10 brutally honest pros and cons of being a digital nomad 🌎
April 27, 2022 / No Comments
I consider myself to be a “digital nomad.” I work and live in different countries, travel the world, and manage my workload completely from my laptop. While digital nomadism is awesome and was always my dream (how amazing to be living your dream!), there are definitely distinct pros and cons of being a digital nomad that many people may not realize.
In this article, I will discuss the pros and cons of a nomadic lifestyle, the challenges of being a digital nomad, as well as unique things I didn’t realize about life as a digital nomad. So let’s answer: what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a digital nomad?
Pros of being a digital nomad
1. You can work anywhere, anytime
Being able to work from anywhere is one of the most distinct pros and cons of being a digital nomad. It’s a pro because location independence is amazing. Not being stuck to a specific time frame or schedule is phenomenal, and I’m not sure I could go back to the traditional 9–5 after this kind of flexibility and freedom.
Knowing you can pack up and go where you need to go in order to do what you need to do while still maintaining a job and an income source is phenomenal, honestly.
2. You can work how you want to
Are you a very rigid worker, or easily distracted? Focused or chaotic? Night owl or morning… owl? If your ~method~ requires 20 minutes of TikTok per 15 minutes of productivity, then digital nomadism might be for you. Working in an office (or worse: an open-concept office 🤮) was not for me. I like sitting ergonomically at a desk, or even lying unergonomically on the floor, or setting my laptop up at a local café for a few hours. I can wear slacks or pajamas (usually pajamas). Nobody knows or cares.
3. There are more online communities now than there ever have been for digital nomads
One of the hardest parts of being a nomad and living in places where you don’t speak the language with any sort of fluency is the fact that you Canal connect with other, similar people online. Slack, Discord, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit.
This is both one of the pros and cons of being a digital nomad because, frankly, some of the communities are not so friendly. But also because establishing community over a location independent mindset does not necessarily mean you will connect with everybody. The kind of person drawn to Thailand will not be the kind of person drawn to Mexico, and even two people in the same place will have an entirely different approach to work, life, relationships, etc.
Plus, a lot of people in the digital nomad lifestyle can be obnoxiously self-promotional. I’m no angel, I have a blog and would love if people read my blog, however the tech crypto bro, and the Instagram van life influencer who aggressively try to market themselves and their digital nomad lifestyle course (for only $599!) can make people understandably wary of building relationships within the digital nomad community.
I think a lot of the mystique and smarmy influencer vibes will lessen in the coming years as more people are becoming work-from-home and digital nomads. There was definitely a time when all digital nomads were seen as very counterculture and alternative, but that’s becoming less and less the case, and I’m hoping we can build more normal relationships and have a more modest discourse around the lifestyle.
4. You’ll learn A LOT
I can honestly say, living out of my home country and working remotely from different continents has taught me more in one year than I feel I learned in 30 years prior. There’s something humbling and magically disorienting about living and working in a culture very opposite from yours. I’ve always been a highly independent person, but moving out of the country has made me recognize that a lot of my independence was just knowing how to navigate my own culture, which is not useful in most of the world.
5. You won’t feel like you’re “living to work”
This, I think for me, was more important than leaving my country or even exploring the world. Deciding to go digital is very humanizing because I really felt like I was living to work. I didn’t realize how much of my time was spent getting ready for work, commuting to work, being at work, commuting home from work, decompressing from work, dreading work, and otherwise feeling like my entire life was passing me by, just to pay the bills.
Don’t get me wrong, I still pay the bills. I still work. But the freedom that comes with not being beholden to a physical location is incomprehensible. That’s not to say it’s entirely perfect. There is a level of security that comes with a traditional job that you just don’t have when your boss is 5,000 miles away and you can lose the job as easy as you got it. However, it’s a very humanizing thing, to be in control of your schedule and location.
Cons of being a digital nomad
I don’t want to complain about being a digital nomad because I truly love it, but nothing is perfect. And I do want to demystify some of the lifestyle for people who are considering becoming a digital nomad, because it’s not as easy and carefree as it’s cracked up to be. There are reasons why many people don’t leave their country or their city even if they could, and we’re going to discuss some of those reasons. So, what are the cons of being a digital nomad?
1. Harder to maintain a work/life balance
The fact that, as a digital nomad, you can work anytime and anywhere is great, but I consider it both a pro and a con because it’s much harder to navigate to work-life balance when you can work any time. I think this was particularly bad when I was freelancing because I felt a lot of pressure to take on as much work as possible because it’s not a stable income.
I thought that life would become a lot slower when I left my traditional work environment, however, I noticed that I worked more than ever once I started working “for myself.” This is fine if you aren’t a particularly driven or anxious person, but if you have any sort of financial insecurity or tendencies to perfectionism, it can drive you mad. I honestly couldn’t believe how much money I was making, but that also had drawbacks because life shouldn’t be all about making money. Work stress in a different country is still stress.
2. Logistical issues
Let’s be honest: a lot of things are just easier when you’re close to your home country. Bureaucracy is easier, communication is easier, and getting things done in your native language is easier. I used to think that the United States had a pretty frustrating bureaucratic system until I moved to other places and realized how good I had it. I’d rather spend the afternoon at the DMV than spend four months trying to get any sort of paperwork done in other countries. Plus, things just take significantly longer (and cost more) when you add an international element anything.
One of the pros of digital nomadism is absolutely the freedom of movement, but you don’t realize how much the date to day logistics of life will restrict that freedom of movement, even when your work doesn’t. Sure, it sounds luxurious to lounge by the beach while you’re working. But what about the sand in your laptop? What about the safety aspect of your stuff getting stolen? What about the glare on the screen from the sun? What about the ergonomics of being productive on a beach chair? How is the cellphone reception on the beach impact your productivity (hint: a lot).
I’m not defending a traditional, 9 to 5, office space environment. Not at all. But… I get it. It does make sense why should people think that the structure and features of a standard office are better for productivity, when you’re trying to get a crumb of Internet reception at a loud and busy café.
3. Lack of comfort
When I first started traveling, I shared an Airbnb with this awesome woman who was working as a digital nomad and traveling throughout the United States. I’ll never forget it because I distinctly remember chatting with her and being envious of her lifestyle, but then she showed me her setup. This woman was sitting on the floor, on a small pillow, with her laptop and a tiny portable screen, working as a very busy project manager. She was on zoom calls the majority of her day, and I just could not fathom how uncomfortable her setup was!
During our conversation, she talked about how she felt like she was living her dream (relatable), but that she wasn’t sure how sustainable of a lifestyle it was. She missed stability, having a dedicated setup, and maintaining relationships and friendships.
I definitely don’t want to complain, but working remotely can sometimes be very uncomfortable. Not having a desk, a comfortable chair, a reasonably sized monitor, or any sort of ergonomics can get old after a while.
4. Making friends is hard
I’ll admit to my own naivety in this situation, but I honestly did not realize how difficult it would be to build and maintain relationships in a country where you just don’t speak the language. Call it American hubris, but I genuinely did not think about the reality of making friendships in countries where English isn’t even the second, third, or fourth most frequently spoken language. I blindly just assumed that they would always be English speakers or even expat communities to befriend, and I was wrong.
I definitely also overestimated my own ability to pick up a language. I assumed that being immersed in the culture would help me pick up on Moroccan Darija, and that has not been the case. It’s a very difficult, very beautiful language and while I have picked up some phrases and plenty of vocabulary words, it is certainly not enough to build any meaningful friendships with locals. I have a ton of respect for anybody who can learn a second language with any sort of fluency because it’s really freaking difficult. And this problem is compounded if you’re not staying in one place for any length of time as a digital nomad.
I specifically wanted to travel to experience other cultures, languages, and ways of life. But unfortunately, the language has really made this both a pro and con of being a digital nomad.
5. Reliable internet is still not the default in many places
While many things in the United States are very expensive, you can typically trust that they will work, at least the majority of the time. When I pay for service in the states, I typically get that service relatively quickly. This is not true in many other places in the world. Often there are only one or two options for service providers, and if they don’t want to do their job, there isn’t really much you can do about that.
Frustrating Internet connection goes from annoying to devastating when you work online. If you have a zoom meeting, an interview, a test, a deadline, or anything else that is heavily dependent on reliable Internet in your workflow, then and only then do you realize exactly how digital nomad life might break down working remotely.
In the United States, many businesses and cafés will have quite decent Internet available for their patrons. This is also not sure in many places around the world, though this is obviously rapidly improving globally, having a plan (and a backup plan) for your internet needs if you intend to work remotely is super, super important.
While there are numerous benefits of being a digital nomad, it’s important to not ignore the challenges, too. Idealizing the lifestyle just means you’ll end up disappointed or ill-prepared. However, despite the challenges, I love the nomadic lifestyle, but it’s not for everybody.