The Reality of Digital Nomads

Sadly, not everyone can become a digital nomad.

The term ‘Digital Nomad’ gets thrown around the mass media so frequently that you’d be hard pressed to find someone online who hasn’t heard it before, nor been inspired to give it a go. It also get’s sold as this ‘anyone can do it’ type of goal, that ultimately, is not the reality of the situation. Don’t get me wrong I actively encourage people to quit their jobs and travel the world long term, but the truth about becoming a true digital nomad is that 98% of those who try will inevitably return home and start another job and pick up where they left off, three months to one year later. It’s just a tiny fraction of the travelling community who could (or want) to live the life of a true ‘digital nomad’.

There are plenty of downsides to this lifestyle that never really get bought up in all those travel specials you see on TV. Boredom, homesickness, missing family + friends, not having a place to call home etc.. the list can be long. I love to travel long term, but I will say that I think that the right personality is essential whether you want to be nomadic or not.

I don’t mean to crush anyone’s dreams by saying this but it’s an undeniable truth. There are certain personality types, skills, abilities etc.. that a person must have in order to achieve the goal of being financially and location independent as they travel the world indefinitely (or at least for the foreseeable future).

The term Digital Nomad is defined as: “individuals that leverage technology in order to work remotely and live an independent and nomadic lifestyle”.

Sounds nice doesn’t it? The Author Tim Ferriss did much to popularise the use of the term with his best selling book: The 4 Hour Work Week. I’ve read much of Ferriss’s work and while I find it interesting and a good motivational aid, it does a great job of selling the dream without going into the tedious details that are required to make much of it reality, (that being said, perhaps if he were to expand on this stuff in gritty detail, the book would not have been a bestseller!). Ultimately I think the idea that the easy application of a few bits of technology + a hint of business sense, sells many people on a dream that is not really possible for them.

The problem with the media’s endorsement of the digital nomad concept and things like The Four Hour Work Week is that they sell the dream while glossing over the fact that in order to set up a 4 hour work week, you generally have to do a shit load of 80 hour work weeks… I’m not saying it can’t be done, what I am saying is that for the vast majority of people, it’s just not going to be done.

What is required to be a digital Nomad?

  • Ability to work with technology
  • The Internet
  • A vehicle to make money
  • The ability to get that money
  • The time to set things up.
  • The right personality

Obviously you need to be able to work technology is some way, be that either the know-how to run a website or online store (at the very least), all the way through to being a programmer or a developer. In fact being a programmer is in my opinion the most conducive skill-set to the digital lifestyle. For many people, this is first barrier is too high, (not that you can’t learn of course), but it’s still a sizeable barrier for making this lifestyle a reality. Of course there are many non-digital ways to make a nomadic lifestyle possible, but using technology is probably the easiest and less specialised, shall we say.

You obviously need a reliable Internet connection, something that is getting way easier, even in the more remote far-flung places of the world. Saying that though, the joys of working with dodgy Internet often result in levels of rage that are hard to find anywhere else in reality; leading me to add the prerequisite of patience to my list of personality traits also needed.

A vehicle to actually make money, is the meat of the argument. Some people use e-commerce in one of it’s various forms, selling products or services as they go, this could also be a blog, a social media channel or any other form of technological ‘leverage’ available to a budding new entrepreneur. For others this may take the form of the skill itself, like in the programmer example above. Other examples are things like the ability to write, perform graphic work or even day trade stocks; this list is large. All digital nomads have a vehicle like this to make money and in recent years there’s even effectively a new industry that’s grown up around helping people to create these types of situations.

The ability to withdraw and manipulate money is also vitally important. Paypal is the obvious choice but there are many other services that allow for people to send and receive money online that also would work, especially if you need the ability to easily change currencies as you travel or the services of someone like a forex broker.

I’ll lump a bunch of other stuff into the one category of personality. I think that the ability to become a digital nomad is 100% dependent on the persona of the person who wants to make it happen. Assuming you have the skill-sets and the time to set things up; the willpower and focus it takes to manage a business on the road is no a small feat. It requires masterful time management, planning, and organisational skills as well as plenty of common sense and gritty dedication. The fact that you might have to spend 3 or 4 days a week working remotely, while your travelling companions go ahead and ‘travel’ without you it is a really big barrier to overcome for many people.

That all being the case, if the life of a digital nomad is something that really appeals to you, go for it. It would be a great and rewarding achievement to be both financially and location independent and once you are, I’ll take my metaphorical hat off to you.

Honestly though, for me, I’m not sure that the truly nomadic lifestyle is something that I really find that appealing. I love the feeling of ‘home’ and the control I have in that environment, the familiarity of things, the people etc.. not to say I couldn’t do it for a few years maybe, this blog is about long term travel after all..

The reality of the situation is that most people for whatever reason lack the skills, the ability or the inclination to achieve a truly nomadic lifestyle. It’s not to say it can’t be done, just that it’s a long hard journey with an end result that often gets overly publicised and simplified.

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1 Comment

  1. Great article and I hope everyone will understand that although the term “digital nomad” sounds very appealing – it’s not for everyone.

    Self-discipline and financial stability were the first challenges I’ve encountered when I decided to become a digital nomad.

    I wanted to travel the world while earning and in my 1-year run, I had to go back home, “re energize” then travel again.

    I also had to get my equipment checked as weather changes can slowly destroy my laptop and other gears.

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