When the average professional imagines the digital nomad lifestyle, no doubt inane stock photography comes to mind — some 22-year-old in a hammock, or sitting on the sand or perched on a mountaintop awkwardly balancing a laptop.
The pictures are pretty. But to any real digital nomad with a serious career, the photos fall flat. (Expert tip: the beach is a bad place to work.)
What’s wrong with these pictures is that leisure time and work time are combined into a single image, whereas in real life, these have to be separate, or you ruin both.
The words are worse than the pictures — digital nomad posts, articles, and even books tend to be shallow and misleading.
If you’re seriously considering changing to digital nomad living, 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 aren’t nomadic
A considerable number of so-called digital nomads simply move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, and live there as temp orary ex-pats — or to any number of places that offer a pretty good lifestyle combined with a meager cost of living. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But it’s not nomadic living.
Most digital nomads aren’t super young
The popular conception is that digital nomads are young people within five years out of college. But, according to a recent study by MBO Partners, only 21% are “Zoomers” — Generation Z, who are 25 and under.
The biggest group is Millennials — people currently aged 26 – 41 — who make up 44% of digital nomads. (That’s right: “Millennials” are entering their 40s now.)
One-quarter of digital nomads are Generation X — ages 42 to 57 — and 12% are Baby Boomers: people who are between 58 and 76.
In other words, more digital nomads are older than 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 go. With sometimes slower connections, travel times, and random unusual inconveniences (which I’ll specify below), you might expect to put in the same workweek you did back in the office, plus another, say, 20%.
For a digital nomad to spend a week exploring a city, you’ll need to live there for a month and spend most of your time working.
Digital nomad living is a choose-your-own-adventure proposition
Each category of digital nomad bears little resemblance to the others. They’re all completely different.
Van life is completely different from international nomadism, for example. One is domestic; the other is foreign. One is much harder; the other can be filled with creature comforts.
What they both have in common is that everything is always new. That’s very different from the temporary ex-pats who move to Costa Rica and stay 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 van life (too uncomfortable) or the ex-pat thing (too unchanging).
The point is that because all digital nomad lifestyles come with trade-offs and downsides, it’s essential to know yourself and what you really want from life.
And you and your partner must be on the same page.
Digital nomad living is nearly always less convenient and less comfortable
Here’s a real-world example:
As I write this, I’m working at the table of our Airbnb in a Southern-French village called L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
The town (and the region of Provence) is heaven on Earth. The landscape, weather, and architecture are stunningly beautiful, and the food is magnificent.
The people are truly wonderful.
Sounds great, right?
Well, it is: Except the available Wi-Fi is so slow it might take two or three minutes to load a basic website (even my mobile broadband connection via Google Fi is slow). Also, window screens are practically non-existent here, and the building is ancient.
So, my choices are between an open window and mosquitos or being mosquito-free and working in a damp and stuffy building. Yet there’s no place I’d rather be.
You just need to be willing to sacrifice minor comforts and conveniences for the joys of living in an amazing place.
Digital nomad economics favor total commitment
Keeping your house while living abroad or on the road is very expensive and probably financially ill-advised. So to benefit economically, put everything into storage, sell your house, and hit the road.
Yes, that’s a giant leap – and a decision not to be taken lightly.
While the lifestyle is fantastic, think through the ramifications of not having your home office and fast internet, your own kitchen, and total control over your daily routine.
And it’s certainly not a decision to make lightly based on the false picture painted by the digital nomad literature.
Van life is not all sunsets and early-morning coffee with the dog. And neither is international digital nomad living an endless party in Thailand.
And you’ll never work on the beach.