One of the really cool things about running an online business, or working for one, is that you can do it from anywhere. Being location independent, or working remotely, can be pretty liberating. I’ve traveled more this past year than ever before and sometimes I bring my work with me (just got back from over a week in the Bahamas, work free this time). While I’m no digital nomad, I completely get why so many people are choosing that lifestyle.
It will take some serious work and planning to become a digital nomad, but technology has taken down some of the barriers – the internet is cheap and accessible from nearly everywhere, and there are more work online jobs than ever before. Plus, depending on how you do it, even travel has become less expensive.
Can I just say that I really want to just write blog posts on the beach or work with students while kayaking around Antarctica… whatever… I’m up for it!
Before we (you and I) sell all of our worldly belongings, pack our backpacks (don’t forget your laptop!), and live that #wanderlust dream… I feel like we’re forgetting something. Maybe we should find out what life is actually like for a digital nomad?
The reality of being a digital nomad…
I occasionally ask my bloggers friends who are also digital nomads what it’s like and what I get from them is that there are two sides to that lifestyle. The first is the good stuff, like beach living and chasing good weather. The other side (what I get after badgering them into telling me how it’s really going) is the bummer stuff.
So, because I’m not a digital nomad, I wanted to give you the pros and cons of the digital nomad lifestyle through the words of people who are actually living it. I scoured the internet to find nuggets of wisdom from digital nomads who are making it work so you can decide if it’s right for you.
The pros of being a digital nomad
“The ultimate reason why I became a digital nomad is that it allows me to travel full-time. I can go wherever I want (as long as there is Wi-Fi). There isn’t a return plane ticket staring me in the face, a set itinerary that forces me to move on from a place I really liked. It’s bliss. If tomorrow I decide I want to go to Kenya next, there is nothing stopping me.”
Meeting new people and experiencing new things
“Traveling, and the people I met traveling, challenged me. It made me look at myself in the mirror from a different perspective, it made me see and experience things that a book can’t teach you.
- When you go to Kenya and see a family living in a hut you are humbled.
- When you are swimming in the ocean in Bali and a piece of plastic washes up, you care about plastic in the ocean.
- When you think you show your true self to people, then someone challenges you on the idea, that in fact you are closed off, you have no choice but explore if there is truth to the statement.
I’ve discovered new food, music, and language that I love that I would have never realized unless I was exposed to it.”
You can make your dollar go further
“Despite my musings that San Francisco is one of the cheapest international cities in the world, San Francisco is still expensive compared to cities such as Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Siem Reap, and Taipei. I’m biased towards expensive city living because that’s most of what I know best. There’s the only upside when you leave an expensive city to travel anywhere else in the world because everywhere else seems so much cheaper. Going to Asia simply magnified the upside.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I finally felt rich. And in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I felt like an impostor who shouldn’t be there because the country is so poor. But despite the low cost of living, Siem Reap did well to charge “tourist” prices for everything, which felt bad.”
Based on several factors, cost of living and availability of WiFi and internet to name a couple, here are a few of the best spots for digital nomads:
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Koh Lanta, Thailand
- Taipei, Taiwan
- Belgrade, Serbia
- Tallinn, Estonia
For a more comprehensive list, check out this article by Website Planet.
Personal or professional growth
“Professionally you’re surrounded by knowledgeable people, you have more opportunities to meet people or attend events that can help accelerate your career progression.
And when it comes to personal growth, traveling will give you a new perspective, challenge your viewpoints and help you learn things about yourself you didn’t even realize you needed to learn. Perhaps most of all, traveling doesn’t allow you to escape whatever it is you’re running from. In fact, it’ll make you deal with shit from your life that you thought you could just leave buried in your subconscious. The benefit, of course, is that you grow extremely while working through all of this.”
Cons of being a digital nomad
You can have a complicated relationship with work
“Trying to juggle a normal work routine when you’re also trying to figure out where to sleep next week just isn’t ideal. Often, I never wrote much about the places I was living because I was too busy catching up with work after months of traveling.”
“Warning! This is not a holiday! Do you really want to work and travel? You cannot do one without the other so be prepared for work being a constant in your life as well as travel.”
“Because we’re working a third of the day, in many occasions we feel we’re ‘missing out’ on the city we’re living in. Some days, I wake up thinking about deadlines, I open up the window and it’s the perfect day to grab a bike and get lost in the city. But work comes first.
At the same time, I also feel #FOMO about what’s happening back at home. On Sunday mornings, when I have the day off and I’m thinking about where to have lunch, I call my family and they’re all together, lasagna in the oven, spending time together.
If I had a teleportation machine, I would use it every single Sunday.”
It can get lonely
“A nomadic lifestyle is one of constant loss, long stints of loneliness, and always starting anew. After a while, it can take an enormous toll on you. Personally, my second year on the road was rough. I was sick of meeting people for three days, and I started to feel as if no one really knew me.”
People don’t get it
“You’ve made it. You are finally living the life of your dreams and everyone around you seems to be hating. People will ask you where you get all the money from so you can be on vacation all year round (sure, we never work).
Some of your old friends keep asking you when this “phase” is finally over and you come back to live a “normal” life again (*eye roll*).
And three out of five people you meet somewhere along the way will tell you with envious looks how lucky you are for having such a life (completely ignoring that fact that you didn’t win the lottery but worked your bum off to get there).”
It’s hard to feel grounded
“I missed and craved that normalcy… and dare I say, the feeling of having a home. My constant cycle of setting up and dismantling of a temporary home was not home. And just as I started to feel comfortable somewhere, I’d have to pack up and do it all over again. It messed with my head of where home even was.”
Still thinking about becoming a digital nomad, here’s how you can make it work
There are clearly highs and lows to becoming a digital nomad, and you’ll have to weigh that all up before deciding if it’s the right lifestyle for you. If you think it is, here are some tips for making the digital nomad lifestyle work:
- Find a job that lets you work remotely. This is obvious, but I’m putting it here so you don’t sell everything and just move to Thailand in hopes of finding some work. You’ll need a plan for work before you start traveling. Some of the most popular digital nomad jobs are freelancers, web and app developers, consultants, photographers, and graphic designers.
- Get your finances in check. With any big life change, it’s important to know where you stand financially before making the jump. This would also be a horrible M$M article if I didn’t bring this point up. Having a well-stocked emergency fund, your debts paid off, and a budget in place will make for a smoother transition to the digital nomad lifestyle.
- Travel with a partner. To battle, the loneliness that can come with the digital nomad lifestyle, traveling with someone might make it easier. This could be a partner, spouse, sibling, friend, etc.
- Create some structure. Some people thrive in chaos, but if that’s not you, you’ll need to create a little order to make the digital nomad lifestyle work. This could be setting certain rules for the hours you work, implementing an effective system for working, etc.
- Be flexible. On the flip side of that last one, being a digital nomad is often about change and flux. You’ll need to be able to adapt to your surroundings, like if you can’t find a good internet connection.
- Remember your why. Any time you are challenging the status quo, you’ll need to remember your reasons why and lean on them when things get tough.
- Know when to stop. Burnout is high when you’re constantly moving from place to place, so check in with yourself occasionally to see if you’re doing okay. It’s okay to call it quits and find a place to settle down.