Life as a Digital Nomad

My Life as a Digital Nomad: The Ups and Downs

Being a digital nomad is the type of professional life that many of us dream of.  Instead of being forced to show up to the workplace 4-6 times a week, digital nomads are afforded the opportunity to roam free and furthermore, in many cases, choose their own work hours.

And yes, having now lived this lifestyle for roughly a decade, I can attest to the fact that digital nomadism is a freer experience than reporting to the office on practically a daily basis. But fantasy always trumps reality. And at the end of the day, whereas I’m not privy to trading digital nomadism for an office job, I’m also not the type to mislead anyone into believing that being a digital nomad is like a fairytale.

So the approach I decided to take to the subject at hand is to list the various ups and downs I’ve experienced as a digital nomad. The downs actually outnumber the ups. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on digital nomadism. Rather, what I’ve come to realize is that whereas this lifestyle may be preferable to some employees, it won’t be for others.


If you ask any digital nomad what they enjoy the most about making a living this way, at the top of the list would likely be the flexibility it affords. If you have a standard 8-hour job, when you combine the time it takes for you to get dressed and commute beforehand, as well the commuting and winding down that comes afterwards, that’s practically 12 hours, i.e. half of the day, dedicated to the J-O by default.

As a digital nomad, you may also find yourself working 8, 12 or even more hours a day. Based on my experiences, there’s a lot more hustling involved in practicing digital nomadism than there is chillin’. But at least you don’t have to commute to the office or anything like that.

For instance, I usually start my workday as soon as I wake up in the morning – before brushing my teeth, making the bed or performing any of those necessary sundry tasks.

Some days, I don’t even bother getting dressed unless I have to go outside for some reason. And some mornings, i.e. when I’m not feeling well, I may not even bother to get out of bed at all, unless I have some really, really urgent work to do. Those aren’t the types of practices you can adopt with a conventional day job, exercising the basic human right to be dirty, if you will. Instead it’s as if the moment you wake up, you’re preparing to leave the house.


Conventional jobs tend to grant employees a higher sense of security which, whether viable in this day and age or not, still exists. But as a digital nomad for instance, you may never meet your employer personally. A meaningful and lasting relationship can be developed nonetheless. But there is, let’s say, a natural value in knowing your employer and vice versa, especially if you’re working on a long-term project.

Digital nomad jobs also tend to be more commission than salary based. Working on a commission is cool because at least then, when you’re being compensated by how much you produce, your boss can’t come in your face like you’re being overpaid. But with a salary, knowing that you’re going to be paid a certain amount no matter what, you can also relax every now and then.

Many people like to imagine digital nomadism as working while simultaneously being on vacation. But even if you find yourself on the beaches of Ibiza, there isn’t going to be a lot of vacationing going on if you’re concurrently hustling to pay bills.

Conventional jobs also tend to offer more benefits, such as healthcare for example. Some digital nomad jobs do also, but those would be the types that, by the time all is said and done, are likely to feel more like a conventional job anyway, such as requiring you to be online and connected to the office during certain times of the day.


Traditional employees tend to face more of a tax burden, the type of which is unavoidable due to the employer taxing your income before you’re even paid. Some digital nomads work under arrangements like that also, but working off the books is perhaps more common. Yes, there are some benefits to being a full-fledged, normal employee. But there are also some disadvantages, such as paying being subject to more taxes.

Some countries even exempt digital nomads from paying local taxes. Those are the types of places that are knowledgeable and empathetic enough to acknowledge that the average digital nomad isn’t walking around with racks in his or her pocket. And that’s why having less of a tax burden is so important, because as a digital nomad a lot of your income is going to be consumed by the nature of this lifestyle in and of itself.


When it comes to practicing true digital nomadism, being a remote worker is only part of the equation. The “nomad” part of the designation implies that, instead of engaging in remote work at home, you’re instead out in the world, moving about from place to place. And that’s another factor that must be accounted for, because economizing is more feasible when you’re in a fixed location as opposed to regularly being on the road.

For example, long-term housing tends to be a lot more affordable than short-term housing. As a digital nomad, especially if you want to visit some of the more popular locations out there, chances are you’re going to spend a considerable amount of the time in hotels, guesthouses, Airbnbs and what have you.

And needless to say, housing is exponentially more expensive when you’re living like that instead of under standard rental agreements.

Based on my own experiences, this can actually lead to a troublesome cycle.  You’re going around from place to place and finally find an area along the way in which you would like to settle, maybe for a year or two.

At the same time you want to save some of your earnings, instead of the bulk of it going to short-term housing. So you decide to rent a place long term. But in some parts of the world, doing so requires a sizable deposit beforehand.

In the grand scheme of things, even paying that hefty advance would save you a lot more than remaining in a hotel or motel. But managing to save up enough money to pay the advance to begin with proves to be impossible, because you’re already paying so much for rent on a daily basis.


The primary difference between a digital nomad and a standard remote worker is that the latter tends to work from one fixed location outside of the office, whereas the former moves around regularly. That’s arguably the biggest advantage of adopting this particular lifestyle.

Both digital nomads and remote workers tend to enjoy a higher degree of flexibility than workplace employees, but remote workers don’t move around like digital nomads.

Or another way of looking at it is that, unless your job calls for it, there’s really no reason for a remote worker to become a digital nomad if he or she doesn’t like traveling. This lifestyle is definitely for people who want to see the world, but let’s say cannot comfortably do so without simultaneously earning a living.

But traveling is also a recurring or semi-recurring expense that digital nomads tend to have which other employees do not.


The fact that jobs consume so much of our time is a fact so common that many of us don’t even think about it.  But this is something you’ come to realize more as a digital nomad. It’s one thing to work from the office or home and not have enough time to go out and do what you want to do. But when you’re rather out in a part of the world that you’ve been longing to explore, that reality becomes a lot more painful.

In fact, even as I write this article I’m in a relatively-beautiful natural environment, and there are a number of attractions in the area I’ve been meaning to get a gander at. But damn if I feel that I ever actually have the time to do so. Rather I’m so caught up in the rat race, if you will, that I have to stop myself sometimes in order to value the beauty of my surroundings. And this is a common occurrence whenever I find myself in such areas.

That’s one of the differences between the digital nomad fantasy and the reality of living this life, that there exists ordinary amounts of stress nonetheless.

You may find yourself in the city, mountainside, beach or bush of your dreams. But while there you still have to survive, meaning you have to work, putting in extra time even, as chillin’ on a beachside for instance doesn’t come cheap.

And to me that’s the true, inescapable definition of a job, which is something you have to do in order to rightly survive even at times you don’t want to. And the “job” aspect of being an employee does not magically disappear when you’re a digital nomad.


Along with travel also comes the increased prospect of enjoying new, meaningful experiences.  No matter how much money a person may earn, it is generally understood that rote is the enemy of exuberance. And going back and forth to the office every day is one of the most effective ways to ultimately render yourself into a routine of unfulfillingness.

That issue, i.e. becoming bored, is less of a concern when you’re a digital nomad, because so long as finances allow, you’re free to pack up and move to a different location on a moment’s notice. Personally, that has been my favorite part of the digital nomad experience, the ability to move from one location to another at the drop of a hat.

But if it’s going to be like that, then you also have to learn how to live with as few possessions as possible, so that moving in and of itself doesn’t become a major burden.


One of the greatest advantages of actually working in a communal workplace is the possibility of forming meaningful relationships therein. You’re meeting the same people day in and day out, and along the way bonds are formed.

In hindsight, the most-edifying job I ever had was working in an internet café. The hours were long; the pay sucked, and, given the environment in which the business was situated, there were plenty of technical issues.

But it was also a very social place, and I got to know a bunch of different people, including a girl who I proceeded to form a long-term relationship with.

By contrast, nowadays I may find myself isolated for days when I have a backlog of work. If friends don’t come to visit, I too don’t have time to go out and see them. And even if they do pop up, in such situations I can’t entertain them for long anyway, since there’s work to be done and bills to be paid.

Many of us who do report to a worksite don’t get along with at least one of our co-workers. But by all means you’re going to make at least one friend, and what I’ve come to realize is that having someone working alongside you that you can also communicate with on a personal level is a unique blessing.

And that’s not to say that such is not achievable through digital nomadism.  But it is a lot more feasible when you’re actually on site.


Sometimes I’ll be browsing online and come across sites advertising popular expatriate and remote work destinations and/or reporting on the digital nomad lifestyle.  And they always do so in one of two ways.  Either you’d see a pic of somebody at a beach resort, gazing at a laptop with a look on their face as if they don’t have a care in the world. Or the site would focus on tourist attractions and hotspots in the area.

But the reality is that many jobs, especially of the digital nomad variety, require concentration. So for instance, it wouldn’t be particularly wise to reside at a locality where a lot of partying is going on, unless your workload is concurrently light.

And as far as working on the beach, don’t even get me started. First of all most beach resorts, based on my experience, tend to be quite noisy. Most people are there to chill, not engage in digital nomadism. And secondly, storms can materialize in the blink of an eye.  Or put otherwise, the natural environment of a beach isn’t really the best for electronics.

Sometimes, distractions may also come in the form of lack of proper infrastructure. If for instance the place you’re lodging at has sanitation, electricity, plumbing or internet issues, then practicing digital nomadism becomes a lot more difficult than it would be otherwise. And I’m telling you this as someone who has been through it all.

Imagine working on a task that needs to be submitted urgently, and then the electricity goes off. You may be saying to yourself ‘what does it matter if you’re using a laptop with a good battery’? Well based on my experiences, a laptop alone is not sufficient to do certain types of work (such as that which requires research for instance).

Either you’d have to own one with a really-big screen or more preferably, use an external monitor in conjunction with a laptop.  And when the lights go off so does the monitor (if you’re using the conventional type), unless there’s a backup generator or plant on hand.

In some localities, the internet may be sporadic. Or you may sometimes find yourself in an environment that has water flow, sanitation or noise pollution issues. Other people may not particularly notice, but since you’re concurrently working and dealing with the stresses thereof, you do. As a digital nomad, the less issues lingering in the back of your mind the better.

When you have a conventional job, it’s the employer’s responsibility to make sure the environment is conducive to the task at hand. But while practicing digital nomadism, you may often find yourself in environments which aren’t designed for this type of work at all. And oftentimes you’re going to have to learn that the hard way, by actually spending time there.

So you can’t be seduced by the beauty or excitement of an area when deciding where to settle as a digital nomad. There’s an employer out there who expects you to produce quality work in a timely fashion, and you therefore require an environment that’s suitable for such. Indeed, the very last thing you need as a digital nomad is to suddenly find yourself unemployed and assed out in the middle of nowhere.


No one likes reporting to a workplace where you have an overbearing supervisor breathing down your neck, but there are benefits to having some push you. That’s how most work gets done, through pressure, if you will. So as a digital nomad, you have to learn how to push yourself.

Based on my personal experiences, being a digital nomad isn’t as working in the office. But employers still expect a certain amount of work to be done in a timely fashion. And even in cases where they may not, there’s still bills to pay. So even if no one is pressuring you, you can’t be lollygagging and therefore must light the fire under your own ass.

Most of us were not raised this way.  In school, if I didn’t complete an assignment in a given timeframe, the teacher and/or mom dukes would start barking. Later, when I entered the workforce and had conventional jobs, there’s always someone looking over my shoulder, sometimes even a very difficult-to-deal-with boss. But I don’t regret those experiences because you have to learn to walk before you can run.

But still, keeping myself on the grind took some getting used to. At first, it’s tempting to become disillusioned into misreading a greater sense of freedom as less of an impetus to work. But there’s bills to be paid and mouths to be fed. And in hindsight that’s one of the things I’m most proud of as a digital nomad, that I’ve managed to survive without subjecting myself to a 9 to 5.


Some digital nomads actually carry their families with them along for the ride. That’s cool, if you actually have a family to take care of and can afford to do so. Or viewed from a different angle, if you have serious familial responsibilities you probably shouldn’t be practicing digital nomadism to begin with, unless you’re making enough to take the fam along for the ride.

But even if you don’t have a spouse and children of your own, there likely will be other family members you miss while bouncing around. Of course this phenomenon, homesickness, is not relegated to digital nomads alone. But it is an often overlooked aspect of this lifestyle, when advertisers are always talking about the freedom it affords but fail to acknowledge more down-to-earth matters.


Writing this article has proven to be a strange experience, because it has made me realize that in the grand scheme of things there are negatives, or let’s say more risks involved with being digital nomad than holding down a conventional job.

But having actually practiced digital nomadism for a decade, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Or let me more honestly say that it would take a really high-paying office job to compel me to return to the workplace. There’s still plenty of work involved in being a fulltime digital nomad, so it’s not a fairytale lifestyle.

There are both positives and negatives, which is what I set out to illustrate in this post. But once you get used to the freedom that digital nomadism affords, it’s hard to walk away from it.

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