>  Digital Nomad   >  Digital Nomads and Gentrification: A Call for Conscious Travel

Digital nomadism is a new kind of tourism that is getting more popular by the day. Tourism benefits destinations, bringing more money, improving infrastructure, and many other benefits. However, tourism has side effects, like the local culture transformation, resource scarcity, and rising rent fees, for instance. Digital nomadism generates positive and negative consequences, and gentrification is a big one. Locals have started complaining, and I can’t tell they are not right. Let’s explore the relationship between digital nomads and gentrification and propose conscious solutions.


What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is a person who works as a freelancer or works for a company remotely. Social media managers, language teachers, graphic designers, or web developers are some jobs they can have. They generally come from the US and Western Europe, even if it is every time more common to meet people from the rest of the world. Their ability to earn in currencies such as dollars or euros, combined with a preference for lower-cost living destinations, results in a power of purchasing way higher than the one the locals have.

What is gentrification?

Gentrification is a socio-economic phenomenon, that involves the influx of wealthier residents and businesses transforming concrete urban areas. Typically, this process leads to increased property values and a shift in the cultural and social fabric of the neighborhood. While it can bring positive changes such as enhanced amenities and reduced crime rates, gentrification often raises concerns about the displacement of longstanding, lower-income residents who may no longer afford to live in the area.

digital nomads et gentrification

Is gentrification colonialism?

To be honest, gentrification and colonialism have different meanings, but gentrification can sometimes resemble a form of cultural or economic colonization, with wealthier newcomers reshaping landscapes and marginalizing existing communities.


If so many people (me included) think digital nomads are a kind of neo-colonizers, it is from a few different perspectives:

  1. Most of the time, remote workers are white people coming from rich countries (USA and Western Europe).
  2. They often have little interest in local communities. Instead of traveling to experience new cultures, digital nomads normally go to places to replicate their home country’s lifestyle without trying to integrate themselves and adopt new habits.
  3. They don’t mind that local culture is destroyed, and local people are exploited as long as it benefits them (for nice coffee shops and cool co-working spaces).
  4. They gentrify and perpetuate myths of Western supremacy.
  5. They don’t understand their privileges and treat the South like their playground.

The problem is that most digital nomads have no clue about that. They don’t see how their practices can be harmful and don’t want them to be. They just don’t have enough awareness or don’t take the time to think about it and put themselves in the shoes of the locals, who most of the time are descendants of colonized people and are still suffering the consequences of colonialism many decades after. While you enjoy your latte at 5 USD, the waiter serving you may be making 5 USD a day.


As I said, digital nomads have higher incomes than the locals living in the countries they visit. Americans make more money than Spanish, French make more money than Indonesians and Germans make more than Colombian. Obviously, there are always exceptions, but you get the general idea. It means they can pay more for the same thing. And it is the main problem, but not the only one.

Skyrocketing rents

Since digital nomads have more money, they pay for more expensive accommodation, and the owners take advantage of it, asking for more money that remote workers can pay, but local no. The result is that the rental prices are too high for locals who can’t rent places in their neighborhoods or cities. They have two solutions: choosing bad quality accommodation they can afford, or leaving. The housing crisis is real. Moreover, digital nomads appreciate nice, well-located, and safe places, so they all go to the same neighborhoods, making the gentrification even more intense. It is the case, for instance, in some colonias of Mexico City: Roma, Polanco, Napoles, and more.

The neighborhoods are changing

Obviously, since the digital nomads represent a source of income bigger than the local ones, businesses are interested in their money. Their objective is to create businesses that meet the needs of the new population. It means that more trendy coffee shops, gyms, and co-working spaces… open and replace the small local businesses where local people are used to. Locals don’t recognize their neighborhoods anymore and, as a consequence, have fewer places to meet, which leads to a worse social life too.

The local lifestyle slowly disappears

And the language also… In some places, even if you speak the local language, they will speak to you and handle a menu in English. The music in the bars and nightclubs, the music that locals like, is substituted by American music. The restaurants and the bars change their schedule to adapt them to the habits of the tourists, because not only digital nomads influence it, but also tourists in general do. The food is also adapted to the tastes of these new clients, so there are fewer typical dishes on the menu or the ingredients change with less picante, for instance. 

Digital nomads are responsible for the gentrification?

Well, I really think we have responsibility in gentrification, because of the way we act. Instead of looking for fair-pricey accommodation, we just say yes to anything slickly cheaper than what we will pay at home. We are delighted to be able to have a matcha latte in a coffee place that looks exactly the same as our favorite one back home. And we love doing shopping in fancy organic shops where no local put a foot.

But, when I say we, I have to be fair, this issue actually concerns some digital nomads. They try to act responsibly and have the thinnest footprint possible. As I like to say, we are not all enemies. Even if we are part of the problem, we are not the only responsible.

What about the nationals?

If we consider accommodation, for instance, locals are the ones (I don’t talk about big real estate companies, of course) to set the prices on platforms like Airbnb and who decide to put the prices high. I get it, if you want to make money and know that some people will be ready to pay for it, why would you stop? But they also have a part of responsibility in the housing crisis, also because they prefer to rent to tourists or digital nomads, instead of locals. Then, they are involved in the decrease of rooms or flats available for locals.

Some nationals are also way more interested in spending money in trendy Westernized businesses than purchasing items or food in typical local companies. There is also a question of higher purchase power among the nationals of the same country that can affect and participate in gentrification.

What about the big companies?

In many cities, big real estate companies buy several buildings to make kind of big Airbnbs hotels. They also participate in the rise of the prices and the reduction of accommodation available for residents who can’t afford to stay at those places and would prefer long-term options anyway.

Food, fashion, or hotel chains have also a part to play in gentrification when they decide to implement new stores in neighborhoods that are already suffering from gentrification. It makes sense since this kind of business is not really driven by ethical values.

What about the governments?

All over the planet, governments are well aware that the housing crisis is a real thing for their citizens and prevents them each time more to having decent living conditions. However, many of them don’t take any measures to regulate rent prices or Airbnb renting. They also make conditions for high purchase power digital nomads to establish in their country and often attract them with a no-tax-to-pay policy.

And, for me, they are the real problem, because they should be the ones to make laws to protect their residents and give them, at least, the same chances to live a decent life in their own countries. If we don’t regulate the market, it doesn’t matter if digital nomads come or not and accept to pay insane prices, the issue will not disappear.

My opinion about the digital nomads responsability

Of course, I am part of the issue. I won’t deny it. However, I am part of the people who want to change things and try to do their best not to participate in the gentrification. Why?

  • I was born in a colonized country. Even, if I never lived there, it is a part of my identity, I informed myself about this topic and, I am well aware of the consequence colonialism has on territories and local populations.
  • I lived in the city center of Madrid for 7 years. I consider Madrid as my home, I have been a Spanish resident since 2011, but I can’t live there full-time anymore. The housing crisis is super important, prices are insane, and I can’t afford to rent a flat there, not only in the city center but everywhere. I saw my neighborhood changing, the old people obliged to live far away, losing their friends and their doctors, the businesses de toda la vida being replaced by trendy cafés and fashion shops, the English, the French, and the German becoming more spoken than the Spanish…
  • I travel to meet people and get a better understanding of what is life all around the globe. So I spend a lot of time speaking with locals and trying to understand their problems and try to act in a way that will be beneficial. When I travel I meet people suffering from gentrification and, obviously, I see the struggle and don’t want to make their lives worse because of my lifestyle.

If I am a digital nomad now, it is for many reasons, but also because I can’t come back all year around to Madrid, because there is no decent flat for a single person less than 1k, when the Spanish minimum income is 1.080. You would think that as a freelancer, I make way more money, well no. I am not complaining, I just want to bring light to that not every digital nomad earns 5k a month.

So, for these reasons, I am concerned about gentrification in the places I visit. That’s why I do my best to be a conscious digital nomad and limit my negative impact as much as possible.

How to avoid being a part of gentrification as a digital nomad?

The good news, if you are a conscious digital nomad and want to behave well, is that there is a series of actions you can take to avoid increasing gentrification in the places you want to visit:

  • Research the impact of gentrification at destinations and identify on which points you can have control.
  • Try not to use platforms such as Airbnb, and prefer to speak with locals to find accommodation. I know it is not easy at all, especially if it is your first time.
  • Do your research to find out reasonable local price ranges for renting a room or a flat.
  • Select accommodations that are around these prices.
  • Do not stay in the most gentrified neighborhoods, and find other alternatives.
  • Support small local businesses as much as you can.
  • Avoid nomad hotspots. The world is big.
  • Avoid trendy coffee places or speakeasies, for instance, that are the same in any country and just kind of destroy local cultures.
  • Do not tag the places where you go on social media.
  • Refrain from bragging about cost savings, because it is cheap for you, not for locals.
  • Learn the language, you can’t take for granted that locals know yours.
  • Acknowledge the guest’s role and strive to improve local living conditions.

Digital nomads are, for sure, creating more gentrification wherever they go. We need to be conscious of that and try to behave better. Never forget, you are the guest in the destination you visit, and the least, you can do is do your best not to deteriorate the local living conditions.

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Digital Nomads and Gentrification
Digital Nomads and Gentrification
Digital Nomads and Gentrification

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