When the average professional imagines the lifestyle of digital nomads, no doubt inept stock photography comes to mind – a 22-year-old in a hammock, or sitting on the sand or perched on top of a mountain awkwardly balancing a laptop computer.
The pictures are pretty. But for any true digital nomad with a serious career, photos fall flat. (Expert tip: the beach is a bad place to work.)
What’s wrong with these pictures is that free time and work time are combined into one picture, whereas in real life they have to be separated or you ruin both.
Words are worse than pictures – digital nomad posts, articles and even books tend to be superficial and misleading.
If you’re seriously considering the digital nomad life, you need an accurate picture of what you’re getting into. So here are the six basic lifestyle facts that blogs don’t tell you.
Many digital nomads are not nomads
A considerable number of so-called digital nomads simply move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, and live there as temporary expats – or in a number of places that offer a fairly good lifestyle combined with a low cost of life. There is nothing wrong with that.
But this is not a nomadic life.
Most digital nomads are not very young
The popular conception is that digital nomads are young people under five years of university. But, according to a recent study by MBO Partnersonly 21% are “Zoomers” – Generation Z, who are 25 and under.
The largest group is Millennials – people currently between the ages of 26 and 41 – who make up 44% of digital nomads. (That’s right: “Millennials” are entering their 40s now.)
A quarter of digital nomads are Gen X – aged 42 to 57 – and 12% are baby boomers: people aged 58 to 76.
In other words, more digital nomads are over 42 than under 25.
Nomadism is often “slowmadism”
Surprise! Digital nomad professionals work full-time. In fact, more than full time. Depending on where you are going. With sometimes slower connections, random unusual commute times and inconveniences (which I’ll elaborate on below), you can expect to work the same work week you did in the office, plus another, let’s say , 20%.
For a digital nomad to spend a week exploring a city, you would need to live there for a month and spend most of your time working.
The digital nomad life is an adventure proposal to choose from
Each category of digital nomads bears little resemblance to the others. They are all completely different.
life in a van is completely different from international nomadism, for example. One is domestic; the other is foreign. One is much more difficult; the other can be filled with creature comforts.
What they have in common is that everything is always new. This is very different from temporary expats moving to Costa Rica and staying there.
My wife and I are both obsessed with food and foreign cultures, so living as international digital nomads is perfect for us.
But we could never, ever do the van life (too uncomfortable) or the ex-pat thing (too immutable).
The thing is, like all digital nomad lifestyles come with trade-offs and downsides, it’s essential to know yourself and what you really want out of life.
And you and your partner should be on the same page.
Digital nomad life is almost always less convenient and less comfortable
Here is a concrete example:
As I write this, I work at our Airbnb table in a village in the south of France called L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
The city (and the region of Provence) is heaven on earth. The scenery, weather and architecture are incredibly beautiful and the food is magnificent.
The people are really wonderful.
Sounds good, right?
Well, it is: except the available Wi-Fi is so slow that it can take a couple of minutes to load a basic website (even my mobile broadband connection through Google Fi is slow). Also, window screens are practically non-existent here and the building is old.
So my choices are between an open window and mosquitoes or being mosquito-free and working in a damp, stuffy building. Yet there is no place I would rather be.
You just need to be willing to sacrifice minor comforts and conveniences for the joys of living in an amazing location.
The nomadic digital economy favors total engagement
Keeping your house while living abroad or on the road is very expensive and probably financially unwise. So to take advantage of it economically, put everything away, sell your house and hit the road.
Yes, this is a giant step and a decision not to be taken lightly.
While the lifestyle is fantastic, consider the ramifications of not having your home office and fast internet, your own kitchen, and complete control over your daily routine.
And it’s certainly not a decision to be taken lightly based on the false picture painted by digital nomad literature.
Van life isn’t all about sunsets and morning coffee with the dog. And the international digital nomad doesn’t have an endless party in Thailand either.
And you’ll never work on the beach.
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