There’s so many out there now peddling the Digital Nomad Dream, hopping around the world, exploring cultures, filling their Instagram and Youtube accounts with dream escape scenes and of course getting rich. Much to the envy of the office-bound 9-5er and his/her mundane existence.
Well, I hate to pop the bubble but after 5 years+ on the road I can tell you it’s mostly BS.
A lot these guys peddling this nomad stuff are not nomads at all, they just moved to another country, many have even settled and started raising families. Technically, they are self-employed expats. If you take a closer look, they all have something to sell, they’ve just uncovered a new market to peddle expensive ‘courses’ and other ‘exclusive networks’.
Others are travelers, taking stunning imagery and producing professional quality videos that produce their income, at then end they go home. It was a long holiday, they are travel bloggers at best. Actually, they’re probably the most honest representation of a DN apart from the rare guys (and girls) that have been out there for years, at times in paradise and other times holed up in sweaty cockroach infested hostels living off a meal a day while they chip out a future made of I’s and O’s.
The reality of being a nomad is, it’s still life, and it’s still packed with the good, the bad and the ugly.
There are days when traveling just sucks and it’s just not what you want to be doing. Let me give you some examples, late night flights that destroy productivity for two days in a row, when you’re picked up a stomach bug but you still have work goal to complete and still need to find somewhere to hole-up for the night. That list could go on and on.
One the biggest bug-bears of nomad life are quite simply Wi-Fi. How many cafes have you been to, sat down, ordered, and then found out that the Wi-Fi, even though you asked about it pre-ordering, doesn’t happen to work, unable to connect, doesn’t work in the only seat that’s left available, or is just so slow it’s unworkable. It happens a lot. It’s a battle to keep self-motivated a lot of time, especially when you are traveling and there are so many distractions. Then you when you are in the zone, you’ve got an idea bubbling away in your mind and you get slammed by the inability to get connected. Welcome to DN life. The environment sets the agenda most of the time.
And that’s the real life of a nomad, the terrain is constantly changing. When you get to know a city, you know where the good Wi-Fi is, you know the places where you’re comfortable to hang out all day, and where the cafe owners are OK with this too. For a nomad no, it’s constantly changing, some days you get lucky, some days are just excruciating, Hopping from one place to another, finding Wi-Fi and then finding there are no power sockets. Finding Wi-Fi, power socket and then the only chair left is next to the sun-drenched window that’s converted the space into a sauna for your working pleasure. Then, you get lucky you find the chair, the Wi-Fi, the power socket, and even the coffee is good and cheap, WOW! Then, the mothers club arrives with children in tow for talkfest and while there entrenched in a gossip session the children are free to run wild. Meanwhile, all that stuff you had to do just didn’t get done.
Let’s not talk about cities that have cultures of capping Wi-Fi, such as Hong Kong where most cafes cap net time at 20-30 minutes. Understandable, as HK is a busy and fast moving place and rents are high, but no good for a globe-trotting laptop warrior. Yes, once you get to know the city there’s all these laptop warrior perfect places, but that takes time to uncover and by the time you find that you’re moving on.
It’s costly too, sure there are some Asian countries where living is quite cheap, but still, you have to add in flights, insurance, health care, and the fact that being a tourist, you pay more for everything and you’re going to make a few stuff-ups along the way. It all adds up. For example, the time you spend in a hotel while looking for a reasonably priced place that does short term rentals. AirBNB was once a possible solution but the rooms are so expensive it’s actually cheaper in many cases to book a hotel on booking.com. Then there’s the ever-present desire to splurge on all these new attractions in this amazing new city. How’s that budget going?
And some Asian destinations are cheap for a reason, they lack any proper medical facilities and you’ll more than likely face power outages on a regular basis along with various other disruptive events mess up disruptive efforts.
Then there’s diet, I’m sure that a constantly changing diet is not good in the long term. It’s going to be guaranteed that you’ll get food poisoning of some kind along the way to add to that. That’s the thing about traveling, you’re not in control, the environment is until you can establish a base with kitchen and regain some control.
Then there are the sleepless nights, yes you found that semi-comfortable monthly rental pad with free wi-fi, utilities and no long term contract all for a bargain price. The nomad dream come true. Until you start to discover that those wonderful terms and conditions attract some not so wonderful types. What could be the nemesis of a DN and an incredibly incompatible group to cohabitate with, the traveling parasites, sexpats, begpackers and hipsters. They have no commitments, no goals, can swallow up hours with their dribble, they are drunk most of time, the rest of the time fighting with 20 years younger girlfriend/bar hostess about sending money to her second cousin’s brother-in-law, usually at 3 in the morning. You found all that out on week one and you still have three weeks at this ‘bargain place’. Once again, welcome to nomad life.
Then, yes, there’s plenty more and thens, Asia and many countries that seem cost-effective for DN’s have incredibly poor infrastructure, power outages are almost common place in most of them. Another productivity killer.
That’s the life of a nomad. Fluid, and always flexible, like a 21st Century Taoist monk.
Note, that I haven’t even yet touched on building a sustainable income. More on that in the future.