The dark sides of a Digital Nomad Lifestyle
I get it. Living the digital nomad life sounds awesome. And it is! I've done it for more then a decade now and have no regrets. But as with all things the devil is often in the details.
Being a digital nomad is not an endless holiday no matter how hard you might try. What we're fed online on social media, etc. usually only shows the bright sides. It's easy to feel stoked and wanting to give it a try yourself.
I'm all for it but would like you to consider a few of the downsides I experienced so that you're prepared for them.
Laptop, Smartphone, maybe a camera? Check! But that's about it. These may be the tools you're using at home to get your work done but even then you may experience some shortcomings.
Having only mobile equipment means no access to a large screen when you need it. An external mouse can be carried but a keyboard might become a drag already. Every extra piece you carry increases you travel headaches. So you wanna be minimal for sure.
But did you ever think about how you will use the equipment? Right, you will be at the beach with your laptop in your lap. Makes for a great taint on that spot hahaha. Besides laptops are mostly useless in the sun, they hate sand and they become really hot.
No problem! Just sit in a cafe. Problem solved. Not quite. First, will you be able to sit? Can you focus in a busy environment? How about a phone call with that constant background music in your ear? Oh and the table's are really small or low? Wifi not working? No problem, 5G ... oh never mind.
Back to the room/apartment then. The desk isn't that comfy either but at least you can sit in your quiet room and get some work done. Just like back home. Well ... without the extra monitor and the wifi is kinda slow.
Wait! Just like HOME?
One of the most exciting parts about constant travel is your exposure to foreign Cultures. You are no longer a Tourist, right? You live there for a few weeks or months at a time maybe. Plenty of time to get to know some locals and learn their ways.
This is indeed the part I would push onto anyone the most. Go out and travel to experience world! It changes you forever and makes you realize how different the world can be compared to that little corner you might have been used to before all your life.
But as always this comes with it's downsides. You are an immigrant no matter where you go. You can call yourself an expat but that's really just an immigrant with money. You are foreigner. An outsider. A potential scam victim even.
At first you may be friendly when people ask you where you are from and all. But if that's your conversation 100 times a day it becomes old real fast. Real conversation is hard. Especially when the language barrier is still quite high.
Be aware that you have your own cultural bias. Things the locals do may appear strange or even repulsive to you. This can get to the point of major annoyance. Even if they just lack what your culture would call "manners". It's not always easy to see beyond that.
And even if you do manage to make some real connections you are not there forever. The life of a digital nomad is one of many good byes and rare reunions.
What's more exciting then hopping on a plane, train, bus or even your own car and head out for the unknown. Trust me I love it! Under the right circumstances that is.
I stopped counting the number of flights I take. Memories blend together to the point where i have difficulties remembering where some event happened or during which visit to the place.
Checking in, security control, squeezing into your seat, finding transfer to an from the airport, calling the usual taxi driver as he's the most reliable one, etc., etc., etc.
It's exhausting. And no a better seat on the plane doesn't make that much of a difference. I don't really care if it's a budget carrier's cramped seat or a fancy business class ticket. You will spend a long time in transit. That time is not really productive and you will likely be exhausted at the end of your trip.
I began my nomad life in the car. That was a big win as I was free to move around, sleep in the car when needed (a lot), carry a lot of stuff, etc. So if you are into cars and you have one maybe make use of it.
However as my circles grew wider I either couldn't reach every place by car or it was just too long a drive to quickly go somewhere. It could take me a week of non stop driving to just reach "home".
So I found myself on countless planes and then was carless for most of the rest of the trip. Rental cars are an option but they are often expenive and you may end up with a model that you really don't like.
Some of my rentals I loved, others I couldn't wait to return. In any case they can cost a fortune so I rent them only for short times. In some places it might actually be worth it to buy a car (like I did in Georgia) in order to keep the cost down.
Generally however you will have no car. Travelling with that restriction limits the places you can go to. If you love cities that's fine. But the moment you'd like to explore the country side your options become rather thin in no time.
Then there's your luggage. My usual car is actually quite tiny but it still fits a few bags, blankets, food, water, etc. Have fun carrying all that from one Paris station to another.
The core idea of being a digital nomad is that you can take your work anywhere. But that's just it. You are still likely required to get stuff done. As an employee you might need to be available during certain times. Despite the hopes and fever dreams of flat earthers the world is a sphere and has those annoying time zones.
Sometimes they work in your favor, sometimes they don't. Having a daytime job in the UK while you're in New Zealand can wreck your plans to see the place with some actual light shining on it.
It's much more doable if you own your time. Running your own business or even just having a high degree of freedom to plan your schedule as an employee is almost a must have for your digital nomad life to work out.
Start slow and avoid moving to a far of land with a vastly different time zone. Train your peers, customers, etc. to live with your new schedules. I often avoid them during the core daytime as this is likely a bad time for you. Always keep that in mind.
Aside from time zones you might be plagued by power cuts, internet outages, the complexity of life abroad, etc. Your productivity may decrease dramatically here and there. Just be aware that things may not always work out your way and plan accordingly.
Internet outages can even last for weeks. I was in India when all three deep sea cables connecting this part of Asia with Europe where cut. It was like the outside world seized to exist and it took the repair crews weeks to get to and fix the broken cables.
Being a digital nomad can safe you money. But it's more likely to cost you a lot as well. Whatever you might save on rent or in taxation you might easily spend on tickets, fuel, temporary accommodation, fines, etc., etc.
You may even end up renting multiple places at once. I often paid rent for a base of mine while still paying for one or two other apartments in places I frequented a lot. In fact I'm calling two rentals my bases during the time of writing just because booking a vacation home every time would cost all that much more.
Health care differs greatly from place to place. It can be hard to deal with your insurance or even find one that will cover you. But what's even more problematic is finding access to health care in the first place.
Where would you find a sane dentist? Who can prescribe you any meds and what kind of pills do they give you? Does the doctor even understand you? Where do you even go? Are there little doctors offices? Clinics? Or is it common to go straight to a hospital? Should you pay out of pocket or do you need to show some insurance certificate?
The differences are stark and of course you will only ever really dig into it when you're in urgent need of medical attention. And even then it can be quite nerve wrecking.
I spent a night in a Georgian hospital once. It wasn't too bad however Georgians tend to have very loud conversations at 3:00 AM on the phone. Also, the foam mattress turned into a giant hole over night. Oh and they don't serve food there either. Just to mention a few of the differences I didn't quite expect.
It's likely that you avoid seeing a doctor at all dragging along some condition until it hopefully gets better or it get's so bad you got to do seomthing.
You might no longer be covered by health insurance in your country of origin if you don't have an address there. So make sure you cover yourself before you go anywhere. But also, don't overcomplicate things and don't let it stop you.
However! Health care in other countries may be wildly cheaper and better then in your country of origin. So here's something to consider if you need something done. And don't fall for this "But healthcare in our country is the best!" lie. It often isn't and many countries say the same thing. In reality you can find good care anywhere in the world.
In some places you might need to interact with government services. An example would be a residency permit for places where you want to stay longer.
If you thought dealing with government offices in your country of origin try doing it abroad in a language you barely speak navigating their very own office madness.
I even had to abandon a major move to Portugal simply because it was impossible to place a single phone call with the immigration office.
Another issue could be if you travel with a partner of a different nationality. Different immigration restrictions and visa requirements can slow things down and make planning even harder. In some cases you may not be able to go places. This is easy to overlook when booking the next stack of tickets. It sucks to be rejected at check-in and losing a small fortune on tickets.
You might lose all sense of belonging. You move from place to place. You see the sights, take photos, deal with the shortcomings of your new temporary accommodation, etc.
But all that is yours fits in a bag. You keep everything else in boxes that are easy to move. You are prepared to throw away stuff when you finally move on to another far away place.
The places you call home are just flimsy Bnb's furnished to be good enough. It's only for another while. Don't forget anything in the bathroom when moving out again.
The people you meet are often just short term friends. It's likely they too are just "expats". You maybe never see them again once either of you leaves.
You wanna buy a book? Forget it. It's too heavy. Oh a lovely painting for your walls? Nah. Oh! This pan would be great in your kitchen? Oh, right. Never mind.
These are just a few examples of why being a digital nomad can suck. It all depends on you and your expectations.
The devil is in the details and here's some more things to think about:
- Online shopping might not be possible eating a lot of extra time
- Traffic in other parts of the world can be a huge drag
- Availability of goods isn't the same everywhere. Imports can be very expensive
- Different places have different climates. Don't forget that
- Internet censorship is a thing. And no, your VPN may not always save you
- Freedom of speech is not a given. It can bite you even long after the fact (Avoid going to totalitarian countries you may have publically spoken badly about in the past)
- Local food and drink can upset your stomach ;)
- Local bookstores are generally useless to you
- Dating may be treated very differently from the way you are used to.
- LGBT laws are NOT the same everywhere!
Just to name a few more ;)
This all sounds doom and gloom I know. Then again, I've done it for a large part of my life and wouldn't want to miss it. Having a global lifestyles has in fact become so ingrained into my life that now I'm having a hard time to slow it down.
I'm grateful for being able to experience many parts of the world. It has changed me in many positive ways. Many of our illusions fall when confronted with some of the realities of life in other parts of the world. You will learn to see things differently for sure.
As for meeting people, I was lucky enough to meet my spouse along the way and create some friendships that stuck.
But I also became a lot more careful about everything. Things that I took for granted before can end up taking a whole day to accomplish. I even tend to worry about documentation, etc. just in case we need them for some visa, residency card, etc. Life has become a whole less careless based on experience.
If you are serious about setting sail into the great unknown I wish you nothing but the best. But don't be naive. It's not all blue skies where you're about to go. Try to prepare for worst case scenarios and when you hit rock bottom just think of it as a learning experience. Because no matter how stormy things become storms never last forever ;)
All the best and good luck!