I was there, friend. Sitting in my cubicle and working like a dog for someone else’s dreams. I would spend hours scrolling through Instagram green with envy, watching others live the life I wanted. I mean, it looked great! Traveling all of the time, eating delicious food, wearing the cutest outfits, and umm…NEVER working. And there I was, lying in bed dreading the stupid alarm just so that I could pay my bills and count the days ’til my two-week vacay. The digital nomad lifestyle sounded like a distant pipe dream. But after I decided to sell all of my stuff to pursue it, I realized that I knew nothing about it! Just like all lifestyles, it comes with its own set of rewards and sacrifices. Here are 10 painful truths about the digital nomad lifestyle.
1. No Two Digital Nomads are the Same
When I first started looking into the digital nomad lifestyle, I was under the impression that all of them were on social media. So there began the hundreds of hours of research on how to build an audience, how to start a successful YouTube channel, and how to monetize social media platforms. Which is fine! For us, it worked out and we love creating content for our YouTube Channel and Instagram! But once we got on the road and started traveling full-time, we met digital nomads from all walks of life! Some were Forex traders and others were online entrepreneurs. Since 2017, we’ve met digital nomads who are online English teachers, digital course creators, podcasters, remote workers, freelancers, and consultants. We’ve even met digital nomads who work odd jobs in each of the countries they go to while supplementing their income with odd jobs on Fiverr!
Related: Teaching English Online: A Guide for Digital Nomads
One fundamental truth for those of you interested in the digital nomad lifestyle: there is no right path. When you quit your crappy job to become a digital nomad, it’s not to become a slave to something else you don’t love. So take some time to soul search and find a path that’s right for you. With the internet, there are near-infinite opportunities to monetize your laptop. You just have to find the one that you love enough to pursue.
2. You Become a Slave to the Internet Gods
I remember a time, long ago, when I could leave the house without my phone on me. A time when I could escape to a remote mountain village and just rough it for a month. Well, friend… those days are long gone now that I’m a digital nomad. Or at least now, they take a lot more planning than they used to.
Because the digital nomad lifestyle requires an internet connection to be sustainable, it’s constantly a concern. Before we travel anywhere new, the first, second, and third question is “How good is the internet?”. If the internet connection is inconsistent, as it usually is in the world’s most beautiful places, we have to plan less time there than we’d want to. A small price to pay in my opinion, but it is a reality of digital nomad life.
3. It Can Become Hard to Relate to Your Friends and Family
Here’s the thing. Just like the perceptions I had about digital nomads before I started traveling, your friends might believe the same things. They might think, “Your Instagram stories look amazing! You always look like you’re on vacation!”. That’s the thing, though. The digital nomad lifestyle is not a vacation, they just don’t see the work behind it.
For us, it just so happens that our job is to showcase countries and cool things to do around the world. But because there is a huge perception that you “must be rich” to travel, it’s made it hard for me to go back home and explain to friends that I still live on a budget. They don’t understand that traveling is more than just fun, it’s my business.
As a digital nomad, you might encounter some of the same conversations with your friends and family. It may be hard for them to understand why you choose a lifestyle so far away from them and may even take it personally. Also, it can be a struggle when you do go back home and ask them what they’ve been up to. They might tell you something like, “Same old. Nothing like what you’ve been doing”. It makes it hard to tell your friends and family what you’ve been up to because it feels like you’re bragging. It’s not something that I expected before creating this lifestyle and I wish I would’ve been prepared for it.
4. The Digital Nomad Lifestyle is Very Humbling
The digital nomad lifestyle can take you to some of the world’s coolest corners. With that said, some of these places are very poor and significantly less privileged. For example, in the Philippines, we saw children who were selling themselves on the street to support their families. In Vietnam, we saw 4 year-olds carrying their infant brothers and sisters on their backs, selling tourists souvenirs. We’ve been to Cuba, where strangers that owned a tiny hut in the mountains and used newspaper as toilet paper, opened up their home to serve us coffee and then apologized for not having a nicer home.
All of those moments broke my heart into pieces. I grew up thinking I had it bad growing up in the immigrant neighborhood of Miami. Traveling opened my eyes! Even though I was raised in poverty by Western standards, I dripped in privilege others around the world may never have. The digital nomad lifestyle will make you very grateful for the life and opportunities you were born with.
5. The Digital Nomad Lifestyle is NOT for Everyone
I know it looks glamorous. And as a digital nomad myself, I wouldn’t trade the digital nomad lifestyle for the world. But as someone who’s made a career on showing people how to become digital nomads, I also know that it’s not for everyone. Just like any lifestyle, the digital nomad lifestyle comes with its own unique set of challenges, frustrations, and sacrifices.
- Becoming a digital nomad requires spending months at a time without seeing your friends and family back home.
- It means going to countries where you don’t know anyone, the language, or the customs.
- The digital nomad lifestyle means you can’t just go “off-the-grid” because your livelihood depends on internet connection.
Those are sacrifices you’re going to have to be okay with so that you can actually enjoy the benefits that come with the lifestyle!
6. People Telling You, “I Wish I Could Do That” Will Infuriate You
As a digital nomad, that is a phrase you’re going to hear from people a lot. Here’s what they don’t realize- they can if they change their mindset. And you will try your hardest to convince them, and show them all of the ways they can live this lifestyle, too, but they will still retort with:
- I don’t have the money (even though you can make it online)
- I don’t have the time (if you quit your job, you would be impressed with how much time you’ll have)
- I have a family (this family has done it successfully for 4 years)
I’ve learned over the years that you just have to take a deep breath and let people believe what they want to believe. Because the fact is, if you want something bad enough, you’ll figure out how to get it. And like I mentioned before, this lifestyle isn’t for everybody. It’s scary and risky and requires you to leave your friends, family, and comforts. The people who tell you “I wish I could do that”, may want to in theory. But in reality, it’s hard for them to give up everything back home. So, although it will frustrate you, and you’ll want to shake them, remember fundamental truth #5, this lifestyle isn’t for everyone.
7. The Digital Nomad Lifestyle is Quite Different From What You See on Instagram
Take it from someone who quit her job and sold all of her stuff based on what she saw on Instagram and YouTube…and someone who’s a YouTuber and Instagrammer herself. Whenever you see an Instagrammer’s perfectly curated feed with beautiful pictures of Balinese waterfalls, remember this. Know that they woke up at the ass-crack of dawn to make it to the waterfall when nobody is there. And that they have spent:
- 1-2 hours planning their outfit for the photo shoot and getting “Insta-perfect”
- 3 hours taking (and re-taking) photos, praying that the menacing rain clouds in the distance don’t come their direction and that people don’t photobomb their picture
- 3-5 hours sorting through the pictures, photoshopping strangers out of them, and editing them to match their feed
- And FINALLY, 2 hours writing captions that are “effortlessly” inspirational and aspirational
As you can imagine, when I started my own Instagram account I was shocked! It was so much more work than I anticipated and that’s only a tenth of what I actually do! I thought all of these “social media influencers” just took pretty pictures, posted them, and then laughed their sun-kissed skin all the way to the bank. Needless to say, I was wrong. And although I LOVE what I do, Instagram versus reality looks a lot more like 1 hour enjoying the beach, and 10 hours a day behind my computer.
8. Creating Your Own Schedule Takes A Lot of Discipline
The freedom that comes with the digital nomad lifestyle is amazing! With that said, it takes a lot of discipline to get work done without a boss breathing down your neck. You have to be self-motivated, driven, and be capable of balancing work time and playtime. This is especially hard for digital nomads.
Since you’re traveling around the world to beautiful places, it’s easy to want to spend all of your time exploring. Not to mention, when you’re traveling you’re only in places for a limited amount of time. The fear of missing out (FOMO) can make you feel anxious to explore and convince you that you can get the work done later. Just make sure that you actually do.
9. Staying in Shape Can be Challenging as a Digital Nomad
I worked at a gym for three years before selling all of my stuff to travel. I had a routine, I was in tip-top shape and certainly believed that I was going to keep it up on the road, too. HAHA! Reality is, friends, I got to Thailand and fell in love with Thai food. Even if I spent an hour of my day walking around and exploring, I spent twice that stuffing my face with treats. If you’ve been to Thailand, you know that there is simply no resisting pineapple fried rice, spring rolls, or mango sticky rice. I tried to be good, I swear! I even packed my yoga mat and took it with me on my travels for over a year. But then, *insert a million crappy excuses here*. As a matter of fact…
Here are some of my favorite excuses:
- They don’t have a gym I like nearby
- I have no comfortable place to practice yoga
- Walking to get mango sticky rice counts as exercise, right? But the vendor’s, like, 30 minutes away! That’s basically a cardio session at the gym!
This goes back to fundamental truth #8. The digital nomad lifestyle takes a lot of discipline! With great freedom, comes great responsibility.
10. The Freedom the Digital Nomad Lifestyle Gives You is PRICELESS
Y’all, I’ve got to tell you. If I had to go to a regular 9-5 job now, I would be a terrible employee. Why? Because since becoming my own boss, I don’t like anyone telling me what to do. My husband can attest to this. With all of the hardships that can come with this lifestyle, the freedom it gives you makes it all worth it! I wake up when I want, take days off when I want, sleep in when I want, and DO. What. I. Want!
So yes, I may work more hours than I used to, but that’s okay! I love having the ability to choose the passion projects that I focus on and not having to ask anyone for permission. As a businesswoman in the creative space, it’s amazing to have an idea and just do it. Even though I make less (for now) than I used to at my regular job, I am actually doing more! Since I have the freedom to live anywhere in the world, I’m actually able to live for less than $1,000 a month (You can learn how I do that here)! That’s including excursions, massages 3x a week, and eating all of the delicious food I could fit in my stomach! Now, you couldn’t pay me enough to return to a cubicle!
Digital Nomad Lifestyle Takeaways
I know that this article may have been a little on the negative side, but that’s only because there is already SO MUCH information on the internet about why the digital nomad lifestyle is amazing! As a matter of fact, I have a full video on why I wouldn’t trade it for the world right here! But in short, this lifestyle is more than just travel, beautiful pictures, and adventures. It’s hard work, sacrifices, and hardships. It’s wanting to give up sometimes, having bad days, and wishing you you could eat a freaking burger. Although it isn’t perfect, it’s the lifestyle that I would choose over and over again.
Are you a digital nomad? What are some truths you’ve encountered? Let us know in the comments below!
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*Originally published as a guest post on The World Wanderers by Annette Fortner on October 31st, 2019*