Nouveau poor: my daughter is a digital nomad

While the term “nouveau riche” used to be very common, I propose that we bring the phrase “nouveau poor” into common usage.  Specifically, it could be used to describe this growing segment of society that is dropping out of mainstream society entirely and choosing to go their own way in the world: digital nomads.  This is a subculture that selects poverty in lieu of the rat race.  My daughter is one of them.

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“Nouveau riche” meet “nouveau poor”

In the 1970’s and early 80’s I heard the term “nouveau riche” being thrown around quite often, probably because people were doing so much better economically than they are doing now.  For those who don’t know, “nouveau riche” is a somewhat derogatory expression for people who have freshly acquired wealth and possibly display it in a way that is ostentatious or lacking in taste.

What Google says about being “nouveau poor”…

I was thinking about the idea of being “nouveau riche” the other day and realized it has been replaced with the “nouveau poor”.  When I googled “nouveau poor” because I was curious to see if it was a “thing,” I found that it was a phrase being used to describe people who were upper middle class, but struggling to make it financially because of the soaring cost of living in their area.

What I mean by “nouveau poor”

That is not quite what I was thinking.  Rather, I was thinking it would be a good expression to use to describe the growing number of people who work online and use their income to finance travel.By the way, when I am talking about digital nomads, I am talking about the ones who are not making a huge living by Western standards and manage to scrape by because they spend most of their time in second or third world countries.  There are, of course, very rich digital nomads.  I am not talking about them.

Digital nomads… a life of glamour?

Most digital nomads have no fixed address.  Or, if they have one, they are not fixed at it most of the time.  As my daughter explains in her blog about her cool travel adventures, life on the road, as appealing as it is, is not always glamourous, fun, or cool.  It is often lonely and upsetting.  So, why would people choose such a life?

I think the answer is fairly obvious.  Unfortunately, for many people, the reality is that they are likely to work at fairly thankless jobs.  They might work at such jobs until they retire.  Also, increasingly, home ownership is out of reach financially.  Therefore, if you have a skill set that is portable such as computer programming, it makes sense to do it from a location where the cost of living is lower and you can save some money.  That is just a practical reality.

Then, setting that reality aside, there is the glamourous idea that most of us have about such a lifestyle — doing your work from a hammock lying near the ocean in the hot sun with a cool breeze wafting over you, sipping a Mai Tai perhaps.  That sounds really good right about now.

The problems with such a lifestyle are the lack of security, lack of benefits (disability, pension, medical, life, etc.), and, for some, loneliness.

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Being nouveau poor seems to be a trend.  There is a growing subculture of young digital nomads who are sort of homeless, but who are also sort of middle class.  You might find them dumpster diving or you might find them teaching ESL, doing online transcription, or writing a cool blog.  All in the same day.

For me, personally, it was hard to accept my daughter’s “lifestyle choice”.  I think most of us would prefer for our children to do something lucrative, safe, and close to home.  That does not describe her life.

However, I suspect in the coming decade, becoming a digital nomad will go mainstream.  The people doing it today may be viewed as early pioneers.  They are paving the way for others to travel and work all over the world.  If nothing else, with increased globalization, this degree of travel helps people to become aware of other cultures.  That alone might help create a more peaceful future.


  1. Thanks for sharing it with us

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