Cons and Harsh Truths About Being a Digital Nomad

The dream of the digital nomad is to travel the world while they work, sipping margaritas while lying on the beach. But in reality, there are many cons to being a digital nomad that you should be aware of, too.

Working outside is amazing, but not productive

At all. Even if the weather is great, you’re going to feel icky and sticky working outside, especially in the sun. On an average Thailand afternoon, expect the temperature to stick around 95°F (36°C)

The sun isn’t always your friend. Have you ever tried to look at your smartphone screen or laptop screen in the sun? No matter how bright the screen is, the sun is a lot brighter, and makes it difficult to see what you’re working on.

Hopefully the bugs and critters don’t choose you as their next meal. Sometimes there might be flies landing on you, ants crawling on you, and mosquitoes suckling on you. I personally can’t comfortably last five minutes under those conditions.

The best office chair ever

But let’s say hypothetically that the weather is perfect and there are no critters. You probably even have a great pair of headphones, too. Do you have a desk and a comfortable chair? For me, those make all the difference in the world. My chair has to have a small amount of cushion, be able to swivel around and slide around.

Making money as a digital nomad is not a cakewalk

A lot of digital nomads operate their own online businesses. Between dropshipping and online marketing/SEO, there are a plethora of online opportunities to make a living as a digital nomad. The dream of making passive income seems to be a common thread amongst digital nomads.

But there’s one big mistake that a lot of new digital nomads make: they jump into the game without any prior domain experience. When I say “domain experience”, I mean “being an expert in one area”.

Operating a business- whether it’s online or not- carries significant risk. You might think “well I don’t have to spend any upfront money!” Even so, you’re spending something more valuable: your time.

Being an employee for a company before taking on the digital nomad journey will substantially increase your chances of success because a company provides mentorship, structure, and a proven template for success. However, you also need to ensure that your employer is okay with you traveling while working remotely.

Fortunately, there are digital nomad jobs out there that are perfectly suitable for the lifestyle. Are you just getting started with the remote job hunt? If so, you’ll first want to learn how to market yourself online to increase your chances of landing a remote job.

Finding a comfy place to sleep isn’t cheap

But let’s say that cash isn’t a problem. You have to figure out where to sleep. There are hostels and hotels all throughout the world. But you’ll still need to do a good amount to planning before each trip to ensure that you end the night in a decent accommodation.

Staying at a hostel is a really interesting experience. You’ll often stay in a large single room that has anywhere from 2 to 20 beds. Bunkbeds. There are two main risks of staying in hostels like this:

  1. When staying at a hostel, you might get your stuff stolen. It’s good to keep your things nearby when you’re sleeping. It’s not that theft is very common in hostels, but it certainly happens sometimes. A lot of hostel stayers are living their days dollar by dollar and might be in a desperate financial situation.
  2. When staying in a hostel, you might get sick. Sleeping in a room with a dozen other people and poor air circulation is a recipe for getting sick. This can especially happen if the air conditioner is running all night and- like me- you’re prone to getting the sniffles easily.

Staying in a hotel will offer a more comfortable and private experience, but will also be more expensive. Renting an apartment or condo tends to provide much better pricing over the long run, but requires signing a lease for at least a few months. South East Asia is pretty lenient with renting requirements, and doesn’t generally require credit checks or long term contracts.

You have to deal with visas

Regardless of which country you choose to wander off to, you’ll always need to make sure you can get a visa to go there. A visa is a stamp on your passport that gives you permission to stay in a foreign country for a limited amount of time. Some visas last a few weeks, while others last for a year or more.

Many digital nomads opt for getting a travel visa, which is the easiest to obtain, and might last around 3 months or so. But then what? Then you need a new visa.

So performing a “visa run” is quite common. A visa run is when you travel to a nearby country for a day or two, then return back. This will allow you to get another on-arrival travel visa, giving you another 3 months or so to stay in the country.

The thing is- it kinda sucks doing visa runs over and over. There is anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing with certainty if you’ll be able to return to the other country. or not. If you want to stay in a country for longer than a few months at a time without leaving, you can try getting a digital nomad visa.

WIFI troubles are inevitable

Your hostel probably has bad WIFI. If you’re at a Starbucks (or any public place with WIFI) and there’s a sizable number of people using the WIFI, then the internet connection will likely be slow and unsuitable for online video calls.

When you’re lucky enough to have a stable connection, you should be sure to use a VPN so your online activity is secure (hackers can attempt to sniff the traffic of those on the same network).

Even if WIFI is completely unusable, there is still another viable option: using your phone as a WIFI hotspot. I’ve had decent success with this method, but it’s not perfect.

Different locations have different cellular signal strength, so the results are unpredictable. Additionally, cellular data plans usually have data caps. And if it’s not capped, it’s likely a slow speed limit.

However, there are some interesting internet solutions that have cropped up recently. SpaceX has launch their StarLink satellite internet service, which is probably a great option for folks who have bad internet coverage in their area. The early subscribers to the service have raved about how easy it is to setup the mini satellite at home and fast internet speeds it has provided.

Should you be a digital nomad?

At the end of the day, staying at home with a dedicated internet connection is the best way to go during times of frequent online video calls and collaboration.

However, if your work doesn’t involve much of a need for video conferencing or real-time collaboration, then it’s still totally feasible to travel while you work. Occasionally I’ve stumbled upon excellent co-working spaces that offered all the comforts and reliabilities of my home working environment, and that enabled me to work while I traveled and remain productive.

Either way, working remotely has its pros and cons too, compared to working in an office.

Ready to check out some digital nomad jobs? Check these out:

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