I love being a digital nomad (even if I there is lots of weird stuff going on in the world of digital nomads). But the freedom to work from anywhere in the world, and travel whenever you want comes at a price. Which is something that is still not talked enough about, especially with everybody being busy keeping up a shiny Instagram and selling the dream. So here is my list of problems that come with this kind of lifestyle. Problems I have experienced myself and witnessed in other digital nomads over the past couple of years.
Wifi and cell phone coverage
Looking for good internet is probably the main thing I struggle with on a regular basis. I travel a lot and have experienced quite a few places with unstable or poor internet. From living on a small tropical island with frequent power cuts to travelling around Australia – yes, Australia. For those who have never been (like myself until last year), this might come as a surprise, but most cafés don’t have wifi and the cell phone coverage is only good in big cities. As soon as you get out into nature or travel from one place to another, even reading your emails becomes a real challenge. There are tools to help you find the best wifi around, but that doesn’t help much when a storm turns what has been the best wifi in weeks into nothing more than a vague memory of happiness.
If you work online with clients or colleagues from all over the world you are very familiar with this problem. You have actually become an expert in time zones, you know what time it is at any given moment in New York, London or Bangkok. You know how to set up two time zones in your Gmail calendar and know when the next daylight saving change occurs long before the people living it do. The upside: While living in Australia, my mornings were wonderfully quiet as everyone back in Europe was asleep. I got so much work done, without new emails and not very much happening on Facebook. The downside: my client sessions where always late afternoons and evenings, often on weekends. I personally don’t mind working on weekends, as every day feels pretty much the same to me and taking days off during the week is really nice. But as soon as you want to have a social life, well, pretty much everything is happening on a Friday or Saturday evening…
Traveling around Vietnam equals to a lot of noise. From the perpetual honking on the road to the construction noise, well, everywhere. Some countries and cultures are definitely quieter than others and I have learned, that I really shouldn’t work on travel days or at least not after travelling on a a Vietnamese public bus for 7 hours. Have I mentioned the music and tv shows playing on the bus? Oh yes, the bus might not have proper seats, but it does a TV. Even with noise cancelling headphones (oh, how I love them), that TV will remain a part of your experience, just like the honking – and that is what is all is about, isn’t it? New experiences?
So yes, public busses can be exhausting as can travelling in general. Especially long term travelling and fast travelling. 2016 I travelled to or through 13 different countries, staying from a few days to a few months in each place. In my own experience travelling is way less exhausting when I have more time or simply go back to places I have been to before. Also travelling around less developed countries, especially when you don’t speak the language is, of course, more difficult than travelling around Australia for example. But nonetheless, travelling itself is exhausting. There often is a lot of research and organisation involved beforehand. Once you get to a new place you have to figure out how everything works, where and what to shop and eat, where to work from and of course you will be busy meeting new people and exploring the tourist sites. And don’t forget the jetlag of course. When I travel around Europe to visit friends and family, then this is usually less tiring because of the travelling itself but more because of all the socializing and catching up that is happening in a short period of time. So yes, travelling is amazing and it is why many digital nomads choose this lifestyle. But don’t forget, that you also need enough time to acclimatize and rest!
Traveling around and making new friends is great, but often also very superficial. Where are you from? Where have you been and where are you going next? Oh, you work online? That’s so amazing, that’s my dream! Webdesigner? No, Psychologist. What? How? Oh, that sounds really interesting, tell me more. Sure, this is good marketing for my business, but it is not really that interesting to share the same stories over and over again. Yes, I am from Germany. But I am also French – another great way to keep the conversation going for the duration of the next drink. I am being a bit mean here, but the truth is not that far away. I have met really amazing people while travelling, people I am still in touch with or even have met several times since. Starting a random conversation over dinner is even how I met my partner. But let’s be honest, most travel buddies will not become much more than that. And that may be fine too. But this leads us to the next point…
Keeping in touch
No matter how far you travel and how much your life is different from that of your family and friends back home, most friends met on the road will know you as well as those back home do. And if you are lucky enough to have a supporting family and friends, then keeping in touch should be an essential part of your life. There is so much more to share than what you post online. And if your family doesn’t really understand what you are doing, keeping in touch and showing them more of the behind the scenes could also help them to understand more. So Skype, WhatsApp, and Email away. Even if the sunset cocktail or the next temple is calling (or was ist work?), don’t forget to keep in touch with those you love.
Not being „at home“
As someone who travels a lot, this is also something I struggle with often. I do like to discover new places, try new foods and walk around foreign cities for hours. But why can’t every mattress and pillow be exactly how I like them? Why are most AirBnB kitchens so poorly equipped? And finally, why do so many places have weird smells? Not being at home is something I have become very familiar with. Or maybe, being at home wherever I am at the moment. Enjoying all the different opportunities different places offer me. And adapt, constantly adapt to new environments while trying my best to keep up some kind of routine. For my work and for my mental and physical health.
Being a digital nomad can be lonely. It may be easy to not be alone and meet new people, but you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. Not speaking your own language for a long time, not eating familiar food, not sleeping well while running your own business, all those things can contribute to it. I do work alone most of the time, but I know how important collaborations are for my work. From talking to colleagues about difficult clients to planning new projects with someone and getting feedback on ideas. It is so helpful to connect to fellow digital nomads and for me especially to psychologists and coaches. You don’t have to figure it out all alone. And if it is not your work, but everything else that is making you feel lonely, don’t forget to call your mother or your best friend back.
Are you a Digital Nomad? What is it that you struggle with most?
You have a great niche for this lifestyle Sonia.
Do you pick up any work on your travels or is it all remote?
Thanks, Enrico! I work 99% remote, but I sometimes happen to be in the same city as my clients and meet face-to-face whenever possible. But those are also clients that found me online, I don’t pick up work locally at the moment, as I am travelling too much and not staying long enough in places.
I think it’s so important to show this side of the lifestyle as well! So many of these are similar to the challenges of being an expat as well, but I do think it may be easier to stay in one place. When I think about my expat vs. digital nomad clients I think that for many expats they have a hope of making a place their home, but maybe digital nomads learn quicker how to carry their sense of home with them? I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting question to wonder about!
Yes, I have been wondering about that too, Melissa and it may actually explain why being an Expat can be harder at times. If you stay a few years, you definitely have time to not only feel at home but also to set up a life there, with friends and routines etc. My routines are more location independent and most of my friends are “online”. Also, I get to enjoy the benefits of places and countries, like their great food and museums and nature etc. without having to deal with administrative issues of settling 🙂