Reading, hearing or even knowing a person who travels the world constantly sounds like a dream for many and knowing these people are making money while they travel is just something most people can’t even comprehend. It sounds exciting, amazing, too good to be true.
And maybe it is…
Most of these first person accounts of the digital nomad lifestyle conveniently doesn’t tell you the whole story.
So today I wanted to get real honest and transparent with you guys, because I have people that email in and say how they plan to quit their jobs and start their digital nomad life. I’m excited for them, and I’m happy for their courage but at the same time I always feel like I should give them a dose of reality and let them know, not just the perks but also the downfalls of being a digital nomad.
This post isn’t to discourage anyone. I’m simply writing this so people can be more prepared and aware of what being a digital nomad is about in totality and not just the good, happy, exciting bits.
I travel slow and I have a home base in Hong Kong, by many accounts I’m not even considered a digital nomad. I’m a location independent entrepreneur that loves to travel. However frequent travel and constantly moving also have many of the same downfalls as the digital nomad lifestyle.
So let me share what some of these downfalls are.
This is what they don’t tell you about being a digital nomad
It’s hard to maintain friendships
This one is an obvious one, but all the relationships you left behind are going to be hard to maintain. Many digital nomads leave for a whole year before they even think about flying back home for a visit. A year doesn’t sound like much and in most cases, it isn’t.
However, when you’re travelling you don’t have a fixed routine to sync your schedule up with your friends back home, it gets hard to maintain your bonds.
They have busy routined lives and your routine changes every time you visit a new place. You have every intention to Skype, but it seems to never be possible. Or at least never as often as you would like.
You could text, or even email but over time this isn’t enough.
You will most probably feel a little distant and that you’ve grown apart in different directions. I remember how friends would plan for the “old” group to get together and I would never be able to go because I already booked tickets to go somewhere. It became an inside joke that I was never in town when they met. And when I was, it was always a game of catchup.
Even the friends you meet on your travels are hard to maintain, though slightly easier. Travellers understand they may not ever see you again or it may be years before the next time you bump into each other, and they’re okay with that. These friendships are fun, exciting but also fleeting.
Creating new routines at each destination takes time and it gets taxing after awhile
We all need small, little routines here and there in order to work efficiently. It could be as simple as getting the same coffee order at the same coffee spot, to how you start your day by heading straight to the bathroom. It doesn’t matter, but these tiny, micro rituals you do help get you working more productively. But every time you go to a new place, you need to figure it all out again.
It takes time to look for a co-working space, figure out how to get there. How all the buttons and switches work in your hotel room or airbnb. All of these small things you have to figure out at every new location really does distract you from doing your essential tasks.
And after awhile it can seem rather tiring. There’s this attitude of “not this again” whenever you find yourself trying to find your rhythm in a new place. And just when you get into a flow of things, you pack up and leave to your next spot.
Which leads me to my next point.
You’ll learn most people can’t actually travel and work at the same time
Travelling while you work isn’t all true, most of the time. In fact most digital nomads confess of entire days in their room, at the co-working space or cafe just working. They could essentially be at their hometown doing the same thing.
The only difference of course is, when you have days off you can adventure out and experience what the local place has to offer and when you’re home, well, you’re home.
But many people don’t realise this. They think you can work on the plane, on the train, a few hours in the evening or wake up early in the morning. And it simply isn’t true. Most digital nomads have active income streams, which means they work full-time hours.
The truth is, if a digital nomad said they spent a month somewhere, half of that time, if not more was spent on the computer.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it, but it’s also something most people don’t talk about. I mentioned how I found it extremely hard to work while I travel and I mostly opt to not even bother trying. I’ve decided to do most of my work while I’m in Hong Kong and just enjoy the most of my adventures when I have them.
But I’m slowly learning to balance the two so I can reach more goals, faster. But the result is always the same. You’re either working, or you’re not. No one is actually working while they go on a jungle hike in Thailand or site seeing in the city. It’s either a day off, or it isn’t.
You feel guilty for being away from your family so much
Being away from your family might give you a big case of guilt. People are getting married and you couldn’t go to the wedding. Your parents are getting older and you weren’t there for the last hospital visit. Your younger cousin graduated and you were, again, not there.
It’s inevitable to miss out on many big family events and you’ll find yourself feeling guilty for not being physically present. Passing comments made by family members don’t help when you do finally go back home to visit everyone.
I’m going to tell you right now, there’s no quick and easy solution to this one.
You just need to be 110% sure about your life and simply not look back. It all comes down to your values and if they’re crystal clear in your mind, then forget about what the back of your head is saying and all the passive aggressive comments your extended family are making.
Just do you!
Sure, come back and visit more often, if you can. But if you can’t then don’t think what you have going on isn’t just as valuable or more valuable than what you left back at home. Everyone has their own path to walk and just because yours isn’t convenient for others, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t walk it.
Eventually you feel like you could just stay, no matter where you are
I’ve done my fair share of moving, travelling since I was a kid. My family moved on a regular basis, from country, state, county, city and town. We just moved a lot.
And now as an adult who travels a fair bit, not a crazy amount but I do my fair share.
You always come to the conclusion of “I could see myself living here” or “I’m in no rush to fly back”.
There’s a level of comfort you get after you travel a certain amount in life, where the whole world truly feels comfortable. It’s not hard to picture yourself setting up camp and sticking around. Maybe not for the rest of your life, but maybe a year or two, or even 5.
This doesn’t sound like a downfall of being a digital nomad, but it is. Because as easy as it is to stay, it also means it’s very easy for you to leave. You end up having this vagabond perspective on life as perpetually being an onlooker looking in, but never actually apart of the local community.
And this can get a little lonely at times if you don’t have other vagabonds nearby. (This ties back to the whole hard to maintain friendships problem)
Dealing with your taxes is a headache
Taxes for digital nomads is a complicated messy conversation that most people don’t know how to start or even want to have.
Most countries don’t know how to deal with this new group of productive, money earning demographic and some digital nomads think they don’t have to pay any tax at all.
Wrong…or right, it depends.
Basically, SOME, not all, but some of digital nomads don’t pay taxes. They either think they legally don’t have to or they know they do, but have no idea how to because, like mentioned above, governments honestly don’t really know what to do.
Of course, some digital nomads do pay taxes, those are the ones that maintain home bases somewhere around the world and they normally pay taxes to the local government of where their home base is.
Not paying taxes may sound great but it actually poses a problem in the long run. Without paying taxes, you essentially don’t have a credit history which leaves you unable to do many things in life, like get a car loan, a mortgage, a new credit card with amazing air miles, life stuff most people will need to do at one point or another.
It’s a practical problem that many digital nomads face once they decide they want to slow down and convert to being location independent instead. They find that all their years of being nomadic has left them with zero credit history in any one location and essentially in the eyes of the government they’re like a teenager that hasn’t ever worked before.
Most have credit cards that they gotten before they quit their normal day jobs and that is better than nothing, but without paying tax, you leave a big hole in your personal credit history that many banks will give you a hard time for.
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Other resources you should check out:
- Find out who needs to keep a home base when they travel the world and how?
- Travel hacks on getting cheaper flights
- Learn how I fund my travels with passive income
- 15 common mistakes people make when they travel