Being able to work wherever you go and traveling the world is surely a great way of living. There are so many benefits this lifestyle has; no daily commutes and no uninspiring office atmospheres are just two of them. But I don’t want to sugarcoat everything. There are some big downsides, too. If you are thinking about changing your life, you should be realistic and know, what you are getting yourself into. Check out the following list of the greatest disadvantages of being a digital nomad and what you can do to minimize their impact.
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Disadvantages of Being a Digital Nomad
Yes, it’s hard, sometimes even impossible for public authorities to track your online jobs. However, if you don’t want to get yourself into trouble, you have to make sure you have working permission in the country you are traveling to. Getting the right visa is not always the easiest thing.
What to do: Unfortunately, this topic is so super complex, that there is no standard advice. It always depends on where you come from, where you travel to, and what kind of work you do. A good starting point for further research is calling an insurance company and seeing what they cover and which conditions apply.
Another step is contacting your tax office to get information about the rules of taxation once you have left the country. Also, check with embassies what kind of visa you need to get.
Check out Facebook groups like Tax and Residency Solutions for Digital Nomads to get advice from people in similar situations.
2. No Guaranteed Income
If you work as a freelancer or run your own company while traveling the world, your income is hardly ever guaranteed. You might have many clients or customers for the first couple of months, and then hardly any in the months after. It all depends on your acquisition and networking skills and a bit on your luck, too.
A client that wanted to work with you for the next 6 months can suddenly change his mind and cancel the contract. Your product could sell very well but suddenly there are unexpected legal or technical issues and you have to stop your business.
What to do: Make sure you have enough savings before you start your new lifestyle so you can survive a few months without a steady income. Make a financial plan with all your regular expenditures. Plan an extra budget for unexpected costs. Calculate, how much you need to save or earn each month to be able to write black numbers.
You should also double-check the contracts you have with your clients. Set the period of notice to 2 or 4 weeks, so you will have enough time to find new sources of income in case they want to end the contract.
3. Hard Work
Another one of the biggest disadvantages of being a digital nomad is that the working part is not always as easy as it looks. Just because you get to travel the world and work from wherever you want, doesn’t mean that you have a passive income. Especially when you first start out there is usually much to do. You often have to work 7 days a week, and public holidays or weekends don’t exist. Your working hours can sometimes be way longer than in your former 9-5 job.
What to do: Get your expectations straight. We all know about “The 4-Hour Work Week” and yes, it can work. But in very rare cases this will work straight from the beginning. Be aware that you might have to work more until you are “settled” into your new lifestyle.
Make sure you spend your time on the right things. If you can outsource something (e.g. web design if you want to start a blog and have no idea about the development part), do it and look for tools that help you organize your time (e.g. Evernote).
If there are no fixed timeframes when you have to do your work and no set place for it, it sometimes can be hard to motivate yourself. Especially, when you are currently at a beautiful tropical beach and could as well go for a swim, tan in the sun, or sip cocktails at a bar. But, as we just learned, the digital nomad lifestyle is not only fun but also hard work. So discipline is one of the essential skills of a nomad.
What to do: If you are someone who gets easily distracted and finds it hard to focus on work, set yourself daily goals or to-do lists or schedules. Sit down every Sunday evening or Monday morning and make a list of what you want to do this week and when. Stick to this list. Treat your single tasks just as seriously as you would treat business meetings in your former job.
A simple digital calendar works best for me. I check every morning what I have to do today (private and job-related tasks) and look again at the end of the day to make sure I completed the list.
Click here to find out more about techniques that improve your productivity.
5. No Paid Holidays
Talking about hard work again. Another disadvantage of being a digital nomad is that you don’t have any paid holidays anymore. If you don’t work, you don’t earn anything. Sure you can go on a 2 weeks vacation to Italy. But your income will go down to 0 during that time. Of course, this strongly depends on your type of work and contracts. But most of us can say goodbye to paid days of absence.
What to do: If you are a freelancer, your chances are very small that your clients would agree to paid vacations. After all, that’s one reason why they’ve hired a freelancer. All you can do is save up enough money, so the 2 weeks, 4 weeks, or 2 months vacation won’t hurt your bank account too much. Or, even better, build a work-life balance from which you won’t need a holiday. Or at least where you don’t mind working a little bit every once in a while during your holiday.
Or, even better, build a work-life balance from which you won’t need a holiday. Or at least where you don’t mind working a little bit every once in a while during your holiday.
6. No fixed Workplace
Having no fixed or fully equipped office can be a great advantage for digital nomads. But at the same time, there are some downsides to it. Yes, the image of lying in a hammock all day with your laptop seems to be heavenly. But after a while your back gets sore. The internet connections might be terrible at some remote places and don’t even get me started with the glare and the sand while sitting on a beach. These tiny things can soon become very frustrating and reduce your productivity.
What to do: As soon as you arrive in a new city, try to find places with good Wi-Fi and seating areas. Maybe your Airbnb/hostel/hotel is a good place to work. Maybe there is a perfect café somewhere. Or even better: a co-working place!
If not and you have to work from the couch or an uncomfortable common area, make sure to plan some time to get up and stretch or go for a walk. Maybe start doing yoga which can help your sore and stiff muscles.
Not having a well-equipped office also means that interaction with your clients can be hard sometimes. Phone calls are usually expensive. Skype calls with a bad internet connection are a nightmare. Apart from that, it is often easier to see someone in person and explain or discuss something, than to send them 10 emails or to make 5 phone calls.
What to do: If the Wi-Fi in your current country is unreliable, see if you can get a better working mobile broadband device. Agree on regular phone/online calls so you know when you definitely need to have a working connection. Make sure to keep your meetings to a professional standard to make the most of your remote communication, e.g. structure meetings with an agenda or take minutes.
Read more about how you can improve your internet connection all around the world.
8. Social Life
Probably one of the biggest disadvantages of being a digital nomad for most people is the fact that you don’t get to see your family and friends as much as you want to. You might be missing out on important events because you can’t come back every single time. Of course, you can still call and Facetime them. But it’s still not the same as being there and giving them a hug.
Plus, every time you leave, you have to say goodbye to your loved ones, which can be very hard.
What to do: Ask your family and friends to plan ahead and let you know the dates when they want to celebrate your best friends’ bachelor’s party or that epic summer hiking trip. This might allow you to plan your return flights accordingly. Exchanging photos of what you and they are currently doing also helps to still feel like “a part of it”.
Find out what online and offline communities for digital nomads you can easily join.
Living a nomadic life can also be very challenging for your relationships. If you are single, it’s hard to build up something when you know exactly that you have to leave again soon. If you are in a relationship and your partner has a “normal” life somewhere far away, a distance relationship can be a nightmare.
Even if your partner is a digital nomad, too, and travels with you, your relationship can be hard. You have to make new decisions every day and experience extreme situations, that might not be beneficial for your partnership.
What to do: If you are single, there are now some dating apps out there, specializing in digital nomads, like Date A Nomad or Nomad Soulmates. Maybe it helps you find like-minded people.
If you are in a distance relationship, see how often you can visit each other. Schedule regular phone and Facetime calls. And traveling together with your partner can be very exciting. Make sure to talk about where you want to go and all of your expectations and plans for the new place. Take your time when traveling and use it as an opportunity to grow further together.
And traveling together with your partner can be very exciting. Make sure to talk about where you want to go and all of your expectations and plans for the new place. Take your time when traveling and use it as an opportunity to grow further together.
10. Starting All Over
Moving around a lot also means that you constantly have to say goodbye to people, places, or routines. Wherever you go, you have to find a new place to live (or at least to stay for a few nights). You also have to find new friends all the time or else you will end up lonely. Jobs or income opportunities also tend to change often. If you are a person who gets easily attached to these kinds of things, you might struggle with new environments.
What to do: Take your time! Don’t rush from one place to another. Some of us need more time to acclimatize and get into a routine where we are able to work and make new friends. Co-working and co-living places are a great starting point to meet many like-minded people who are also able to give you plenty of tips and help you get started again.
Since you are now a more or less full-time traveler, you will have to carry all of your belongings with you. As always when it comes to packing: the lighter you travel, the better. That also means that you have to focus on the bare necessities and constantly live out of your backpack or suitcase. This is just one of those disadvantages of being a digital nomad that you can’t avoid and have to live with.
What to do: Take clothes with you that you can combine to get many different outfits. Bring pieces that are easy to wash and dry. Structure your backpack or suitcase so it’s easy to find stuff. Treat yourself to some new outfits every once in a while and dispose of old and worn-out ones. Don’t bring too much paperwork (insurance policies, printed visa, etc.) with you, but see what will do as a digital version.
Find out how many digital nomads live a minimalist lifestyle.
12. Daily Challenges
Although the traveling part sounds amazing, there are also many challenges this lifestyle brings. How about food poisoning or language barriers? Stolen passports or missed flights? There are many small struggles you will experience as a digital nomad. These things can be very frustrating, time-consuming, or expensive.
What to do: Many of these challenges can be prevented by the proper organization. Get a translation app to be prepared. Always wash your food and make sure it’s properly cooked. Plan in plenty of time to get to the airport. Always keep your valuables close to your body.
But, of course, sometimes you can try as hard as you like, things like that just happen. It’s important that you don’t panic, but stay calm, focused, and friendly (that does wonder sometimes!). Everything will work out.
13. Reaction of Others
I find this one to be one of the biggest disadvantages of being a digital nomad. When you tell people about your lifestyle, they will very often envy you. “You must be very rich to travel so much.” Or “You are so lucky! I’m not in the position to do this.” are reactions I get to hear all the time.
Others look at you as if you are some kind of crazy or as if something is wrong with you. “Why don’t you want to use your money to buy a house?”. Or they ask you when you finally end your “lazy lifestyle”, when you want to “settle down and have a family” or when you want to go back to reality and get a “real job” again. Their reactions can be very frustrating.
What to do: Many people don’t know a thing about the digital nomad lifestyle. Try to explain to them that this is a real thing, this is reality and you have a real job. It’s just a different way of working and living. There is nothing wrong with you. You just found out that you can live your life differently, in an unconventional way, and enjoy it even more.
If they still don’t understand it, walk away. You don’t need that negativity in your life.
Nothing is Impossible
As you can see, there are not only benefits but also many disadvantages to being a digital nomad, too. Not seeing your family and friends all the time, keeping yourself motivated to work, or having no guaranteed income are just a few things that not everyone is able to handle. If you are still willing to give this lifestyle a try, there are always people who have struggled with these problems before and who can help you out. See it as a challenge and grow with the tasks!
What would be the biggest disadvantages of a digital nomad lifestyle for you? Or do you have any other tips to deal with a particular disadvantage? Let me know in the comment section below!