I love being a digital nomad. I love the freedom this lifestyle gives me, the ability to travel where I want to and the chance to work on projects that I’m truly interested in.
BUT if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I don’t like to sugarcoat everything and don’t try to sell you the idea of becoming a digital nomad at all costs. Many of us don’t live the dream life that Instagram wants us to believe it is.
Although there are many, many advantages of the digital nomad lifestyle, there are also a lot of downsides that people often don’t mention. I think especially at the beginning you should know what you are getting yourself into and what you can expect. So read on and see the not so perfect sides of this way of living.
Disadvantages of Being A Digital Nomad
1. You become an Internet Addict
Internet is life. Seriously, when you are a digital nomad a decent internet connection is one of your most important concerns. If you don’t have it, you can’t work which means no money.
So wherever you go the first thing you check is the WIFI connection. And what a nightmare if your new landlord guarantees you that your place has great WIFI, you move in and nothing works. Oh, the frustration and anger!
I have turned into a 5’2’’ fire-spitting Godzilla a couple of times because I couldn’t get my promised internet when I urgently needed it for clients’ work. Afterward, I always felt terrible for throwing a tantrum like that.
(Note: That’s why you should always carry a mobile hotspot with you just in case!)
Although it’s something so small, it is super important for your business and therefore dictates your everyday life a lot, which is actually sad.
2. You Miss a Stable Social Life
Yes, you meet a ton of new and interesting people all the time. And yes, it’s great fun to get to know them and exchange stories. But you will have to say goodbye to them soon because either you or they will leave again.
Of course, you can stay in contact, text every once in a while or Skype. And you might even get the chance to meet again somewhere else in the world. But it is not the same as simply going over to your friends’ place every Friday night to chat about the week. It’s not the same as going for a quick coffee with a person that you have known for years to gossip about your day.
Social events, like birthdays, weddings, baby showers, or engagement parties, will take place without you because you are somewhere at the other end of the world and can’t fly back all the time.
You will miss being part of a community for longer than a few months. And you will sometimes miss your old friends and your family.
Although this is surely not the end of the world, there will be days when this downside of being a digital nomad is really hard and you are longing for a bit more social stability.
3. Relationships Are Hard
Best case scenario: You meet or are with a person who is also location-independent and you two can travel the world together. Jackpot!
If your significant other isn’t a digital nomad, too, it’s going to be hard. Can you leave him or her behind just like that and start your new life? Long-distance relationships are never easy.
Maybe you meet a local in a place where you want to stay for a while and fall for him or her. Your original plan was to move to another country after a few months. What do you do? Give up on your nomad life or break up with someone you really like because you “have” to move on?
Those kinds of decisions can be really tough and emotional.
4. You Have to Live a Minimalistic Lifestyle
You obviously can’t bring all your belongings with you while you are traveling. I have once met a guy who was dragging 3 suitcases around with him. THREE! I was so funny to watch him walk down the road with all that luggage around him.
But that’s a hassle you should try to avoid. Many digital nomads travel with a backpack or one suitcase only. So yes, you will have to reduce your belongings to the bare necessities. Plus, you can’t go shopping whenever you feel like it because that would mean additional luggage. This means you need to be more thoughtful when buying stuff.
While many nomads get used to this minimalistic lifestyle after a while, it can still be annoying sometimes. When you want to go out but don’t have the right outfit with you. Let alone matching shoes! Sometimes it’s the small things in life.
5. Unstable Income
There are digital nomads who have full-time employment with a company and do their job remotely. That’s great because it gives you a certain level of job security and a stable income.
But many other location-independent professionals work as freelancers or have their own company. As many benefits this has, there is also the huge downside that your income is hardly ever guaranteed.
One month could be great and you make lots of money, whereas the next month you won’t have that many clients or customers and don’t earn anything.
Especially when you start this lifestyle, you will have to work much harder than in a normal employment job. You should be prepared to hustle around the clock to find clients, build your portfolio, maybe learn new skills, and constantly network and make new business contacts.
The dream of the 4-hour workweek will only come true for very few digital nomads. It is not unlikely that you have to work harder than you did before. The work you do and your working environment will surely be better, but don’t expect to work less straight away.
6. Motivation & Productivity
Working from a fancy coworking space right next to a gorgeous beach in Thailand and meeting lots of super interesting people sounds like great fun. But that’s exactly the problem. Sometimes it’s so much fun that you can’t find enough motivation to get your work done.
To avoid this, you can stay at home and work from there. But didn’t you have to do your laundry? Or cook that delicious recipe you saw on Facebook the other day? Or quickly watch the newest episode of your favorite Netflix show?
When you don’t work in an office with your boss in the room next door, temptations for distractions are everywhere. You need to have enough discipline and motivation to be able to get your work done. This definitely doesn’t come easy to everyone.
If you want to learn tips and tricks how to increase your productivity when working remotely, check out the linked post.
7. Visa & Taxes can be Complicated
Do you want to become a digital nomad to escape the bureaucracy of any tax madness? Well, I’m sorry to say, but it is not that easy.
As a digital nomad, you constantly have to deal with visa options and working permissions. How long are you allowed to stay in a country? How easy is it to extend your visa? Are you allowed to work online or not? Depending on how often you move and what duration the visa has, this can be a time-consuming and expensive issue you have to take care of.
Not to mention taxes. Yes, you can escape income taxes but it’s not that easy. Especially when you are from the USA there are a lot of boxes you have to tick before you are no longer liable for taxation. I know a few people who thought they can simply leave the country and are free of taxes. Later they got into trouble because they still had to report their income for taxation.
Plus, you have to find out if you have to pay income taxes in the country you live in and how their system for paying taxes works. Given that you might only stay for a couple of months and maybe don’t speak the local language, this can be a lot of effort.
Bear in mind: If you try to simply sneak through the system and hope you won’t get caught, you risk huge fines or travel bans.
Read this article to find out more about taxation for digital nomads.
8. Health Care
When you are fit and healthy, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Even when you get a cold and have to see a doctor you will most likely be able to find a decent one and pay for it yourself.
But in case something bigger happens, e.g. you have an accident, the situation won’t be that easy to handle. If you have good travel insurance, for example with World Nomads, or international insurance, e.g. with Bupa, they will hopefully pay for your expenses.
However, there are always exceptions and they don’t pay for anything. For instance, many will refuse to pay for your hospital stay or surgeries if you have an accident while driving a scooter in Thailand without a local or international driving license. Most people I know from Europe of America think their national license will do. When it comes to insurance coverage, that might not be enough and you will have to pay the medical bill yourself.
Apart from finances, it can sometimes be an issue to find qualified medical staff or certain drugs. This is not only relevant when you have an accident or case of emergency but also when you have a chronic disease and need examinations or medications on a regular basis.
Where to get them from? Are they even available in your current country? Do you need a prescription for them? Are you allowed to bring them in your carry-on luggage?
When you travel from one country to another quite frequently this can get very annoying. I am in that situation and it doesn’t make traveling any easier when you constantly have to worry about your health situation.
9. You Have to Adapt to New Situations all the Time
If you are a person who likes having a daily routine, sleeping in your own bed, and meeting friends regularly, the digital nomad life might become a bit stressful for you. Even if you only move countries every 3, 6, or 10 months you will have to get used to new environments all the time.
Finding a new place to live, making friends, finding markets and grocery stores, finding your new favorite bar or restaurant, good coworking spaces, getting used to the new climate or local characteristics – these are the things you will have to deal with every couple of months.
I absolutely agree that these are only small issues, no big deal for most people. But after doing so for 2, 4, or 7 years in a row you might get a bit exhausted and look for more stability. That’s why many digital nomads prefer to stay in one place for an extended period of time (Note: While this is a great solution, it is often not too easy because of visa restrictions).
10. Constant Planning & Organizing
Yes, traveling is great fun and you get to see so many amazing places and meet interesting people. But if you travel a lot you will also spend a lot of time organizing those trips.
Even if you prefer to be spontaneous when traveling (like I do), you still have to book flights or trains or buses and accommodation. If you are on a tight budget you will want to compare prices to find the cheapest options. You need to find out what to do in that new place, how to get there, where are good places to eat, where to find decent internet.
While this is again no big deal, it might get a bit time-consuming after a while and besides all your fun and adventurous trips you also have to get your work done, remember?
11. Critics & Envy
You’ve made it. You are finally living the life of your dreams and everyone around you seems to be hating. People will ask you where you get all the money from so you can be on vacation all year round (sure, we never work).
Some of your old friends keep asking you when this “phase” is finally over and you come back to live a “normal” life again (*eye roll*).
And three out of five people you meet somewhere along the way will tell you with envious looks how lucky you are for having such a life (completely ignoring that fact that you didn’t win the lottery but worked your bum off to get there).
So yeah, not everyone will be supportive and understand what the digital nomad life is really about. Most of the time this is ok and you can ignore those critics. But then there are days when you wished you could throw a big whip cream pie right in their face.
Conclusion: Avoid the Digital Nomad Life?
Ok, I know this sounds like I’m only complaining and whining about how bad this lifestyle is – I’m not! I love the digital nomad life and all the opportunities it gave me. I wouldn’t want to go back to a 9-5 office job at this stage of my life for all the money in the world. The location-independence and freedom I have now easily make up for all those downsides.
But, as mentioned before, you should be aware that being a digital nomad is not only glamour and fun. No lifestyle is perfect. Some of the disadvantages will affect you more than others. There will be days when it is easier to deal with them and there will be days when it’s harder. Some people will soon realize that this is not the right lifestyle for them at all. Keep your expectations realistic and be prepared. That’s how you will be successful with the digital nomad lifestyle.
Still unsure if this is the right way of living for you? See what amazing advantages the location-independent life has to offer.
Wondering if you can live the digital nomad life forever? Check out the linked post and see what other nomads have experienced.