital nomadism has elicited calls for responsibility and sensitivity, acknowledging the impact visitors can have on a place and the people who live there.
“Responsible nomadism comes from responsible travel, and the idea of responsible travel has been around for a number of years,” Carriman says. “Responsible travel ultimately comes down to being socially, economically and environmentally aware when you travel.”
But how does that look? Here are six steps nomads can take to cultivate a responsible nomadic footprint.
How to be a responsible digital nomad
1. Educate yourself.
Tarek Kholoussy’s nomadic journey has taken him out of the finance sector on Wall Street and into global philanthropy. The 10-year digital nomad based in Bali is the founder of Nomads Giving Back, an impact-driven volunteer-matching program, and Nomads Skillshare, a platform that helps nomads obtain the skills needed to launch the life they want.
Kholoussy says information gathering allows nomads to become aware of the social and economic landscape, an important step to assimilating to the local culture.
“The first step is to be informed on what the local social challenges are, what the local traditions and culture and values are, and then to know why we should care,” Kholoussy says. “When someone welcomes you into their home, you respect their home, and you appreciate their home, and it doesn’t mean you have to agree or believe in everything—we’re all different. But that’s what makes humanity beautiful: Despite our differences, there’s this commonality of humanity that exists among all of us.”
2. Spend conscientiously.
Rocío Vazquez Landeta is owner of the Mexico City food tour Eat Like a Local, author of Cómo Viajar Sin Ser Un C*lero (or How to Travel Without Being an A**hole, which yields 25 tips on becoming a better tourist) and a Mexico City native. She preaches responsible tourism, a concept that promotes local economic growth by guiding tourist dollars to local businesses. This becomes increasingly important as the cost of living spikes for locals living in travel hot spots.
Nomadism has created competitive housing in Mexico City, Landeta says. In the past 13 years, rent in her neighborhood has tripled.
“As a regular Mexican, we cannot just leave if this [living in Mexico] becomes unsustainable for us,” she says. “If this becomes too expensive, if it becomes too unsafe, we cannot just fly away and go to another place. You can as a digital nomad, so you have to think about the privilege you have.”
The fault doesn’t fall solely on digital nomads, but there are ways that nomads can help stall the inflation, Landeta says. She advises nomads to be aware of the housing market. Outbidding locals for an apartment contract can create an unsustainable housing market. Carriman also advises nomads who sublease to do so with the local market pricing in mind.
3. Make friends with other responsible digital nomads and locals.
Cassandra Carter, a social strategist and digital nomad, embraces integration with locals to gain the full cultural experience. In the span of a year, Carter has journeyed to London, Greece and Mexico, where she spent a majority of time in La Peñita de Jaltemba in Nayarit.
Carter uses Bumble BFF and Facebook groups to meet nomads and expats in the communities she visits. She visits exhibits and arts-and-culture-centered events to meet like-minded individuals and locals. Her involvement in the La Peñita community has led to flourishing friendships.
In February, Carter celebrated the marriage of a local couple who have been together 27 years and have three kids and two grandchildren. As an ongoing joke, the now-husband proposed to his now-bride weekly. To his surprise, she finally said yes. Carter witnessed the family’s monumental celebration.
“Being invited to that kind of stuff is a true testament to getting to know some of the locals or the other expats that have really invested their time [in the community],” Carter says.
4. Participate in local customs.
For Carriman, integrating with local customs and traditions fostered bonds she’ll cherish forever. During her stay in Playa del Carmen, she’d visit a family-owned market, where she’d talk about life with the owner, his wife and their son.
“It’s in these very simple moments that I just felt deeply connected to the community,” Carriman says. “It was also an opportunity for me to learn directly from a local what their experience is like on a day-to-day [basis].”
Ultimately, showing up and being a part of the local scene will help both enrich your experience and ensure that you leave as positive an impact on a place as it will leave on you.
“It’s important that the locals be seen and recognized and not feel that they are second-class citizens in their own home,” Carriman says.
5. Learn the language.
To properly assimilate, our digital nomads agree: Making an effort to learn the local language can go a long way.
Landeta says English is overpowering Spanish in Mexico City. On a recent trip to a dog park, all the pet parents there spoke English. Since she knew English, she fared well.
“For me, it’s good, because I speak English,” Landeta says. “I don’t mind; but what if you’re Mexican and you don’t speak English?”
Carter used Duolingo to learn Spanish. Greek has been tougher to learn, but she continues to make the effort. Knowing how to greet and thank people, ask for basic directions and order food is important, and locals are appreciative, she says.
6. Try new things.
Carriman encourages nomads to get out of their comfort zone, engage with their eyes, smile, talk and build friendships with locals.
“It takes some intentional effort to be mindful of where we’re spending our time, and where we’re spending our money, and to create these opportunities to seek them out to meet more locals,” Kholoussy adds.
After all, the allure of digital nomadism is the experience, right? Otherwise, you may as well go back to the office.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by Anton_Ivanov; Butabanatravel/Shutterstock.com.