Is Digital Nomadism For You?

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Traveling the world while working on your business sounds like it's too good to be true. Yet more and more people are choosing the digital nomad lifestyle. What really are the pros and cons of working from anywhere in the world?

You’re on your laptop, checking your emails. In another 30 minutes you’ve got a Skype call. Double-check that you’ve got the time zone right, though, so you won’t miss it. You look up and see the ocean stretching out for miles in front of you. Seagulls are circling overhead. As you run your fingers through the sand you think to yourself, hell yeah, this is the good life.

That, at least, is the cliché image of digital nomads. There’s a rising number of people who use digital technologies and their location independence to earn a living. Some of them even try to pull off challenges like bootstrapping 12 startups in 12 months while traveling. But is the nomadic life really all it’s cracked up to be?

Thanks largely to the Internet, the number of location independent entrepreneurs is growing. More and more people nowadays operate businesses they can run from their home office, from a coffee shop in foreign city, or from a coworking space in some exotic location. Many of them are freelancers, bloggers, web designers, in short – people who are making use of the benefits of the digital economy.

If you’ve got just an inkling of wanderlust in you, then the possibility of taking your job with you on your travels might sound very alluring. And sure enough, there are a number of pros to working location independent:

Pros Of Being A Digital Nomad

You can work from any place that has an internet connection

The freedom to work from anywhere at all in the world – as long as there’s internet – is probably the biggest plus. This means you can escape winter depression by going somewhere warmer for a few months, or you can immerse yourself in a different culture you’ve always dreamed of being a part of.

You’re free to choose high quality of life with low cost of living

Depending on where you choose to go, you can save money that would otherwise be spent on rent and food in your home city. If you go with the current trend and travel to Asia, then you’re likely to see your Euro or Dollar go a long way.

You will be part of a global network of digital nomads

You will meet people like yourself on the road, or online, or in a coworking space on the other side of the planet. There’s a number of tools and online communities for location independent entrepreneurs, so you can be sure to get hooked up with some insider info. Apart from making friends with people who’ve chosen a similar lifestyle, you might also end up promoting each other’s work.

Being in a foreign environment will inspire you

When you’re living away from home, you’re constantly exposed to new stimuli. This can be immensely inspiring, and might boost your productivity and make your product or service better. Especially if you come from a culture with a rigid work ethos, it can be very liberating to escape to a new environment where work is defined differently.

Being mobile will increase your productivity

There’s some degree of uncertainty that comes with being on the move a lot. Living in different regions of the world lets you experience different facets of life, including non-first-world problems. You’re unlikely to experience those when you’re working from your office or from home. But this uncertainty forces you to be creative and develop many different talents, because you can’t just hide behind your laptop screen all the time.

If the points above were the whole story, wouldn’t we all be out in some foreign environment, working remote? Digital nomadism is a relatively recent phenomenon, so there has been a lot of coverage of the upsides of that lifestyle. But there’s no doubt that traveling the world with a portable job isn’t all beaches and sunsets, right? So what are the downsides of not being bound to a specific location for your work?

What To Consider

You have to do a lot of paperwork

Annoyingly, you can’t just up and leave with a destination in mind. First, you have to seriously consider some of the following issues:

  • Work visas
    The type of visa you need depends on what country you are going to and how long you want to stay there. For long-term stays it might be advisable to get a self-employment visa. Many digital nomads simply use tourist visas. Be sure to get the info you need from more experienced travelers in some of the online communities provided below.
  • Health insurance
    Make sure you get informed about what type of insurance works best in your case. Finding yourself in an emergency situation in a foreign country without insurance is probably right up there with the worst things that could happen to you on your travels.
  • Taxes
    Paying taxes can be pretty complicated even for people who never travel. For digital nomads it’s harder still because the question is where to pay which taxes. Read up more on taxes for location independent entrepreneurs here.

You’re totally dependant on technology

Working remote might actually not feel as free as you’d thought it would. You may be in the most beautiful spot in a far-away country, feeling inspired and excited to get your game on – and the internet is down. An okay internet connection probably won’t cut it if you need to submit some assignment on a deadline, or are trying to build your online presence. You may have to opt for the Western-style coffee shop that offers free wifi, instead of going local. So while you’re living in your dream destination, you might actually end up spending most of the time inside, working on your laptop.

You have to plan your travels

Planning your trips and stays in the different places takes time. Thankfully there are different apps that can help you out with this. Another thing though, you’re limited in how much stuff you can take with you. Watch out how many of your belongings you want to bring unless you’re prepared to pay for excess luggage.

You miss out on life back home

Your friends and family will probably be following your blog updates, and it’s easier now than ever before to stay in touch with people in virtual space. But that can’t replace real face-to-face connection, and you will miss out on that.

You will feel lonely and isolated

As a digital nomad, you risk losing all sense of belonging. Not having a home base can be liberating, but may also make you feel very insecure. Unless you’re one of those people who are extremely outgoing, it might get hard for you to befriend others on the road. And even when you do, it’s likely that those relationships will stay shallow, because you probably won’t stick around for very long. This is true both for friendships and relationships.

People think you’re a slacker on permanent vacation

Your folks back home with their office jobs probably think you’ve made it, because they see only the upside of your exciting life. They might think you got lucky, discarding the hard work you’re doing to make it work. And let’s be honest, why wouldn’t they think that? What they get to see is the pretty pictures of you exploring foreign environments, sipping drinks with your new nomadic friends, or eating some exotic street food. Digital nomadism tends to get glamorized in the media, because those who are brave enough to choose that path may hesitate to share the downsides online.

You need to be very disciplined

If you want to do your best at your job while being in an unexplored new place, you need a lot of self-restraint and discipline. Balancing work and downtime can be tough when you’re in an environment where you’d like to be a tourist and go out exploring.

You might struggle to make a living

Your job might fall through or you might not make as much money as you’d planned. Then you’re stuck somewhere far away from home with your savings running out and the choice between trying to get a ticket back home or finding some odd job to get you through.

Starting a family will be challenging

If you’re making digital nomadism your lifestyle, then you will need to get creative if you ever plan to start a family. Figuring out how to bring up your kids or which schools to put them into, is just a bit more difficult if you’re on the road much, compared with having a steady home base.

Despite the downsides of working remote, you might think digital nomadism is for you. There’s a lot of resources out there if you still need help making up your mind. Either way, now is probably a better time than ever before to try out the location independent lifestyle.


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