The digital nomad lifestyle, which was at one time only a niche kind of living usually reserved for some “eccentric” freelancers, writers, and workers in tech, has now gone mainstream. While many people may still scoff at the idea of living out of a van or suitcase for years on end, it’s appealing to many – particularly younger and less tied down – people. There is a mix of excitement, freedom, and adventure that accompanies the digital nomad lifestyle. The world is yours. So much so you can almost pick any country entirely at random. While we wouldn’t recommend spinning a globe and blindly pointing at it to decide your next destination, the fact that doing something even similar to that is possible is exhilarating.
For some, being a digital nomad may conjure images of working in a remote mountain cabin or perhaps a bungalow on the beach. While that image may be true for many digital nomads, the feelings that may accompany it are not always as dreamy as one might think. When you decide to become a digital nomad there are sacrifices that you’ll have to make. Just like if you choose to work in a traditional office job you’re forgoing the digital nomad lifestyle, and if you choose the digital nomad lifestyle you are forgoing not only the traditional office job but the other aspects of daily life that go along with it.
So, perhaps you may be on the fence about whether you really want to make the choice to become a digital nomad. If you are, hopefully, these pros and cons of being a digital nomad can illuminate for you the realities and what you can expect.
You Get To Be In Control Of Your Life
Unfortunately, there are always going to be some things that you can’t control. However, as a digital nomad, you can control so much more in your life. You can choose where you work, how you work, and when you work. Those are three things that are rarely afforded when working in an office.
Experience Different Cultures, Places, And People
There is no better way to appreciate and understand the world than by traveling it, experiencing it, and meeting the other people that inhabit it. When you visit different cultures it gives you the chance to have a brief look into the daily lives of those that are vastly different from you. You can learn more about them and their culture. You can try out different and delicious foods.
While it may be a bit cliché, it’s also a great way to learn more about yourself too.
You can live wherever you want for whatever duration you want and have more time to do what makes you happy. Your vacation time doesn’t have to be limited to two weeks that always go by way too fast. Even though you will likely still be working around 40 hours a week, if your working in a beautiful place even your daily downtime and weekends can feel like a vacation.
Flexible (And Less Stressful) Working Environment
One of the biggest drawbacks of office working can be the working environment. Whether it is an open-office or cubicles, often times the work environment is stale, stressful, and even soul-crushing.
You Can Save Money
It may seem counterintuitive that living outside of a normal “home” and traveling would save money, but oftentimes it’s true. While being a digital nomad in someplace that is notoriously expensive is not a good idea for this but in some places, particularly in Asia, you can save boatloads of money. Remember, you won’t have a lot of the big expenses that you have in your home country. Depending on where you are from, the rent you don’t pay back home can cover almost everything (we see you San Francisco, Seattle, NYC…).
You also won’t have things like car payments, car insurance, gas, car maintenance, cable, and internet, etc. But do you notice how many car expenses there are? No car and no rent means more money for accommodation, food, entertainment, and transport.
Higher Productivity And Creativity
By leaving the confines of the office you can expand your mind and unleash your productivity. In many cases, the social interactions in the workplace can be distracting and time-consuming. Additionally, the office is not so conducive to boosting creativity either. It’s no wonder why artists and writers don’t work in cubicles…
Seasons Will Mean Nothing To You
You can have summer or winter depending on your chosen destination. You are no longer tied to one spot and having to endure the long and cold winters anymore. Or, conversely, if summers are too hot you can cool off in the opposite hemisphere and catch some snow if that’s your jam. By having this freedom you don’t have to be tied to a single place through a season you aren’t too fond of. If the prices go up because it’s high season, no worries, you can head somewhere else!
You Will Learn To Adapt
The digital nomad life always pushes the boundaries of your comfort zone – change will not be something you fear anymore. This is tough at first, of course. Pushing your boundaries isn’t easy. But once you overcome the initial challenges, the shock of a new culture won’t phase you.
Your newfound adaptability is not confined to just your ability to adapt to a new culture either. This can be taken into your work and social life as well. While others fear change, you will embrace it. And as we saw in 2020, change can happen fast. And those that can successfully adapt will be much better off than those that can’t.
You’ll be surprised with how much more time in the day you have when you don’t have to commute. In some places, a 1-hour (or longer) commute is the norm. If that is you, imagine having those two hours back. While it also saves you time, it also saves a lot on gas and transport!
Of course, while the grass always seems greener on the other side, it’s not always so. Let’s check out some of the cons of being a digital nomad.
It Could Be Difficult To Build (And Maintain) Relationships
Unsurprisingly, if you are frequently moving from place to place, it’s that much harder to make and maintain relationships. You may find yourself staying within the same type of traveler/digital nomad bubble everywhere you go. This may be tasking on you for multiple reasons. While at first, you may be able to connect easier to others that have a similar lifestyle, these fleeting relationships may leave you lonely in the end. And while you will still have your close friends back home, living halfway around the world makes it hard to still be fully connected.
Building on the previous section, dating can also be very difficult. When you meet someone they may or may not also be a digital nomad which can be challenging either way. If they are static then there is a good chance they won’t fully understand or appreciate your lifestyle. And if they do, then you have to deal with the challenges of a long-distance relationship. And on the other hand, if they are also a digital nomad then there are other challenges posed. These are things like conflicting travel plans and lifestyles which can be extra-tasking when compared to a “normal” relationship when both people are static.
While remote working and digital nomadism have been packaged as a way to avoid burnout in traditional jobs, it still carries the risk. Albeit perhaps it’s in a different form with different triggers. But just like in a traditional, static job if you don’t deal with these triggers then you can face the same problem. If you don’t manage your time well, separate work life and social life, and set your boundaries, you can also face burnout.
The challenges related to privacy are multi-faceted. They can impact you both physically and virtually. Physically, you don’t have the same privacy as you do in your home. And virtually, if you are working in cafes, co-working spaces, or even a hotel, internet security may pose a risk to you and your privacy.
Bureaucracy sucks. Everyone knows it. Besides loneliness and missing events back home, this can be one of the biggest drawbacks of being a digital nomad. Where you’re from, or what passport you have can determine how easy it is to go places and deal with things while you are abroad. Things like visa applications, voting, doing taxes, and health/travel insurance are already major headaches. But when you have to do these things abroad, it’s way worse.
Travel Becomes Mundane
No matter hard you try, you will most likely become jaded to some degree. It’s super difficult to not start taking the travel lifestyle for granted. After spending months or years living on the road, travel may become less special than it once was.
Everything Is Harder
This is particularly true when you first arrive at a new destination. You won’t know where anything is. You won’t know how the transportation system works. You won’t know how the local culture is. And perhaps you also won’t know the language – which can make everything else all the more challenging.
However, while this is inevitable whenever you change locations, you will soon figure most things out – but not all things. Depending on where you are, you might have trouble sending mail, finding clothes and shoes in your size, finding certain foods, and getting special items that are not native to the country or region that you’re in.
Whether you are experienced working on your own or just starting off, it can be difficult to become (and stay) motivated on your own. While some people have no problem with this, it can be very challenging for others. When you are in an office environment you have the accountability factor that can play a large role in providing some extrinsic motivation. So it can be all too easy to get lost in your phone or exploring the city or town that you’re in if you’re not motivated to work.
Ironically, as technology has made it easier for us to communicate with others all around the world, it has also provided more ways for miscommunication to occur. While Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc. have brought us closer together, they still can’t perfectly replicate face-to-face communication in person. You can’t pop into your colleague’s or manager’s office for clarification on a task, and team meetings are not quite as dynamic compared to when you are sharing a conference room and putting ideas up on the whiteboard.
It also doesn’t help that many people are new to being dependent on virtual communication as well. So perhaps once decentralized work becomes more widespread, perhaps so too will improved virtual communication.
Missing Big Events Back Home
This negative aspect of being a digital nomad can be particularly tough to manage. You may be living your best life and having amazing experiences that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. But just as you are having some memorable experiences, your friends and family back home will be having them as well. While some may not be the biggest things like a mid-’20s or ‘30’s birthday of a friend, some may be massive. You may be faced with a situation where there are two or three (or more) really big events happening in the same year and you just can’t make it to all of them. So you may have to choose what things matter most to you – which can be one of the hardest things you could ever do. And while the other smaller things will come and go, watching your friend’s and family’s lives go by as you watch can be a very difficult thing.
In conclusion, like most big choices in life, there are many pros and cons of being a digital nomad as well. While it’s not an easy choice to make, some may find that the pros definitely outweigh the cons of being a digital nomad. Hopefully, this helps you to understand the realities of being a digital nomad.