The nomadic work-from-anywhere lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Managing a business while travelling on a long-term basis is for a select few. It takes a special type of person to cope with the physical and mental issues that only come up after long periods of constant travel. Those photos on the internet of people sitting in hammocks, sipping Piña Coladas? All fake. They are not working and enjoying the beach at the same time. Nobody does that. Even luxury hotel influencers get burned out. And that’s why there’s a service that outsources hotel stays for influencers. Now, why didn’t I think of that?
But what about digital nomads? If you’re reading this, you’ll want to know why I’m bashing the nomadic lifestyle. But the purpose of this post is not to dissuade anyone, but to show why you don’t need to be constantly moving to be happy. There is another way.
Don’t believe the hype
People get caught up in the romanticism of being able to travel then world while checking your social media every now and again. Yeah, that’s how it is. I can tell you exactly how to become a digital nomad but it might be exactly what you don’t need in life. Don’t buy into a lifestyle that’s not for you. Don’t do it for the label!
Don’t do it for the label!
The term digital nomad has always irked me. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’d like to re-label myself as something else. Entrepreneurial World Explorer is a bit of a mouthful and doesn’t tell the story. But again, I’m not into labels. People ask me what I do and I can’t really explain. Not because it’s a secret, but because I do lots of things.
Now I’m not trying to go against the grain here in some kind of Huffington Post clickbait-style say-whatever-is-trending-is-shit type blog. Digital Nomadism is all the rage. Cubicle slaves want it. Most people can’t have it. But that’s changing. And it will one day be the norm. The problem is that we’re in the intermediary point between trend and mainstream. People that have no idea what it’s like to work and travel want to get in on the act. And where there’s a glimpse of hope of a better life, unscrupulous marketers see opportunities for making money.
Countless YouTube videos, Instagram influencers and blog posts (I have one) show you how to be a digital nomad. Nothing wrong with that. But, as always, when money gets mixed in with people’s insecurities, people get hurt.
Wannabe nomads watch videos of people travelling the world and apparently having a whale of a time. Beach parties, train journeys across the Andes, Yoga in front of the Taj Mahal, massive spreads of breakfast (that will go to waste) on the terrace with a view of a Greek Island. It’s the life. And you only have to work for an hour a day. Even better, buy my course on growing your Facebook Ads Agency and you’ll never have to work. [ Note: I don’t have a Facebook Ads course ]
Work & Life Imbalance
Balancing work and life (outside of work) is extremely difficult.
Some people pull off a lifestyle of changing locations on an almost daily basis and still manage to get work done. That’s not me. And I am sure that 99% of digital nomads and even blogger/influencers would admit in private that it’s devilishly difficult to be productive while travelling.
Try coming off a 12-hour flight, finding a taxi, checking into a hotel or Airbnb and then doing anything productive. It never works for me. So I try not to work those days. Walking around the new city is the best way to get over the jet lag and remove some of the FOMO I have for the new city.
But by skipping a couple of days of work, I might cause long-lasting negative consequences for my business. Solopreneurs or freelancers, which I’ll bet covers 90% nomads, understand this.
The one advantage regular employees have over people that run their own businesses is the ability to switch off for a week or two when travelling. Unless you’ve built a location independent business that runs without you, switching off is hard, even for the most disciplined people.
Loneliness & Fleeting relationships
Sounds like a first world problem, right? You travel the world spending your dollars or Euros on amazing hotels and apartments in third-world countries, places you’d never afford back home. You get to do more interesting things every week than most people do in a year.
But it can be lonely.
I believe that the vast majority of people will hate their lives if they have to move location every few days or weeks. It goes against our instincts for a place to live, security, and stability. There’s plenty of research to suggest that the most important factor for mental health is a strong social network. And I don’t mean an online network. You know, like the cesspool of Twitter/ Facebook’s slide into a channel for polarisation and self-validation.
Your own personal network of people you can talk to, touch, hug, and read their body language. Real friends are worth more than any therapy. They offer more joy and comfort than any life of zipping around the world can.
“Regular folk“ sometimes view digital nomads as tax evaders. Maybe it’s jealousy. Travelling the world and not paying tax is a tempting way to go about living. But, depending on your point of view, avoiding tax in this way is immoral and illegal. So what happens when you want to do the right thing?
Finding a tax expert who even understands the words “location independent” is harder than you might think. Even if you find someone who has read a few articles about digital nomadism, you now need to explain why you have 10 credit cards, 5 PayPal accounts, a card for currency transfers, 7 income streams, and multiple addresses. How to account for income earned in a country that has a double-taxation agreement with your home country. And where is your home country? Where is your tax residence? Where should you open a business? How do you start a business in another country? Should you start a business in another country?
My point is not to show that being nomadic is a pain in the logistical sense. It certainly is, but the real cost is in the mental energy used to figure it all out. It can be stressful and anxiety-inducing. I even found myself wondering whether it would be easier to earn less so I didn’t have to think about tax.
This is particularly important as we get older. When you’re sick, few things are enjoyable and no amount of money is enough. And there’s nothing like an illness to make you long for the comforts of your homeland, doctors you can communicate with, and a family & friends support group around you.
Removing the distractions of work allows me to be present, to be mindful, and to almost meditate on the experience
Being a Nomad, sometimes
Find a place to live and make it your home. Having a home is important. If you’re looking to remain “stateless” for tax reasons, you can stop looking. This isn’t possible anymore and the effects of working around the world and not paying tax will bite you in the ass soon enough. Modern work innovations and changes will eventually force us all to be somewhat “remote”.
Use the freedom you built into your lifestyle to travel to places that interest you
Once you have a place to live and a solid support network, use the freedom you built into your lifestyle to travel to places that interest you. But don’t go with the plan of getting tons of work done. In my experience, and from reading about the experiences of others, this rarely happens.
Modern work innovations and changes will eventually force us all to be somewhat “remote”
Working from a sweaty, fly-infested cafe in Africa might sound exciting – and sure it might make a cool blog post or Instagram story – but it’s hard to get any actual work done.
I’ve avoided visiting some countries that interest me because I know I won’t get any work done there. Iran is a case in point. I would love to travel to Iran but I’m waiting for the opportunity to take 2-3 weeks (or more) away from work. After 25 years travelling and more than 5 years as a digital nomad, I know that it’s a lot more satisfying to immerse myself in the destination and the culture. Removing the distractions of work allows me to be present, to be mindful, and to almost meditate on the experience. Do I really want to worry about finding good internet, coffee, and a comfortable place to sit for long hours? Of course not. But I don’t have to. And that’s my choice.
Blogger, lifelong learner, entrepreneur & musician from Ireland. I’ve been travelling and living overseas for over 20 years. My mission is to build businesses that allow me to have a simple and independent lifestyle. In the process, I hope to help myself and others with my writing.