Life Main Travel

What It Actually Means To Be A Digital Nomad

digital nomad
Image from Flickr.

Have you ever heard of the term digital nomad? I bet you must have heard of it at least once in your life by now. A digital nomad is a person who works using technology and is location independent.

As much as I have grown to dislike the term digital nomad, I am a digital nomad. For example, I am writing this article as a mean of paying for my ‘glamorous’ travel lifestyle from my balcony in Chiang Mai, Thailand at 6.39 pm. I have no actual shift, I can basically work anytime I want. All I need to do is complete the allocated amount of articles I have to write in a month’s time to get paid.

Sometimes I work in cafes and sometimes I work from the mountains. I am free to work where ever I want as long as I have hi-speed internet, my laptop and power supply.

In fact, sometimes I don’t need anything except pen and paper. I can write my ideas or drafts when inspiration hits me. If inspiration hits me while I am surfing in Bali, I’ll just remember what it is and type it out when I have my laptop with me.

Woooohooooo! Dreamlife!

Travel International Passport Travelling World Map. Image from Max Pixel.

Working remotely and having the freedom to work at any time is definitely the dream life for most of us. Undeniably, that was what I used to believe too. It was not until I am part of this lifestyle that I finally understood that this dreamlife comes with a bigger price to pay than your normal nine to five job. It was indeed a life-changing experience for me.

There are way too many misconceptions about this lifestyle. If you are interested in being a digital nomad, it is best to read this article until the end.

  • Easy is not in the dictionary

Fun, adventurous, new, and bold lifestyle. YES. However, being a digital nomad is more than just all about the nice things. You do get double the fun but you will face double the stress.

Easy is definitely nowhere to be found. What all these internet gurus do not tell you is the number of hours that they have all put in before they claim to be successful.

When I first started being a digital nomad, I spent more than 40 hours a week to earn 1k USD a month. All I did was eat, sleep, shower, work. The only fun part was that I could take as long as I want to have my meals and work at my most productive hours.

Six months down the road, I still don’t find it easy to be a digital nomad. I have known some other digital nomads who have been on this path for years and they do not find it any easier as well.

This lifestyle is indeed for those who are willing to toil and pave their paths with their bare hands.

  • Financially unstable

“You must be rich!”

No, not at all. In fact, most of the time, I am broke as a puppy on the sidewalk. Simply because I work in a nice environment that does not mean I am anywhere near the word rich.

My pay depends on the number of hours I put in and the clients that I have. I am lucky to have a part-time freelancing job with a company but some of us depend on projects. It is not every day we can land a project that pays for all our meals and travels.

In addition, we are always travelling here and there. Our technology faces a higher risk of getting damaged. Imagine a 2,000 USD laptop damaged when you are on some tropical beach rushing for a deadline. A damaged technology item will not just stress us out. It can cause us our rice bowl.

Digital nomads learn to control their finances to be able to live the lifestyle they want. We take hell a lot of risks to be our own boss. In every business, there are ups and downs. Being your own boss is not equivalent to a constant stream of income.

  • Constant travelling is not fun

Travelling is fun, but constantly? Not at all. A digital nomad constantly needs to think about visa issues. For example, I know quite a number of digital nomads in Thailand who constantly needs to do visa extensions. Visa extensions and flight tickets cost a lot.

People who are here without a METV (multi-entry visa), student visa or work permit will face the risk of not being allowed in the country again while doing visa runs. Thailand has long announced that visa runs are illegal for tourists. Digital nomads who do not have any work permit are basically seen as tourists in a country and that means we are illegally working online. It’s illegal because we do not pay tax to the country that we are living in.

Other than visa runs, it is really not fun to always pack your bags and go. Just when you are about to get comfortable in a new place, time runs out and you need to leave. Not having the sense of belonging can impact us psychologically.

  • People come and go

If you look at Maslow hierarchy of needs sense of belonging is in the third-tier of human needs. It is a known issue that many digital nomads do face with depression due to the lack of sense of belonging and not having a stable lifestyle. It is hard to find quality friends who will stay by your side in this nomadic world.

Generally, digital nomads lose friends faster than making new friends. We are in a constant change environment. Most of our friends are hi-bye friends or people who we co-work with, have food with but shares no past with.

It is never going to be the same as to have buddies who have been there for you for years. Maybe, not even years. We all just need people who share the same unforgettable experience with to reminisce about the past once in a while.

Being a digital nomad can get really lonely at times. We may be surrounded by people all the time but deep down inside, we can feel empty.

  • Culture shock – the cycle of adaptation

    culture shock

    Culture shock lasts from three to six months depending on the individual. This image reflects culture shock for refugees and reflects the actual phase a digital nomad goes through. This image is taken from World Relief Durham.

Every time we move to a new country, we learn, and we adapt. This cycle happens quite frequently for us. Half of the time we may even feel alienated or rejected.

Being able to speak the local language will help one adapt to the local culture. Language is one of the biggest barriers to understanding one another when one is in a foreign land.

However, it is not just the language that is a barrier. New things including food, understanding how the system works and how locals are like can be overwhelming.

Once we get used to the new culture, we are most likely about to move to another new country again. The cycle keeps going as long as we remain to be a digital nomad. It is both interesting, and yet stressful to experience.

So, why be a digital nomad?

The reason is still rather clear and simple to me. I may not be earning as much as I used to be but I enjoy my current lifestyle. I have come to understand that no matter what I do, there will always be a risks and stressful times. For me, it is either go big or go home. As of today, I am still on track on going big and bigger but not go home.

I love how things are unfolding for me as I grow as a digital nomad day by day. However, my only advice is that this lifestyle is not meant for the weak. It is meant to be strongest survive. This lifestyle has taught me so much more than my corporate life has ever taught me.

I do not regret this life choice and I am proud of how much I have grown.


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