So, you like the idea of becoming a digital nomad?
A job with the flexibility of working from a Balinese beach hut one week and a tapas-laden table in a café on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas the next…what’s not to like?
If you’ve ever thought about joining the swelling ranks of this new breed of professional, one whose role is ‘location independent’, it’s time to get re-acquainted with the realities of the dream after the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are significant lifestyle costs as well as benefits to pursuing this style of living.
But first, what exactly is a digital nomad? The term seems to cover everything from hostel-hopping backpackers generating a small level of income by writing an online travel blog to keep them going, to businesses owners and entrepreneurs who have intentionally created careers with the freedom to travel on their own schedule.
Mostly, digital nomads rely on telecommunication and wireless technologies to ensure they are able to execute their work from wherever they are. Digital nomads travel the world perpetually, not as a holiday but as a lifestyle.
We chatted with a number of digital nomads about the pros and cons of their chosen work-lifestyle to come up with the following list for you to consider before you decide to downscale your belongings to fit in a suitcase and hit the road to try rolling work and travel into one.
The pros of being a digital nomad
1. Freedom. As a digital nomad you are free to go anywhere, any time, so long as you have the ability (and self-discipline) to hop online from time to time to do the work you need to do.
2. Minimalist. Often, everything a digital nomad owns fits comfortably on their back, making last-minute trips a breeze to prep for and capitalise on.
3. For love and money. Doing what you love every day and making a living doing it. There are so many inspiring and diverse examples of folks making a success of the digital nomad life: Natalie Sisson, The Suitcase Entrepreneur, travels the globe helping entrepreneurs create freedom in business and adventure in life; and Stuart McDonald founded Travelfish, a travel-planning website that covers much of Southeast Asia which he has so far run from Bali, Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Jakarta with his wife and young family.
4. New experiences. If you are a person who thrives on novelty and new experiences, a nomadic lifestyle will deliver these in spades. The lifestyle suits independent self-starters who will be motivated to switch things up when circumstances change.
5. Opportunity and perspective. Both will grow with travel as your social, personal and business networks expand by nature of the places you choose to work from and with whom.
The cons of being a digital nomad
1. Routines and habits. When you are always on the road, it’s hard to get into a solid routine and build good habits. Some digital nomads say that anything too rigid keeps them from being able to enjoy being in the moment and take advantage of opportunities as they arrive so good habits need to be flexible.
2. Uncertainty. It’s quite common for digital nomads to have no idea where they will be in several months’ time. This can make committing to events like birthdays, family reunions and group holidays challenging.
3. Spreading the love. Because you are likely to fall in love with people and places all around the world leading a nomadic lifestyle, the people you love will rarely (if ever) be in the one place. Packing up and leaving a place you’ve really fallen for, or having to say farewell to new friends and connections you’ve just started bonding with can be hard.
4. Always on. Quite frequently digital nomads work with clients from around the world. This means work is happening across different time zones and there is a risk of feeling like you are ‘always on’. With smartphones, a digital nomad’s pocket can literally be his or her office. You will need to set boundaries around reacting/responding to every alert or vibration the moment it happens, or the downtime, flexibility and freedom that attracted you to the digital nomad lifestyle in the first place may be eroded by the compulsion to be constantly connected.
5. You are IT. In an office environment you are likely one of a team, with layers of additional support. If your laptop breaks you call IT, they get it sorted and you get back to work. When you’re a digital nomad you are IT…and every other support role a business needs.
6. Visas. Digital nomads need to do their research and get the right type of Visas for wherever they are working. There are lots of ins, outs and red tape when it comes to visas but the bottom line is this: if you are travelling and earning money doing what you love, even if you are working everywhere, you’ll need to pay tax somewhere.
While we’re on an administrative topic, let’s also talk about bank accounts and medical insurance – both are non-standard when you have no fixed or permanent address, but both can be navigated with good research.
Is the life of a digital nomad for you?
The upshot is that you will likely end up working far more hours, in a far less productive manner and in a less than ideal work environment some days. You will lose time navigating unfamiliar environments, working through language barriers and negotiating other untold challenges. Resilience, conflict resolution, time management and managing stress are a few of the skills you'll find in our range of entrepreneurship courses and personal development course.
But on other days, you’ll take a stroll to the beach, listen to the waves crash and wiggle your toes in the sand while working away at your new day job…and that’s a balance that may work perfectly well for you.