I’m about to tell you something that most travel and lifestyle bloggers are afraid to say.
I’m going to reveal the truth about the “digital nomad” lifestyle.
The term “digital nomad” (or the phrase “location independent”) refers to people (like me) who have the freedom to work from anywhere on the planet with an internet connection. Bali, Barcelona, Belize — the world is wide open. We can roam the globe freely.
Most articles about location independence only highlight the awesomeness. (And to be fair, it’s absolutely awesome.) But most bloggers gloss over the rough edges.
Fortunately for you, I’m not “most bloggers.”
What’s a Digital Nomad?
First — (for the sake of readers who are new to this idea) — the benefits to location independence are obvious.
- Want to live in Italy or Argentina or Thailand? Go for it.
- Want to lounge at home-sweet-home? Sweet. You’re 100% free to choose that.
Nothing ties you down. The benefit isn’t the travel itself … it’s the freedom, the choice.
I don’t need to elaborate on these points. You get it.
Wealth + Travel? Enjoy Both.
There’s an extra benefit, actually, that most people don’t think about.
I’ve met a ton of travelers who don’t run their own businesses. Instead, they float from country to country, picking up whatever odd jobs they can find.
They harvest grapes in Tasmania. They wait tables in Sweden. They work the front desk of hostels in Luxembourg.
They’re having an epic adventure. And they’re living a rich life. I admire their lifestyle.
But they’re scraping by.
They’re stressed about qualifying for a work visa (or they’re working under-the-table while on a tourist visa). They’re stuck in one location (one village, one farm) where their job is based. They toil for a low hourly wage. And after years of labor — sometimes hard physical labor — they often have no savings, no retirement plan, no long-term escape plan.
Conversely, I’ve met plenty of people back at home who earn fantastic money, but they’re chained to their desk. They sacrifice their dreams to sit in a cubicle.
Eventually they hit a midlife crisis, feel pangs of regret, and self-medicate by leasing a BMW. The next day, they’re back in the cubicle.
Those of us who run (successful) businesses from our laptops, however, enjoy the best of both worlds. We travel the globe PLUS earn awesome money.
What could be better?
The Crappy Side of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the drawbacks, as well.
I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining — (I’m not) — but I want to share an honest insight into “a day in the life.”
Here we go, no-holds-barred.
#1: You’re Obsessed with Internet Connectivity
You’re always concerned about internet connectivity. Always. If someone says, “let’s go here!,” your first thought is: “How’s the bandwidth?”
In major cities, you can buy a local SIM card and turn your phone into a mobile hotspot. But that only works in major population centers. If you’re trekking in remote Himalayan villages, cruising the Outback or exploring the jungles of Borneo, the internet connectivity just can’t cut it.
Antidote? Limit your working hours/days. Plan days when you’re buckling down, and days when you’re wild and free.
#2: You Stay in Civilization
I just returned from Ireland. (Pics on Instagram). Before I left, I thought: “It’s a first-world nation. Internet connectivity will be easy!”
But it wasn’t. Ireland is filled with gorgeous but remote locations — cliffs, forests, seascapes — that have next-to-nonexistent wifi connectivity. If you can pick up a signal, it’s slow as snails.
Antidote? Head to a major city for one or two mega-work-days of harnessing high-speed internet. Limit this to just one or two days a week, though. Remember: Work expands to fill the time you give it.
#3: You Can’t Unplug
You CAN work from anywhere, which means that you DO. It’s hard to unplug. Work travels with you, everywhere you go.
Antidote? Remove temptation. Set up an “away” message on your email, then voyage into the wilderness or any other area with a terrible wifi signal.
#4: You’re Inefficient
Here’s the biggest truth: You might be able to maintain your business while you travel, but it’s tough to grow.
You’re less efficient than you would be if you were grounded in one spot. Your internet speeds might be slower. You don’t have access to physical tools like a scanner or printer.
Antidote? Acceptance. Don’t try to grow your business. Instead, focus on spending as little time at a computer screen as possible.
#5: You’re Hurting Your Body
You’re working on a laptop, which is less ergonomically healthy than working on a “real” keyboard with a “real” mouse. I know this sounds like a minor detail, but after a few hours on a laptop, your neck/shoulders/wrists feel the effects.
Antidote? Yoga and cardio. Love it, live it, practice it every damn day.
#6: You Don’t Meet People
One benefit to picking grapes in Tasmania or working at a ski resort in New Zealand is that you’ll meet other travelers. Working solo removes the opportunity to make friends in new places.
Antidote? Sleep in hostels from time-to-time, even if you have the budget to stay somewhere nicer. They’re an amazing place to meet people. Tap into the local Couchsurfing or AirBnb community. Head to Meetup.com and find a social outing that jives with your style. Chat with strangers at parks, restaurants, bars.
More Tips for an Awesome Experience
Ruthlessly prioritize. This applies to your time, not just your money. Ferociously prioritize your time, money and life. Don’t answer that email, no matter how tempting. Ignore that Facebook message. Your time is your most valuable asset. Protect it.
Commit to a “focused mind” lifestyle. Mental clutter is a killer. Your brain is like a wireless router — it can only process limited data. Don’t let it download junk.
I quit clipping coupons, for example, not (just) because of the time involved, but because of the mental bandwidth that it occupied. My mind could be occupied with saving $1 on a jar of spaghetti sauce, or my mind could be focused on growth.
Just say no. Delete emails. Don’t take on extra projects. Put your ideas into a folder … and leave them there.
Bonus tip: Don’t organize your files into a zillion folders and sub-folders, thinking you’ll get to them later. Stick everything in the trash can, or at least into an “unimportant” folder.
Remember the jugglers. You can juggle five balls. But when you try to add a sixth ball, every ball falls down. Steer clear of Ball #6.
Travel slowly. Slowing your pace presents a bazillion benefits, including lowering your costs, improving your language acquisition, allowing you to make new friends, giving you a deeper understanding of the culture, and making it easier to balance life-work.