If you’re an aspiring digital nomad, this is the post for you! These are all the things I wish I had known before embarking on the digital nomad lifestyle.
Social media would have you believe the digital nomad life is all working on the beach, traveling to exotic destinations, and living your best life while making oodles of money. Sure these things are possible but I’m here to tell you that there is much more to digital nomad life that social media just doesn’t show you.
There are many obstacles and bumps along the road to creating a sustainable life of full-time travel. The unfortunate reality is that most people don’t even know about these bumps until they’ve happily quit their 9 to 5 and landed in their first destination as a digital nomad.
Navigating these obstacles on your own can lead to unhappiness, depression, or even giving up on the digital nomad life entirely. So I asked some of my digital nomad friends what their biggest struggles have been and how they overcame them. I compiled them into this blog post in hopes that it will better prepare you for life as a digital nomad.
You can even download the PDF version and keep it in your virtual back pocket as an easy go-to resource for when the going gets tough.
Here are 11 things no one tells you about digital nomad life.
Working on the Beach is the Biggest Digital Nomad Myth
Working from the beach is the biggest myth out there about being a digital nomad! Sure, it sounds idyllic; chilling out next to the ocean (preferably in a hammock) with a frilly drink in one hand, your laptop in the other, raking in the cash.
It’s a lie.
Okay, it’s not a lie, but it’s utterly impractical, an ergonomic disaster, and ultimately, part of the reason I’m boycotting Instagram (but that’s another story).
Here’s the reality behind this beautiful image you have in your head about being a digital nomad and working from the beach: sand gets everywhere (and electronics and sand are NOT friends), being so close to the ocean exposes your electronics to sea salt (which corrodes everything at an alarming rate), the sun glare is unmanageable, and there are no power outlets at the beach.
Let’s not forget about ergonomics; anybody who works at a laptop all day knows the importance of an ergonomically friendly workspace. Not having one comes at a variety of costs, the least being your productivity (and hence, income), the worst being your physical health (and ability to work at all).
Do you still want to live the dream of working at the beach? No problemo. Find a cafe or co-working space with a view, and set up there. You can build sandcastles when you’re off the clock.
Nora Dunn (aka The Professional Hobo) traveled full-time for 12 years, before getting a home base and continuing to travel half the year. She was a digital nomad before the term existed, and is considered a pioneer in the travel blogging industry. She used to walk 10 miles to work, in the snow, uphill both ways. Stay off her lawn. And follow her adventures on Facebook.
Staying Productive on the Road is a Challenge
Most people become a digital nomad at least in part because they want to travel the world and see all the incredible things it has to offer.
But life as a digital nomad isn’t all about travel, and you still have to focus on your work! With so many distractions, not to mention the hassle and stress of constant travel, that can be a real challenge.
Over time, I’ve found that the single best way to stay productive as a digital nomad is simply to travel more slowly.
If you’re moving destinations every week, it’s a lot harder to stay focused than if you spend a month or more in each destination. Resisting FOMO and realizing that you have all the time in the world to see that next enticing destination can help you focus on the task at hand and get your work done.
Plus, traveling more slowly helps save money to boot!
Nate Hake is a recovering lawyer turned travel blogger and digital nomad who has been traveling the world non-stop since 2016. He is the founder of Travel Lemming, a blog that focuses on highlighting emerging travel destinations around the world. Follow his adventures on Instagram.
Working With Your Boo Without Strangling Each Other is Hard
One of the biggest (and most unexpected) challenges my wife and I have faced as digital nomads is simply not driving each other crazy. We’ve traveled together extensively in the past, but last year we set off on our first true digital nomad adventure.
My wife quit her office job for this trip, and at first, we struggled to find a suitable travel job for her (English is her second language). That’s when I had a brilliant idea… Why not just have her work with me? We could tag team the blog and pump out content twice as fast…
Well, my brilliant plan hit some roadblocks pretty quickly.
It turns out, we are VERY different people with VERY different ideas. We’re also both stubborn “my way or the highway” type people.
After several unpleasant scuffles (and a few tears), we came up with a solution. Instead of both trying to be “co-bosses” with everything, we split things up. I’m the boss of the blog. She’s the boss of Youtube. Whenever we have a disagreement, the boss always wins.
So far, this arrangement has worked out charmingly well!
Now, obviously every couple’s dynamic is different and what works for us might not work for everyone else…but I’ll leave you with one piece of advice.
No matter how frustrating things get, remember there is a solution. And the best way to find it?
PATIENCE and LOVE ❤️
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Cali, Colombia to take some quick salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered—where he runs an awesome free email newsletter teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
Follow Mitch and Day’s adventures on YouTube.
Digital Nomad Life is Lonely, Even When Traveling With Your Partner
Before we worked and traveled, we stayed in hostels and we met SO many people! Every single day we made 10 new best friends, and the times we were alone were few and far between.
We started working and traveling, staying in more AirBnb’s and fewer hostels, and we realized that we weren’t meeting as many people. Since we travel as a couple, we never really thought that travel could get lonely, but after months of traveling and working in AirBnb’s, we found ourselves craving community!
This is one of the aspects of digital nomad life that no one told us about. Travel is so social so we assumed that digital nomad life would be too, but that isn’t always the case. The reality is that we spend most of our time by ourselves working in our apartment.
Over the last 4 years as nomads, we’ve found some ways to make sure that we don’t get lonely! We join co-working spaces, we attend Facebook events in the cities that we’re in, we go to networking events for topics we’re interested in, we post in nomad Facebook groups and meet up with strangers (that are now friends) for coffee, drinks or dinner.
We take Spanish lessons, connect with listeners of our podcast, and be super intentional about getting out of the house to connect with people. All of that has helped us to create a community so that nomad life isn’t lonely for us!
Amanda & Ryan are the hosts of The World Wanderers podcast and blog. Originally from Western Canada, they started traveling together in 2011 and haven’t looked back! They’ve been to over 60 countries across 6 continents and are currently based in Panama City. When Amanda & Ryan aren’t traveling and exploring a new country and culture, you can find them eating Mexican food, listening to Spanish music, chatting about life over a good cup of coffee, or hiking a mountain! Follow their adventures on Instagram.
Finding the Right Accommodation is Important
The transition from traveler to traveler and entrepreneur is one that took us some time. At first, we held on tightly to our backpacker roots, thinking we could run our website from hostels. Sitting in the common area surrounded by people drinking, with spotty wifi, while trying to sit ergonomically at a rickety bar stool isn’t exactly sustainable!
Once we realized that we wanted to be full-time digital nomads and were serious about our website, it became clear that accommodation (where we worked from) was important.
If you can work in proper co-working places, that’s great. We, however, prefer to have our own space. These days, staying in an Airbnb is a great option for digital nomads.
Look for a place that has a comfortable kitchen table and chairs, or an actual desk to work from. And, you’ll want to make sure the place has fast wifi speeds — you can even ask the host to send a screenshot of the speed. Not to mention, Airbnb apartments are a great way to save money as you can cook your own food.
Another awesome option is house sitting. This will afford you free accommodation, the use of a vehicle (usually), the company of a furry friend, and the chance to live like a local. In exchange for these “freebies”, your job is to take care of the home and pet(s) while the owners are away. We’ve house sat in the Caribbean and Costa Rica, with offers from all over the world!
Trust me, having solid accommodation and a suitable workspace is the best way to stay focused, be efficient and thrive as a digital nomad!
Dariece is one half of the duo over at Goats On The Road, a top travel and lifestyle website dedicated to showing you how to make money on the road so you can travel as long as you want. Follow their adventures on YouTube.
WiFi Availability is Everything to Your Business
I learned the hard way that internet availability is never guaranteed.
While visiting Morocco I decided to take a trip out to a remote village on the border of Algeria. Although I had a client deadline, I figured I could tether wifi from my phone and easily complete the project. As I sat atop my camel and rode into the desert I watched the cell phone bars drop and drop until I was out of service.
Feeling stranded in the middle of nowhere with no way to communicate with my client, I frantically asked other foreigners if they had service to no avail. I missed my client deadline and learned an important lesson: WiFi availability is everything to my business.
Here are the steps I now take when traveling:
- Always double-check that the hotel, hostel, Airbnb, or rental has wifi before booking.
- Purchase a SIM card as soon as I land in a new country. I have found these booths to be reasonably priced with generous data packages.
- No scheduled client deadlines during the same time frame I am moving locations or taking an excursion.
- Communicate with my clients and team members ahead of time if I will potentially be off-grid.
- Forward my cell phone calls to a virtual assistant if I am out of service.
Kayla Gray MBA helps powerful people like you build the digital service-based business of their dreams. Obsessed with location-independent passive income, Kayla has been coaching digital entrepreneurs in starting and scaling their business while traveling the globe. Her step-by-step, hand-holding, never-wonder-what-to-do support has transformed the lives of hundreds of individuals in living a life they love.
You can find Kayla online on Instagram.
Digital Nomad Life Doesn’t Solve Mental Health Issues
I’ve been traveling for 12 years now. And the biggest struggle I’ve encountered in all this time has been managing my mental health on the road.
It’s important to know that wherever you go, you’ll be right there. With all the baggage, anxiety, trauma and issues you faced in your last destination. I had believed for years that if times got tough, I could just move on and everything would be rosy again.
Acknowledging that I was carrying baggage, literally and emotionally, was the game-changer. Ashamedly, I’ve only really begun my healing journey in recent months. I became reclusive in each new destination, I sabotaged relationships, became withdrawn from community and had a huge wake-up call.
I by no means am saying that you shouldn’t travel if you have any kind of mental health issues. What I am saying is that the lifestyle doesn’t alleviate the symptoms and can often heighten their power over you.
Getting myself a remote therapist, coach, practicing self-love and making a concerted effort to truly connect with others has been pivotal in my healing and recognizing that running away has been my go-to ‘remedy’ for so long. I believe that a lot of digital nomads have similar patterns, as much as they wouldn’t like to admit.
Awareness is key and there’s no shame in taking advantage of the immense privilege we have to see the world. But stopping to ask why, and how, on occasion, is immensely helpful.
Hannah Dixon is the founder of Digital Nomad Kit. She’s also a Business Mentor and Strategist who has helped over 8000 millennials create location independent lifestyles through education in freelancing and entrepreneurship. After 12 years of continuous travel, she is considered a “digital nomad thought leader” and expert in all things virtual assistance. She also works one on one with influential entrepreneurs, devising innovative launch strategies & managing remote teams. You can usually find Hannah in a hammock eating a burrito. Join her free Facebook group.
Travel is Easy, Creating a Sustainable Location Independent Lifestyle is a Struggle
I see many people in their 20s set out to become “digital nomads” and travel the world while living out of hostels and managing a small budget. Problem is, they leave behind thoughts of health care, future security, and the development of a community.
I know because I was one of them.
The issue is that this is not a sustainable lifestyle. Eventually, the allure of hostels runs dry and you start to want your own apartment.
You begin to experience the diminishing returns of travel. You get older and start to develop medical issues that need treatment you can’t receive on the road.
At this point you will quickly find yourself back home with a desk job, blaming the lifestyle, having decided that digital nomad life is not a real long term lifestyle but just something young people do in an attempt to delay the onset of responsibilities.
So, the question is, how does one take the digital nomad life we all enjoy and love, and frame it in a way that it can grow with you?
Fortunately, all these issues can be relatively easily resolved with money.
With enough cash, you can establish what I call “safe houses” around the world. Pulling from James Bond movies these are places where you have a property or trusty Airbnb, high quality of life, a supportive community, and a good work environment.
When you get sick, you can use medical tourism to travel to the best hospital to treat whatever issues you are experiencing by the top experts in the field.
If you’re just getting started you should travel, see, and taste as much of this world as you can while keeping an eye on the ultimate goal – making this a sustainable long term lifestyle, not just something you do for a few years.
I believe the way to do that is to eventually slow down, and focus your time and efforts on building a business or skill base that will provide for you for decades to come…no matter what turns you take in life.
Mitko Karshovski is a college dropout and location independent entrepreneur who has worked with 6 and 7 figure businesses ranging from eCommerce and productized services to digital agencies. His podcast, That Remote Life, is focused on covering the location independent revolution and helping people quit the cubicle and live life on their terms. It has been named as one of the best podcasts for digital nomads in 2020. Follow Mitko’s adventures on Instagram.
Lack of Community Can Create Feelings of Loneliness
One of the biggest challenges I have encountered myself and that I know my nomadic friends struggle with too, is the lack of community, both personal and professional, and the lack of accountability and a feeling of loneliness that comes with it.
We don’t have colleagues we see every day at an office and it can become really lonely working for yourself at your Airbnb or from cafes. It’s also hard to stay focused and self-motivated when there isn’t anyone else telling you what you should be doing and when every day. Of course, that’s part of the freedom and appeal of this lifestyle, but it can be hard as well.
The solution for me has been building my community both offline and online. Offline means traveling with friends as much as possible, joining retreats and other events.
But what has been most powerful online is Virtual Coworking. We do this daily in my membership community for women. We meet online on Zoom, set goals together, work in 25-minute Pomodoro chunks, and in the breaks we chat, ask for feedback or help or just catch up.
It’s very productive because it offers accountability, but also really fun. The girls have formed real friendships and strong professional bonds this way. It’s been incredible to see many of them working together, meeting up in real life, and even traveling together.
Jenny Lachs is the founder of Digital Nomad Girls, the first community for location independent women. In her “old life” Jenny was a chemist but she swapped her lab coat for a backpack in 2013 and has been traveling full time since. Jenny believes the Digital Nomad life is more fun and meaningful together. Through her Virtual Coworking Community, the DNG Inner Circle, and in-person retreats, she creates connections, accountability, and support for nomadic women worldwide. She also helps beginners get started with her brand new course, ‘Stop Dreaming, Start Packing’. Join her free Facebook group.
Maintaining Old Friendships is Hard
Maintaining old friendships is one of the biggest, unexpected struggles we’ve faced as digital nomads. Like it or not, long term travel changes you. A year from now you’re not going to be the same person you are today, and two years from now you’ll barely recognize yourself.
When you go back home things will feel different, and yet so very the same. Painfully the same. Your friends will ask you about your adventures, but it won’t be long before their boredom with your stories becomes evident, and eventually, the conversation goes back to the minutiae of day to day life.
It’s not their fault, they weren’t there, they haven’t had those experiences, and they can’t relate. And soon, you don’t relate to their experiences anymore either.
Worry not though, there is a bright side in all of this. You’re going to make so f$%&ing many new friends along the way, that it won’t even matter. Your new friends will support you, and they’ll be excited for you every step of the way.
Within a few years, you’ll have a global network of amazing people you know and trust. And the friends back home? They’ll always be right there where you left them.
Adam and Gabi are originally from New York, but they don’t usually tell people that right away. They typically spend their days in some exotic destination, running their blog with a cool beverage in hand, and managing social media for brands. Late at night, you’ll find them editing vlogs or binging yet another NetFlix series. For 3 years before becoming digital nomads, Adam and Gabi funded their adventures through seasonal work in places like Alaska, Colorado, and Arizona. Ain’t nothing gonna hold these two down! Visit Adam and Gabi on Youtube and at LocalNomads.com
Know What Fulfills You and Make Time For It
You can’t be a digital nomad just because you “like to travel.” It’s fun for a while but traveling just for the sake of travel can lead to burnout and you’ll begin to question what you’re doing. Figure out what fulfills you and make time for it so you have the energy to keep going.
Since starting my digital nomad journey, I’ve learned the two biggest things I need are:
- Time with people I love, doing the thing I love most – seeing live music
I never realized how much I took these things for granted until we started traveling full time.
In order to avoid loneliness and burnout, we plan our travels around the tour dates of our favorite bands. This ensures that I get some time with my favorite people and feel like I’m a part of a community. This can only happen in the USA except for the rare occasions when our favorite bands play shows in another country. Then we get to bring our friends into our world, which is the best.
When we’re on the road, I turn to my online communities that I find through Facebook groups and paid memberships. We’ve been focusing on something that Mitko mentioned above, setting up “safe houses” in different parts of the world. For the last three years, Puerto Vallarta was that place for us. We’re on the hunt for another place to add to that list.
So my advice to you is to figure out what fills your cup and make time for it. Find something that you’re passionate about besides travel and do more of that thing. Then find your communities both on and offline.
This will ensure you live a meaningful digital nomad life.
From yours truly! Rachel Story is a digital nomad, an online English teacher, and a lover of live music. She runs this blog, Grateful Gypsies, with her husband Sasha. They moved to China in 2010 and haven’t moved home. They’ve also lived in Indonesia and Mexico and traveled to 20+ countries together. When they’re not out globetrotting, you can find them in the USA chasing their favorite band Phish around the country. Follow their adventures on Instagram and subscribe so you can get their digital nomad tips and strategies straight to your inbox.
As you can see, digital nomad life isn’t all unicorns and rainbows.
Let’s summarize all the awesome things we learned:
- You can’t work on the beach but you can work near it.
- Staying productive on the road is a challenge. So slow down and spend more time in each place.
- Working with your life partner is tough so split up your roles and be patient with each other.
- It’s lonely out there so find ways to meet people like joining coworking spaces or language classes.
- Finding solid accommodation and a suitable workspace is the best way to stay focused. Use Airbnb and housesitting.
- You can’t work without WiFi so don’t schedule important work things when you’re traveling to more remote places.
- You still need to manage your mental health so find a remote therapist and don’t forget to practice self-love.
- Focus on creating a sustainable location independent lifestyle by building your own online business.
- Find communities both on and offline to combat loneliness.
- Maintaining old friendships is hard, but you’ll make new friends
- Be passionate about something besides travel and make time for it.
Thanks for reading! And remember you can download the PDF version so it’s always there when you need it.
Now that you know what to expect, let’s get you set up for digital nomad life:
- 5 Ways to Prepare for a Seamless Transition to the Digital Nomad Lifestyle
- SafetyWing Digital Nomad Health Insurance Review
- How to Stay Healthy as a Digital Nomad
- Benefits of Learning the Local Language as a Digital Nomad