The Truth of Being a Digital Nomad

Nancy Anderson
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The life of a digital nomad seems too good to be true: working from anywhere in the world, making money while traveling and fitting projects around afternoons of sightseeing. While this lifestyle is certainly exciting, it also comes with drawbacks that can take you by surprise. Before you make the leap, it's important to consider whether the reality of remote work is a good fit.

Internet Quality

Working as a digital nomad gives you the freedom to go virtually anywhere in the world — as long as there's a decent Wi-Fi connection. While the internet has spread to most corners of the globe, connection quality can be a problem if your job requires frequent video conferences or large file transfers. This issue is more prevalent in developing countries and small towns but can also present a challenge in major cities. To boost your chances of finding coffee shops and hotels with great internet, look through reviews to find mentions of speed, signal quality and frequent outages. Before you Skype or FaceTime with a client, make a test call to a friend to ensure the connection is adequate.

Accommodation

As a digital nomad, you may be tempted to save money by couch surfing or staying at backpacker hostels. This is a great way to meet other travelers but also comes with a lack of quiet and privacy. After all, it's difficult to concentrate and sound professional when you're on a video call in a crowded hostel common room. If you want the social atmosphere, opt for a private room in a hostel rather than a dorm bed. Alternatively, look into apartments on Airbnb or similar services — prices are often low if you stay out of the city center, and you can enjoy complete quiet.

Loneliness

Loneliness is a hallmark of the digital nomad lifestyle, particularly if you're accustomed to a busy office. At first, it's nice to escape meetings and overly chatty co-workers, but after a few months of remote work, you may miss these regular interactions. Fortunately, the internet makes it easy to feel less alone. Use FaceTime and Google Hangouts to chat with friends and family, and join websites such as Meetup.com to find activities in your current city. Airbnb offers inexpensive experiences that can connect you to travelers, and many international cities provide free walking tours where you can meet other travelers.

Sightseeing

It's a common assumption that life as a digital nomad is an extended vacation, but the reality is much different. Even when you work smarter, you may need to put in 20 to 60 hours a week, which doesn't leave much time for long afternoons of sightseeing or lying on the beach. A great way to balance the two is to opt for a slower travel schedule. Instead of hopping from city to city every few days, spend two or three weeks in each destination. That way, you can establish a routine, be productive and experience the sights at a more manageable pace. Another option is to choose well-positioned "offices" — instead of climbing the Eiffel Tower, spend a few hours working from a cafe with a great view.

The digital nomad experience is rewarding and exciting. By anticipating challenges and planning accordingly, you can overcome potential pitfalls and create a smoother trip.


Photo courtesy of Laura Hoffmann at Flickr.com

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