You have probably seen them before: articles, books, or courses trying to tell you that literally everyone can become a digital nomad and that it is the best lifestyle ever. While I personally love my location-independent life more than anything and wouldn’t go back to a “conventional” life for all the money in the world, I strongly believe that NOT everyone can be happy and successful as a digital nomad. Find out, if it is the right lifestyle for you and if you should become a digital nomad or not.
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It Sounds Like A Dream
When you think of digital nomads you probably think of fairly young people lying in hammocks on the beach somewhere in Thailand or sitting in a fancy café in Berlin, their MacBooks in front of them, and working on a cool project while making lots of money.
The reality is: Yes, we do work from awesome places every once in a while. But it’s often hard work and comparably few people become as rich as you assume.
It is not as easy as it seems. And it’s most certainly not a lifestyle everyone would enjoy. Many will start, but eventually fail, as there are too many obstacles in the way. The downsides are bigger for them then what they get out of it.
But why is that? Why do some people love being a digital nomad and others can’t enjoy it at all?
First of all, being a digital nomad is not a profession. It’s a way of living. You have to beware that you cannot simply become a digital nomad and expect big money. You still need a job.
You either have to work for a company on a remote basis, do freelancer jobs, or start your own business. But you need to find a way to generate income. That doesn’t change only because you sell your house and belongings, move to Chiang Mai (the unofficial nomad capital) and buy a membership in a cool coworking space.
Making Money Can Be Very Hard
When you have a “normal” job, you usually have some sort of instructions on what to do and when to do it. You have set structures when you need to work and a regular, steady income.
The jobs you do as a digital nomad are often not like that. You have to make your own schedule, which is a great thing for many. But others struggle with this type of freedom. They either find it hard to get enough motivation to work 6, 7, or 8 hours a day, or they work 10+ hours every day and thus, feel burned out soon.
You also have to keep in mind that, especially as a freelancer, you often have to look for new clients or projects. It’s not like you apply once and have a secured job for the next years. Unless, of course, you manage to get a long-term contract with a client (which has good and bad sides).
The same goes for your income. You never know how much you will earn in a few months, or sometimes even weeks from now. Particularly, in the beginning, when you have to find the kind of job that works best for you and have to build a reputation.
This unstable job life is not for everyone. Many people prefer having job security, given work structures and a reliable income. That doesn’t make them boring. It’s simply different preferences and lifestyles.
Self-Discipline Is Absolutely Essential
As with any remote or work-from-home job, you need to have a lot of self-discipline and motivation. Yes, it’s great to be able to decide when you work and where you work. But this also includes a lot of potential for distractions. Doing the laundry? Watching a new episode of your favorite show? Long lunch breaks with a friend? Or going to the beach because it’s right in front of your door?
You need to be able to work on your own and actually get stuff done. I know many people who could never work like that. They simply wouldn’t be productive in that kind of environment. You need to be true to yourself and ask yourself if you are ambitious enough for this kind of lifestyle.
An Unstable Lifestyle Is Exhausting
It’s not only the job situation that is very uncertain but the entire lifestyle. Let’s assume you move to a new city every 2-4 months. That means you have to find a new place to live 4-6 times a year, an apartment that you like, a coworking space or café where you can work from, and markets where you can get food from. You have to find transportation to get you from one place to another, deal with different currencies and different cultures.
While this is fun and exciting, it can also be very exhausting and tiring. You have to leave your comfort zone and start all over again every couple of months. The daily and weekly routines you’ve had so far in your life will mostly disappear. Not many people enjoy this kind of instability and ever-changing lifestyle. Especially not in the long run.
A Lack Of Community Feeling
Move places frequently also means that keeping friendships is harder. You meet new and interesting people all the time and make new friends. But after a few weeks, you have to say goodbye to them. Of course, you can always meet up again somewhere in the world and stay in contact. Of course, there are great and very active online communities for digital nomads you can join. But it won’t be the same as actually being with someone.
This is a problem for people who are very social and like to be part of a big community. But introverts might struggle just as much with this. They find it harder to approach new people and make friends. Therefore, becoming a digital nomad can be a very lonely experience for them.
You Have To Be Cost Aware
Yes, many digital nomads live in fairly cheap countries. They often don’t spend as much money as they would back home. However, their income is often not guaranteed either. The temptation is big to go out for dinner every night. It’s cheap, right? So why not! Or buy another super expensive online course on how to make passive income.
Money goes fast everywhere in the world. That’s why you need to be able to watch your budget. If you’ve always had difficulties sticking to your financial limits and you don’t have a guaranteed income when you start a digital nomad life, you might soon get into some serious financial troubles.
Bureaucracy Won’t Get Easier
Think you can escape bureaucracy by simply leaving your country? Nope, unfortunately not. Every country you are going to travel to has different rules and regulations. You need to find out if you need a visa and how to get one.
How about your taxation situation? You should clarify if you still need to pay taxes in your country of citizenship after you have left. I know quite a few digital nomads who got in trouble and had to do additional payments because they assumed they weren’t liable for taxation.
Read this article about how you can legally legally avoid paying taxes as a digital nomad.
Another point would be insurance. Make sure to get international health care that covers you wherever you are and whatever you do.
And banking: Are you even allowed to keep your old bank account when you don’t have a residency in that country anymore? Look into online bank accounts that have special conditions for digital nomads.
What about receiving mail? Or paying bills? Things like that can easily get very complicated when you are a digital nomad.
As you can see there are plenty of things to organize and take care of. You can’t simply leave your country and escape it. If you are the type of person who hates dealing with this kind of stuff (often over and over again because every country is different), then you might not find the digital nomad life very enjoyable.
Living A Minimalistic Life
When you are a digital nomad you naturally move around a lot. That means you can’t bring your super big flat screen with you or your 20 pairs of shoes. You have to live with what you can carry. Many nomads travel around with only a backpack, buy a few things here and there and leave them behind once they move on.
Minimalism is often a part of being a digital nomad. If you like to have a lot of material things and struggle to let go of them, you will probably find the nomadic lifestyle very hard.
You Have To Be Free
As frustrating as it may sound, but if you want to become a digital nomad, you have to be “free”. What I mean by that are, for example, any types of dependencies. Maybe you take care of your elderly parents? Many people would not feel comfortable (from an ethical viewpoint) to find someone else to look after them.
Or you have kids with special needs? There are many great examples of digital nomad families. Kids can benefit a lot from this lifestyle. However, you have to consider their individual needs and put their well-being in the first place.
Maybe you have medical conditions that restrain you? Although you can get high-class medical services in many countries where you might not expect it, like Thailand or Malaysia, it would take much more organization. And again, consider wisely if that lifestyle is not going to have negative effects on your health.
Of course, relationships are another point to consider. If your partner is willing to start this new lifestyle with you, awesome! But what if he or she has a good reason not to leave? This can be a very tough decision.
Can YOU Become A Digital Nomad?
As you can see, you have to face many obstacles when you want to become a digital nomad and there are surely some points to add to this list. Some people are ok with that and can easily overcome them. Others will struggle. Even if you make it and live a digital nomad life, that doesn’t mean that you are successful or happy with it.
I strongly believe that this lifestyle is not the right thing for everyone. Only because others are thoroughly enjoying it, doesn’t mean that you will, too.
You have to be true to yourself and find out if this is really what you want or if another lifestyle design might work better for you.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t do a location-independent job or that you can’t travel a lot. Of course, you can do that! Pick the things that make you happy and the ways that you can generate income and combine them.
It’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to be 100% digital nomad or not at all. Find out what works best for you and your needs and don’t feel compelled to live that lifestyle, too, only because others tell you that you should.