6 things they don’t tell you about the life of digital nomads
When the average professional imagines the digital nomadic lifestyle, silly stock photos undoubtedly spring to mind—some 22-year-old in a hammock, or sitting in the sand, or perched on a mountaintop awkwardly balancing a laptop.
The pictures are pretty. But for any true digital nomad with a serious career, photos fall flat. (Pro tip: the beach is a bad place to work.)
What is wrong with these images is that free time and work time are combined in a single image, whereas in real life they have to be separate or you ruin both.
Words are worse than pictures – posts, articles and even books by digital nomads tend to be superficial and misleading.
If you’re seriously considering making the switch to digital nomadic life, you need an accurate picture of what you’re getting into. So here are the six essential lifestyle facts that blogs won’t tell you.
Many digital nomads are not nomads
A significant number of so-called digital nomads simply move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, and live there as temporary expats – or any number of places that offer a fairly good lifestyle combined with a meager cost of living. Nothing wrong with that.
But it’s not a nomadic life.
Most digital nomads are not very young
The common notion is that digital nomads are young people within five years of college. But according to a recent study by MBO Partners, only 21% are “Zoomers” — Gen Z, who are 25 and under.
The largest group are millennials — people currently aged 26 to 41 — who make up 44% of digital nomads. (That’s right: “Millennials” are now entering their 40s.)
A quarter of digital nomads are Generation X – aged 42 to 57 – and 12% are Baby Boomers: people aged 58 to 76.
In other words, more digital nomads are over 42 than under 25.
Nomadism is often “Slowmadism”
Surprise! Professional digital nomads work full-time. In fact, more than full-time. Depends where you go With sometimes slower connections, travel times, and random unusual inconveniences (which I’ll detail below), you can expect to schedule the same workweek as you would in the office, plus another, say, 20%.
For a digital nomad to explore a city for a week, you need to live there for a month and work most of the time.
Life as a digital nomad is an offer you can choose for yourself
Each category of digital nomad bears little resemblance to the others. They are all completely different.
Van life, for example, is completely different from international nomadism. one is domestic; the other is foreign. One is much more difficult; the other can be filled with physical comfort.
What they both have in common is that everything is always new. This is very different from the temporary expats who move to Costa Rica and stay there.
My wife and I are both obsessed with food and foreign cultures, so life as international digital nomads is perfect for us.
But we could never live the van life (too uncomfortable) or the ex-pat thing (too unchanging).
The point is that knowing yourself and what you really want out of life is important as all digital nomad lifestyles come with trade-offs and downsides.
And you and your partner must be on the same page.
The life of digital nomads is almost always less convenient and less comfortable
Here is a real-world example:
As I write this, I am working at the table in our Airbnb in a southern French village called L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
The city (and region of Provence) is heaven on earth. The scenery, weather and architecture are breathtakingly beautiful and the food is great.
The people are really wonderful.
Sounds great right?
Well, that’s it: Except that the available Wi-Fi is so slow that it can take two or three minutes to load a basic website (even my mobile broadband connection via Google Fi is slow). In addition, there are practically no window bars here, and the building is ancient.
So I have a choice between an open window and mosquitoes or being mosquito free and working in a humid and stuffy building. But there’s no place I’d rather be.
You just have to be willing to sacrifice petty comforts and conveniences for the joys of life in an amazing place.
The digital nomad economy favors total engagement
Keeping your home while living or traveling abroad is very expensive and probably not financially advisable. So to profit economically, store everything, sell your house and hit the road.
Yes, that’s a big step – and a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
While the lifestyle is awesome, think about the implications of not having a home office and fast internet, your own kitchen, and full control over your daily schedule.
And it’s certainly not a light-hearted decision, based on the wrong picture painted by digital nomad literature.
Life in the van isn’t just about sunsets and early morning coffee with the dog. And even the international digital nomad does not live an endless party in Thailand.
And you’ll never work on the beach.
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