So you mean to tell me I can quit my job, travel the world, and get paid for it as a digital nomad? Sign me up. Well at least that’s what the waves of “Quit Your Job and Travel the World” courses, articles, and videos would have you believe. But let me tell you, it’s not that simple. Oh, how I wish it was. But it’s just not. There is a large part of the digital nomad life that many people don’t talk about. This is why many of us get a bit annoyed when we constantly hear how lucky we are or how easy life must be. These pieces marginalize the hard work digital nomads put into their crafts and gives people a false idea of what it actually takes to live a nomadic lifestyle.
So these are a few things that you likely won’t read in those inspirational pieces about quitting your job/education to travel the world.
You’ll Probably Be An International Criminal
Digital nomads regularly break the local law. We often “work” without work permits. Do “visa runs” (which usually aren’t illegal per say). Rent places illegally. Lie on customs and immigration forms. And all kinds of other things that could carry a stiff penalty if caught. And much of it has become accepted within the digital nomad community and par for the course. Although many countries turn a blind eye, many have started to catch up with digital nomads in recent years. Changing immigration and employment laws as well as raising penalties for breaking immigration and work laws. Once upon the time we were a quiet minority. In 2016, we basically shout it from the rooftops with every blog post and tweet. It’s self-snitching.
You’ll Be Lonely as Hell
When I say lonely I don’t mean socially. You’re constantly meeting people. In hostels, tour groups, on flights. You’ll meet more people during long-term travel than you’ve met in your life. But most of these relationships are temporary. Fleeting moments in time. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who travels with a companion, it’s tough making lasting connections. Don’t come out here expecting lasting relationships to be as easy as swiping right.
Long-term travel and friends just don’t mix. Sure, you’ll meet some amazing people. But the reality is, you likely will never see them again beyond Facebook. The nomadic life is a collection of rendezvous and experiences. Jumbled together into a barely cohesive narrative we call life. Although an interesting existence, holding onto friendships can be extremely difficult. Especially with those back home who haven’t changed much if you have.
You Have to Be A HUSTLER
Picture this. You’ve worked all month. 40 hours a week. Sometimes 60. And finally the first of the month rolls around and your boss says, we can’t pay you right now. Depending on your area of expertise, it can be very difficult making a living as a digital nomad. Especially as a blogger. An entrepreneurial spirit is required in this industry. You have no boss but you have deadlines. No schedule yet expectations. If you aren’t a self-motivated person, the digital nomad life will be more difficult than it already is. Invoicing, pitching, taxes, work permits. Only a few of the things you have to be familiar with.
Digital nomads aren’t “lucky”. Digital nomads are some of the most creative, motivated, and hardworking people in the world. Being a Digital Nomad is relatively simple. Being a successful one is a different story. And on a side note, PAY CREATIVES FOR THEIR WORK. Stop stealing people’s photos, videos, or whatever else. A ton of work goes into creating digital content and people stealing this content means fewer and fewer people can create art for a living. Art we all enjoy.
TIP: Check out Nieshas great Vlog. She’s not a digital nomad but digital nomadish. She tells a story about how the school she’s teaching at played her on a LOT of cash. Watch here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq9qjXTpFTk
Travel Is Not Cheap or Free (Well Mostly)
One of the biggest misconceptions about long term travel is it’s cheap. Granted, depending on where you live this can be true. If you live in Chiang Mai where anyone calling themselves a digital nomad flocks, you can live quite well for little money. However, if you prefer more metropolitan locations your costs rise significantly. I’m partial to cities like Bangkok, Barcelona, and Santiago Chile. Where you’re not doing very much with less than $1000 Euro. And god forbid you want to fly anywhere in the Mother Land. Africa is the place you go to burn money. Literally. Remember, we’re talking about digital nomads. Nomads as in people who actually travel. Not expats that stay in one place for 6-12 months at a time. Being an ex-pat is significantly cheaper than a digital nomad.
Oh, and all of those press trips you see bloggers taking. That’s work (for those who decide to do their jobs but that’s another post). And not always pleasant. Imagine being stuck for five days with a bunch of whiny, entitled, 20 somethings on a poorly organized “tour”. Granted, some trips are a blast (Looking at you South Africa Tourism 2015), but they are far from vacations.
No Sick Days Princess
I’ve seen a few digital nomads post about their illnesses. But I can assure you, a vast majority don’t. Simply put, it’s not sexy. Social media image aside, as a digital nomad you don’t get sick days. Clients don’t care if you’re sick. Readers/viewers that have been groomed to expect certain content at a certain don’t care. Days you don’t work are days you don’t get paid. In a highly competitive industry that relies on timeliness, being off the grid a couple days can be disastrous. (travel insurance anyone)?
TIP: Get insurance. Look for Income Protection Insurance. Basically, this kind of insurance provides you with a monthly paycheck if you get sick or hurt. Also, get basic travel insurance. Accidents happen.
Personal Travel Takes a Backseat
For those of us that travel for a living, personal travel has to be scheduled around work. Just like any other job. For many, good paying assignments are few and far between. So when they show up at the door, you answer. Sometimes that means going back to the same locations over and over again. Digital travel content production is a supply and demand business. If travelers want content from Budapest, that’s where you have to go to keep your content fresh. If you sell images like me, you have to constantly keep updating the images in your portfolio with new interesting shots from the world’s best destinations. Paris, Barcelona, Caribbean, Southeast Asian islands, etc etc etc. Not to mention events like New Year’s Eve, Christmas Markets, and Pride Parades. Personal travel quickly starts to take a back seat to eating.
Digital Nomadness Is Like Giving Cocaine to a Recovering Drug Addict
How many of those memes have you seen with inspiration quotes saying things like ““If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.” Or “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”? Now I love me some Henry David Thoreau but this pervasive idea that travel is some magical gateway into the soul is romanticized clickbait. Well, not completely but mostly. Here’s what travel will do. It will expose your character flaws. That’s for sure. But long term travel, and the privilege that comes with being a “wealthy westerner”, gives us the means to reinforce our flaws. Alcoholic? You can get trashed every night and no one will blink. Hell, most places in the world will encourage this. Selfish Asshole? There are more than enough places where locals will wait on you hand and food for the right price. See what I mean?
Some of us just aren’t self-aware and might need someone to point these things out. Unfortunately, as digital nomads, we rarely have people that know us well enough in close proximity.
It’s true that long-term travel can be transformative. But it’s equally as true that long term travel can make your vices even worse and hell you discover new ones.
Reverse Culture Shock is a Bitch
If you’re one of the lucky few to have a truly transformative long-term trip, returning home is going to hurt. Bad. Reverse culture shock is very real. Especially for those of us coming from western countries. From the cuisine to how people treat each other, you’ll feel like a foreigner. You’ve changed the way you perceive the world while “home” has remained the same or gone into a totally different direction than your current mentality. This gets even worse when friends and family haven’t changed at all.
One of the biggest issues you might deal with is coming to the realization that your friends/family are assholes. Or backward minded at best. This can be difficult because these are the people who helped shape who you are.
Passive Income is some BULLSHIT
You know who passive income is real for? People “teaching” you how to build passive income. It’s easily one of the biggest scams I see the digital nomad community promoting. INCOME TAKES WORK. Real work. I’m talking 18 hour, caffeine infused, no days off work. Sure, there are a few unicorns running around but they are extremely rare. If you want to be a digital nomad, leave the get rich quick schemes at home. Out here, you need to work harder than you likely ever have. And this is one of the primary reasons I decided to write this. Because one too many of these “passive income” pieces floated it’s way onto my newsfeed from well know bloggers. Maybe because I’m over 30 and can remember these, but most of PI pieces come off as new age versions of 3 am $29.99 get rich quick schemes. BUYER BEWARE!!!!
These are just a few of the things that tend to be conveniently left out of those “inspirational” pitches for this lifestyle. Don’t take this as me complaining. My life is amazing. Which is why I continue to do this. But after almost four years of digital nomadness, I’ve become a bit cynical. So take this piece with a grain of salt. But I’ll leave you with this. Do your research and make sure you have a hell of a backup plan. Because this lifestyle just isn’t for everyone. I’ve seen some of the most financially successful digital nomads head home because they miss their dog. I’ve also seen some digital nomads barely scraping by that are some of the happiest people I’ve met. Life is about balance. Find yours.