Every digital nomad online will tell you to read Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek. I’m one of them, but I suggest reading the first 4 chapters and skip the rest of his self-indulging ramble. It’s one of the many readings that encouraged me to start traveling, seriously traveling.
What these feel-good books and blogs don’t tell you, though, is the reality of being a digital nomad. They might touch on loneliness and homesickness on the road, well, no shit. People feel lonely even when they’re home, not to mention traveling solo in foreign countries for months or years.
Lots of people say, “what you’re doing is so cool,” and I always pause to ask myself — is it?
Here are some of the not-so-cool things I’ve learned from being a digital nomad.
Digital nomads aren’t rich.
For the sake of simplicity, a lot of remote workers will say they’re digital nomads when you ask. However, they don’t always identify as one behind closed curtains. Location-independent professionals, for example, can live anywhere they like instead of limiting themselves to low-cost countries. These people are often successful entrepreneurs or high-income individuals who don’t like to label themselves as digital nomads (but they do so they don’t spend an hour arguing with you).
Lots of digital nomads are often stuck in freelance ruts and they can’t afford to live in or travel to expensive cities. Being a digital nomad doesn’t mean you get to travel everywhere. Iceland and Norway are off the map. Many would aspire to become location-independent someday, but you probably have a better chance back home. Climbing that corporate ladder will put you in a better financial position than 90% of the digital nomads.
Long term relationships are rare.
You must have seen countless travel couple stories online. These “success” stories or Instagram accounts make people fantasize the possibility of meeting “the one” in an exotic foreign country. You’ll meet your Brazilian prince charming like Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love and conquer all your love fears. HA HA.
Who writes about falling in love for the 10th time with a fellow traveler and that love turning into shit as soon as they part ways? Most of the time, the story goes like this: you hook up with someone cute – make plans to meet up again – part ways – either you or the other person meets someone new and even cuter – repeat. These things happen very quickly on the road because of the restrained timeline. Do you have 3 days or 2 weeks to fall in love with someone? Prepare to go from honeymoon to the different stages of grief within that timeframe as well. Traveling heightens and speeds up every experience.
Heartbreaks are worse when you’re traveling alone. You’re surrounded by acquaintances instead of best friends. You’re in a beautiful place alone and broken. Every nomad, including myself, has struggled through these awful times. After enough heartbreaks, you’ll think about going home and settling down with the idea of stability.
Not everyone has self-discipline.
Being a digital nomad means you have to wife your laptop. When vacationers are out exploring, you need the strength to block out all temptations. You have to get up every morning ready to work even when no one’s checking on you. You say NO every time your new friend asks if you want to go somewhere fun on a damn Monday morning. You have to focus on your computer screen when the others are having fun conversations in the cafe or coworking space.
I’ve had days when I just refused to work on a Tuesday, or several days in a row. No big deal — only my bank account balance dropped by the end of the month. If you’re a freelancer, the amount of money you earn is directly correlated with how much work you put in. Whether you can continue traveling depends on your discipline and hard work, too.
Digital nomads are just not that cool.
Digital nomadism is not the only outlet for long-term travel. There are so many breeds of travelers. Some have to travel often because of their work. Some take a sabbatical for a year. Others ride a bicycle from Canada down to Argentina while painting murals and leaving meaningful footprints. Flight attendants, celebrities, diplomats — they live a nomadic lifestyle, too, a non-digital one.
Sometimes, digital nomads are just runaways… at least I am. There’s recurring story among us, though. Many of us have moved multiple times growing up, and perhaps that grew into a kind of restlessness. It’s complicated for us to answer the simple question of “where are you from?” We have a hard time defining what and where home is — so we keep moving.
To me, the idea of having a permanent home is more appealing than having none, but I have yet to find a place where I can truly belong. When I moved out on my own, I only bought enough kitchen utensils for myself and a guest, a bookshelf, and a small closet. No TV. No couch. Nothing that would make me too content, because I knew that place was impermanent.
I want to see the world, yes. But I’m also looking for a place where I’m comfortable to buy something as bulky as a 60″ 4K HD TV.