Culture

What They Don’t Tell You About Being A Digital Nomad

On paper, working while travelling is the dream.

I’ve written before about being a digital nomad – I work from my laptop and travel as I go. On paper, it’s the dream; the life all young people fantasise about. I get to see the world, determine my own work/life balance and avoid the 9-to-5 office grind. But while it’s a lifestyle I chose and work hard for, it’s definitely not without its pitfalls.

Whenever I tell someone that I’m a digital nomad, I’m careful to make sure that whoever I’m talking to doesn’t think my life is perfect because I get to travel all the time, or that I look down on anyone with an office job. Far from it – sometimes I’m jealous. Why? Because being a digital nomad isn’t all sunshine and roses, and it doesn’t necessarily suit everyone. It’s a good way to travel, but it’s also not the only way to travel.

There’s a wealth of information about the perks of working on the road, but here are five of the things that people don’t tell you about being a digital nomad.

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You miss out on big events

This year, I got to be at a good friend’s graduation in New York, followed almost immediately with an old housemate’s birthday getaway in Marrakech. It was awesome and liberating to be able to choose an itinerary based on important events.

But while I was on the other side of the world, my mum graduated from a Diploma course – the first formal education she’s undertaken since she had to leave high school to get a job at the age of 15. And I wasn’t there. The same week, a dear friend had an engagement party, and I missed that too. Forget about FOMO, sometimes being a digital nomad is just the ‘MO’ – it opens a lot of doors, but it’s important to be aware that it closes doors, too.

Photo: Steven Zwerink/Flickr

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It can get lonely

There are plenty of opportunities for ‘single serving friendships’ when you travel – one-night or one-week mates who are great for a shared bottle of vino or a bus tour. And that can be awesome for short-term travel, but when you’re always on the road, you sometimes long for the more substantial companionship of people who know you well and with whom you have a shared history.

Sometimes you might run into those friends while they’re travelling, but it’s not the same as having your squad surrounding you at all times. I travel with my partner, and we even get lonely together (and also, occasionally, sick of each other’s constant company).

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Constant travel can get tiring

Depending on how much you love flying, that is. But lugging your bags around the globe, packing and unpacking, and 10,000 airport security checks per year isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. If it’s a few times a year, it’s an adventure, but a few times a month? It’s a drag.

Plus there’s the extra, invisible part of travel: the days in transit, the missed connections and the time spent researching, planning and booking. Again, if you’re planning your annual leave, that’s all exciting build-up, but when your life is spent seeing new accommodation, it risks becoming just another chore.

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When everywhere is home, nowhere is home

We’re straying into philosophical territory here, but if you make the entire world your home, there’s a risk that the place where you grew up or went to school or settled after uni will become a foreign place too – it will change and so will its people, and if you’re perpetually away, you’ll gradually become less a part of that life.

For some people that thought is very appealing – there are reasons why someone might want to distance themselves from their home – but for a lot of people, identity is tied to the places and people you know best, so you have to be prepared to be confronted with questions of what makes you you.

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It’s not all tropical islands

This is the persistent myth about digital nomad life: all the ‘my office for the day’ photos of a MacBook in front of a beach/pool/mountain view are carefully curated and not very reflective of reality. It tends to suggest the mythical ideal of a digital nomad – the ‘do a few hours’ work and then hit the surf’ lifestyle.

And sure, I know some people who have businesses that run largely without them while they do a bunch of fun stuff, but for most digital nomads, work ends up taking up the majority of most days. Plus, it’s difficult to take a full day off without just checking one little thing or sending that last email. Weekends and public holidays become meaningless, because when you can work anytime, you often end up working all the time.

Photo: YouTube

All this said, being a digital nomad is seriously exciting and great – just read one of the many articles out there about how awesome it is, including this one and this one on this very site. But it’s worth keeping in mind, as you sit at your desk dreaming of a Parisian cafe with free Wi-Fi, that like anything else in life, it’s not perfect. If four weeks of travel a year suits you better, there’s absolutely no shame in that.

(Lead image: Simon Bierwald/Flickr)