The Many Misconceptions About Digital Nomads

Digital nomad worlds on a laptop at an outside table

The digital nomad lifestyle has gained popularity in recent years as technology and internet access have made it easier for people to work remotely while traveling the world.  Despite the recent press coverage and broader adoption of this way of life, there are still many misconceptions about what it means to be a digital nomad.  

In this blog post, I will address some of the common misconceptions about digital nomads to provide a more accurate understanding of what it is really like to live and work as a digital nomad.  Hopefully, this post will help you better understand if the digital nomad lifestyle choice is right for you.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for general information purposes only. It is not meant to represent legal, financial, medical, or other professional advice. Deskless Nomad makes no representations, warranties, or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete, or up to date. Please see the full Deskless Nomad Disclaimer

Digital nomads are always on the move, constantly traveling from country to country

Being a digital nomad is a unique and dynamic lifestyle that looks different from nomad to nomad.  Many digital nomads travel frequently, enjoying the freedom and flexibility to work from anywhere. But frequent travel is not a requirement of the lifestyle. Digital nomads can move around frequently or choose to stay in one location for an extended period of time.

Some digital nomads may choose to stay in a single country or city for a year. Others may move every few weeks or months.   According to Nomadlist, the average time digital nomads stay in one city is 70 days or around 2 months.  Digital nomads stay in one country for an average of 8 months.

The only real restrictions to the digital nomad lifestyle are visa and immigration limitations. Luckily, it is possible to stay in Europe longer than the 90-day tourist visa. It is also possible to take advantage of countries that have long visitor visas.  Many countries now offer digital nomad visas that allow remote workers to stay for 1 to 2 years.  There are many pros and cons of these somewhat overhyped digital nomad visas. Some digital nomad visas even provide incredible tax benefits.

The digital nomad lifestyle means digital nomads are always on vacation

Yes, digital nomads have the freedom to travel and explore new places but it doesn’t mean they are always on vacation.  Digital nomads are not retirees.  They are location independent remote workers. In fact, there are many reasons to consider becoming a digital nomad rather than pursuing early retirement or FIRE (financial independence retire early).    

Digital nomads who are remote workers still need to meet the same work deadlines and attend meetings with colleagues and clients. Likewise, digital nomads who are entrepreneurs and freelancers still need to network, grow their clientele, and build their businesses.  Digital nomads face the same challenges and stressors that other workers do. They also have the added stress of long-term travel and living outside of their home country and culture. 

Working remotely and traveling long-term requires a certain level of discipline and dedication.  You have to budget for long-term travel, spend some time planning your one-way flights or around-the-world airline tickets, book accommodation, and find local transportation.  You’ll also need to determine if you need a digital nomad visa to work remotely in another country. You may also want to make extra efforts to avoid loneliness when traveling long-term.

Digital nomads do not have a fixed income

It is a misconception that digital nomads are all freelancers or entrepreneurs without a fixed income.  While some digital nomads may have unpredictable income streams, a lot of digital nomads are remote workers with regular paychecks.  According to Nomadlist, 44% of digital nomads are employed full-time.

With the rise in remote work during the pandemic, many people have found they can easily complete their work duties remotely from another country.  They may have jobs that are explicitly set up as remote from the beginning. Or they may ask their current boss to go remote so they can travel.

Many digital nomads have been able to establish successful freelance businesses with steady clients that provide consistent income.  By learning creative ways to market their freelance businesses they can secure regular projects and contracts to provide regular income.

Digital nomad sitting in a hammock with documents and laptop in a tropical resort

Digital nomads don’t work real jobs or have real careers

Contrary to popular belief, being a digital nomad does not mean that you don’t work a “real” job.  Just because digital nomads don’t work in traditional office settings, doesn’t mean they aren’t working “real” jobs. It is possible to find a remote job or start a freelance business to live the digital nomad lifestyle.   You can build a successful career working remotely by using your expertise and professional skills, especially if they are in high demand. 

Digital nomads don’t pay taxes

Digital nomads don’t get to avoid paying taxes just because they are living abroad. American citizens are required to file taxes no matter where in the world they are living and earning money. Whether or not they will actually owe taxes depends on a lot of factors.

True, there are several countries that offer digital nomad visas with amazing tax benefits. But no matter where they are from, it is important for digital nomads to fully understand their tax obligations when working abroad.

Digital nomads are isolated and lonely

Some people may think that digital nomads are generally isolated and lonely.  On the contrary, digital nomads are more likely to seek out new experiences which are an inherent part of travel. This means digital nomads often have more opportunities to interact with other people.  

Yes, it can get lonely on the road. But there are plenty of ways to meet other digital nomads, such as:

Another way digital nomads can build strong social connections is by staying in coliving spaces. Sharing common living spaces provides ample opportunities to meet new people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Digital nomads do not have a home

Just because some digital nomads do not live at a permanent physical address does not mean they do not have a home.  Many digital nomads maintain strong ties to their home countries and communities.  It is possible to keep close relationships with friends and family while traveling. But it does take a bit of work.  Being a digital nomad does not mean that you have to be rootless or disconnected from your former life.

Some digital nomads choose to have a home base they return to regularly.  They may only travel part of the year or intermittently, like a week each month.  They may house swap to save money on accommodation or rent their house on Airbnb while they travel.

Other digital nomads choose the van life. They live in a converted van or RV and work remotely from their home on the road.  The van becomes their home, carrying their belongings, their bed, and their workspace.  The definition of “home” changes when your home can go anywhere you go.

Digital nomads only work a 4-hour workweek

It is enticing to think it’s possible to have a full-time income when only working a 4-hour workweek.  While this may be a reality for some entrepreneurial individuals, most digital nomads still work hard at their remote jobs, startups, or freelance services.  

The difference is, digital nomads often have more flexibility in their work schedule.  Depending on their work obligations they may choose to split up their work day. They may work 4 hours early in the morning to align with their company’s time zone.  In the evening they may then work 4 hours on a specific project.  This can leave the middle of the day to lay out at the beach or explore the local area.

It is important to note that being a digital nomad requires a certain level of self-motivation and discipline. You have to learn how to manage your time and workload, stay focused, and find ways of maintaining productivity to meet deadlines and achieve business goals.  It is important to learn how to maintain a good work-life balance and set aside time to exercise, relax, and explore. You don’t want to miss out on everything the digital nomad lifestyle has to offer.

Digital nomads are all single and young, mostly male tech workers

Digital nomads are as varied as any group of workers.  They can be single, married with children, or in the early or late stages of their careers.  According to Nomadlist’s data for 2023, 51% of digital nomads are male. The lifestyle is not as male-predominant as some may think.  65% are single but 35% are in a relationship.  The average age of digital nomads is 33 but 13% are 40 or older.

You need to make a lot of money to be a digital nomad

There is no income requirement for being a digital nomad.  According to Nomadlist, the average salary of digital nomads is $122,634 but 55% make less than $100,000.  15% make less than $50,000.  44% of digital nomads have full-time employment. The remainder work as freelancers, startup founders, contractors, part-time, or working at agencies.

Whatever your budget, you can live fairly cheaply by using credit card points and miles to book flights, staying in coliving spaces or apartment shares, making your own food, and using public transportation.  Budgeting for the digital nomad lifestyle and planning long-term slow travel is all about being creative with your choices.

Many digital nomads also turn travel hacking into an art form. They use credit card points and miles to book flights, use open jaw flights and stopovers to maximize travel opportunities, earn miles when staying at Airbnbs, and find numerous ways to save money on Airbnb rentals. 

Or you can choose to live more extravagantly, taking advantage of remote work and travel programs and retreats, staying in the perfect Airbnb, staying in vacation rental alternatives to Airbnb, or subscribing to “flexible living” luxury apartments.  The choice is yours.  It is possible to live the digital nomad lifestyle on a variety of budgets.

Digital nomad in a cafe

The digital nomad lifestyle is terrible for the environment

While the travel industry does have a huge impact on climate change, the digital nomad lifestyle doesn’t have to be terrible for the environment.  There are many ways to engage in sustainable and eco-friendly travel.  

To reduce your carbon footprint you can choose sustainable transportation options. These include taking trains instead of planes, staying in eco-friendly accommodations like coliving spaces, eating locally grown food, and reducing waste.  By being intentional with your choices it is possible to travel and still minimize your impact on the environment.

All digital nomads live in Bali, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Medellin, Bansko, Zagreb, or Lisbon

While there are certain locations that tend to draw digital nomads for their low cost of living and high quality of life, digital nomads travel to cities all around the world.  According to Nomadlist, the most visited city for digital nomads was actually London (2.4%).  Only 1.5% visited Lisbon, 1.13% visited Chiang Mai, 0.87% visited Canggu, Bali, and 0.61% visited Medellin. 

The reality of being a digital nomad is more varied than many people realize.  Every digital nomad is unique and has their own work and lifestyle preferences.  The digital nomad lifestyle looks different for everyone, with the only commonality being traveling away from your home while you work remotely using technology and the internet.  

Despite the many misconceptions about digital nomads, the lifestyle will look different for each individual because the digital nomad lifestyle is infinitely customizable.   The ability to tailor your lifestyle and travel the world on your own terms is one of the key benefits of being a digital nomad.  This can be especially appealing to those who have a hard time fitting into traditional lifestyles or who want to have certain life experiences before settling down in one community. 

The digital nomad lifestyle offers many benefits however it is important to recognize it is not the perfect choice for everyone.  It is a rewarding and fulfilling way of life for those who are willing to put in the effort and make it work for them.  If you are considering becoming a digital nomad, make sure to do your research, carefully consider your personal career goals and lifestyle needs, and be prepared to adapt to the challenges that you may encounter in your journey.

Jamie Dubois

I am a freelance writer, wanderer, kayaker, rock climber, and adventurer.

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