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The Digital Nomad lifestyle is officially mainstream. Millennials are throwing out the archaic 9-5 in seek of location independent working in their millions, and people from all generations are following suit.
As a fellow remote worker, I don’t blame them one bit. Being a digital nomad is great. I can go where I want, when I want, and never have to rub up against strangers on the packed 8am commuter tram ever again. Shudder.
What’s more, working from South East Asia has allowed us to be incredibly frugal with our finances, which is perfect for two freelancers just embarking on their journey. Long-term travel and saving money – what’s not to like?
Well, that’s what I’m addressing today.
Although social media would have you think that the digital nomad lifestyle is all beach, bikinis and luxury Airbnbs, that’s often not the case.
Every lifestyle has downs as well as ups, and I think it’s only fair to share the real story with you all.
Read Next: The Ultimate Digital Nomad Packing Guide!
These are the things no one tells you about the digital nomad lifestyle…
1. Coffee Shops: 30% Great, 70% a Worker’s Nightmare
Working on the road, you have two choices: work from your hotel room, or from coffee shops. There are also co-working spaces in some cities, but as we haven’t hit many digital nomad ‘hubs’ yet, those haven’t really been an option.
While the thought of sitting in a cute coffee shop for the day, sipping Cappuccinos and working away to smooth jazz sounds in the background sounds sweet, it’s often not the reality.
Right now, I’m in a crowded Starbucks, surrounded by tourists and families who couldn’t give a crap that I’m trying to work. Not that they should, of course.
The point is, coffee shops are places where everyone gathers – not just workers. You have to be prepared for screaming toddlers and friend meet-ups braying for your attention, and just shut it out. Coffee & snacks but a few steps away? Awesome. Trying to work and not focus on the juicy argument the couple next to you are having? Not so much.
Pro tip? Headphones. My Foldable Kanen on-ear Headphones cost me just £12.99 (~$16) and have been absolute lifesavers at blocking out all the distractions in busy public places.
2. Lay Ins Become Far Too Frequent
Oh, man. There was a time where 7 o’clock featured twice in a day, but that time is over. With no reason to get up early, we don’t. And when we do try, generally…we fail, hit that snooze button and get up at our leisure.
I know, I know, I sound like a brat for trying to make this sound like anything but a good thing!
However, you should know that as a digital nomad, the 9-5 is out the window in good and bad ways. It is far too easy to become lazy. Work could easily take a back seat – living you with some great photos but not a whole lot of money! You become the master of your productivity – and if that means late lay ins, it also means late evenings catching up on work.
3. Hot country and a backpack with all your work equipment? Constant back sweat patches.
Yeah, not many Instagram photos showing you the backpack sweat patch every digital nomad sports at some point, are there?
Most digital nomad hot-spots are in sunny, tropical countries, and while that’s heaven most of the time, it also means some serious sweating occurs.
Walking even from our apartment to a coffee shop results in damp t-shirts and shiny foreheads – and a lot of washing required! Be warned.
4. You need will-power. A lot of will power.
When faced with the choice to work, or to go sightseeing, sunbathing and exploring your new location, your will-power seriously reaches whole new levels.
We do more than our fair share of playing in the sun, but sometimes you have to acknowledge that you’re not going to fit in all the tourist sights of one city.
You learn that work comes first, and that missing out on a gorgeous day to focus on your clients and business is ultimately worth it.
5. Say good-bye to any kind of routine with your diet
Many digital nomads recommend staying in each spot for at least a month. While we’ve done that a few times, we’ve been travelling a lot more than what is considered the norm for travelling workers. That means a constant new routine, which then means a constantly changing diet.
Breakfasts of coffee and maybe the odd breakfast bar become routine, with lunch and dinner often rolled into one hungry meal. When you’re two fitness enthusiasts used to a healthy diet and a full-on exercise regime, it can be a tough adjustment.
It’s when we have a little apartment for a week or so to call home, to pad into the kitchen and make our own breakfast from our own fridge, that I can really see the pleasure in the simple things. My body was so thankful for this simple fruit salad with PB I had this morning!
Read Next: Meal Prep 101: How to Save Money and Make Cheap Healthy
6. Slow travel is the only way to travel
There’s a reason seasoned digital nomads move slow. Working, sightseeing, and travelling quickly is a lot. Oh, not to mention the fact that I’m running this blog full-time all by myself! We’re slowly learning for ourselves that backpacking and the digital nomad lifestyle are totally different things.
If you’re set on becoming location independent, my biggest piece of advice is start slow. Move slow. Live in the places you’re visiting. It’s the only way to work and travel without feeling totally burnt out.
7. Prepare for Some Seriously Dodgy Accommodation
In some destinations, it’s almost impossible to avoid at least one dodgy night sleep’s in less-than-ideal accommodation. In the past few months, we’ve had some nightmares: broken toilets, strangers attempting to unlock our door, geckos in the corner of our room, and the worst one of all:
Waking up at 3am to a 2 inch cockroach crawling all over me. I still have nightmares.
It’s not all bad though – on the most part, we’ve been really happy with our accommodation. We use a range of booking providers, but my number one recommendation is always AirBnB.
AirBnB is the same price if not cheaper than most hotels in the same location, but you can rent an entire home for your stay. There’s nothing like the home comforts of a kitchen, your own bathroom, and the ability to cook yourself a good home-made meal after a few weeks on the road. If you haven’t used AirBnB yet, I highly recommend that you start!
Use my referral link to sign up now and I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Read Next: How We Travel Long-Term on a Budget
8. You Need to be Prepared for Isolation
When you’re working as you travel, you come to appreciate home comforts such as a kitchen and your own bedroom. That means you’re more likely to stay in Airbnb’s than dorm rooms in a hostel. While this is undoubtedly the best move to get work done and relax, it’s not the best way to make friends.
Pete and I are extremely lucky that we are in the same boat. We can travel together and work together, and keep each other company on the road. But when you spend 24 hours a day 7 days a week with the same person, making friends isn’t an unwelcome idea!
Things can be isolating as a digital nomad, especially when you’re not hitting up tourist hotspots. If loneliness gets to you quickly and you’re travelling alone, consider looking into expat or nomad meetups in your area, and avoid particularly remote zones until you’re in your groove.
Also check out Digital Nomad Girls founder, Jennifer Lach’s piece in the Huffington Post, addressing the future of digital nomads.
9. You become a master of time zones
My clients are spread across the world, operating in very different time zones to me. However, that fact doesn’t matter in the slightest when articles need to be scheduled and posts shared. Those things all stay in the client’s timezone, no matter what.
A part of the digital nomad lifestyle is that you have to become an absolute master of what timezone you’re in, and that of your clients to keep your business flowing smoothly. Pete has a great Casio G-Shock Digital Watch with a multi-time zone functionality, which is great when you essentially need to be in two places at once!
Luckily, scheduling tools mean I just have to factor in the difference rather than wait up half the night before I can publish something!
10. Say goodbye to any kind of work routine
The days of my office job where I’d finish at 5 and switch off until 9 the next day are long gone. As I said before, with long lay ins there is a trade-off. That trade off is doing the work that needs to be done, no matter how late it gets.
I work throughout the day whether it’s for my clients, on this blog, or on other side hustles I’m running. That can mean sitting at my laptop at 9 or 10 at night still working on projects because we decided to go exploring in the day. While this method totally works for me, for others it may be a bit of a shock!
If any of these points have put you off, that is not my intention! Being location independent is an amazing experience the majority of the time, with just a few minor annoyances you have to adjust to!
If you’re thinking of exploring remote working and the digital nomad lifestyle, check out these articles which you may find useful:
- 8 Digital Nomad Job Ideas Perfect for a World Adventure
- Starting a Freelance Business: Everything You Need to Know
- How to Negotiate a Remote Work Policy with Your Current Employer
Do you work remotely? What secrets can you uncover about the digital nomad
lifestyle that people may not already know?
Mrs. Picky Pincher says
Thanks for sharing these! I do think I’d enjoy the digital nomad lifestyle, but it’s true that there’s no such thing as a perfect job. 😉 You do have to create a certain set of routines for yourself just to feel like you’re in control of your day, though.
The Wallet Moth says
You’re welcome! For sure, but honestly this lifestyle has way more ups than downs (I mean, you’re seeing the world!). Creating a routine is so essential though
I have a job that provides some location independence but not fully so. Going away for a week or two remote is normal but months at a time would be an issue. My experience is similar to your list, especially staying motivated.
The Wallet Moth says
I literally went from full-time office job to travelling all the time, and it is a big adjustment! Maybe easing yourself into it is a better way to go.
Barnaby @ Personal Finance King says
Thanks for sharing. Makes those of us who are stuck at home feel a little better about our situation. Looking forward to my vacation this week though!
The Wallet Moth says
Ooh have a great vacation! Thanks for stopping by
Physician on FIRE says
Thanks for showing us “the dark side” of digital nomading. I may be among you at some point in the next couple years.
As alternative to coffee shops, what about public libraries? Here in the states, they have free wi-fi comfortable seating and usually available plugins. If you have kids, they’re also places the whole family can enjoy for a couple hours.
The Wallet Moth says
Ooh good luck, digital nomad life is my best decision this year! Libraries is a good shout actually. We’re travelling Asia atm so I don’t know how they differ from Western countries but I will have a look into that, thanks!
Erik @ The Mastermind Within says
It’s definitely tough when you are with a significant other as well when they aren’t working and you need to work. Even getting 2-3 hours in is tough because of the nice attractions outside!
The Wallet Moth says
Absolutely – both of us work but my workload tends to be a little higher week on week. I feel guilty saying no to exploring and having to sit in cafes all day!
I’ve been location independent for almost 3 years now (2 of them with my boyfriend) and I totally agree with all of the above. Instead of cockroach, I had bedbugs. However, it is all true, and I agree you are not trying to disuade, but more show the true colors of it. I very often hear how “cool” my life is, how I can’t complain, how good I have it. And although I am grateful of my life, I have to admit that I’ve come to miss routine. That I am now ready to settle and have cupboards and closets with the same contents for some time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
The Wallet Moth says
Ugh Eli I had my first run in with bed bugs last week – absolutely awful!
Thanks so much for your comments – I completely agree. I’m often told that I’m living the dream, and while 90% of the time I agree, sometimes I long for the simple things like my own fridge and wardrobe! 🙂