Want to have fun on your digital nomad journey and maybe some career or business success too? Awesome. Then you’re in the right place because today we’re going to look at some of the things that might get in the way of that.
The top 15 digital nomad mistakes that you can avoid making are you never got on the plane, you thought you could “live like a king” on less than $500/month, you have no purpose, you plan too much, you don’t specialize, you fail to have a backup internet connection, you spend too much money, you have no schedule, you travel too much, you followed a “guru”, you worked too much, you neglect yourself, you didn’t socialize, you thought it would be easy and you lost focus.
The 15 Top Digital Nomad Mistakes (All Of Which Can Be Avoided)
Let’s take a look at each of those mistakes in detail so that you can ensure they aren’t your problems in digital nomad life:
You Never Even Get On The Plane
Want to know the saddest truth in a digital nomad life? Most “digital nomads” aren’t digital nomads of any stripe. They have never work and traveled except in their imaginations. They sit at home year after year and join Facebook and Reddit groups to talk about it… but they never summon up the courage to do it.
One thing that is an absolute truth is you can’t do something well until you at least try to do it.
Sure, I understand it can be a bit intimidating to pack your bags and leave your old life behind, so why not try a remote work vacation to give the whole thing a test run?
If you’ve not got work – then spend some time each day looking for that work. Back when I was an employee, I rose up the corporate ladder at an incredible rate. It’s not because I’m that much better at things than everyone else (though I was pretty good at what I did) but because I’d spend hours a day looking for a new position once I’d learned everything I could from the job I was doing.
You can’t find a better job if you don’t apply for one. You can’t find remote work if you’re not sending out your resume to do so.
You Expect To Live Like A King On <$500 A Month
Let’s be blunt, the term “live like a king” refers to living in luxury, opulence, and splendor. What it doesn’t refer to is living in a $100 a month apartment in a developing nation. 20 square meters of floor space is only kingly if you are from Lilliput.
What remains is enough for a low-quality diet eating crap from street food stands and, in our experience, an alcohol problem that involves learning to get used to drinking Mekong Whiskey (yuck, seriously, yuck and we like a drink).
There is nowhere in the world where you can afford an amazing standard of life on $500, if there was such a place, everyone would be there, and it would no longer cost $500.
This is the lie sold by the digital nomad gurus and the reality is: it’s no fun living on pennies in the developing world.
You Don’t Have A Purpose
Having a purpose in life is essential to succeeding in life. There’s a large body of evidence that shows it’s almost impossible to “get somewhere” in your life without some sort of road map and that road map is your purpose.
It is entirely possible to find a sense of purpose as a digital nomad, but it will often have a different direction that the sense of purpose that an office worker uses to navigate their own life.
You Spend Too Much Time Planning
The flipside of the coin is that too much preparation can stifle the fun of being a digital nomad. Megan and I do very little day-to-day planning of our digital nomad travels. Most of the time, we pick a destination, pick a time slot, spend 30 minutes on Google learning the basics (particularly visa regulations) and then if we’re happy, we book flights and a place to stay.
Then we stop thinking about it.
Seeing different places is important to us. We also know that if we don’t much like a place when we get there – well, we can move on pretty quickly. I’ve lived in Lagos, Nigeria and I can promise you that nowhere you ever live as a digital nomad will be worse than Lagos.
And you can endure anywhere for a few weeks even if it’s not really your cup of tea.
Spending too much time on research and planning being in a new place takes away time that you can spend on having fun in the place you’re in.
Likewise, if you over-plan your entrepreneurial endeavors – you will never get started. We meet so many digital nomads with a dream that looks like it will never be realized because they’re “planning forever” rather than doing stuff.
Sure, you need some direction for a business but once you know what you want to do – it’s better to build it, see what you need to do to get people involved with it and keep trying rather than to sit around trying to make the perfect marketing plan (and that’s because there isn’t one).
You Have No Specialization
If you run your own business, you can skip this section but if you do remote work or freelance work – it’s worth noting that if you want to earn tolerably well in the future, you have to pick something and get good at it.
The more you specialize, the higher your potential earnings will be. The guy who “does logos” will always be stuck at the bottom of the heap when it comes to pay. But the guy who “makes logos for eco-friendly companies that connect with their audience and result in 7% higher levels of purchases online”, that guy is going to make a lot of money.
Don’t think “I can do anything”, do think “I can do these one or two things and do them better than anyone else.”
You Failed To Have A Backup Plan For Your Internet
There’s no excuse for this. You are a digital nomad and that means travel is only half the plan, the other half is getting work done. You have to ensure that you have Internet connectivity when you need it.
That means scouting your location ahead of time to determine what the Wi-Fi’s like and the reliability. It also means having at least 2 backup plans for when your 100% reliable connection inevitably fails.
Though, before you take your stuff and go elsewhere – we recommend checking out if your router is overheating. We’ve found this to be, by far, the most common reason for Wi-Fi failure in South East Asia – we’ve also found that a small fan pointed directly at the router can cure this problem.
You Spent Too Much Money
You can only realistically spend as much money each month as you bring in each month and ideally, you want to spend less so that you can get your cash reserves up and build a safety net.
A lot of digital nomads seem to leave home with no business, no job and think they will build one on the road. Then after 6 months of wild parties in Bali, they wake up with no money and tearfully call mom and pop to beg for the cash to go home.
As soon as they get back, they write an angry blog piece explaining why no-one can ever live as a digital nomad. They’re wrong. They should have watched their finances and focused on improving them.
You Didn’t Have A Schedule
We strongly recommend building a schedule that supports your work as soon as you hit the road. The easiest thing in the world to do when you are surrounded by cool new people, new places and new experiences is to throw yourself into having fun and forget the work.
This won’t work beyond a day or two. Very quickly, you’ll find clients decide they’d rather work with someone who isn’t out partying 24/7 and remote employers start the disciplinary process to have you removed.
We’re sorry to break it to those people: digital nomad life is not an endless vacation. We sure wish it was but it isn’t.
That means you need to plan your time, to make room for work and to make room for fun.
You Traveled Too Much
Look when you work and you travel, you can’t travel like a gap year backpacker on speed. It’s just not a feasible way to approach life. Even if you are fit and healthy, that will lead to burnout in under a year.
If you’re not, you’re going to burn out even faster still.
You have to travel more slowly as a digital nomad. Take time to get the work done and to enjoy a new place.
Megan and I work all week long and then we go out on weekends, some of the time, at least. That means we’re not exploring a place for a month when we’re there for a month. At best (accounting for travel days too) we’ve got a week.
That’s why old hands in the digital nomad lifestyle will normally spend 3-6 months in a new place and not 3 days.
You Followed A Digital Nomad Guru
Look, the digital nomad life is full of scams and we’ve written about how to spot them at length but the simplest thing to remember is this: you cannot get rich online in a matter of weeks unless you have a huge amount of money to throw at it.
Bloggers, for example, can expect to be working for at least a year before their blog shows a profit. Drop-shippers may be waiting for longer than that. You can shortcut the SEO process with paid advertising, but it is “paid” and it is expensive.
If somebody offers you a course for more than $99 on how to make a fortune online, walk away. Once you own something for $99 read through it carefully and look at the real work involved.
If you want to throw yourself into an entrepreneurial endeavor, we recommend that you think harder, budget more and expect no returns for 18 months. Then you won’t starve or end up back home writing that bitter blog piece about the digital nomad life.
You Work Too Much
Some folks work too little, others when confronted with the freedom of remote work panic and start working all the time. Some freelancers, been there and bought this t-shirt, get so addicted to what they do that they too find themselves working all the time.
Even entrepreneurs of the smart kind (those that had a working business before they packed their bags) can end up mired in the details and working all the hours of the day.
This is no fun. Did you move to the other side of the world to sit in your bedroom working 24 hours a day? We don’t think so.
Avoid burnout. Get your schedule made and include time for exercise, eating right and having fun and stick to it.
You Neglect Yourself
You have to eat right, and you have to exercise if you want to stay healthy. This is advice that I wish I could go back in time and give my younger, more stupid, self. The digital nomad life can take a toll on your health if you let it.
You also need sleep and it turns out that sleep may be the most important thing you can do for your health after the first two things.
That means budgeting an hour a day for exercise and meal preparation and another 8 hours a day to sleep in.
If you wreck your health, it will be a long hard road to get it back and doctors and hospitals are expensive in the developing world because you have to pay for them.
You Don’t Socialize
Human beings are social creatures. If we’re not rubbing shoulders with each other it leads to unhappiness and a certain amount of depression and anxiety.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your own company, but it does mean you shouldn’t end up isolated. You can take action to meet other people and enjoy their company on the road and you must if you want to enjoy the process.
We’ve written a bunch of tips about this here. It doesn’t need to be hard to do.
You Thought It Would Always Be Easy
Instagram and Facebook are the tools of liars. That doesn’t mean everyone sets out to fool you, but most people do. What people post on social media are the selected positive highlights of their lives as digital nomads.
Nobody posts a picture of themselves as their life thunders out of their body at both ends on an Egyptian toilet floor. Nobody mentions the time they spent 18 hours in the airport because their flight never showed up.
They gloss over the cockroaches in that “bijou apartment in Beijing.” They ignore the day that they screamed their frustration for hours at a security guard for locking them out of their own building for 24 hours.
And so on…
Real-life is full of challenges. You don’t get to walk away from challenges when you hit the road to travel and work, you just get to swap one set of challenges for a new set.
Don’t get us wrong, most of the time, it’s a lot of fun but if you think you’re never going to encounter frustration and the occasional bout of full-on misery, think again.
Digital nomad life is brilliant but it’s not problem-free.
You Forgot Your Focus
Last, but not least. Most of us, when we start being digital nomads, have some idea of where we are going both personally and professionally.
10 years down the line, it can be harder to articulate either of those things. You could think of this as a “mid-road crisis”.
It comes from not taking time out every few months to think about what you really want, what direction you want work and your personal life to go in, and then amending your plans to fit that.
We grow and change as digital nomads. Just as people back home grow and change too. You have to readjust your focus every now and again or you can lose it.
We all make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself if you make yours. Do, however, take a little time to think about your digital nomad journey and make sure that you’re giving yourself the best chance to succeed in it.
You can start by avoiding the 15 common mistakes above. Then you’re free to invent new mistakes all of your own. Good luck. 😊