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Why The Digital Nomad Lifestyle Is Not Sustainable

by | Last updated Oct 7, 2020

Yes, the digital nomad lifestyle is one of the most popular and fastest-growing lifestyle trends we have today. There are estimations that say that by 2035 there will be 1 billion digital nomads in this world. What a number! Given all the advantages this way of living brings this is not too much of a surprise.

However, most of these people won’t be living this kind of life forever. The digital nomad lifestyle is simply not sustainable. Yes, you heard me right. Shocked? I mean I promote this lifestyle with all my heart and believe and want people to succeed with it. Yet I’m making such a negative statement. But before you declare me legally insane, let me explain how I come to this conclusion.

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It Is NOT The Perfect Lifestyle

I know, traveling around the world and making money online sounds incredible. You get to meet new people all the time, hang out at the most picturesque places and never have a boring day again. You can make your own working schedule, work from your comfy couch at home and have as much spare time as you’d like.

Although your life could indeed look like that, you shouldn’t be fooled by all of the digital nomad myths out there. I will probably never get tired saying it, but the digital nomad lifestyle is not perfect (is there any lifestyle that is?).

Just to mention a few reasons:

1. You can often take as much time off of work as you like, but that means you won’t earn any money. Many remote workers are freelancers and get paid by the hours they do or projects they finish. No work, no money. Others are business owners and if they don’t invest a whole lot of time and effort in their company, they won’t get anywhere with it.

2. Yes, of course, you can work while laying on your couch. That’s where I spend a big portion of my working hours. But you wouldn’t want to work like that 10 hours a day / 7 days a week (especially new digital nomads work long hours). Your back will kill you soon and it’s hard to stay productive in such a relaxed position. Sounds incidental but can turn into a real problem.

3. And money? Well, many remote workers go to fairly cheap places; digital nomad hubs, like Bali or Chiang Mai, where they can survive on a very small budget. On the other hand, you are likely to not going to earn as much as you did before in a 9-5 job. Of course, there are many very successful nomads out there. But they surely didn’t earn that much money from the very beginning. It took them much time and work to get where they are.

 

Why You Won’t Want To Stay A Digital Nomad Forever

I’m not telling you this to scare you off. I’m telling you this to make you realize the consequences this lifestyle brings. It is a great experience and a fantastic way of living to do for a while. But on the long run it might not make you happy. Here are some of the biggest difficulties you have to face:

 

It’s Exhausting

Many newbie digital nomads stay in a place for two or three weeks, then move on to the next one. While this lifestyle can be ok when you are just traveling, you have to keep in mind that you need to get your work done, too. So you only have a few weeks to explore a new country or region and do your work at the same time. This is extremely stressful!

You might be able to keep up that speed for a while. Especially, in the beginning when everything is new and exciting and you can’t wait to see all of those places. Then you are likely going to be ok with that. But after a year or two, you are burned out. Not much of a surprise you need a break and can’t travel and work like that anymore.

 

Not Being Part of a Community

There are many online communities for digital nomads out there, Facebook groups like “Digital Nomads Around The World” or the popular Nomad Forum are only two of them. You will also meet many like-minded people in coworking spaces or local events.

However, when you are constantly on the move you have to say goodbye soon after you’ve made new friends. Of course, you can always stay in touch and meet again, but it’s not the same as simply hanging out with your besties at your favorite bar after work every other day.

If you are much of a community type of person, you will miss this feeling when being on the road for a while.

 

Having Relationships Is Very Hard

Maybe you are in the lucky position that your partner is a digital nomad, too, and you can travel the world together. Jackpot!

In case you don’t fall for another nomad, times are going to be tough.

When you are with someone when you start your new digital nomad lifestyle, you will probably have to end the relationship. Keeping a long-distance relationship when you only get to see your partner every couple of months is going to be hard, very hard. I doubt that this kind of life would make you or your partner happy.

And establishing a relationship while traveling isn’t easier either. You meet someone at a new place, who lives there permanently. Although you have hardly enough time to get to know that person, you feel like there is something special between you. But then you have to leave again, either because you’ve already booked your flight or because your visa expires or because you didn’t really like the place.

Relationships can be a huge problem for digital nomads.

 

Starting a Family Is Not Easy When Being On The Road

Many people decide to live a digital nomad lifestyle after their kids have graduated and left to live their own life. That’s a great constellation.

But even more people start to live this kind of life when they are younger, in their 20s or early 30s. Of course not all, but many of them want to start a family at some point. Maybe they have been lucky enough to find a partner who is a digital nomad, too. But they still fear having kids in such an “unstable” environment.

They want their kids to grow up in a house, be able to go to school, have friends they can grow old with, and maybe even get to spend more time with their grandparents or uncles and aunties. So often digital nomads return back home, where their relatives live, to start a family.

Now there are many digital nomad families out there, who prove that it is indeed possible to have kids, worldschool them and travel the world (btw, kids can profit from that lifestyle a lot!), for example, Nanouk and Joost.

But it is understandable, that many parents fear these challenges and thus, rather give up on their nomadic life.

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What Are The Alternatives?

So what do we do now? We can live the life of a digital nomad for a few years and then go back to our old lives? While this is indeed an option, many nomads won’t be happy with that solution at all.

A good way to minimize the just mentioned negative impacts of the digital nomad lifestyle is slowing down the speed of travel, so you can give yourself more time to adjust to new places. Take your time exploring and working at the same time and don’t rush from one place to another.

For those who would like to go back to their home country: No one says that you have to go back to your old job, too. You can simply continue working as a freelancer, a remote worker, or keep your own business. This way you still have enough flexibility. You still get to choose your own projects, schedule, and working place. You only cut down on the “nomad” part. But you are still location-independent.

 

How Do I Live?

To be honest, I did most of my travels before I became a full-time digital nomad. I usually had multiple part-time jobs, saved up as much money as I could, and went on budget backpacking trips for a couple of months in a row. After that, I returned back home and started saving for the next trip.

By the time I quit my office job for good, I’ve already been to about 60 countries. That’s why I didn’t feel the urge to travel that much and fast anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still many places I want to see and I still travel a lot. But now I settle at a place for roughly 3-12 months and use this as a base to go on several smaller trips.

This way I can take my time getting to know the area and culture and can conveniently do my job without being stressed out.

 

Is The Digital Nomad Lifestyle Just a Phase?

Well, to me, the digital nomad lifestyle is definitely not something like a gap year. It is not a temporary escape from your regular life and you know that you are going to return after a while. It is not a mere break from your ordinary way of living. The nomad lifestyle is more than that. It’s a kind of philosophy that people consciously chose to live on.

However, being a digital nomad is not a sustainable lifestyle in my opinion. Because of the mentioned reasons, it is nothing that most people would enjoy doing their entire life.

But I strongly believe that a location-independent lifestyle is sustainable.

And I do believe that once you’ve mastered the digital nomad life and you’ve became successful with it, you can easily slow down and continue living a location-independent life.

So rather than thinking of it as the ultimate goal, I see it as a part of a new lifestyle. For some, it might be the transaction, the starting point to a new kind of life.

 

Popular Digital Nomads Who Settled Down

I am not the only one who moves from being a digital nomad to living a location independent life with a home base. See which other expert nomads chose to change from one lifestyle to the other:

Matt Karsten, who runs one of the biggest travel blogs out there, Expert Vagabond, only recently published an article announcing that after 7 years of being a digital nomad, he settles again in the USA.

Matt Kepnes, the face behind the famous travel blog Nomadic Matt, already wrote a few years ago that his full-time nomadic life has come to an end and why he is looking forward to the next chapter.

So did Conni Biesalski, who created Germany’s most popular travel and personal development blog, Planet Backpack. In her YouTube video she explains why she prefers a home base over a digital nomad life.

How Do You Distinguish Between The Lifestyles?

Now you might ask: Where is the border? How do you define who’s a digital nomad and who’s simply location-independent and likes to travel every once in a while?

I don’t think there is a clear answer to that. It probably depends on your priorities. What’s more important to you: the traveling part or the aspect of working whenever and wherever you want?

But then again, does it matter? Do we really have to define everything in detail? Maybe it is not important how we categorize ourselves when we all strive for the same qualities in life, such as flexibility and self-determination.

Want to learn more about the difference between a digital nomad and a location-independent lifestyle? Check out the linked article and find out what works best for you.

 

Go Ahead, Be a Digital Nomad!

Just in case you got the impression: This article is not intended to talk you out of the idea of becoming a digital nomad. If you feel like this is the right thing for you, go for it! It is an incredible way to travel the world and earn money online as you go. The experiences you make are valuable on any level.

But be realistic about your expectations. Be aware that you probably won’t live like that forever. Don’t feel disappointed when you realize that you are exhausted and need a break. This is natural and most nomads feel like that after a while. Find your own pace and your own definition of what digital nomadism and location-independence mean to you and how you want to live your life.

 

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you think you could live the digital nomad lifestyle forever?

About the Author

Denise Mai

Denise Mai

Founder of Digital Nomad Soul

Hi, I’m Denise – a travel addict and remote work enthusiast. I have been traveling the world since 2008 and explored, worked, and lived in more than 80 countries. To me, there is nothing better than the freedom and flexibility that comes with a location-independent lifestyle.

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26 Comments

  1. I personally like to have a base so I live a location-independent lifestyle.

    I have an apartment in the UK (which I only bought last December) and I mix a combination of pet/house sitting (via trustedhousetters.com) with Airbnb and home exchanges (via homeexchange.com) to spend anything from a few days to a month in other countries. I’ve been to 9 cities this year so far and spent the whole of August in Rome free of charge.

    I really love seeing new places but it’s also nice to come home again too. I have my own online business so I can work anywhere with internet but it’s great not to be stuck somewhere dull or to be constantly moving.

    This way I can pack for the weather each time, often travel completely for free (with the petsits and home exchanges), hold down a relationship if I meet someone, hang out with my friends, and get to walk through my own front door to all my stuff and sleep in my own bed.

    I think it’s the perfect combination and would suit a lot of people with location-independent businesses. You don’t have to give up everything in order to have everything.

  2. You definitely have to be a certain type of person to reasonably do this kind of thing long-long-long-term.

    Example: I don’t want kids, nor do I want to get married. The idea of a mortgage makes me sick. So for me? It’s perfect. I get bored, lazy and mentally unhealthy when I just stagnate in one place with the same people too much.

    Also I think some people do this in their 20s to “get it out of their system” so that in their 30s they can settle down, have kids, etc. Me? I am in my 30s, and since I don’t want any of that, now is the perfect time for me to get it out of MY system :)

  3. Thanks for your comment, Rajat! Sounds like you have found a fantastic solution to deal with your wanderlust and still enjoy the benefits of a stable home, that’s awesome :) All the best for your travel company!

  4. One of the most realistic and down to earth posts I have read on travel blogging so far. I have been tried to go on and off on becoming a nomad myself, being a family man myself. But, rather, I decided to start my own travel company instead along with my travel blog.

    So, now, instead of being a nomad myself, I take a group of nomads to places they have not explored before. It takes care of your family, it also takes care of your ‘passion’. It is better to create opportunities for local tourism first and then go all out to explore the world.

    The only difference between the today’s traveler and tourists is that the latter see a fixed set of places only. But, as a travel blogger, we have immense opportunities to tie up with the existing tourism industry to constantly feed them with new places so they utilize their resources to organize new trips.

  5. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, Mike! Really sounds like you have found the perfect partner for you and your lifestyle. And two perfect home bases, too! Great to hear a “successful” love story of a digital nomad and a local. Gives me hope ;)

  6. Thanks a lot for your comment, Ingrid! Very true, this lifestyle has some great benefits. But people have to beware that there are downsides, too, and need to find out if they can deal with them or not. x

  7. Totally agree, Sarah! Leaving friends is one of the hardest parts for me, too :/ But as a long-term traveler, you know at least what you are getting yourself into. That minimizes the “shock” at least a little bit (hopefully). x

  8. Wow, 17 years is a long time! That sounds awesome, JF, much respect! But I totally believe that it was hard work at times. Ha, a distributed library! If that’s not a great benefit then I don’t know what is :D

  9. Hi Val, thanks for your kind words! I think it’s very important to show not only the great parts of this lifestyle but also some potential downsides. And you’re right, many people are much happier with an expat life – and that’s a great decision, too! :)

  10. Thanks for your comment, Esther! I totally agree, different income streams are a great choice for digital nomads. Awesome that you got this lifestyle figured out as a single mom! Sounds like you are really doing well :)
    Oh yes, I have made some of my best friends while “nomading”. It’s a special bond you have. It would only be a bit better if we could see them more often. But well, can’t have it all ;)

  11. Hi Mel, thanks for sharing your experience! Glad to hear you guys have found a way that works for you. Sounds perfect with the 6 months each! And I agree, it’s important to stay realistic, especially for beginners. x

  12. Thanks a lot for your kind words, Mikko! Although many people think the two lifestyles are identical, there are indeed a few (minor) differences. Sounds good! Hope you enjoy the “slower version” of this lifestyle, too! ;)

  13. Ahh, that sounds exciting, Julia! Have you left by now? I think you are totally right. Being realistic about the benefits and downsides of it is so important. I wish you all the best! Hope you have a great start :)

  14. Hi Anh, thanks for your comment! Yes, I’ve seen many “new” digital nomads who move places every couple of weeks. They are just so excited about this new lifestyle and want to see so many countries now that they can travel. But I totally agree. I could never keep up with that speed either and would burn out very soon. Taking your time is probably a better choice for most of us :)

  15. Thanks for sharing your story, Karen! Sounds like you guys are doing well :) And very good point. The work-life balance needs to support your happiness. Finding the right individual balance is the key, I guess. Good luck with your future plans! :)

  16. Very realistic. Many of these obstacles can be overcome if you marry a local; you get the “home team advantage” while still living abroad. You acquire a community which makes having children easier, and so on.

    I lucked out; met my VA after a few years of working remotely. Got married, gained a second family who are absolutely amazing humans, and my wife and I do everything together. Now I have one foot in Canada, and another in Asia. Two home bases, which is great for packing light.

    This lifestyle changed my life, it was really unexpected. I always thought I’d marry someone from a Western country, but the kindness of the Philippines won me over.

  17. I am grateful that you injected some practicality into your heads. I agree that to certain extent the lifetyleis rewarding but at what cost?

  18. Not a digital nomad yet, but am a long term traveller. I spend 1-2 years in a place. It seems to get harder to leave friends

  19. I’ve been on the road for the last 17 years and totally agree with all of the points in the article. I’ve worked hard to make friends in places and return often so I now have bases in many different parts of the globe. I even have a distributed library :)

  20. Wow. Thank you for your honesty. I rarely hear people talk about it from this view point. I would prefer an expat lifestyle. Moving permanently or semi-permanently to another country.

  21. Great points! I think having a mix between stable income from maybe freelancing, passive income projects, or a part time gig mixed with work on a bigger business venture that’s going to bring long term income is what’s worked best for me. I’m also a single Mom digital nomad so it’s totally possible! We prefer slow travel and I’m choosing 1-2 years with Bali as the hub but venturing to other places short term as well.

    You make the best friends you’ll ever have. Then come and go. But you always meet them again!

  22. Great article! People always sell the digital nomad lifestyle as a dream lifestyle. Sometimes it’s good to be brought back down to earth and throw a little realism in there.
    I’ve learned this the hard way myself. I now base myself at home with my partner for 6 months and then i travel for 6 months. And even that can be hard.

  23. Big thanks for this very realistic description of digital nomad life!

    I like it an extra lot that you clearly separate digital nomad life from location independent lifestyle.

    After seeing and switching places in weekly basis, it’s time to slow the pace down for coming winter :)

  24. Great article! I am about to start the digital nomad live in 3 month. I am already very excited but also aware about the things you mentioned. I think it is really important to make sure you know the ups and downs of this lifestyle and have in mind that for some reasons it might be better to stay in one place or even return back “home”.

  25. Thank you, i think it was a very interesting and realistic article. One remark though : you say that people tend to move every 2-3 weeks, but there’s absolutely no rule that say so (is it what you’ve seen around you?) ;) i would never be able to have such intense rythm, especially if i had all the time I wish. So i think that being a nomad is also possible as a “slow nomad”,moving after a few months… or years.

  26. What an interesting article, thank you. We’ve been on the road for 18 months, travelling around Europe in our motorhome. We live permanently on the road, having sold up back in UK. We have used the label digital nomads for our work which is supported by passive income streams we have set up over the last 10 years. I can relate to the stress factors and I think we are getting more savvy about defining how our life and work balance needs to be to support our happiness. We intend to live this chosen lifestyle for as long as destined although location independent is most definitely our next phase of evolution.

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