Over the years – thanks to the advent of online communication – a new type of working professional has emerged: the “digital nomad.” Digital nomads are individuals whose daily routine is to keep moving, travelling and trying out new things.
They require only a laptop and an internet connection to be able to work from practically anywhere in the world: on the sands of a quiet beach in an exotic island, from a well-reviewed restaurant or even a hotel room halfway across the world. For many, the unshackled lifestyle of the digital nomad compensates for the lack of stable employment and benefits that a regular employee would be entitled to.
The freedom to travel keeps perspectives fresh, the creative juices and imagination flowing, the soul uninhibited – the kind of thing paper-pushing office employees can only dream of.
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The Challenges of Being a Wanderer
In reality, however, the life of a digital nomad is neither as simple nor as glamorous as one may think. While their goals and aspirations may differ, digital nomads can never escape these few challenges that plague their every day existence – things like:
1. The search for consistent and stable internet Connectivity is ongoing (and never-ending).
The work of a wandering freelancer is highly dependent on being connected to the Internet. Thus, it isn’t surprising that the absence of a stable connection could throw a wrench into their work schedule. Staying in cafes that offer WiFi connectivity will burn a hole through your wallet. It doesn’t help that public WiFi areas and portable “pocket WiFi” devices aren’t exactly as reliable as a cable connection. Good luck finding a company willing to keep you connected during the quarter year (at most) that you’ll be staying put at a single residence.
2. All that traveling may hinder your ability to work efficiently.
Unless you’re some kind of superhuman, you will definitely find yourself getting tired from moving around so much. It’s not just limited to physical fatigue though. Your constant trips might lead to your body and mind being taxed to their limits because of all the frequent changes in your immediate surroundings. It may also be easy to forget that you’re globetrotting (mainly) because of work, as every new place you find yourself in will certainly have plenty of distractions.
3. Not everyone Ends Up a success story.
We’ve no doubt heard numerous anecdotes about former employees who left for greener pastures and eventually found themselves financially sound opportunities through nomadic digital freelancing. Let’s face it, though – it’s still a risky proposition, and the cost for failure can be quite high. Be wary of claims by digital nomads who said they started from the bottom and rose through the ranks on their own. More often than note, they didn’t build their wealth on their own.
4. The line between work and leisure blurs.
Another problem with being a digital nomad is that you tend to have difficulty switching off your “work mode.” While most people go on beach vacations to swim and bask in the sun’s rays, you would be there to work. Furthermore, with no one looking over your shoulder, keeping you in check and dumping (and limiting) responsibilities on you, you’ll find it hard to distinguish between work and leisure, and will probably be working when you should be enjoying yourself, or worse, vice versa.
5. Your interpersonal relationships will most certainly take a blow.
Being away often also means not having enough time to speak with your friends and loved ones. If you are thinking there’s Skype or Facetime, don’t forget the Internet connection issues you may encounter. The hard truth is people will miss you for a while but will continue on with their lives with or without you. It’s a sad thought, but it happens. It will be tough to build strong personal relationships when you can’t even hold on to a permanent address and the same thing applies to children (if you have any), who may suffer more losses than you will.
And yet, despite all of these concerns, there are plenty of digital nomads who are handling these challenges like a breeze.
Digital Nomads To Follow Online
We take a look at a few digital nomads who are always on the go but always connected online. These individuals paint an accurate, painful and truthful picture of what it is like being a digital nomad.
1. Nomadic Matt (Matthew Kepnes)
Matt, who owns the travel blog Nomadic Matt, admits that there are disadvantages to living the lifestyle of a digital nomad, just like everything else. Still, Matt has managed to make a successful career out of helping people who want to travel on a budget.
“When you are always on the road, it’s hard to get into routines and build habits,” says Matt. “Dating is tough because you are never in one place long enough to form a connection and before you know it, it’s time to go again!”
Learn more about Matt’s lifestyle here.
2. Niel de la Rouviere
Niel took a two-month-long trip to Southeast Asia before returning to his native South Africa, learning a thing or two about being a digital nomad.
He encourages everyone to at least give what he did a shot. Interestingly, this is all part of his day job as a front-end developer for social media management service provider, Buffer. “There’s nothing quite like sipping a fresh coconut while coding up a new feature,” quips Neil.
3. Legalnomads (Jodi Ettenberg)
Jodi quit her career – being a corporate lawyer for over five years – to focus on her travel site Legalnomads and hasn’t looked back since.
According to Jodi, the biggest disadvantages of being a digital nomad are uncertainty about the future, being worried about your health, and not being able to stay with your loved ones at home on special occasions. She also has a book about her adventures: The Food Traveler’s Handbook.
“It’s not a calming choice to walk away from what you grow up being told is normal,” admits Jodi, “But at the same time, if you are excited enough about that flexibility to build life on terms you find compelling, the latter is a very rewarding option.”
4. Travel Fish (Stuart McDonald)
Stuart runs the blog Travel Fish – a travel-planning website that encompasses a significant part of Southeast Asia – and is honest about the difficulties of putting your phone in your pocket and going to places with no WiFi, among other challenges.
“There are significant lifestyle costs to pursuing this style of living, not least that in many cases you’ll be working far more than you would have been back in the cubicle, in a far less productive manner and often in a less than ideal work environment,” shares Stuart. “But, when that all gets me down, I get on my bike and ride down to the beach to watch the surf.”
5. Exilelifestyle (Colin Wright)
Colin of Exilelifestyle has an interesting gimmick: Based on his fans’ votes, he moves to a new country every four months. Follow his blog to learn more about his thoughts and experiences regarding this one-of-a-kind nomadic journey.
Colin poses a challenge to all dreamers. “You may also find, while deep-diving into your motivations, that you don’t wantÂ travelÂ specifically: you want novelty and new experiences and the like. You can start achieving those things immediately, without leaving your hometown. Do so. Whatever the case may be, though, start working on it immediately, or you’ll keep putting it off.”
“I can go anywhere I want at any time,” he shared, a clear indication that he’d love for people to experience the same thing.
6. Vagabonding (Rolf Potts)
Rolf, who owns the blog Vagabonding, wrote a book on independent travel called Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. The blog and book contain insights from the man who has worked with such industry giants as the National Geographic Traveler and the New York Times magazine.
Rolf has some sound advice for new nomads. “Forcing yourself to slow down and improvise your way through each new day on the road is the best way to break out of the habits of home and embrace the amazing possibilities a journey promises.”
Read Nomadic Matt’s interview with Rolf Potts of Vagabonding.
7. Making It Anywhere (Rob Dix & Michelle Slade)
This couple own and manage the site Making It Anywhere, where they discuss real stories of digital nomads’ successes, failures, and everything in between, in addition to providing useful tips and advice. It only took them two or so years to leave their mark in 16 cities across three continents.
“Our targets are always closely linked in with our core values, and in all our personal quarterly plans we say what we’re going to do to bring those values to life,” affirm the couple. Here’s an article where they explained how they run their “local business” from around the world.
Ultimately, if you’re planning to escape from the corporate world and jump headlong into the world of digital nomads, be prepared for the sacrifices that such a move would entail. Sure, there are roadblocks, but they’re not impossible to overcome. All it takes is patience, street smarts, and a genuine desire to live for something more than being cooped up inside a concrete building.
Oh, plus a knack for finding a decent internet connection.