The pros and cons of the digital nomad life: let’s be honest!
If you are fascinated by the lure of the Digital Nomad life, and you can’t wait to resign from your boring corporate job for a life of freedom and adventure, you should read this post about the pros and cons of the digital nomad life before taking the leap.
We will dismantle every myth and show you what being a digital nomad really means and you will realize that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
After reading this post you will know if you are ready to jump in and embrace everything the nomadic life has to offer, in good and bad, in poverty and wealth…
Have you seen that famous image of a person with a laptop in front of the beach which makes everyone envy the digital nomad life? Yes, well, have you ever thought about where the power outlet is, whether the internet is working properly or if the sun does not get in the way? There is a lot more about digital nomad life than we think.
Digital nomads are people who take advantage of technology and the internet to carry out their work no matter where they are.
They have no fixed abode and obviously work in businesses that can be managed online.
The pros and cons of the digital nomad life at a glance
There are many ways to live the nomadic lifestyle, whether it is working remotely, freelancing, or even picking up on-demand projects.
A digital nomad lifestyle stands out not only for the intensity that you experience when everything is new and unknown but also for the constant changes that happen when you adopt such a lifestyle.
Digital nomads are not necessarily backpackers, although they can be, nor are they on sabbatical or on vacation.
They deliberately do not have a home to go back to.
They chose not to have roots in their country or any other country where they eventually live for a limited time before selecting their next destination.
They are not running from anything, nor are they looking for anything. They simply enjoy the route and the new surroundings while living their life and working “normally”. To give an example, a nomad can choose to live on a mountain in China or a riverside community in the Amazon, as long as there is an internet connection to earn money for a living.
When we look at it from the outside, it looks like anyone’s dream life.
Traveling around the world without the need for a vacation, working from everywhere from a laptop, free to decide about our own location, and in many situations working on our own terms, being our own boss.
It all sounds amazing, and if you talk to any digital nomad they will tell you that they wouldn’t change their life for the world.
But hold up! If you like the idea of being a digital nomad as well and are already thinking about quitting your 9-to-5 job, packing your bags, and leaving to see this big world, take a step back and breathe.
Being a digital nomad has its ups and downs and you must know all about it before making your decision.
List of Pros of the digital nomad life
Everything we are told about careers and jobs, about having to work like crazy for most of the year to settle for 30 days of vacation, about working 30 years and retiring, about buying an apartment and taking 10 years to pay for it, if not more… Well, this could all be different! Definitely, not easy. But, for sure, different.
Here are some of the main benefits of working as a digital nomad:
1. No fixed office and geographical freedom
Obviously, the most attractive side and the essence of a digital nomad life is the geographical freedom it provides. Being able to work as a nomad gives you the choice to work from anywhere.
In this case, what many people do is choose a city with a lower cost of living to save money to travel to other places.
Getting to visit so many unique places is perhaps one of the highlights of being a digital nomad or remote worker.
Not to mention the possibility to avoid the winter blues while experiencing the wonders of the world with new adventures just outside your doorsteps.
2. Freedom and autonomy
An undeniable fact about this lifestyle is that it brings freedom and autonomy. You can follow your own path, and live a freer and more flexible lifestyle for less.
In many cases, a digital nomad is their own boss and with no office rules, you can tap into financial freedom and your dollar goes further.
Digital nomads also make their own rules, goals, and deadlines. You will not have fixed hours, alarms are a choice, and you can work according to your demand and your interest in succeeding.
And, unless you have a real job that you can perform remotely but with fixed hours, you will be able to decide when, how, and how many hours to work. You just want to decide what kind of digital nomad you want to be.
This aspect of the digital nomad life makes a huge difference when it comes to choosing a digital nomad career because the level of freedom you build for yourself depends on it. But we’ll talk about it in a separate article.
Just keep in mind that if you are your own boss, you have the freedom to decide when to party and wake up late the following day and when to be productive.
You are the boss. If you work for somebody else on a schedule, you are still location independent but you need to stick to the hours imposed on you.
If you are a freelancer and work on deadlines you will still be the owner of your time and you can organize your life to your liking.
One time, I may have partied a bit too much at a nightclub in Thailand and that is why I was not in the mood to wake up early the next day. And it is ok!
After all, because my routine is pretty flexible, I can start work later sometimes.
I am the one who decides my schedule, which can then increase my productivity.
3. Having a better quality of life
If it wasn’t for the flexibility that the digital nomad life allows, this lifestyle would not be so popular.
Very often happiness is linked to a sense of contribution, purpose, and meaning in life.
Also, by experiencing in person the different lifestyles that we can find around the world you discover new hobbies and interests.
Maybe you find out that you have the gift for windsurfing in the Canary Islands and that your favorite Falafel is from Jordan.
For example, I recently learned how to ride a bike and this changed not only my quality of life but also the way I explore the different cities I visit.
With that in mind, the ability to travel non-stop while working brings a better quality of life (for those who love this kind of live) which combines passion with work by no longer trading time for money.
Besides, the cost of living as a digital nomad is relatively lower. And the amount of money you need to have (or earn) to live the digital nomad life sometimes confuses people.
In fact, this is one of the biggest misconceptions regarding the nomad life, the idea that you need to be rich in order to travel.
Another misbelief is the notion that nomads are indigent. Both assumptions can be true, or not.
In other words, the amount of money you earn and need as a digital nomad highly depends on your job and the lifestyle you want to live.
It’s always up to you. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead before leaving the cubicle life.
4. Living in and learning from diverse cultures
Traveling is good, but living more of the local life, staying longer in one place, not just being a tourist, but a traveler makes us learn to be humbler.
Quite different from reading about these people, it is getting inspired by their life stories.
Being in daily contact with a new culture happens only when you spend more time than a short vacation.
The more places you know, the more you realize you do not know anything. The more you see, the more you learn about new cultures, languages, and people.
As you move along your journeys, you start appreciating many simple things in life, such as access to drinking water, reliable power, comfort, and beds, things that the local population sometimes does not have. You even learn to be more grateful, to see the world through new eyes.
5. Getting rid of material possessions
The nomadic lifestyle goes hand in hand with the minimalistic lifestyle, as we cannot travel with everything we would like to.
You cannot have many material items, because your house is your suitcase or backpack, and it has to be easy to transport around the world. Also, you will not always have access to an equipped kitchen or sleep in a room decorated your way.
The digital nomad lifestyle teaches us to be much less consumerist and to value what really matters. Besides owning only two bags, I noticed how special it can be to exchange possessions with the people you meet along the way.
The jumper I sleep in nowadays was given to me by a friend who did not use it anymore, just like the leash on my surfboard.
This way we realize that it makes no sense to work frenetically to buy things we do not need, which would only limit our freedom. So, as a digital nomad, it is necessary to exercise detachment constantly.
With this, minimalism is the perfect match for nomadism. If you know that you will not have exorbitant expenses with a car, gas, electricity bills, water, telephone, clothes, and furniture, you will be less stressed out. A famous travel quote goes:
Adapting to a more minimalist lifestyle can be transformative, and many digital nomads maintain this habit even when they return to a fixed base.
6. Meeting people
While traveling around the world we meet many people, from different places and cultures. Interesting people with inspiring life stories. Who knows? You might end up buying oysters directly from fishermen on the coast of Portugal.
When I was in Portugal, I even had barbecues with the local community and the fresh seafood they would fish.
And besides the local communities, you will probably meet many digital nomads.
Many times, we connect more easily with people who are in the same boat as us. We recognize each other, we understand the difficulties and what each one is going through on this journey.
After all, we go through the same struggles of the nomadic and entrepreneurial life. In other words, you attract who you are.
So, it is inevitable that you will end up connecting with other digital nomads on the road.
In fact, the digital nomad community is growing every day and due to their close connection to the internet, they are always in touch with each other and even from far away find ways to help one another.
7. Let your journey become your inspiration
Besides becoming more open-minded, meeting other inspiring like-minded people can be both motivating and help you break biases and stereotypes.
A digital nomad life feeds creativity, might increase productivity, and makes you rethink your life goals.
As you do what you love, you do not have specific work hours, you end up being more productive.
Not to mention all the extra input you receive from the outside world as you experience new tastes, new languages, new landscapes, and of course when you exchange ideas with new people.
So, get out of the commonplace, relax your mind, record everything that goes through your head, and keep your mind young with a child’s look.
Observe strangers, ask more, and imagine what it would be like if you did things differently. It is with this perspective that digital nomads open space for original ideas to come.
A note from the editor
As somebody who found her own path during this nomadic journey that started off without any specific plan, just a few ideas and many dreams, I would like you to keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to do things, nor a right moment to start. There is only your way, and mine, and theirs. The most important thing is having a precise goal that will drive you in that direction. What I want to say is that some people already know what they want to do and who they are. Others don’t know exactly how to make a living while traveling, and that’s ok, too, as long as you have to support yourself for some time, until you figure it out. Sometimes the experience you live, the people you meet along the way will open unimaginable possibilities that you would have never known of if you had stayed in your cubicle waiting for ‘the right time”. I tell you a secret, the right time will never come if you don’t decide so.
8. Growing as a person and global citizen
As a virtual nomad, you are constantly exposed to new situations, challenges, and ideas.
Whether navigating a country’s subway system, meeting like-minded entrepreneurs, or experiencing setbacks, personal growth is a fundamental aspect of digital nomadism.
You will be more open-minded, more confident, and better at organizing things. All of these qualities will serve you later, no matter if you stay on the road or take root eventually.
When putting things into perspective, you grow both personally and professionally.
List of the negative aspects of the digital nomad life
Digital nomads are supposed to “live the dream,” but there are also many disadvantages to this lifestyle– most of which you will learn the hard way.
The real truth is that, as in every profession on the planet, some will work and will be successful, and others will not, or it will take longer.
Not because they are less competent than others, but because we are all different and we do not always make the smartest choices.
Also, you have to be realistic and understand that this is not an easy life choice and sometimes it requires as much or even more work and sacrifice than the traditional lifestyle.
But let’s see what are the biggest disadvantages of digital nomad life.
1. Being far from family and home
The decision to live away from loved ones is not taken lightly.
The time away from home brings several difficulties as many times you need your loved ones close by when it is not impossible.
You might also miss important milestones back home, birthdays, weddings, funerals, graduation, and any important life milestone of family members and friends. Longing is a frequent feeling in our lives.
It may sound silly, but this is where our hearts tighten the most. Not only because of the nostalgia — which squeezes mercilessly but because of not having them around when something happens and all you want is to feel at home and surrounded by loved ones.
There are days when we wake up needing that mother’s hug, you know? Or when we get sick and the feeling of being alone is even more intense.
Besides, as much as we try to cultivate friendships, distance can change relationships. It is not always easy to love through video calls.
2. Lack of routine
For a digital nomad, life plans are always in limbo.
Sometimes you do not know where your next bed will be.
For many people, this can be an advantage, but for digital nomads, the lack of routine becomes a problem if you do not have a lot of planning and organization, especially when it comes to productivity.
Still, we need extra efforts to make sure we keep the right balance between working hours with leisure time and, thus, fall into procrastination or, on the other end, work exhaustion.
Not having a routine can be an advantage for some, but for others, it takes a lot of discipline to succeed.
You have to be good at being your own boss, create your tasks, goals and carry out your activities by fighting procrastination and laziness or working overtime.
You have to know when it’s time to have fun and time to work. It’s not easy to be your own boss, believe it or not.
3. Financial instability
As a digital nomad, your main goal is to fulfill your passion for traveling around the world.
However, your expenses and income may vary each month, especially at the beginning of your entrepreneurial life when you are still building the foundation of your business.
Not every month can be financially rewarding for digital nomads. You can earn very well in one period, but the workload can be much less in another month. Unless you have a contract with fixed customers. Or you work for a company as a remote worker with a fixed salary.
If you are a freelancer or a business owner, there are risks. Besides the lack of benefits such as health insurance, which you should have, regardless, food stamps, and unemployment insurance, if you lose customers or experience a reduction in income while you are on the road, or have unforeseen expenses, you need to be prepared.
All this uncertainty and instability can be stressful and in any case, it requires that we must save and manage the money wisely.
By spending most of your money on travel, you rarely get to save for the future. So always make sure you have an emergency reserve for months with a smaller income.
4. Anxiety and restlessness
Traveling all the time also has its downsides. The nomadic life can be a little stressful because we do not have a home and are always traveling and acclimating to new surroundings.
Moving to unfamiliar places every one or two months and leaving right when you are comfortable, is exciting but it can also get tiring.
Also, the logistics behind finding a home for the upcoming months is both time-consuming and demands patience which is why nomads tend to stay in the same spot for a few months. Moving every month or every week can be too stressful and it wouldn’t really make sense.
Additionally, when traveling, we are always out of our comfort zone. We may have health emergencies, credit cards are stolen, or we are unfamiliar with the language and the new culture.
You end up being the stranger in another country, the different one, the most vulnerable.
Several reasons make this nomadic life tiring and hectic, as we are not part of the local community and are always seen as foreigners in other countries.
Everything is a conscious effort, and yet it is what makes this life so exciting and why we do it regardless of the negative sides.
Another issue that may appear in digital nomad life is loneliness for always being on the road and not being able to develop lasting relationships, despite meeting many people.
Having no sense of home or belonging might result in feeling disconnected from people and adjusting to isolation. Sometimes too much.
Also, the time away from family and close friends might disconnect you from your loved ones since many times they simply do not understand you and the lifestyle you chose.
Sometimes I feel that people, even family, and friends, have the impression that I am living on a perpetual vacation and therefore I am lazy and not serious about life.
And that feels lonely, too. And also ironic, especially when I watch myself working long hours and striving to meet deadlines.
But when you do what you love it really feels like a vacation. I just don’t think it’s a negative thing. We all should strive for that, no matter what kind of lifestyle we are living.
While you keep in touch with your family, and friends, and also make new friends on the road, you need to have a close community that you can relate to more deeply and intimately, exchange ideas, or simply meet for a weekend getaway.
Not to mention that, for those who are single, it ends up being very, very difficult to have a stable relationship living this lifestyle.
With that said, it is also necessary to get used to saying goodbye not only to family and friends in your hometown but also to the people you bond with on the road.
6. You might face burnout, doubt, and FOMO (fear of missing out)
Being your own boss and deciding your own schedule can result in working too many hours and having to be “on it” all the time. It is important to manage well your time, productivity, distractions, and life balance, and avoid burnout.
You feel like you always need to be working. And with that comes that feeling of FOMO, fear of missing out, which intensifies because we would like to be living life more fully. But the more time you have, it seems, the fewer things you do.
Not to mention having to deal with the stress of needing to be connected all the time. When you work online you end up being 100% internet dependent.
Bad internet connection and uncomfortable workspaces become a constant worry, and you physically cannot go too remote.
Remember that Wi-Fi does not grow on trees. And of course, we do not even want to consider what would happen if the laptop were to crash and you need an equipment repair, but you are stranded on an isolated island in Panama.
I came across this problem in Tonga when I got stuck on Eua Island due to bad weather with no internet connection and had no way of contacting loved ones when an earthquake hit the island. That was even more stressful because I had no way to let my family know that I was ok.
7. Work vs Vacation
Digital nomads are not tourists. Traveling for tourism is one thing, you disconnect from your work and you are there to enjoy, relax and have fun.
However, when traveling and working at the same time, you have to separate both time and money, not spending it all, because you never know what tomorrow will look like.
While it is good to be on a beach, it might not be so amusing if you have a deadline coming up and need to work.
Digital nomads often work in places where almost everyone is on vacation.
The truth is that at some point, visiting new places is not that exciting anymore. And it eventually becomes tiring.
8. We are borderless but the world is not
Given that many nomads simply do not have a home, here comes all the madness of the logistics of travel and the bureaucratic complexity you might find in some countries.
Tickets, accommodation, food, insurance, visas, language, and currency, in addition to planning well in advance for the coming months, or you do not have a place to live.
Visas are a constant problem in the lives of digital nomads and dealing with laws in a language other than your mother tongue can be quite tricky. So, as much as you fall in love with a place and decide to stay, it often does not depend on your will.
As investing in a digital nomad visa which now many countries are issuing is often expensive and time-consuming, this makes us almost forced to move constantly or do the so-called visa-runs, which is when you leave a country right before your holiday visa expires and go back 4 days later to get another 3 or 6 months of free “holiday” visa.
These days normally turn into a short “real” vacation when we feel entitled to get ourselves a short break from our digital nomad working routine.
So, is the digital nomad life for you?
In general, the way each one deals with the different aspects of the nomadic lifestyle is completely related to how much each one wants to live differently.
Some people cannot stand instability and constant changes and that is great because we need these people so that there is equilibrium in the world.
And even those who dream of living this way, know that it is not easy. The big advantage is the mobility and management of your own time.
The downside is that getting started is never that simple and the journey can be very tough.
That is why it is important to put all of this in the balance before making a decision.
The secret is to take stock and assess whether the positives make you happier than the negatives, and then yes, it is really worth it! Eventually, all the pros can turn into cons and the cons can easily turned into pros.
Also, the pros and cons have different weights depending on your view of the world. It is all very relative, depending on your principles and ideals.
It is also essential to keep in mind that the digital nomad life is not a lifetime decision, it does not have to be forever, like a marriage.
One of the most interesting characteristics of this way of life is its flexibility and you can always adapt it to your needs.
So if after reading this you have decided that the digital nomad life is for you, check out our digital nomad resources to help get you started.
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About the Author
I’m Camila, an Oceanographer from Brazil which is where my journey began. My studies have taken me to unique places around the world since I was a teenager. I found in my academic career the chance to come across different cultures and languages while working as a scientist. By having lived in several countries I have been able to share my experiences as a travel content writer for the last 4 years and I still have plenty more to tell. I have a great passion for the outdoors and animals, especially dogs and seals (which, let’s be honest, are basically sea dogs!).