7 Hard Truths About Life as a ‘Digital Nomad’
by Andrea Loubier
The hipster term “digital nomad” and the lure of traveling and working abroad and from exotic locations can seem appealing.
Three years ago I, like many millennials today, packed up my bags left my corporate job in Cincinnati, Ohio and headed east to startup an email company called Mailbird
There are countless reasons why this movement of traveling and building your startup from all over the world is an incredible opportunity, as Jay Meistrich shares in “How I Built a Startup While Traveling to 20 Countries”.
However, there is always the other side of this alluring lifestyle that we don’t hear about and anyone thinking of becoming a digital nomad should get the benefit of a 360 degree perspective of this entrepreneurial way of life.
So, who wouldn’t love to work on something new and innovative while surrounded by gorgeous vistas, or crystal-sand beaches? Especially for those of us working the traditional 9 to 5 in a dimly lit office, surrounded by monitors, bad coffee, beige walls, etc – the idea of packing up and going to live and work in exotic new locations sounds like a dream come true.
And, thanks to technology and the growing class of young and eager entrepreneurs, this is indeed what many are doing.
Every day, more of these “Digital Nomads” are selling off their homes, packing up their laptops, and taking years-long working holidays around the world.
But, before you go putting your home up on Craigslist & begin working on your travel arrangements, there are some important things for you to know about the life of a “wandering entrepreneur”. You need to make a full assessment before deciding if it is indeed the life for you:
1 – Be prepared for unstable income. Especially for people involved in startups or those who freelance, without a long contract or term of employment it can be dangerous to be a “digital nomad”. You may have a few gigs that generate your income and sustain your livelihood. But, things can change. Who is to say if you will be able to count on the same amount of work tomorrow, next week, or next month?
The entrepreneur lives under a frequent threat of unemployment. This can be both frightening and discouraging. Even if everything is going well, you may still be inclined to seek something more.
2 – Working remotely will make it difficult to foster friendships. Many people traditionally foster friendships, or even romances in the workplace. But as a digital nomad, you may not be able to enjoy that same luxury. Even if you go to the same library or coffee shop to do your work every day, the same people will likely not be there. In a traditional workplace, the same people are there every day, allowing you greater interaction and deeper familiarity with them.
3 – You may have issues with your visa. Most countries don’t allow visitors with tourist visas to work during their stay. You can, of course, apply for a working permit. But, any job you are seeking usually needs be located within the country in question.
You will also need to go through a long application process, pay taxes on your income, and more. Generally, these facts make it impossible for “wandering entrepreneurs” to obtain one.
4 – Travel can be exhausting. Whether you spend hours on a plane, in a train, waiting in lines, waiting to arrive at your destination, travel can be exhausting. If you are always on the move, you need to consider that you may not be able to perform your job as efficiently as if you were in one place.
Ask yourself if you often find yourself tired or frustrated when you travel. Do you find the prospect of weekly trips through customs, baggage claims, and security checks less than appealing? If so, then maybe you should not consider becoming a digital nomad.
5 – The risk is pretty high. Even if you are a talented writer, blogger, or programmer, there is no guarantee that you will be successful immediately. While we may hear a lot of stories of people who achieved success, it usually takes time and a series of failures before they achieve their success.
Especially if you are working on a new business or startup, you may want to consider holding off on selling your house until you can at least count on your enterprise to last as long as you need it
6 – Procrastinating will never be easier.
Even traditional startup or new businesses offer a lot of potential distractions. The fact that you are travelling across the globe to your dream destinations only means the potential for distraction and procrastination will be that much greater.
Ask yourself if you can commit to getting your work done when surrounded by so many amazing things to see and do. If so, then great. If not, you may want to reconsider what could prove to be a disastrous situation.
7 – You may not find peace and quiet.
Being a digital nomad requires you to be able to tune out distractions and noise. When not in an office, or cooped up in a hotel room, you will more than likely be surrounded by people, noise, and endless new potential distractions.
Sometimes, not even the best focus and noise-cancelling headphones can prevent others from impeding your concentration. Consider how you deal with people talking around you while you work. Can you still concentrate on what you are doing? Or, do you have trouble staying productive? If you find yourself struggling, the life of a wandering entrepreneur may not be for you.
Still thinking of packing up and going?
Great! We certainly don’t mean to scare everyone away from the idea of becoming a digital nomad.
You may find it’s the perfect fit, after all.
However, before you go selling your earthly possessions, why not give it a trial run?
Set out a couple weeks and take a working vacation. Visit italy or go to Bali, but keep your house and car. There isn’t any need to risk it all before seeing if it’s a lifestyle that could work for you. If you find yourself enjoying the life of a wandering entrepreneur, then go ahead and sell everything off secure in the knowledge you can adapt. If you get back having been unable to adjust, then all you risked is a little money and some vacation time.