Becoming a digital nomad is the dream lifestyle for many people nowadays. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The idea of being able to work while sunning yourself on a beach, sleeping in and not starting work until midday or whenever you want are very appealing to the vast majority of us. But while digital nomadism might seem to be the pinnacle of work satisfaction, there are plenty of things that must be considered before taking the plunge to become a digital nomad.
I’ve been a digital nomad for three years now and I can confirm that it’s certainly a fantastic lifestyle. I go pretty much where I want, when I want, and I get to set my own schedule. I have what is seemingly the perfect lifestyle. However, there are certain things that I’ve learned about digital nomadism that I should have given more thought to. Here are some of the things I’ve discovered over the last three years.
It’s not as glamorous as it looks
For many years there’s been a general impression that traveling for a living is a glamorous activity. Maybe it’s because of the money aspect. Historically, only the most affluent got to travel the same way digital nomads do today. Of course, in the age of low-cost airlines and more destinations being opened up all the time, the world has gotten much smaller and more and more people can trot around the globe on much less money. However, no matter how much travelers regale others with stories of 20-hour journeys on cockroach-invested coaches in South-East Asia or staying in hostel dorms with 20 other people, the idea still sticks.
Digital nomadism is subject to the same belief that traveling is glamorous. If you’re living in a different place every month and able to make a living while doing so, it is understandable that your lifestyle is high-flying and glamorous. What I realised is that living a digital nomad life actually requires a lot of organization. When I’m constantly on the road I have to sort out my journeys and accommodations in addition to plan my work schedule around them, which is easy in principle but not so easy in practice. There’s also the issue of making sure I have a good Internet connection wherever I’m going to be. For the purpose of ensuring a Internet connection and saving money I will occasionally stay in hostel dorms with dozens of other travelers. So there are many factors that actually stop digital nomadism from being that glamorous.
You have to work f***ing hard
Probably the biggest realization I’ve had since becoming a digital nomad is that it’s not more play than work. I definitely thought that I’d have far more free time when I made the switch to a lifestyle of travel. Of course, how much free time can depend on a number of factors. Some digital nomads are employed by companies and have contracts that guarantee a salary. Others, like myself, are completely freelance and have to compete for work. Although I’m currently never short of clients, it’s always in the back of my mind that there may be one month where I don’t have a sufficient amount of work. So I work. A lot! All to make sure that if that day comes, I’ll have some back-up funds to help me along. That’s not to say I don’t have time to enjoy myself and that I never sleep late, but I definitely work harder now than I did when I was in a regular job.
It’s incredibly frustrating at times
As the name suggests, digital nomads rely on the Internet to work. Aside from various personal qualities (like binge-watching a show on Netflix), it’s our most valuable working tool. Imagine how frustrating it can be to lose Internet connection when you’re in the middle of a call from home or a show’s climax when the internet connection cuts out. Then imagine how frustrating it is when you’re unable to send off an important document. That is another challenge I constantly face. I generally have to head to out to find a local cafe or bar with internet access, which, depending on the location, can be a job in itself.
Another frustrating this is that the constant moving around is not always conducive to a good working environment. Getting settled into a new place can take time and this obviously has an effect on concentration and motivation. Then before I know it, I’m off again and the whole process just repeats. Knuckling down to work when I’m tired after traveling takes a lot of willpower, but it’s something that I’ve got much better at.
You need to make time to be healthy
Traveling is often a time of indulgence. People generally eat more on holiday, they drink more, and tend not to exercise so much as they would back home. Frankly, I’ve never been into sports and I enjoy a drink or three. So I didn’t work out and I enjoyed many libations during the first couple of years as a digital nomad. In the past year, however, I’ve realized that I need to start taking better care of myself if I’m going to continue this nomadic lifestyle. Traveling on planes and other transport can deplete one’s energy so it’s important to be in tip-top shape. Over the last couple of months I’ve made significant changes in my diet and I exercise routine so I can be my best self – physically and mentally – for both my work and traveling.
It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done
Despite all the frustrations, the long working days and the mild boredom that can come from spending days in front of a laptop, becoming a digital nomad is still one of the best things that I’ve done. It’s given me the freedom to go wherever I want and the flexibility to take on work that I find interesting, not to do something just because I’m told to. I’m not constrained by a mortgage, a nine-to-five job, or bills to pay. I can choose my own working space, whether that’s my current accommodation, a cafe or a bar. I’ve learned to be more organized with my time, how to motivate myself when I’m not particularly feeling up to working, and I’ve also started taking better care of myself. My life has changed for the better since I became a digital nomad so there’s no way I’d go back to a more conventional one.
Like any kind of lifestyle, being a digital nomad comes with its ups and downs. I probably should have given more thought to the reality of the nomadic lifestyle I was choosing versus what I wanted my new adventure to look like, but I have no regrets about making this lifestyle choice.