The idea of quitting your job to become a digital nomad is a battle cry heard from cubicles around the world. The thoughts of freedom, flexibility, and control over your own destiny excite the imaginations of millions. Today, digital nomads are what European explorers were in the 1600s and cowboys in the 1800s – those brave adventurers who give up security to pursue freedom and riches.
Yes, the digital nomad lifestyle is pretty phenomenal. It’s a lifestyle that could never be overly romanticized. It really is that awesome.
But, as with the explorers and cowboys, the digital nomad lifestyle is not without its thorns. Every decision in life requires a tradeoff, and the tradeoffs for digital nomad freedom can be substantial.
So, before you go and quit your job – here are seven things to consider about a life of perpetual travel. By all means, being a digital nomad is fantastic – but never leave the comfort of your current lifestyle without knowing what you’re giving up.
1. The Digital Nomad Lifestyle Can Get Expensive
If you’re a connoisseur of fine things, becoming a digital nomad can quickly put you in the poor house. Lodging, transportation, and food in Europe or Australia gets very expensive, very fast. Between flights, elegant hotels, and paid entertainment, you may find yourself burning through far more than you earn as a newly-minted remote worker/entrepreneur.
The solution: Start in less expensive parts of the world like Southeast Asia, where you can afford a comfortable lifestyle on a low budget. Once your business/career is up and running, you can embrace the pricier parts of the world. Until then, keep yourself on a tight budget and don’t splurge when you can’t afford too.
2. It Doesn’t Always Help Your Resume
Gaps in your resume don’t look good. And some corporate managers view freelancing and entrepreneurship as second-class work. After all, if you quit your last job to travel, it probably means you have a strong personality and won’t put up with them pushing you around.
The solution: Treat your work seriously and build up a healthy portfolio of projects and clients that you can reference when needed. If you do decide to go back and get a “real job”, don’t call yourself a freelancer/entrepreneur/owner. Instead, refer to yourself as a consultant, contractor, or specific role (graphic designer, writer, etc.). Why? Because the later sound less like a flight risk and more like a traditional, hard-working employee. Of course, if you’re applying for a job in a startup, the digital nomad experience may help set you apart. Either way, be sure to invest in a solid LinkedIn profile (which can also help you grow a client base as a freelancer).
3. Retirement Saving Becomes Even More Challenging
While most of your employed peers are earning moderate returns in their 401(k) without even thinking about it, you have to be deliberate about saving for retirement as a digital nomad. Not only do you miss out on employer matching plans, but, if you skip out on paying taxes, your social security benefits will be lower in retirement as well. Sure, ideally your business will make you millions in a few years – but always plan for the worst, just to be safe.
The solution: Plan for retirement! You don’t have to be a millionaire to invest like one, so get started. By deliberately putting money aside for retirement, along with your return home, you’ll never find yourself 65 and broke, resenting your digital nomad dream.
4. It Feels Like You’re Never on Vacation
One of the greatest perks of a “regular job” is paid time off. You don’t get that when you’re self employed. In fact, when you’re self employed you suddenly find yourself trading hours for money – which can get addicting! Every hour not worked results in lost money. For the ambitious, traveling and working simultaneously can result in work fatigue – because you’re never really taking a break.
The solution: Take time off. Commit to enjoying life by turning off your electronics for a day or two every week – almost religiously. Make an effort to connect with locals and other travelers, and don’t feel bad about spending a little on experiencing whatever part of the world you find yourself in.
5. Maintaining Discipline is Difficult
While sometimes you may feel like you’re never on vacation, other times you may feel like life should be a perpetual vacation. With no boss to report to, it’s easy to sleep in later every morning and spend countless hours on pointless activities (like Facebook). Before you know it you’re spending a lot of time accomplishing very little.
The solution: Create deadlines and stick to them – then schedule everything. If you plan to work 8 hours a day, schedule in 5-6 hours of work and leave the other 2-3 for any surprises that may pop up during the day. If needed, consider joining a coworking space or find a partner who will keep you accountable. The key is to create processes to maintain discipline over yourself.
6. Loneliness Can Become Commonplace
By living in a place for 3-6 months you find yourself in a difficult no man’s land. Any fellow tourists that you connect within during week one will be gone in week two. Meanwhile, most locals may continue to view you as a tourist and never be interested in really investing in a friendship. This can result in a very lonely time – reducing the epicness of your adventure substantially.
The solution: Deliberately get involved with groups that will connect you to other people. Whether that’s traveling with a program like Remote Year, finding a volunteer opportunity on WorkAway.info, or simply hanging out in your hostel lobby every morning, find a way to be around people. It’s very easy to go from apartment to coffee shop without ever getting to know people – so make an effort to stay connected.
7. You’ll Never Be the Same
As Saint Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”. Once you make the leap into digital nomad life, you’ll never be the same. Whether you work and travel for a summer, or 20 years, every experience will broaden your horizons and connect you with new outlooks on life. It’s not uncommon for travelers to come back home with different views on many aspects of life – even their most dearest political and religious ideologies.
The solution: Embrace change and remember the stories! Your adventure is one that will alienate you from those who stayed behind, but connect you with the millions of other world travelers. So enjoy your experience, moderate your stories around friends to not annoy them, and allow yourself to grow into a better version of yourself.
If you’re considering the digital nomad lifestyle yourself, I hope these points have helped enhance your own awareness of the experience and how to make the most of it. Regardless of whether or not it’s right to for you, remember – life’s too short to be miserable. Treat every day like an adventure, and never let yourself be defined (or confined) by the expectations and tasks of others. Now go live your adventure!
Rob Erich is a writer, traveler, and off-and-on remote worker who blogs about the digital nomad lifestyle at MoneyNomad.com and personal finance for InvestmentZen.com. He believes that everyone should do what they love while making a positive difference in the world. To stalk him on Twitter visit @MoneyNomadRob.