I’m coming up on my 8 year anniversary of full-time travel and about my 6 year anniversary of traveling/working as a digital nomad, and I was talking to my partner about whether or not our lifestyle of traveling full-time has ‘broken us’, in the sense that we usually get bored if we spend more than 6 months in one place. It might be that full-time travel has made us crave adventure and change almost constantly, or maybe that was always in our nature… but what we determined is that for now we have no interest in stopping this lifestyle.
I recently shared an article with the best and worst places that I’ve lived as a digital nomad, and I thought it was high time to talk about the pros and cons of this lifestyle.
With the world becoming more interconnected, more and more people are taking advantage of the freedom and flexibility of digital nomadic lifestyles. And as more people join this way of living, I wanted to share some transparency around what I love about being a digital nomad, and also what’s hard about this lifestyle.
Let’s start with the pros of living as a digital nomad.
Pros of a Digital Nomad Lifestyle
Freedom and Flexibility
One of the main benefits of being a digital nomad is the freedom and flexibility that comes with this lifestyle. As digital nomads we can work from anywhere in the world, as long as we have a reliable internet connection. (That’s one of the biggest factors in rating the counties I’ve personally lived a digital nomad in.) As a digital nomad, you’re not tied to a specific location. You can choose to live in different cities or countries based on your personal preferences.
For example, in my ideal year I would spend the summer in Europe and the UK and then move to Southeast Asia for the winters.
You also have the flexibility of where you want to work from, if you prefer to invest in a coworking space or simply try different coffee shops every day (my personal preference!). You can even work from the beach, but trust me that’s not as luxurious as Instagram makes it seem.
More Control Over Your Cost of Living
One thing I’ve realized since coming back to the US this year is how expensive it’s gotten to live here. That being said, one of the biggest benefits of living a digital nomadic lifestyle is more control over your cost of living.
Living in the US and Europe is more expensive than living in Central America or Southeast Asia. If I was living my ideal year between the two, I know that I could save money while being in Southeast Asia that I’ll need to spend while being in Europe. But being able to choose where I live gives me the freedom to control my cost of living.
A lower cost of living can allow me to stretch my budget further and have a higher quality of life. Depending on where I am, I can afford nicer accommodations, eat out more and take part in more cultural experiences.
Experiencing Different Cultures
As cheesy as it sounds, traveling the world changed my life. I grew up in ‘small town America’ and in a fairly religious household. Leaving America for the first time I had quite naive beliefs about how things should or would operate. I’m so grateful that traveling the world has expanded my horizons in every way possible.
Experiencing different cultures has hands down made me a better person. I’ve been able to immerse myself in new languages, new foods and new customs and traditions. I have a new and deeper understanding of the world that I am sure I would have never gotten if I hadn’t left home and especially if I hadn’t traveled solo.
You also have the opportunity to meet other travelers and expats, which can lead to new friendships and connections. For me, living as a digital nomad in Bali is how I met my husband! Community is also one of the downsides that we’ll get to later in this post. But making friends around the world is definitely one of my pros.
Improved Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is something that I’m always working on. Working as a digital nomad (and freelancer in particular) means you have complete control over your schedule. This means you can take breaks when you need them and structure your day to include time for exercise, hobbies and exploring new places.
However, it can also become way too easy to say yes to one more project or keep working for one more hour when you know you need to stop for the day.
Additionally, when you’re living in a new place, it’s easier to take advantage of new opportunities around you. You might have more chances to go hiking, explore new neighborhoods, or attend culture events that you normally wouldn’t make time for at home.
Finally, being a digital nomad has completely increased my creativity. Anytime I’m feeling ‘stuck’ or lacking creativity, all I need to do is change up where I am! We keep talking about being exposed to new cultures and traditions, but I want to mention as well how much that plays a role in my creativity.
Being a freelancer and working for myself also allows me the opportunity to experiment with new ideas and approaches, without being constrained by corporate culture or bureaucracy.
My pros of being a digital nomad include freedom, control over my cost of living and creativity, exposure to different cultures and an improved work-life balance. Now, of course being a digital nomad has its challenges! And we’re going to get into those now.
Cons of a Digital Nomad Lifestyle
While being a digital nomad has its advantages, there are also downsides to this lifestyle. As I mentioned before, at this point in my life, I’ll choose digital nomadism over anything else – but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with it at times.
Isolation and Loneliness
I want to start with isolation and loneliness because for me personally, this has been one of the biggest challenges to living as a digital nomad. While technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected with my friends and family, it can still be difficult to build meaningful relationships with people when you’re constantly on the move.
Being away for most of the year means that I miss out on a lot of the big events of my friends and family back home and as soon as I get really close to people on the road, either I or them move on. When you’re living as a digital nomad, you need to make an additional effort to stay in touch and stay connected with the important people in your life.
I also work as a solo freelancer, which means I have a lack of interaction with people in my work as well. You have to be very careful on the road that you don’t miss out on social interaction and that you go out of your way to make friends and co-work with friends.
The good news is that it’s so easy to make friends abroad. Most of the time when I was traveling solo, I actually WISHED I was alone, but I’d made so many friends that I was surrounded by people so often.
Another potential downside of being a digital nomad is the uncertainty and instability that comes with this lifestyle. I rely on multiple streams of income and my income can be unpredictable and inconsistent.
Over the years I’ve learned how to manage that but it can take a long time to feel like you have financial stability as a freelancer or digital nomad. For example, I’ve learned that my work usually dries up in the summer when people are spending more money to travel and enjoy their personal lives as opposed to investing in their marketing budgets. That being said, I know to save extra money over the winter to compensate for making less money in the summers.
I recommend building an emergency fund that can cover your living expenses for 3-6 months.
Lack of Structure and Discipline
Say goodbye to your structure! I would honestly say you have to be pretty self-disciplined to live for a long period of time as a digital nomad. You are the only person that’s going to make sure you get your work done when the temptation of going to the beach every day comes in. It can be really easy to fall into unhealthy habits, procrastination and actually working way more than you want/need to!
Traveling can be exciting and exhilarating, but it can also be exhausting. Being constantly on the move can lead to travel fatigue. This can make it difficult to enjoy new experiences and can lead to burnout. I’ve gotten travel fatigue plenty of times! And that can make you question whether or not you want to keep living this lifestyle.
Additionally, traveling can be stressful and can expose you to a range of new challenges, such as language barriers, cultural differences, and unfamiliar environments. This can be particularly difficult for those who struggle with anxiety or who prefer routine and familiarity.
My suggestion is to travel slowly. Give yourself time to create a routine in each place you visit and practice learning the language while you’re there!
Lack of Stability and Roots
Finally, being a digital nomad can make it difficult to establish roots and feel a sense of stability. As a digital nomad you’re constantly on the move, and you probably don’t have a permanent home (unless you’re crazy lucky!), so you may not feel connected to any particular community or culture.
A lack of stability can also make it difficult to establish meaningful relationships, build a career or feel a sense of belonging. As I mentioned above, you can miss out on important life events like birthdays or weddings, which can lead back to those feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Being a digital nomad has many advantages and disadvantages. Some of the cons will look like income insecurity, loneliness and lack of structure in your work and daily life. But for me, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
Would I still choose a digital nomad lifestyle?
That being said, there are also strategies that you can use to combat some of the challenges associated with this lifestyle. For example, joining digital nomad communities, participating in online forums and groups, and attending meetups and events can help to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Establishing a routine, setting boundaries, and prioritizing self-care can help to create structure and discipline in a digital nomad’s life. Additionally, prioritizing rest and downtime, and being mindful of the impact of travel on physical and mental health, can help to combat travel fatigue and burnout.
Finally, it’s important for digital nomads to cultivate a sense of stability and roots wherever they go. This might mean staying in one place for longer periods of time, establishing a network of local friends and colleagues, or finding ways to maintain connections with loved ones even while on the move.
So, while being a digital nomad has its challenges, it can also be a rewarding and fulfilling way of life. By being aware of the potential downsides of this lifestyle and taking steps to mitigate them, digital nomads can create a lifestyle that allows them to work, travel, and live on their own terms.
Digital Nomad Insurance
Wherever you travel, make sure that you’re protected! I’ll be the first to tell you that I used to travel without insurance… and when stuff went wrong – I would end up paying a lot of money out of pocket for items stolen, routine doctor’s visits and so much more.
Learn from my mistakes and make sure that you’re covered wherever you go! SafetyWing offers digital nomad insurance – I’ve used them for several years now (and will continue to use them anytime I leave the US). They have great prices, good coverage, and really helpful customer service!
Has this post inspired you to try out a digital nomad lifestyle?