The digital nomad community, to the untrained ear, may sound like a network of online gamers who rarely see the light of day and subsist mostly on takeaway pizzas. But in fact, nomadic life in this modern context is something you may want to consider as a freelancer. You set your own schedule, so why do you have to be location independent?
The possibilities modern technology affords us mean you can sustain a freelance career whilst moving from place to place. Sound like your dream life? Is it too good to be true? Let's explore how it can work for you.
What is a digital nomad?
The word 'nomad' may conjure up an image of someone traveling through the desert by camel and selling their wares. Although the internet has spread to most corners of the earth in the modern age, digital nomads tend to be in more populated areas. In fact, to become a digital nomad, you just need a device with an internet connection. Popular digital nomad destinations include coffee shops, wi-fi lounges, or maybe a library nearby where you can go to work.
Remote work is part and parcel of the freelancer's life but why stay tied to one location? The digital nomad lifestyle means a frequent change of scenery so you will never get bored of the same four walls. You could even work while visiting a foreign country; work and travel do not have to be exclusive from each other when a reliable internet connection can be found in many places. You just have to be a bit selective about your location and do your research. As with any aspect of freelancing, it's all in the planning.
What is a nomadic lifestyle?
Digital nomad life allows you to sustain your travels alongside any freelance gigs you have going. Reliable internet access is all over the world now. Since Covid hastened a shift to remote working for many of us, people have been looking at how far this can be taken. Most digital nomads have begun this way of working in recent times but it is likely to become more and more popular in the near future.
With 16% of US companies now being fully remote it will surely follow that location independent workers become more common. Remote workers enjoy the independence that this lifestyle brings, but it can be a lonely existence. The digital nomad journey enables you to meet people and to frequently change scenery throughout your working week. Does this work for everyone though? Time to weigh up the good and bad things many digital nomads experience.
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Pros and cons of being a digital nomad
While this lifestyle offers lots of flexibility, it also comes with its own set of rewards and challenges to sort through.
Benefits of being a digital nomad
Successful digital nomads are people who enjoy this type of lifestyle and are willing to do what it takes to make it work. Here are some reasons it may be your scene.
Digital nomadism is full of motivation to get your work done. If you are travelling to exciting locations, then you'll want to maximize your time exploring them and won't want to be bogged down with your work any longer than you have to be. Of course, this doesn't mean you should rush your tasks and do a bad job of them so you can go out and play. As your own boss, you need to make sure you keep your clients onboard. What better motivation to focus on your tasks and get them complete than to allow yourself more time to make the most of your travel destinations?
When you work remotely you need ideas to take your business forward, to impress your clients, and to keep producing your best work. What could be better for creativity than working in new locations all the time and experiencing new sights, sounds, and even cultures? Spending extended periods of time in the same place could make your ideas stagnate.
If you travel to foreign locations, you will have diverse experiences to draw on all the time. These will help fire the synapses in your brain and will lead to enhanced creativity.
Other digital nomads will tell you that the very nature of this lifestyle makes you more resilient and open to learning. When you travel to different locations, especially abroad, you will be taken out of your comfort zone, and this is where growth is enabled. Working abroad means you will meet people from different cultures and experience new things all the time. It will be a constant well of inspiration.
If you become too comfortable, it can lessen your desire to learn new skills, which can make you less effective as a remote worker. How many digital nomads will be able to offer something unique to clients through their experiences? Traveling to foreign countries will mean you can offer perspectives that remote workers who stay in one place may not be able to. You will also be more adaptable to change, just through the way that digital nomads work.
More time for the things you enjoy
As a digital nomad, you will get used to finishing your work quicker, because you will be buzzing to get out and experience everything the new locations have to offer. Because of this mindset, you will keep the work-life balance on the right side of the scales. Work can be very fulfilling, it can give you a sense of accomplishment and provides focus in life, but it is not the be all and end all. All work and no play is, in fact, harmful to your career. If you are working all the time, you will not be refreshed and it is likely the quality of your work will decline.
Location independence means you will stay inspired and can give your all to your work over a shorter space of time. If you are working from home, you need to make your workspace calming but inspiring to maintain your focus. As a digital nomad, the inspiration is always there.
Making new friendships
There are digital nomad hotspots throughout the world. If you are living abroad, you will sometimes crave familiarity, and may want to seek out meeting other digital nomads. It is the perfect ice breaker when you realize someone is living the same lifestyle as you. It can be hard to meet new people, but in co-working spaces, you will make new friendships, and some of them can be lifelong.
Remote jobs do not have to be isolating. If you work in a coffee shop, designated co-working space, or a library, you are likely to meet others doing the same. You can also find digital nomad communities on social media, which may be a way of meeting people in your location.
Drawbacks of being a digital nomad
Many things about the modern nomadic life may seem attractive, but no lifestyle is perfect, and there are drawbacks too.
They say, "A rolling stone gathers no moss," but as true as that can be, this doesn't mean the traveler's lifestyle is stress-free. In fact, there can be a lot more to worry about when you're on the other side of the world. When you arrive in a new place, you have to find out where everything is. If the work dries up, you will worry about having to head back home. It can be overwhelming if nobody speaks your language well and you are struggling to communicate what you need.
When traveling through different time zones, it can be hard to schedule meetings at a time that works for everyone. You may also struggle to keep your sleep pattern regular, and if one of your loved ones back home is in bad shape, it will be many times more stressful when you can't get to them easily.
There are just as many stresses to staying in one location, but it's worth bearing in mind that the nomadic lifestyle is not all fun and games.
If you are someone who needs to feel comfortable, then you may find being a digital nomad challenging. A couple of weeks on your travels can be exciting even if you are a home bird to the core, but over a few months, it may lead to burnout. Sometimes you just need to be where everybody knows your name, right? This can be very hard to find when you are often changing location.
This shouldn't put you off giving things a try. You can obtain special digital nomad visas for many countries today, so if you just commit to a short-term travel experience to begin with, you can always change your mind if it isn't for you.
Remote work jobs can be unstable by nature, and if you find yourself without work and low on funds when thousands of miles from home, it can be quite intimidating. Having said all of this, if you are someone who needs creature comforts to get by in life, it's unlikely you've read this far!
Travel is exciting, but even the most seasoned traveler sometimes yearns for connection. There may not be digital nomad hubs everywhere you go, so in order to make friends, you will really have to put yourself out there. You might make a new friend who you really get on with, but then they move on to a new city, or maybe you will when your visa expires.
Unless you have a family who is totally on board with this lifestyle, it can be really hard to have this kind of close-knit unit around you. Enjoying alone time and being lonely are two different things, and it can be a lonely experience being a digital nomad for sure.
Maintaining work-life balance
Although wanting to experience new locations can be motivating to get your work done, it can also be a distraction. The traveler's mindset can lead to you always living in the moment. This can be a lot of fun, but less so when your deadlines appear out of nowhere and you have to rush your tasks. The pressure of having to fund your travels can also mean you spend more time on online business than you do experiencing the places you visit. When you change location every few weeks, it can be hard to stay focused.
If you are trying to save money when traveling, you might fall into the trap of hiding within your work, so you aren't out spending your hard earned money. It is not the most steady income, and the anxiety of this might mean you could have stayed home all along for the amount of sightseeing and new cultures you actually experience.
A location independent business is possible with the advent of wi-fi, but what if it doesn't work? Internet connections have improved massively on the whole in the past decade or two, but as with all technology, they are not infallible. What if you are far from home, you have an impending deadline, and the internet goes down? No hotspot or virtual private network is available? If you can't work on your own projects because technology has let you down, it can be so demoralizing. If you were at home, you could head over to a friend's house or to the public library, but there may not be those options where you are.
Should I become a digital nomad?
You may have already answered this question in your head if you've read this far. As with all life decisions, if the pros outweigh the cons, then being a digital nomad may well be a good option for you. However, this life is not for everyone.
Some quick points to consider:
- Does your current life situation allow for you to be a digital nomad? Do you have commitments at home that will make it hard to sustain this lifestyle?
- If so, are you someone who deals well with uncertainty and change? If you need constant stimulation then this lifestyle will certainly provide it. Even if these things don't come naturally to you, it may help you to get out of your comfort zone.
- Do you have a little bit of money to fall back on if work becomes scarce? Running out of money when far from home is no game—it certainly helps if you have a little bit of savings behind you before embarking on this journey.
- Are you looking for new inspiration? If you feel like you're in a rut, then becoming a digital nomad may be the answer you're looking for. They say a change is as good as a rest, and a new location will definitely provide a change!
Some tips for getting started
If the digital nomad life sounds like your jam, then here are some tips you should consider before starting out.
Lose any unnecessary expenses
Do you have a gym membership or any other regular payments that you won't need to be making for a while? Make sure you stop all of these before you head off on your travels, otherwise you will find it harder to fund your lifestyle.
Make sure you have some reliable income
Heading off on your travels and thinking, "I'll just find some clients when I get there," is not a wise move. When you first get to a new location, you'll have enough to deal with already, so make sure you already have some regular clients and some work to begin as soon as you arrive. If you're planning on being away for a long time, it may be worth putting your stuff into storage, rather than continuing to rent a property. If you own your home, then a sale will certainly give you enough breathing space to set up your nomadic lifestyle. It's a big step though; better make sure being a digital nomad is for you before making any other big decisions.
Get travel health insurance
It's easy to focus on the exciting aspects of travel, but the reality is that you can still get sick abroad and things can go wrong. Make sure you have a travel insurance policy that will cover any eventuality for where you're heading. There's nothing worse than being thousands of miles from home, being in a tight spot, and not knowing what to do about it.
Look after your money
Many American credit card companies will charge a transaction fee when it's used abroad, so it's worth getting hold of an international credit card. You can ask your bank for one of these. It’s not a complicated process and will save you a lot of money over time. Foreign transaction fees can really mount up. At the same time, you can sign up for credit monitoring services, so you will be alerted if anyone has got hold of your details and is trying to spend your hard-earned money.
Join a digital nomad community
When starting out on any new venture, it's a wise move to speak to people who have been there, done it, and can teach you lessons you won't have to learn the hard way. There are plenty of digital nomad communities online, as well as Facebook groups where you can get tips, share experiences, and help yourself to plan for anything that may go wrong. There will inevitably be setbacks and curveballs along your digital nomad journey, so you need to have a plan B and C in place.
Research the destinations you are heading to
If you like the look of a place, you'll want to head there and check it out, but doing so blindly will only lead to problems. Where will you be staying? Make sure you find a safe neighborhood, ideally close to a hospital and any other amenities you might need. Make sure there will be places you can go to work in the area with wi-fi. Will you be looking to stay in Airbnbs? Affordable housing? Do you have an RV? Where will you park it? Setting aside a bit of time to find out all of this vital information will save you so much time in the long run.
What can you do as a digital nomad?
If this is starting to sound like your kind of lifestyle, the next question is what type of work will you do? There are many possibilities for working as a digital nomad. Some of these include:
- Project Management
- Virtual Assistant
These are just a handful of possibilities. Basically, anything you can do remotely you could, in theory, do as a digital nomad. Your clients will only have to know you're working abroad if it's relevant in any way. Digital nomads earn what any freelancer will earn—it is all dependent on the work they put in. You can have a successful freelance business from anywhere in the world. It's all down to you.
So by this point, you may already be packing your bags, either literally or in your mind! Don't be too hasty—as we have learned, the digital nomad lifestyle can present a number of challenges. The impact of these can be minimized through careful planning and forward-thinking. For those who have a traveler's mindset, it can be the most rewarding working life you can imagine.
Just a couple of main points to recap:
- Being a digital nomad can be stressful, can give a lack of stability, and can be a lonely existence, but there are ways you can deal with all of these things.
- If you are looking for adventure, inspiration, and distance from the 9 to 5 life, this is one of the best ways you can find all of these things and more.
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