I just got back from spending the day hopping around to different remote beaches in Bali and had made my way to a beautiful villa celebrating my friends birthday. Actually, you may know them, Joel Brown from Addicted2Success and Emile Steenveld. Had I not made the leap to become a digital nomad I would have never had the opportunity to meet these guys and all the other incredible people I’ve met along the way.
Then, I made my way into another room to call home and wish my dad a happy birthday. This wasn’t the first birthday or special event I’ve missed. My nephew has asked many times, “Why do you always leave so much? We miss you. Why don’t you just stay?” and perhaps the worst, “Can you come to my birthday party?”, knowing full well you can not. And with every question, my heart breaks a little. I just hope they can better understand my lifestyle as they get older, and perhaps I’ll have the chance to teach them all the lessons I’ve learned while traveling around the world, experiencing different cultures and meeting interesting people. But I know I’m playing at odds. Me being gone all the time could ruin my relationship with them and time zones don’t make it any easier to call back home before their bedtime.
This is the digital nomad lifestyle. It’s a choice I made.
Looking at it from one way, I’m ‘lucky’ to live in paradise. I can surf, island hop, or chill on a beach in paradise on any given day or weekend. On the other hand, I miss the milestones in my nephews lives, the birthdays, weddings… you name it.
Becoming a digital nomad and working remotely while traveling the world has been the best decision I’ve ever made but one sure thing I’ve realized over the years is that life doesn’t all of the sudden become perfect because you’re globetrotting the world. I’ve learned that traditional life isn’t better than being a digital nomad and being a digital nomad isn’t better than traditional life – each of these lifestyle choices come with their own unique set of pros and cons. Here’s the reality of what you can expect when it comes to the pros and cons of being a digital nomad.
The Pros of Being a Digital Nomad
#1 Work Wherever and Whenever You Want
This is probably one of the most obvious benefits. As digital nomads, we have the ability to work when and where we want. It can be a cute cafe in Bali, with lots of sunshine, and cool breeze, or a bookstore/cafe with books floors to ceiling in Argentina. It no longer matters if you’re a night owl or an early riser. You work when it works best for you. You can finally plan work around your life instead of planning your life around work.
#2 The Ability to Travel Non-Stop
This is another obvious benefit. Not being bound by cubicles, it gives you the ultimate freedom to travel as much or as little as you want. See a flight deal to Spain? Great, book it. Don’t worry about limited vacation time, or requesting time off from your boss. You can now come and go as much as you please and to wherever you want.
There is a such a strong sense of freedom in living this location independent life, in so many ways. Living this laptop lifestyle gives you the freedom to choose when and where you work best, the freedom to pick the ideal living environment for you, the freedom of choice in how you structure your day etc. You no longer have to book time off work, you no longer have to go through the hassle of moving across the country or to another country. Your home comes with you wherever you go. It’s easy and it’s freedom.
I don’t even know where to start with them. I can’t even explain the inspiration that you’ll get from traveling. From the different places to the people, to the different cultures. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know and traveling is a wonderful teacher. In the most unexpected moment, you can get a full dose of inspiration and this applies not only to your life but to your work. You learn to see things from a new perspective, you get to experience things you would have never imagined and all of it is incredibly inspiring.
#5 Meeting Incredible People
After traveling for a while it really starts to become about the people you meet instead of the places you go. From working online and traveling the world, I’ve been able to meet people I would have never had the opportunity to connect with. People from all walks of life. Different backgrounds, cultures, statuses, ages and more. My friends are anywhere from their early twenties to early forties. Some are broke and some are millionaires. Some have shared wisdom that I take with me every day and others have been good company for a fun night out. What they all have in common? They are all people who are incredible and interesting. With so much exposure to different types of people you’re able to take so much away from the experience.
#6 A New Country or Adventure is just Outside your Doorsteps
As a digital nomad you’re also working 40 hours a week, BUT when you step out your door in the morning you could be in a tropical paradise or a historic town in Europe. When it’s time to take a break you can walk down to the beach and catch a beautiful sunset in Bali, go surfing at one of the top surf spots in the world, or hand in a hammock poolside. When paradise is just outside of your doorsteps, you no longer have to wait until your two weeks vacation comes to book a flight somewhere. Paradise is wherever you go – a new country, a new adventure it’s all just outside of your doorstep.
#7 Improved Quality of Life
When you’re working online it gives you the ability to work from anywhere in the world. This means you can pick locations that offer you the best quality of life. For me, Bali offers me the best quality of life. It offers me:
- An abundance of affordable, healthy food
- Ease of a healthy and active lifestyle
- It’s warm and sunny (gotta get that vitamin D)
- It’s safe and the people are friendly
- There are a lot of like-minded people
- It’s a quality lifestyle at an affordable price
Ultimately, as a digital nomad you get to choose the environment, or country should I say, that gives you the best quality of life… and usually it comes at a fraction of the cost.
#8 Your Dollar Goes Further
This goes with what I just said about being able to live a quality life at a fraction of the cost. Most digital nomads are from more developed countries such as America, Canada, Australia, France, Netherlands etc. These countries are from places that have a dollar with good buying power relative to the rest of the world. That means that when you go to live somewhere where the cost of living is much less, like Bali, Thailand etc, your dollar goes much further. My entire cost of living in Bali including all expenses (transport, food, accommodation, entertainment, etc) is the same that I would spend just on accommodation and transport in Canada. You can get a lot more bang for your buck by living abroad.
Diving into the lifestyle creates opportunities for you that you’d have never stumbled across before. Whether it’s the people you meet, the professional work opportunities or even life experiences, there are so many more opportunities when you’re location independent.
For example, none of the following opportunities would have happened to me, had I not become a digital nomad:
- Being featured in BBC, Fast Company, CNN, Etihad Airways in-flight magazine etc
- Meeting Daniel DiPiazza from Rich20Something, Joel Brown from Addicted2Success, Gerrard Adams from Elite Daily, Tom Bilyeu from Impact Theory, the list goes on.
- Meeting my previous boss which allowed me to get started with working online as an online marketer
- Being able to attend a local wedding in Argentina
- Discovering hidden waterfalls in Bali
I get that my opportunities won’t be the same as everyone else’s but when you dive into this lifestyle, you’re no longer bound by location or time, that means you’re able to hop on these opportunities without limitations.
#10 No Longer Trading Time for Money
This has to be one of the best parts. Working for a remote company, oftentimes they don’t care when you work or where you work, it’s more about what you can achieve and get done. Instead of trading X amount of time for X dollars, remote companies care more about what you achieved, how you’re impacting the bottom line, and the impact you’re making. If you can get 3 hours worth of work done in 1 hour because you’re more productive, great, you just added an extra 2 hours to your day where you can do something else. Mind you not all companies operate this way, but for the most part, the focus is on the milestones you hit and the tasks you complete vs how much time you put in that day.
#11 No Office Politics
This has to be one of the best perks next to traveling non-stop. When I hear stories from my cubicle-bound friends I cringe. Working overtime all week but then arriving 3 minutes late one morning as everyone gives you the evil eye, favouritism, lazy coworkers, the co-working with the smelly lunch, the person who spend that extra bit of time every day at the water cooler, someone taking the credit – the office politics are endless. When you’re working remotely, you’re not constantly stuck around the same people 24/7, which means you’re not as likely to get annoyed with these people and even more so, no one care how much you get up to go get a drink or what time you start work, all they care about is that your work is getting done.
#12 Personal & Professional Growth are 10X’d
This has to be, by far, one of the greatest benefits. I think I’ve said that a lot haha but really though, this has been a HUGE perk for me. The amount of personal and professional growth that I’ve experienced over the last 3 years of being a digital nomad, in a ‘normal’ setting would have taken at least double the time.
Professionally you’re surrounded by knowledgeable people, you have more opportunities to meet people or attend events that can help accelerate your career progression.
And when it comes to personal growth, traveling will give you a new perspective, challenge your viewpoints and help you learn things about yourself you didn’t even realize you needed to learn. Perhaps most of all, traveling doesn’t allow you to escape whatever it is you’re running from. In fact, it’ll make you deal with shit from your life that you thought you could just leave buried in your subconscious. The benefit, of course, is that you grow extremely while working through all of this.
The Cons of Being a Digital Nomad
This is by far the biggest challenge of living a nomadic life. Forming relationships can be difficult because people are always coming and going. I never really cared about this before with my past, “It’s see you soon not goodbye mentality.” But no, it sucks. I loathe leaving people and having to say goodbye ( …almost as much as I hate the act of traveling. Sitting on a plane for 30 hours is not enjoyable no matter who you are). Over times I’ve learned a few tricks to manage this:
- Go to events hosted by coworking spaces etc
- Scope out who will be in your area for a while
- Connect with those people after those events 1:1 so you can form a deep personal relationship, instead of a surface level relationships that happen in group settings
- Make an effort – you really have to make an effort to nurture relationships. It won’t come as easy anymore
- Join experiences that have likeminded people. For example, Daniel DiPiazza’s Ascent Mastermind (actually, it’s so much more than a mastermind…) has been not only a game changer for me in taking my business to the next level, but really gave me a strong sense of community of like-minded people
- You can also join programs that cater to digital nomads so you can travel with a community of remote workers
- Sometimes this also means going out of your comfort zone and striking up conversations with people at a cafe etc to form those relationships
Ugh, ok. I’m not sure if loneliness or dating is the biggest challenge of being a digital nomad. In one perspective you’re living a really cool lifestyle, but being a digital nomad is still in its infancy which means, in reality, everyone hasn’t got on board yet. And, as you can imagine dating a guy/girl who is location DEpendent and stuck in one location doesn’t lend well to the nomadic life. You’re dating pool instantly goes down from 90% to 10-15%. Then you factor in someone who vibes with you, etc and you’re literally down to slim to nothing. People will be fascinated by your lifestyle and think it’s so cool, yet sometimes not take you seriously, treating you like some traveler who just lives off a trust fund or saving when in fact you’re growing you’re career. Being a digital nomad is a lifestyle, not an ‘escape’ from reality. Working online is a very real thing. You need to ‘show up’ every day, get your work done and progress your career or business.
#3 Managing your Time, Productivity, Distractions, Life Balance and Avoiding Burn-Out
This is more for the newbies. When I first became a digital nomad I wanted to take on every opportunity and experience. The only challenge is that that happens non-stop at all hours of the day. If you don’t prioritize your work, learn when to say no, and manage your time accordingly you’ll find yourself on a slippery slope which will have you burnt out in no time. Most newbies learn this lesson fast and hard. You’ll soon realize you have all the time in the world to explore, do things, and see everything. There is no rush. You’re not on a two-week vacation – this IS your life now. Mindfulness of all of this is the best way to manage this challenge.
#4 You Feel like You Always Need to be Working
The thing about joining a community of people who can work wherever and whenever you want means that at any point in time, no matter the day of the week or time, some of your digital nomad friends will be working. Go to a co-working space, no matter the time, and you’ll always find a solid crew of people working away. As good as it is that you never have to work alone sometimes you feel like you should always be working. “Well if it’s 7pm and they’re still working, maybe I should be too.” Yet, maybe that person started work at 5pm.
Also, because you’re in beautiful destinations, taking weekend trips to beautiful places it can be easy to forget to take time to actually disconnect from work – to take a full-on vacation. Just because you live in paradise doesn’t mean you don’t need time away from work to recharge. It can be hard as digital nomads to remind ourselves of this but it’s important to take vacation time.
# 5 Missing Milestones Back Home
Weddings, birthdays, deaths, ‘that fun night out’ – no matter how big or small, you’re going to miss out on a lot of stuff from back home. This is hard. The hardest part for me personally is being away from my nephews, especially when they’re so young. They don’t fully understand my lifestyle yet and always ask, ‘why I leave so much and that I should just stay home because they miss me.’ My heart shatters a little every time that comes out of their mouth.
That being said, traveling provides me with a better quality of life and allows me to invest in myself so I can show up as the best version of myself that I can be. Now, when I’m with my nephews, I’m WITH them.
On the other side, I had a WiFly Nomads participant look forward to working remote so that she could actually attend weddings etc.
#6 People Don’t understand It or You
With this location independent lifestyle still being in its infancy, people don’t get it – in many ways. People will not understand your desire to leave all the time and they certainly won’t understand how you make your money online. Here’s the thing, you’re expanding horizons and the average person lives an average life, so you can’t expect them to get you and that’s OK. They don’t need to get it.
As long as there is a respect in choosing a different way to live, from both sides, that’s all that matters. At the end of the day you need to do what brings you happiness and fulfillment, so if that’s a house, car, white picket fence and kid great. If that traveling the world non-stop, great. It doesn’t matter. You do you. We all have different values, need and wants and that’s what makes the world a beautiful and interesting place.
You’ll drive yourself mad if you care what people think of you. Focus only on being a better version of yourself every day and ‘Stay in your own lane’ as Gary Vee says.
The best advice I ever got was that “Not everyone will understand and that’s ok.’ Simple, yet full of truth.
Whether it’s working, exploring, meeting locals, meeting other digital nomads, having time for yourself, exercising etc. at any given moment you’ll have an option of about 100 different things you could be doing. You really have to learn to prioritize otherwise you will crash and burn out. As I mentioned before, a lot of newbie digital nomads will learn this lesson hard and fast at the beginning. They try to do EVERYTHING and then burn out.
To avoid the temptation of ‘going out all the time’ I avoid travellers and hostels – they have all the free time in the world and will try to convince you to join in on everything but you still need to work. Instead, try and connect with digital nomad community. You can do this via co-working spaces, co-living space (Outsite and Roam), travel programs such as Remote Year, WiFly Nomads, Hacker Paradise etc) or hunt through various Facebook groups. These people will be living the same lifestyle and ‘get it’ when you need to get some work done and can’t go out.
#8 You Physically Can’t Go Too Remote (wifi doesn’t grow in trees)
All places that are in the middle of nowhere – a forest, beach etc all have one thing in common, they usually have no internet and guess what? When you’re working online you sort of need wifi 😉 There are certain countries too that just don’t have the infrastructure to support working online, such as the Philippines. For me, I would love to work literally in the middle of nowhere camping or Central America but again, there is a lack of wifi in those places. You can still have remote weekend getaways, you just need to make sure you’re back in time for work.
#9 No Sense of Home or Belonging
Ok, this is a bit of a tricky one. Of course, Canada, the country I was born into, will always be home to me, but Bali was like my unofficial chosen home. The first time I touched down in Bali I knew this place was for me. I immediately felt this sense of home and belonging. That being said, of course there are times I realize, “Hold up, this is a completely different country and culture” and culturally I don’t feel like I always fit in. No matter how long you’re in a country for, I’m not sure there is ever a time you feel like you fully belong.
I find the biggest feeling of home comes from the people I’m around. When I have my family or best friends with me, I can make any place feel like home. But when I don’t have them, I try to take elements from home not typically found when traveling and incorporate it into my space. Ie buying a plant for your room (you’ll notice a lot of hotel rooms don’t have this, yet a lot of homes do), taking some family photos with you, bringing slippers from home, pictures with frames etc. Once you’re away from home you’ll learn fast what things feel like home that you don’t commonly get while traveling. It also helps to stay in a country for 3-6 months so you can actually establish a solid routine, group of friends etc.
#10 Everything is a Conscious Effort
TRUTH. When you’re always adapting to languages, customs. Ie figuring out where the grocery store is, what’s the legit way to get around town without being ripped off (Uber, taxi etc. Uber is banned in some countries so it’s important to check before), how to ask for something when they don’t speak your language etc it becomes mentally draining. It can feel like even the smallest moments in your daily life become a conscious effort. There are ways to quickly adapt to a new country to help with this though.
At the end of the day, there are many pros and cons to the digital nomad lifestyle, just like a traditional lifestyle has its pros and cons. The grass is not greener on the other side, it’s just different and depends on what you value more in life. Now you’re aware of what to expect – no surprise, and can make a decision based on your values.