The digital nomad lifestyle can be quite challenging. Many people start living this unconventional life but soon realize that it is harder than they had expected. A few of them fail completely. I’ve made many mistakes at the beginning of my new life, too, and I know that many others are likely to do the same. So I want to share the most common digital nomad mistakes with you and also show you how you can avoid them.
Table of Contents
My Personal Digital Nomad Mistakes
1. Having no Plan
One of the most common digital nomad mistakes is to take the new lifestyle too easy. Yes, it’s great to have no mandatory routines anymore and to be able to go with the flow. I enjoyed that in the beginning, too.
I didn’t have any plans. A few clients here and there. I had months with a good income and months with barely any income. Although that was ok for a while, I had no clue where this will take me which left me a bit unsatisfied and insecure.
How to Avoid: You don’t have to plan the next 5 years in detail. But sit down and think about where you see yourself in a couple of years. What do you want to achieve with your new career? Which direction do you want to go? A proper goal setting strategy is absoutely essential if you want to succeed.
It also helps to set small milestones. For instance: In 4 months from now I want to be able to fully live from the income I generate from my new digital nomad lifestyle and don’t need to use my savings anymore.
Think in terms of money, time and performance, maybe the places you want to live in, too. Be realistic and control your progress regularly.
2. No Budget Control
In the beginning of my digital nomad life I lived in London (I know, expensive city anyway). Although I tried to limit my expenses, I somehow managed to spend a fortune in those months. My savings decreased rapidly and I had no idea where all the money went.
How to Avoid: After a while, I started making a list in which I wrote my weekly income and expenses. I tried to write down as much as possible, every Starbucks tea or public transport ticket. Oh boy, was I shocked about how much I spent on small stuff like that. It so adds up!
If you are just starting out and can’t estimate your financials at all, I strongly advise you to make a financial plan, too. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A normal excel list will do. Note what you are planning to spend and earn in each of the following weeks and later your actual expenses and earnings.
It may seem a bit nit-picky to write down all the small things, but trust me, you will be surprised. It helps you a lot to keep track of your budget, so you will be able to counteract if necessary.
Learn how much money you should save before starting a digital nomad life.
3. Not getting enough Information
My situation might have been a bit different from yours, as I became a digital nomad by accident and didn’t plan or prepare that new lifestyle. But in the beginning I didn’t read any blogs, I didn’t get any help when I struggled – one of the very silly digital nomad mistakes.
I thought this is something I have to figure out on my own as no one is having the same difficulties as me anyway. This made everything much harder and it took me a lot of time to figure out certain issues.
How to Avoid: There are so many blogs on digital nomadism out there today. So many websites that provide plenty of information on how to live a nomadic lifestyle and how to be successful with it. Whether you want to become a freelancer or start your own business, there is information out there and people, who can help and advise you.
There is absolutely no need to do this on your own. Profit from other people’s experiences and join digital nomad communities. I’m sure there is still a lot you can learn (and, of course, give in return).
4. Working too much
It’s hard when you first start out and you try your best to get clients and work your bum off to make them happy. This is one of the digital nomad mistakes many people do. In the beginning, I worked 7 days a week, often 12+ hours every day.
Although I really enjoyed my job and I’ve always been a workaholic type of person, I needed breaks, which I didn’t take. No surprise that after a while I felt worn out. My job was the only thing in my head. I completely forgot about the “nomad” part and didn’t take the time to enjoy the beautiful countries I was in.
How to Avoid: Don’t be like me! Set schedules. If your schedule tells you to call it a day at 6 pm and there isn’t anything on your to-do-list that really has to be done today, stop working! The same goes for days off. We all need them every once in a while.
Take regular breaks during the day. Breakfast, lunch, a little coffee break now and then. I know it sounds like the routines you wanted to escape from. But honestly, your performance will be so much better when you get some distance from your work and have to time reflect.
5. Having too many Clients
There was a time in my digital nomad career where I had the luxurious problem of having too many clients. I applied for a few jobs at the same time and got all of them. This was great for my income, but not so much for my well-being.
Not only did I do a whole lot of hours, which resulted in no spare time, but I wasn’t able to give 100% for each client. Having so many different tasks in my head I struggled to really get into the needs of each client. I doubt that my clients really noticed it (at least they didn’t say anything), but it reduced the quality of my work.
How to Avoid: All depending on what kind of you do, but rather than getting 5 clients, try to fill your time with fewer. When I realized I had too many contracts going on, I spoke to the ones I liked working for the most and explained them my situation. I asked if they had a bit more work for me each week.
They understood my situation and in the end, I managed to cut down my long-term clients to only 2, but I was still busy enough for a full-time job. They had my entire attention and dedication.
On the downside, please bear in mind that if you only have 2 clients and one decides to end the contract for whatever reason, you also lose a big portion of your income.
6. Traveling too much
In the beginning, everything is exciting and you want to see all of those great places and can’t wait to go to the next fantastic country on your list. I was just the same. I stayed in one place for a couple of days, checked out all the sights and moved on. That’s, in fact, another one of the very common digital nomad mistakes.
How to Avoid: Don’t plan too much! Arrive in a new town, find a place to stay for a few weeks and soak up the atmosphere. Try to get in touch with locals, test local restaurants, experience the culture, become part of the area.
When you give yourself at least 2 or 3 months in one place, you’ll experience your temporary home in a completely different way than you would in one week. Plus, you have enough time to explore the surroundings and get your work done without any stress.
Find out why you should take your time moving from one place to another.
7. Lack of Productivity
This is one of the digital nomad mistakes that probably most of us will do at some stage. Especially in the beginning of my nomadic lifestyle, I was always super busy. I sat in front of my laptop all day. But the outcome wasn’t that great at all. Although I really tried, my level of productivity was terrible.
So I was wasting precious time by doing useless things and not getting much work done. The struggle of most people who work in location-independent jobs.
How to Avoid: Luckily, there are plenty of tricks you can do. Obvious things, like switching off private social media or getting a proper working environment can do wonders. But there are also some techniques, like the Pomodoro technique, that help you schedule your working hours and breaks.
If you want to learn more about this, I dedicated an entire blog post on how remote worker can improve their productivity. Check it out to get some inspirations.
8. Relying on the Internet
You can get WIFI almost everywhere today, right? Well, maybe. But only because a place says they have internet, doesn’t mean that it is strong enough for you to work. And after all, a good internet connection is essential to digital nomads. I can’t even count how often I got myself into trouble thinking the WIFI will be fine at the next place I’m going to.
How to Avoid: If you book an accommodation, see if you can find reviews about the quality of their internet. Don’t simply trust them when they say they have it. Booking pages like Booking.com have an extra review section for internet connection, which makes it super easy to check and compare.
You should also check if there are cafés and restaurants with WIFI in the area you are moving to. Just in case it doesn’t work in your accommodation. If there are coworking spaces around, that’s even better. They usually have the best internet in town.
Another Plan B is to get mobile broadband for the country you are traveling to. Check out the biggest internet provider in that place for plans.
If you are very unsure about the internet situation, prepare your clients, that you might not be able to communicate with them for the next, whatever, 2 days or so. Schedule meetings and deadlines accordingly.
Learn more tricks and hacks how you can improve your internet quality while traveling.
9. Not having proper Equipment
Since I didn’t plan to become a digital nomad, I didn’t have proper equipment with me. I traveled with a fairly old laptop and a smartphone, that was barely working. The result: both devices took forever to load, crashed all the time, I lost data and they literally drove me insane.
How to Avoid: Even when you start on a small budget, invest in good equipment. It’s worth it. You will use these devices all day, every day. Save yourself time and nerves later by bringing a good laptop and smartphone.
Also, make sure to use a VPN when working in public networks and make sure both your laptop and phone are secured. I personally use NordVPN, but there are plenty of others, too. If your devices are very expensive, special insurance for laptops, cameras, and smartphones might be a great idea.
Check out my ultimate packing lists for digital nomads, so you won’t forget anything.
10. Undervaluing your Skills
Another one of the very common digital nomad mistakes: In the beginning, I did many content writing jobs. Many times potential clients asked me to send them trial articles for very little money or even for free. Since I just started out I needed to build up my reputation so I agreed. I spent much time and effort on work like that. In the end, I often didn’t get the job.
Today, I employ freelancers for different kinds of tasks, too. Even when I’m unsure about their skills, I would never ask them for free work. They invest time and effort and I find it very disrespectful to not pay them for their work.
How to Avoid: It’s very hard to say no to cheap or free trials, especially when you are at the beginning or don’t have any other clients at the moment. Explain the potential client that you can understand that he or she wants to find out if you are qualified. But if they want you to deliver high-quality work, you cannot do this for free.
Learn how to calculate your freelance rates properly. Don’t be afraid to raise your hourly rate or fixed prices later to a level you think reflects your performance.
Even clients with a little budget will soon find out, that quality work has its price and if they hire someone who does it for a super cheap fare, they often have to get it done twice because the quality was not as expected.
11. Neglecting your Body
When I’m traveling I tend to live unhealthier than when I’m living somewhere for a little while. I don’t work out as often as I should, eat not regularly and don’t get enough sleep. That happened at the beginning of my digital nomad life, too.
As I result my body felt miserable. I was tired all the time, couldn’t really focus on work, gained weight and didn’t feel fit at all.
How to Avoid: Always make sure you get enough sleep. Eat regularly and healthy. Start doing sports that you can easily integrate into your digital nomad lifestyle. You might not have a gym everywhere in the world. But you can surely bring your running shoes and go for a run. There are also plenty of workouts you can do from your hotel room with your own bodyweight.
Also, consider starting meditation. Only 10 minutes a day can be as efficient and refreshing as the best power nap you’ve ever had. It’s probably the best thing you can do for your body, mind, and soul.
12. Waiting too long
This is one of the digital nomad mistakes I personally regret the most. I simply waited too long before I started this lifestyle. Instead, I had other jobs that didn’t make me happy, not knowing that there is something out there, that I would enjoy so much more.
I didn’t think out of the box. A life like this was completely out of what I could possibly imagine. Yet I’m super happy I discovered this lifestyle and wished I had started earlier with it.
How to Avoid: If you think you have enough information to change your life, you have the skills to be successful as a nomad, have a plan and are sure that this is what would make you happy, then there is no need to wait. Stepping out of your comfort zone is always hard. But you’ll never know until you go, right?
And always keep in mind, that even if you fail and realize that the digital nomad lifestyle is not the right thing for you, after all, it is not the end of the world. You can always go back to your old lifestyle or do something completely different. Be open to change and use your opportunities.
Additional Digital Nomad Mistakes
I didn’t do the following digital nomad mistakes, as I didn’t really plan to live this lifestyle. But I know many fellow nomads who made these and got very disappointed and failed, so I thought I list them anyway for you.
Underestimating the Challenge
Yes, location-independent jobs have many advantages. But there are also huge downsides to this lifestyle. It is not always as easy as it might look on those perfect Instagram photos. You won’t be sitting at the beach with your laptop all day, enjoying a 10-hour workweek while making big money. Do your research and be realistic about your expectations.
Leaving with no Income or Savings
Some people like to take risks. Fair enough. But simply quitting your job and jump on the next available flight with no plan might not be the best idea. There are surely some people who still manage to land on their feet and be successful with that.
But it might be better to have enough savings to keep you alive for a few months even without a steady income. Even better to leave and already have some clients you can work for or any other source of income.
Learn from Other People’s Mistakes
As you can see, I did quite a few popular digital nomad mistakes in the beginning. That cost me time, money and nerves. But I really wanted this to work out, so I managed to find ways to overcome the struggles.
I hope I could help you a bit with these insights into my first experiences as a digital nomad. If you have any questions about the difficulties this lifestyle brings, feel free to let me know. I’ll try my best to help you.
You’ll find more information on how to live a successful nomad lifestyle on my blog.