Imagine this, you walk up to the check-in counter at your local airport, stoked to be starting a new chapter in your life as a digital nomad, and the person at the counter asks you for your passport. You hand it to them and they pull through the pages looking for the visa. There’s just one problem though, you don’t have a visa. You’re not allowed to get on the plane. All the months of meticulous planning have just gone to waste.
While this situation may sound a bit extreme, it’s not such a crazy thing. Murphy’s law says that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Whether it’s something that you forgot or something that was out of your control (e.g. flight cancellations), obviously, nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. The important thing, however, is how we respond to them and learn from them. But sometimes it’s nice to avoid making mistakes altogether, right?
While even experienced digital nomads can make mistakes, it’s much more likely that you will make more mistakes when you are first starting off. Hopefully, you can avoid these common mistakes digital nomads make and save yourself some time, money, and a lot of stress.
1. Not understanding the realities of being a digital nomad – it’s not all that it seems like on Instagram
Scrolling through Instagram it is hard to avoid the photos of people working in beautiful places that you could only dream of. And sometimes they even go as far as selling that dream to you. They say things like “this could be you next year, just buy my ebook to learn how”. Of course, there is a lot of truth to what they are saying, but it rarely is as easy as it looks. There are a lot of challenges that come along with being a digital nomad. And not taking these things into consideration are some of the most common mistakes digital nomads make.
When you leave your life behind and start working and living as a digital nomad, you will be alone. This unique lifestyle is something that very few can relate to. And moving from place to place frequently means that the friends and connections you make perhaps don’t feel as strong or as satisfying as those you had back home. This can leave you feeling alone despite being surrounded by people.
Simple problems can become big problems
Something as mundane as needing to go to the grocery store, repairing your laptop, or buying new shoes can pose an abnormally large challenge in some cases. Are you in Austria and need groceries on a Sunday? Well, you’re out of luck. All businesses, including grocery stores, are closed on Sundays in Austria. Do you wear long pants or a bit bigger shoes? Good luck finding suitable sizes in Southeast Asia.
Missing out on events back home
Life on the road means that you will be missing things back home. It’s going to be impractical (and expensive) to return home for every birthday, wedding, or other event that happens. This also goes for people missing out on your life experiences as well.
2. Doing it alone
Everyone needs help, even digital nomads. By building a social and professional network you can counteract loneliness, get tips and insight, and boost your productivity.
Not making (local) friends at your base
Whether or not you are the introspective type, long-term life of solidarity is no way to live (unless you’re a monk, perhaps). If you’re just starting, it may seem difficult to meet people, particularly local people, especially if you don’t know the language. Other digital nomads will be able to relate to your lifestyle and the problems that you have, which can be great. However, if you stay in these bubbles, you will realize that while these relationships are comfortable, they’re also fleeting as people will come and go.
By making friends (or even just one!) within the local community you can build a stronger and more long-term relationship with the community and your base.
Not joining an online community
You won’t have all the answers. There are going to be many times that you simply just don’t know what the best thing to do is, or the next place to go. An online digital nomad community not only can answer any questions you may have, but it can also be a great place to vent your frustrations, for you to help others, or try to meet up with some people in real-life too!
Not integrating into the local community
This is an extension related to making local friends. While making local friends is important, it’s not the only way to become integrated. By learning the language and participating in local events you can feel more connected to the community in which you live. Conversely, this can also have the effect of giving you the chance to make more local friends as well.
While these are more grandiose tasks, they don’t have to be. It can be even small acts of integration like shopping at local markets and trying the local foods and drinks.
3. Not choosing the right places to go
Instagram can provide some great suggestions on where to go, but it should not be your compass. Just because a place is photogenic, does not mean that it’s a great place to be a digital nomad. Holiday destinations don’t always make for good digital nomad bases. Before you go, make sure to do a bit of research to see if the place you want to go, is suitable for you. Some things that we like to consider for choosing a nomad base are connectivity, liveability/quality of life, presence of other digital nomads, cost of living, and things to do (culture, scenery, etc.). How each person ranks these depends but it’s something to keep in mind when making the decision on your next base.
Additionally, for women, the decision could look different as well. This is not meant to be sexist but some countries are notably more dangerous or less hospitable for women, you can see a breakdown of some of them here. This is not to say that you should always avoid them, but it’s something to certainly keep in mind.
4. Leaving before you are prepared
Preparation, preparation, preparation. This is one of the most important things to do, but since there are so many things to consider, not being fully prepared is one of the most common mistakes digital nomads make.
Not having enough money saved
It’s better to be safe than sorry, they say. Which we agree with totally. You should definitely avoid being in a financially precarious situation. Save up a bit more before you make the switch to being a digital nomad. It’s not worth the risk.
Not researching visas, taxes, etc.
Like the brief story at the beginning, it is essential that you understand the bureaucracy of being a digital nomad. Before you go you should research your tax status and how to file your taxes outside the country, the necessary visas you will need to apply for and how you apply for them, and also if an election is coming up, how you can vote from outside of your state. If you can, it is much easier to deal with things while you are still in your home country.
International drivers permit
Do you plan on driving? If you do, you will need an international driver’s permit. Of participating countries, each country has its own authority that provides them. It specifies the different types of vehicles that you are permitted to drive in various languages like Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, etc. It’s much easier to get it in your home country, so plan ahead.
Not bringing backup credit cards
One of the most common mistakes digital nomads make or even for long-term travelers or holidaymakers is a problem related to debit or credit cards. They can be (and likely will be at some point) stolen, eaten by an ATM, lost, expire, or just straight-up canceled by your bank. To be safe, and to avoid this common mistake, make sure to bring multiple cards and speak with your bank about your travel plans before you go.
Not making a contingency plan
When things go wrong, which no doubt they will at one point or another, it is important to have a contingency plan (or two), just in case something doesn’t work out. It’s better to leave as little to chance as possible.
5. Not making sure there is high enough internet quality
If you are a digital nomad, you will likely be dependent on quality internet. Otherwise, that would just make you a nomad, right? So having a quality internet connection is of the utmost importance to keep you connected and on track. Before you go you should research the quality of the internet yourself. You can also ask your hotel or Airbnb host to send you a speed test of the internet to make sure that it fits your needs.
Just in case, it’s a good idea to bring a backup hotspot with you. It can be your smartphone or a standalone worldwide WiFi hotspot. Either way, it’s best to be prepared, especially if your work depends on it.
6. Not packing appropriately
When you are packing it can be too easy to overlook something, or just fall into the mindset that you can buy whatever you need there. But oftentimes it isn’t quite that simple. Depending on where you go sometimes you can’t find exactly what you need. Or perhaps it’s much more expensive than back home, or maybe you can’t find it at all. To be safe, think about some of these things and make sure to pack appropriately.
If you come from the United States, you will find that many OTC medicines are not as freely available in other countries and you may even need a prescription for some. Make sure to bring enough, but also make sure that it’s even legal for you to have them!
Western size clothing
Depending on your size, especially for the taller folks, buying clothes and shoes that fit could be a logistical nightmare. Particularly in Asia, you will find that sizes run much smaller.
Not bringing the right tools
Remember, a crucial element of being a digital nomad is the work aspect. Don’t be left without the proper tools. Don’t bet that something is just as easy to find as it is in your home country.
7. Trying to fit a square peg into a round hole
Don’t be or do something that you aren’t. While there are some “best practices” to keep in mind while working and traveling as a digital nomad, there is no one-size-fits-all philosophy. Along the way, do what works best for you.
8. Not setting your limits – personal, professional, and financial
Value your free time. Budget your money. Stay focused on your work.
While you certainly will be living and visiting for flung, beautiful, exotic locations you should not waste your time there by only working. And on the other hand, you should also not spend all of your time living like you are on a holiday. If you do, you may have no work to go back to and you will bear more semblance to a broke backpacker than a digital nomad.
9. Becoming a digital nomad for the wrong reasons
“Why do I want to be a digital nomad?” You should have some sort of answer to this question. You shouldn’t become a digital nomad because you are avoiding or running away from something else. Or if your reasons include: wanting to travel to party more, to work less, have an extended holiday, or to have less supervision and responsibility, then you are probably not doing it for the right reasons.
If you are going to seriously consider this lifestyle, then you in fact have to take it seriously. There are sacrifices that you have to make to make it work.
10. Not treating your body (and mind) well
Making the transition to becoming a digital nomad is no joke. It can be physically and mentally tasking. Especially so if it’s your first time spending extended periods of time outside your home country.
While you may have had great habits back home, it could be easy for them to go out the window when you leave. Depending on the country, it can be way too easy to eat and drink poorly. Especially if the food and beer are cheap and good.
Make sure to keep your mental and physical health in mind.