I have been a full-time digital nomad for a few months now. Without a real home and fixed costs, traveling full-time, earning money online as long as I have wifi. The latter was nothing new for me: I already had my own company for 5.5 years before I started this adventure. I have been location independent for years, which means that you can work anywhere (regardless of location). But ever since I became a digital nomad I discovered some surprising new things. That is why I thought it would be interesting to write an article about the honest pros and cons of being a digital nomad.
The lifestyle of a digital nomad sounds like an actual dream, but any nomad knows there’s also downsides to the lifestyle. Is it actually the best of both worlds (working and traveling), or the worst of both worlds (not being able to focus on both)? And what do I want for the future?
Just a weekend at the pool …
Pros of a Digital Nomad Lifestyle :
1: Freedom in terms of location
The ultimate reason why I became a digital nomad is because it allows me to travel full-time. I can go wherever I want (as long as there is Wi-Fi). There isn’t a return plane ticket staring me in the face, a set itinerary that forces me to move on from a place I really liked. It’s bliss. If tomorrow I decide I want to go Kenya next, there is nothing stopping me.
Because I constantly visit new places, meet new people, eat new things, I constantly get new impulses. You go out of your comfort zone, and always look at the world with a fresh set of eyes. It means I get inspired a lot. Also, the fact that I am sometimes completely away from social media and the urge of comparison is liberating.
I noticed that I am far more productive when traveling than I am at home in the Netherlands, because then I have a good reason to finish my task quickly; after work I can do something fun like visiting a temple, or meeting friends. I have to, because I usually have less time to work.
4. Your own focus
This is more of an advantage of entrepreneurship. Since some aspiring nomads aren’t entrepreneurs just yet, I wanted to include this. I think it’s great that I, being my own boss, can simply focus on the projects that inspire me. I don’t have to take on work that I really don’t want to do, and can organize my hours so that I spend certain hours on work for my company, and other hours on my blogs.
5. Financial freedom
Another great advantage of entrepreneurship: you have the opportunity to earn as much as you want. With a job you are stuck with a monthly salary, but it is also nice if you really go for it, you will be rewarded for that, right? Depending on where you go, your monthly expenses may be lower than in your home country. That gives you extra space to invest your money in your company (or in a few massages …)
6. Meet new people
I always find it exciting to make new friends, and when you travel, it’s just easier. At home you have probably had the same circle of friends for years and you don’t meet new people that quickly. On a trip you will meet people almost every day. And although the friends you make won’t be your closest of friends, it is nice to have friends around the world you can visit when the time comes.
Downsides to the Digital Nomad lifestyle:
1: FOMO (Fear of missing out)
I thought that as a digital nomad you would actually get the best of both worlds: you can work and then travel in your spare time. But whenever my planning didn’t quite pan out, major FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in. We were been traveling a little too quickly in the beginning so I constantly had the idea that I would miss out on things while traveling (because: too little time) or that I would get behind on my work (because: too little time). I think you can fix that feeling by traveling more slowly, but this side effect was a surprise for me.
Joris suffered much more from it than I did, by the way, and kept unintentionally putting pressure on me with all the things he wanted to do in his enthusiasm. I had to remind him now and then that this was a lifestyle, not a holiday. In addition, if you always work or travel, there is little room left for other hobbies or just a movie on Netflix. That is something I want, because I need it to give my brain a break.
2. The wifi struggle
This sounds so incredibly spoiled, but a lack of fast-working wifi is really an inconvenience when you’re traveling. You just need it if you work online, simple as that. The wifi was so bad at some of the places we stayed, and constantly having to look for a good workplace can get really frustrating. Wifi is pretty much the only thing you really need with a lifestyle like this, so you just want it to work. Not that you (like me) have to put your phone behind the fridge, simply because that is the only place in the whole apartment where the wifi is fast enough to actually load a web page.
3. To miss having a place of your own
This is probably really stupid. But since I no longer have my own house, I am suddenly majorly into interior design. HAHAHA. Don’t be me. HAHA. But really. It is, I think, a matter of dreaming about all the things you do not have, and what you could do with them. I also bought my first artwork in India, so of course it would be nice to hang it somewhere. Besides, this point is obviously about more than just interior design. It is also nice to have your own place, where only your belongings are, where you can be as neat or sloppy as you want. It is very tiring having to pack and move your bag over and over again. After a while it gets on your nerves. You don’t have the time to really settle down.
4. Everything takes effort
During my travels I always realize how much I like my home country. You just know how everything works, everything goes smoothly, you can buy exactly what you like in the supermarket. Being a digital nomad in Southeast Asia, anything can become a struggle. The fact that no one can read a map, for example. Or that there’s no wifi outside cafes and your apartment. Or that ATM machines don’t accept your card because you have maestro. That doing laundry is a whole new adventure that takes hours, that you have to plan at exactly the right time, because you have to pack everything again in two days. That I have never bought a snack in a foreign supermarket that I really liked. That no one speaks English. By the way, these are not things that I judge a country for: things are the way they are, and I am a guest there. But it’s just that everything takes a lot more effort than in your own country, and that can sometimes be very annoying.
5. Missing friends and family
This is of course a downside as well. I love my little family in the Netherlands, so I always enjoy being back and seeing them again. I also missed a big event in London, that I normally go to every year, and where all my friends were. That does sting a bit for a moment. Joris had an even harder time with this than I did. The majority of my friends live abroad, and I’m used to the fact that most of my social life takes place online. Joris found that a lot harder to take. Fortunately, the plan is that we return every three or four months for client meetings, etc, so we can see our friends again. We were just back in the Netherlands for the holidays :-)!
6. Career issues!
This is perhaps a strange one. But I have this comparison-thing. And sometimes the thought pops in my head that entrepreneurs as a digital nomad are not being taken seriously. There are surprisingly many people who think that I am a freelancer (I am not, I am the CEO of my own company). I get the feeling that it only counts when you have an actual office and have permanent employees (instead of a team of freelancers). I know this is probably more in my head, than it is reality, but I still think about it. Do potential customers take me seriously? Should I maybe have an office somewhere? You want what you can’t have, I guess :-).
All in all, I am very happy to have taken the step of becoming a fulltime digital nomad. I am a born entrepreneur anyway, so that will not change. And I love traveling: it gives me so much energy. For 2018 I hope to travel a little slower. I really love my work, so I just want to have enough time to dedicate to it. I don’t just want to make a small amount of money to pay for my trip, I really want to continue building my business. Set up and expand. Work on new projects. My work is a big part of my identity.
Eventually I can imagine myself getting an apartment abroad for a longer time to live a more normal life, and then take a real vacation more often (we really like that). As far as I am concerned, not in the Netherlands. I don’t think it will be in 2018, we still have so much to see. We are starting off this year by spending two months in Bali, so I think that whole slow travel thing is already working great. We’re just hanging out, doing work, and seeing some stuff on the weekends. It’s absolute bliss.