You may have wondered, “Is being a digital nomad worth it?” Selling all or most of your possessions and setting off for an adventure around the world may sound romantic at first. But ditching a traditional stationary lifestyle for a nomadic one can have its drawbacks.
Before the pandemic, digital nomads were most often freelancers or entrepreneurs who rejected 9-to-5 jobs in a cubicle and the corporate ladder for a more inspiring lifestyle. They were primarily in the tech industry with a reputation for being hackers or tech entrepreneurs.
With the rise of remote work, more and more companies are offering remote jobs, increasing the opportunities for just about anyone to pursue the digital nomad lifestyle. Today, the latest data shows there are almost 11 million American digital nomads, and there could be as many as 35,000,000 around the world, with that number growing steadily.
Life as a digital nomad has many amazing benefits but there are also undeniable challenges. Being a digital nomad can be hard, even lonely at times. Some may even say there is a dark side to working remotely in paradise.
It’s not just about the travel logistics of a nomadic lifestyle or determining how much money you need to travel as a digital nomad. There are also advantages and disadvantages to your career and retirement planning. Aspiring digital nomads should thoroughly understand the pros and cons of the digital nomad lifestyle to decide if it is right for them.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to constitute professional advice. You should obtain professional advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. 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.
1. You have the opportunity to reimagine your career
The digital nomad lifestyle rebukes the traditional path of climbing the corporate ladder in an uninspiring 9-to-5 job to only pursue your desired lifestyle when you finally retire at 65. Instead, many digital nomads choose to reimagine their careers and become freelancers, consultants, developers, and/or entrepreneurs.
With more jobs open to remote workers, there is also the potential to find employment with companies or industries that were not historically available in specific geographic regions. As a new digital nomad, your location independence may open new career opportunities and the option to change fields.
There are many places to find remote jobs that allow you to work from anywhere. You can also approach your current boss to go remote and become a digital nomad.
2. You can increase your work productivity
The time you gain back from not commuting for 2 hours a day gives you more time to increase your work productivity. When you are living in a place you are excited to explore, you become more motivated to get your work done so you can get back to your adventures. You spend less time procrastinating and surfing the internet when you can be out surfing the waves. The awaiting adventures are excellent motivation to be productive in the shortest time possible.
3. You can find more free time to do what you enjoy
When you work as a freelancer or consultant you can create your own schedule. When you travel to new places you will initially have fewer social obligations since you likely won’t know anybody yet. This gives you more time and freedom to explore.
When you know your time is limited in any given destination, you are more likely to make use of that time to get out and explore while you can. The digital nomad lifestyle places more emphasis on living rather than working.
4. You can increase your creativity and spark breakthrough ideas
Constantly meeting new people, exchanging ideas, and working and living in new environments all promote creativity. The novel and diverse experiences of the digital nomad lifestyle help to create connections between ideas and spark breakthroughs.
Your experiences also become sources from which to draw new ideas. While largely dependent on the type of work you do, this newfound creativity is particularly good for freelancers and entrepreneurs running their own businesses.
5. You become more adaptable
Traveling and constantly engaging with new experiences, cultures, languages, and people strengthens your ability to learn new skills and adapt to future challenges. Each time you face a new challenge, you get better at coping and learn to be less stressed when things don’t turn out as you wish.
As a digital nomad, there will be challenges you don’t foresee but facing those challenges will force you to become more adaptable. Here is a sampling of some of the challenges I’ve faced on the road:
- Being randomly interrogated by the police
- Facing bomb threats
- Escaping bad (sometimes cataclysmic) weather
- Getting robbed and having someone max out my credit cards
- Getting injured and sick in a foreign country (traveler’s diarrhea is every digital nomad’s and long term traveler’s nemesis)
- Arranging visa runs and applying for visa extensions
- Trying to take proctored licensing exams for my field of work in another country
- Paying taxes according to international tax laws and tax treaties
- Losing my luggage and living in one outfit for weeks
- Falling in love with someone who is a citizen of a different country and learning the ins and outs of immigration law
6. You will meet so many new people and make lifelong friends
Travel is an amazing catalyst for meeting new people and making new friends. The people you meet while you travel generally have similar values and mindsets. By virtue of being travelers, they are open to adventures just like you.
There are many ways to meet other digital nomads while traveling. For example, you can choose to stay in co-living spaces and work in coworking spaces to meet other digital nomads from around the world. Or you can stay in digital nomad villages with other remote workers seeking a particular kind of slow travel experience.
7. You have freedom of location
The ability to choose to live anywhere in the world is probably the biggest advantage of being a digital nomad. This means you can benefit from a lower cost of living, escape winter weather or summer humidity, and live near the outdoor and cultural activities that make you happiest. While most people will live their lives within a small radius in order to be near their job, digital nomads can go anywhere in the world.
While there may be some immigration limitations for how long you can stay, there are options like digital nomad visas and freelancer visas that allow you to stay for longer. These programs come with pros and cons. The biggest advantage is that digital nomad visas allow you to stay in one place for longer and work remotely without worrying about legal consequences.
There are also several countries that allow long tourist stays of 4-6 months up to a year without a special visa.
8. You can create the lifestyle that makes you happiest
For those whole love outdoor or cultural activities, being a digital nomad gives you more freedom to incorporate these pursuits into your lifestyle. With a traditional office job, it can be difficult to take part in the activities that you are passionate about as much as you’d like. Digital nomads prioritize their lifestyle over work which means they tailor their work-life around the things they love to do.
9. You can save money through geographic arbitrage
Digital nomads can actually save money and live a better lifestyle by choosing countries with a lower cost of living. Places like Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, Columbia, Bulgaria, and Croatia are popular among digital nomads for this very reason.
This concept is called geographic arbitrage. It means you can earn money in a stronger currency and then spend your money in a place where things cost less. You take advantage of a lower cost of living but still earn as if you lived in a more expensive location. This allows you to increase your standard of living and put more money into your savings or investment accounts.
If you are interested in learning more, I discuss this in my article on why you should choose remote work with location independence as a stepping stone to FIRE (financial independence retire early).
10. You can save money on taxes with certain digital nomad visas
There are several countries offering digital nomad visas with amazing tax benefits. Many countries are eager to lure digital nomads to boost local economies. As a digital nomad you can apply for one of these visas to stay in a country for 6 months to a year and pay no income tax. If you are American, make sure to read my tax guide for digital nomads to understand how this will affect your taxes.
11. You will learn from different cultures, places, and people
Each new place you visit you will meet new people, learn about different cultures, learn new life skills, learn at least a few words of a new language. You will develop new perspectives and in the process learn more about yourself.
It is difficult to quantify just how much this will impact your worldview, your gratitude for the freedoms in your own life, and the appreciation you have for the time you have on this planet.
The digital nomad lifestyle isn’t as romanticized as social media makes it out to be. There are definite challenges but there are also just as many ways to adjust, overcome, or avoid them.
1. You must be organized, self-motivated, and disciplined with regards to your work
For some people, it is harder to be productive if no one is watching and there is no inherent structure in your day. In order to be successful at your remote job or small business, you have to be self-disciplined, well organized, and self-motivated.
To improve your chances of success, take time to think about how you are most productive. Do you work better during a certain time of day? Do you require a specific working environment? (A busy coffee shop with background noise? Or a quiet space with noise-canceling headphones?). What kind of work schedule makes you most productive? (Bursts of 1 hour with 10-minute breaks? Exercise breaks? Afternoon naps?)
You’ll need to learn to set deadlines for yourself and work hard to stick to them. You can try out different productivity apps to keep track of your projects, schedule, and deadlines. Or perhaps you need larger visual cues like a whiteboard? Consider getting a piece of cardboard at each destination to create a large calendar or vision board and attach your notes.
2. Your work-life balance can suffer and it can feel like you never leave work
When you don’t have a physical office to enter and leave at the end of the day you don’t have the physical separation of work and personal life. It can feel like you never leave work if you work in your coliving space or vacation rental.
When you are starting a small business it can also feel like you need to work longer hours to get things off the ground. The lack of a physical office can make it hard to leave work behind. If you always have access to your “office” you may tend to overwork.
One way to overcome this is to use a coworking space and make a plan to only work while you are there. You can use various apps to clock your hours so you know how much time you actually spend at work. Developing a routine for your workday will also allow you to spend less cognitive energy on recurring tasks.
It is also important to force yourself to take days off. You can set your weekend to be on Monday and Tuesday to avoid tourist crowds but you should force yourself to actually take that time off. Taking side trips on those days is a great way to take your mind off of work. These mental breaks can actually improve your productivity on workdays.
3. You may feel disconnected from your work colleagues
Remote work, whether at home or while traveling, can make it hard to build relationships with colleagues. The lack of in-person interaction can make you feel disconnected from work. Solitary work life can be even more challenging for people right out of college who are transitioning to the world of work.
The traditional office is a place to interact with others, have chance encounters at the coffee machine, learn from your colleagues, obtain mentorship from your superiors, and build long-term relationships and friendships. It can be difficult to build relationships over zoom. For many adults the office is the place where they make a lot of their social connections, meet friends and even romantic partners.
Since work friendships can be critical for work satisfaction, it is important to find time to connect with your colleagues. This may mean making trips back to a home base near the office to interact in person a couple of times a year.
If a large part of your team is remote but there aren’t any online social events, ask your manager about setting up online trivia nights or virtual book clubs. Make sure to attend as many of these virtual team bonding events as possible, even if it feels awkward. There are tools like Gatheround that make it easier to host virtual social events.
You can also set up non-work-related Slack or Microsoft Team channels with your colleagues to bond. You can use these social channels to share memes and jokes, recommendations on movies and television shows, or interactive surveys to get to know each other.
4. You may worry that remote work will harm your career
People transitioning to remote work with location independence may fear it will harm their career. There may be concerns about being left out of the loop on crucial work decisions or missing out on opportunities to network with colleagues.
Make sure you are regularly using messaging software tools to communicate with your remote team in real-time. This may mean adjusting your work hours to a different time zone from where you are staying.
To grow your relationships with mentors, be proactive about getting feedback on your work. Make sure to check in with your manager regularly to update them on your project progress and communicate as often as possible (without being annoying).
5. You may miss having a conventional office environment
While the idea of having a work cubicle with a desktop computer may give some digital nomads hives, there are some definite benefits to a dedicated workspace. A separate workspace can make you more productive and make it easier to maintain your work-life balance. The internet connection can also be poor in developing countries and make it hard to get your work done.
One solution is to try coworking spaces or co-living arrangements that have co-working spaces for residents. This can give you a little taste of the conventional office environment. You also get the benefit of a more consistent internet connection, as well as other office tools.
It’s also good to know that you can ask any Airbnb host to use the Airbnb app to test the wifi speed ahead of time. Also, coliving spaces often post their internet speed on their websites. This will help you to prepare for how you will get your work done.
6. You may face loneliness and miss your friends and family
One of the bigger drawbacks of being a digital nomad is the time you spend away from the people you love. Since most people live their lives within a small radius, you may not see them as often if you are off traveling the world. Being away for a long period of time will put those relationships to the test.
Living abroad and traveling regularly can be lonely, even if you are traveling with a friend, partner, or family. If you don’t know anyone or you don’t speak the local language you can feel isolated. This issue is so important that I dedicated a whole article to how to avoid loneliness as a digital nomad or long-term traveler.
One of the tips I wish someone had told me before I set off for long-term travel was that holidays and birthdays can be particularly lonely. I try to fill those days with activities and surround myself with fellow long-term travelers to make them more festive.
7. You may find it difficult to meet people new people on the road, especially if you are an introvert
But it gets easier! There are plenty of ways to meet new people on the road. Situations, where your focus is on an activity rather than making small talk, are great for introverts. Staying at co-living spaces where you meet other digital nomads and long-term travelers will make it easier to meet new people since they are often just like you.
8. You may find it tricky to budget and manage the costs of travel
One of the biggest worries aspiring digital nomads have is how to budget for long-term travel. Planning for long-term travel involves learning new skills, including:
- How to travel hack with travel credit cards
- How to find discount airfares
- How to negotiate with an Airbnb host for a discount
- How to save money on airbnb rentals
- How to earn miles on vacation rentals to get free travel
- How to use round the world airline tickets to save on travel
- How to determine if one way tickets are right for your travel plans
- How to lease rental cars and get the best deal for longer stays
9. You may develop traveler fatigue
Travel can be exhausting. Trying to make trains and planes on time, find your new accommodations, explore new neighborhoods, find your local grocery store, sign up for a coworking space, learn phrases in the local language for basic social interactions, adjust to new time zones, avoid tourist scams, all while trying to meet work obligations can be overwhelming. What should be fun and exciting becomes stressful and draining.
The best solution is to travel slower. By spending more time in one place, you have the chance to get comfortable with your surroundings and routine. If you want to travel to lots of places you can still pick a base that you regularly return to. That base doesn’t have to be in your home country, just a city that you love and choose to visit often.
Your time slow traveling in any given individual country can be limited by tourist visa restrictions, requiring you to be on the move every few months. Some countries do allow longer tourist stays. You can also apply for a digital nomad visa or freelancer visa to stay in a single country longer.
There are several travel tips and hacks you can use to make travel easier. You can learn about ways to make your economy flights feel like first class, help you sleep in the middle seat, or just find a little extra comfort by blocking an adjacent seat at a discount.
Scheduling time off from work during travel transitions will also help prevent travel fatigue. Make sure you have a few days free when you arrive in a new place so you aren’t faced with too many adjustments. Develop regular routines for settling into a new place. This could involve making your grocery and supply list, a trip to the grocery store, finding your gym, renting your bike, etc.
10. You may face poor sanitary conditions and have limited access to medical care in developing nations
Many digital nomad hotspots are in countries with a low cost of living. These countries tend to be developing nations that may have under-developed electrical grids with frequent blackouts, non-potable water or water shortages, and poorly equipped clinics and hospitals.
While this may seem novel or even charming on a short vacation, living in these locations for longer periods can present problems.
There are things you can do to prepare before travel. These are actually great tips for any travel outside of your home country since natural disasters can occur anywhere.
- Come prepared to sterilize your own water if necessary
- Bring back up batteries for your devices
- We bring a camp stove to use while camping but it comes in handy as a back up. We buy gas for the stove upon arrival.
- We always carry headlamps which we also use frequently for camping, carving, rock climbing and on long hikes while traveling.
- Purchase some candles and matches when you do your first grocery run
- Buy some non-perishable food on your first grocery run with the plan to consume it in the last days before you leave
Now that telehealth has become more prevalent, consider getting an insurance plan with a telehealth option so you can at least discuss your condition with someone who speaks English and is trained in your home country. They can guide you in determining appropriate treatment and help you decide if it would be beneficial for you to visit an emergency room or local doctor.
11. You can get tired of staring at a computer for 8-10 hours a day
Humans weren’t meant to stare at a computer for 8-10 hours a day. Unfortunately, remote work often necessitates long hours in front of a computer. Make sure to take regular breaks to rest your eyes. Go for short walks, take a break to visit the gym, take a real lunch break (and a siesta). Break up your work routine with brainstorming or planning sessions where you use pen and paper instead of a computer screen.
12. You may not have FMLA protection if you need to take a qualified family or medical leave of absence
FMLA protection, or Family Medical Leave Act, is job-protected unpaid leave for US workers (up to 12 weeks in 12 months) for qualified family and medical reasons. Once an employee has met the requirements of being employed with a company for 12 months and having worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior they would typically be eligible for FMLA if their company also met requirements.
With remote workers, the water is a little muddier. FMLA also specifies the employer must have 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite. Until “worksite” has been further defined by congress to include remote work from home, this may leave employees ineligible for FMLA time off in many cases.
There are certainly some employers out there who will be generous and give you medical or family leave if needed. This is also something you can negotiate with a new employer as part of your benefits package. As a self-employed freelancer or entrepreneur, this is luckily not an issue.
13. You have to plan ahead for taxes to avoid paying double taxes to your home and host countries
Digital nomad taxes can be complicated. There is a lot to learn about if, how, and when you need to pay taxes when you are living, traveling, and working remotely in foreign countries. Luckily, we’ve put together a great tax guide for digital nomads so you can understand how digital nomads are taxed, how to plan ahead for tax payments, and how to avoid any fines or potential jail time.
14. You may feel guilty about your carbon footprint when traveling the world
Tourism accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a digital nomad, you may feel guilty about how your lifestyle impacts the planet. It is important to know there are many things you can do to lessen your carbon footprint when traveling.
If you plan carefully, think creatively, and stay flexible you can greatly reduce your carbon footprint and your feelings of guilt about this exciting lifestyle. You can even have a positive impact by volunteering at your destinations with organizations working to preserve local habitats and thereby reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. You’ll learn about the local culture and natural areas and make new friends in the process.
The digital nomad lifestyle is an adventure. That means you have to prepare for everything that comes with an adventure, including challenges, problems, downfalls, and disappointment. But life as a digital nomad is what you make of it. If you jump in with your eyes open, plan ahead, and apply creative solutions, then it really can be the best decision you ever made.
Are you are still wondering if being a digital nomad is worth it? Consider attending a digital nomad conference to learn from other digital nomads who have found success in this exciting lifestyle.
Did you enjoy this article? Explore more reasons why you should become a digital nomad.