Since I started traveling at the end of 2017, I didn’t really stop and now live in a small city in Indonesia. Although I am not traveling a lot anymore and somewhat have become more “stationary”, I think the lifestyle of being a Digital Nomad is kind of interesting for a lot of people.
Especially, younger folks are more open to travel the world and see different kinds of areas. But is it really that worthwhile to travel and change places more often?
What does it mean to be a Digital Nomad, what are the perks and the disadvantages of it?
Here is my little summary of this lifestyle and if it is the right thing for You.
What does it mean to be a Digital Nomad
First of all, let me clarify what a Digital Nomad is. The term has risen in popularity in recent years and it isn’t always clear what it really means.
For some, a Digital Nomad is simply a person who loves to travel and doesn’t have a “stationary home” anymore. This does include people who just finished school and simply want to explore the world or people who want to take off some time from work.
To me, a Digital Nomad is not only a traveler but a person who uses the Internet to his advantage, to become independent. Both, the digital and nomad aspects are equally important to me.
The Digital Nomad doesn’t simply travel, he is a freelancer, who earns money or wants to build up a business. This is a big difference when looking at the usual traveler, who use their savings to travel the world, but don’t have any income while doing so, or just hopping from one travel job to another.
For me, being a Digital Nomad means, that I can pretty much live anywhere in the world and all I need is a functioning Internet connection. This lifestyle hasn’t an end date but is sustainable.
In my eyes, the Digital Nomad is a traveler, who searches for adventures, but is also an entrepreneur in some way.
As great as it sounds, is it really that easy to simply travel and earn some money while doing so and You will find new adventures every day?
One aspect that most people probably underrate is the financial situation. Yes, I am living in Indonesia which is a very cheap country and although I could live comfortably from my savings, this isn’t a longterm solution for me.
Therefore I have to earn money and even though I have a master’s degree this isn’t really helpful. The legal situation pretty much doesn’t allow me to work here, so I have to rely on building up some online freelance jobs, or business to earn money.
A lot of countries are very restrictive when it comes to giving working Visas and therefore I believe the Digital Nomad can only be free when he is able to build an online business, which he is able to earn money from.
But here is the thing, building an online business requires a lot of time and dedication. Most travelers have this idea, that they can simply put out some blog posts, or are able to get some freelancing jobs and then they will be able to live in a country that has a lot lower costs of living.
The reality is, that it requires a lot of discipline to work and the money doesn’t isn’t earned so easily. It does take a lot of time before the time that is invested in the business or freelancing acts, actually, pay off. And who knows, maybe Your business will never take off and You have to try again?
Freedom vs Constraints
One of the aspects that a lot of people value in the Digital Nomad Lifestyle is the freedom. Digital Nomads can live anywhere, can choose when and how much they work.
This does sound very tempting for people who are having a typical “9-5” job and think they could spend their time better. The truth is, that having the experience of working in a regular job, and working on my own projects now, the freedom that You have doesn’t really increase.
Working for Yourself is a great feeling and You are responsible for Your own success, rather than working for another person. On the other hand, there is no way of achieving the success as a freelancer, without putting in a lot of hours. Whether You just want to start Your business or have the urge to grow it. You need to invest time or money at some point.
If You are at that point, that You can generate rather “passive” income, then You have the opportunity to have more freedom. But to get to this state, You have to work hard and even when You are at a place, where others would pay a lot of money for a vacation, the work doesn’t become easier.
The opposite can even be true. Living in such an environment can be counterproductive for a lot of people. Rather than putting in the needed hours, they are spending time at the beach, or the bar, where You can party around the clock.
That’s why the library is one of my favorite spots in this city and although I could go to places that are much more interesting, You have to remember that work will never be easy, no matter where You are.
Therefore, You will also face a lot of constraints and while it is not the typical “9 to 5 job”, You still have to get the hours in. Answering e-mails, outreaching to people, it all depends which kind of freelancing online work You are doing, but You will rarely achieve the freedom that You expect.
Common Misconceptions about Digital Nomads
Apart from the freedom aspect, there are a lot of other misconceptions regarding the Digital Nomad lifestyle. In theory, it does sound too good to be true and the reality shows, that it is much harder than You might think. Do You have some friends that live somewhere abroad and You are only seeing the most positive pictures on their Instagram feed? Then don’t be dazzled by it, there is a lot of work behind the scenes that most of us aren’t seeing, which does create the false perception, that being a Digital Nomad is a very easy lifestyle.
It is no Vacation
The first thing that You should keep in mind is, that being a Digital Nomad doesn’t mean that You are on vacation. You are not bound to a specific place, but You still have Your schedule and maybe deadlines that You need to prepare for.
Even though it might look and appear a little different to the outside, the typical schedule of a Digital Nomad can be a lot more loaded than it has been, compared to the “9-5” job. Ask any freelancer on how their typical day looks like and You will be assured, that the Digital Nomad is no different.
There is no weekend
Being a freelancer, You can not really afford to take full days off. If You are lucky that Your business is flourishing, You need to work hard to keep all the clients happy and save some money for times, where there won’t be a lot of work to be done.
Or You don’t have many clients in the first place and all Your orders are completed? Well, this doesn’t mean that it is time to relax. Now You have to get out and present Your work to acquire new customers and clients.
If that means that You have to answer an important mail on the weekend, You can not afford to make a client unhappy. Or does someone want to re-schedule his order, then You can hardly afford to take days off.
As a freelancer, to some degree You are always working and taking days off is a thing that You can hardly afford, especially in the beginning stages.
Loneliness and meaningful relationships
This is one thing that a lot of people probably underestimate. Being a Digital Nomad means not only that You are leaving all of Your friends, it does also mean, that it will be hardly possible to establish any new longterm and serious friendships.
Although I am pretty lucky, that the Street Photography community is spread around the world and is very welcoming, the meetings and photowalks still can’t replace longterm friends.
Another aspect is the language barrier. Meeting people that can speak English on a decent level is pretty rare at least if You are not in one of the more touristic places. Some small talk and a few phrases don’t replace a normal conversation in Your native language.
And even if You meet other people who can speak English pretty well, always communicating in a second language has not the effect of using Your mother tongue.
Social Media and Whatsapp can also not replace face-to-face communication. It can reduce the symptoms of loneliness, but You have to find other ways to deal with it.
If You would ask Digital Nomads what they are suffering the most from it is probably loneliness. Although their pictures might tell a different story and they are might meet a lot of people, it is not the same as establishing a true friendship.
Being a Digital Nomad is cheap and luxurious
I have talked about money and the work side of being a Digital Nomad very extensively now. While the lesser costs of living are one great aspect and reduce the stress on earning money as a freelancer, the living standards are also considerably lower.
Power outages can be common, the Internet is much slower, there is not always hot water and there are a lot of other aspects, that is different from Your home.
In general, if You expect to have the same living conditions as at home, the costs of living won’t be much less. So if You have problems getting accustomed to those different living conditions, You won’t get happy anywhere in the typical Digital Nomad destinations.
Things to consider before becoming a Digital Nomad
So far, I have presented a lot of negative things about being a Digital Nomad and if You still want to become one Yourself, You should make sure following the list below, to raise the chance of being a Digital Nomad Yourself.
Lay a Business Foundation
Being a Digital Nomad doesn’t mean that You are on vacation and can just spend money for the rest of Your life. Before handing in Your notice, You should have at least some promising business that You can grow while being in a different spot on this earth.
You should also lay this foundation besides Your regular job. Even with 10 hours a week, You can already start to figure out how You can earn money online and which steps You need to take in becoming successful.
Build up a buffer
Personally, I could never enjoy living as a Digital Nomad, if I had not enough money saved to be at least financially secure for at least a year. There are so much unknown factors regarding Your promising business opportunity, that You can never be quite sure if it will earn You enough money.
It doesn’t sound like fun at all, but if You have a regular job, live as frugally as You can to save up money, for the time after You have put in Your notice. This will give You some sense of security and it lets at least I rest a little bit easier, knowing that I still have enough money to return easily and find a job at home.
Do You have the right personality?
I believe, to be a successful Digital Nomad You need to have a special character and most people won’t be happy with that choice of life.
During my short stays in the typical Digital Nomad outlets, I have met a lot of people that couldn’t handle the demands of being a Digital Nomad very well. They have underestimated how difficult it can be to earn money, that it will be hard to establish relationships and how different the daily life is compared to their vacation.
As a person, I can spend hours in the library, working, listening to music and it makes me happy to be productive. For me, working is not only to earn money, but part of it is also my passion which makes it a lot easier for me.
If You are not the type of person who has the discipline or motivation to put in those “lonely” hours, then You will have a very difficult time. I know there are a lot of people, who need a job with much more personal interaction and cannot “survive” doing work on a laptop all day. If You would count Yourself in this category, then You should consider getting a proper work VISA and stay longer at one place, searching for a job, that is more suitable for You. Although this might not be the typical Digital Nomad life, it is still an alternative way of living where You can experience some adventure.
Find meaning in Life
My last tip is not really restricted to becoming a Digital Nomad, but I feel that it becomes increasingly important in finding meaning in life, if You choose a path that is far from standard.
So far, You might have noticed that the typical Digital Nomad day looks like a lot of work mixed with some adventure and fun. This might be true and the hours after work at the beach can certainly be much more fun than sitting at home and watching TV.
Nonetheless, even those days and activities will become boring if it becomes Your new daily habit. During my short stay in the typical Digital Nomad places, I have met and noticed a lot of people that couldn’t handle the new “freedom” and became very bored with it.
These are the people that get lost in alcohol, drugs and won’t find long-term happiness.
A different kind of people are the expats that run away from problems at home. Whether it may be family problems, financial crisis or conflicts with the law. Those problems will always travel with You. Although they may not be physically present, they will always be a mental constraint that will limit You from finding true happiness. So if You think You can simply run away from Your problems – it won’t work.
As a photographer, I find joy in creating series and documenting the human life. If You are on Your path to becoming a Digital Nomad, You should find something that fills You with deeply with joy. Not just some small hobby, but something that You can look back when You are older and feel that You have accomplished something.
Create, Write, or Do. Otherwise, Your life will be as boring as a Digital Nomad, as it was before. It will just be covered in a better-looking wrapping.
Find joy in whatever You are doing and You don’t need to become a “Digital Nomad” in a distant location, but can make the world Your home.