One thing you can say for certain about being a digital nomad; there’s a ton of pure nonsense out there on the internet about how things are. There’s something about the idea of working and traveling that turns otherwise rational people into pure fantasists.
So, we thought we’d tackle the 15 stupidest myths about being a digital nomad and give you some perspective on reality.
At the end of this piece, we tackle a “myth” that other people have tackled in their articles that isn’t a myth at all, it’s quite real.
Table of Contents
Myth 1: Digital Nomads Are All About The “Passive Income”
There is no bigger lie in the digital world than “passive income”. Passive income is the idea that you can do no work and get paid. Now, it is true that if you earn lots of money you can invest that money and that will, generally speaking, earn you money without much input from you but… otherwise, most income requires work.
For example, this blog – you might think of the earnings (or lack thereof) as “passive” but, in reality, we’ve put hundreds of hours into developing the content and expect to put hundreds more in. That’s not in the slightest bit “passive” even if we can earn “while we sleep” when someone clicks on an ad or buys an affiliate product.
Most digital nomads are working Joes. Most will always be working Joes. You’re not going to start watching cash rain from the sky anytime soon because you’re working online.
Myth 2: You’ve Got To Quit Working To Be A Digital Nomad
Not only is this stupid but the truth is that one of the best places to find remote work might be your current place of employment. If you’re not thrilled with the idea of freelancing or becoming an online entrepreneur – why not just ask your boss if you can start working remotely?
If you can put together a business case that persuades them that it’s in their interests for you to stop turning up to the office every day, they may well let you go and travel the world. Then you’re getting paid, by people you already know, and life’s a lot easier.
Myth 3: All Digital Nomads Are Techies
This is clearly not true because while I work, generally, in tech affiliated industries my skills are not particularly technical. I can play with WordPress, I am can program (though I haven’t since I left university) and am a fairly decent DBA (at least according to the two companies that paid me to be) but that’s not what I do for a living now.
I make my living writing. There are few skills less technical than that. If an Electro-Magnetic-Pulse (EMP) knocked out all the computers in the world, I could pick up a pen and keep working, though my audience would probably shrink considerably.
Myth 4: All Digital Nomads Travel Like Hoboes
I can forgive you for thinking this. If you’ve fallen into the trap of reading digital nomad social media, then you’ll have seen endless discussions about the cheapest bowl of ramen in South East Asia or where you can rent an apartment for $50 a month.
Most digital nomads don’t live like this. Nor do they live in their cars. Nor do they hand-crank their own generators in tents.
The long-term digital nomads are mainly into this because it means they can geo-arbitrage their income into a much better lifestyle in cheaper places or they can live out their dreams of living in a country they’ve always wanted to be in.
The digital nomad community may be much quieter in Geneva or Tokyo (mainly because these people have what it takes to live the life they choose) but they’re there all the same.
You don’t have to travel by bus, you don’t have to own only a carry on bag, you don’t have to stay in hostels, etc. to be a digital nomad and here’s the absolute truth: if you intend to do this for years and years, you won’t want to either.
Myth 5: You’ve Got To Run A Blog If You’re A Digital Nomad
Now, it’s fair to say that Megan and I are not the only digital nomad bloggers on earth. It’s a popular profession for those working online because if you like to write, it feels less like work than writing another listicle for a makeup company.
However, there’s no compulsion on anyone to blog unless they want to. In fact, the vast majority of nomads are likely to chronicle their lives in the same way that most people do – sporadically on Facebook and carefully selecting the highlights.
Myth 6: You’ve Got To Hit Up The Digital Nomad Hotspots
There’s nothing wrong with Chiang Mai, Bali, Prague, Sofia, etc. but there’s no need for you to visit any of these places, either. Networking with other digital nomads may be the most over-rated activity in history.
The “nomad hubs” or “nomad hotspots” are all in ultra-cheap locations and full of people who’ve barely mastered the art of walking and chewing gum. They’re not going to be able to offer you much business because they’re barely earning enough to pay their own way.
You can go wherever your heart desires and you should, because the ultimate benefit of being a digital nomad is freedom to be you, rather than freedom to conform to some stupid Facebook fabrication about what digital nomads do.
Myth 7: You Can’t Make Friends On The Road
This is pure tosh. Having said that, we hear it a lot from people who fail to recognize that they need to work on their social skills. It is very easy to make long-term friends anywhere in the world, but you need to cultivate an interest in them and learn to maintain friendships once you connect too.
In a week, after writing this, I will be meeting up with my friend Mike. I met him in Cambodia, he’s visited me in Thailand and the Philippines too and will now be joining us for a few days in Vietnam. We’ve been friends for 7+ years at this point. Oh, and he lives in Canada most of the time, a place I’ve never been to.
I’ve got dozens of other friends around the world that I’ve met on the road. Making friends is up to you not what you do and where you go.
Myth 8: You Can’t Digital Nomad Forever
Yes, you can. Now, it’s fair to say that you may not want to. I’ve been on the road for the best part of 20 years now. I can’t see that ever coming to an end at this moment but it’s possible that one day it will.
This is a life of freedom and that includes the freedom to stop traveling and working whenever you jolly well please.
Myth 9: The Digital Nomad Life Is “Better” or “More Fun”
No. It’s just different from a life lived at home and working an office job. There are amazing days as a digital nomad, like the day you stand on top of Preah Vihear and look down over Thailand and think, “I would never have done this on vacation.”
But there are other days when you’re sat in an immigration office extending a visa and there’s no a/c and they’ve kept you waiting for 8 hours that you’d rather be back at home.
Ignore the Instagram fake perfection of digital nomadism. The truth is that you’re going to have ups and downs. Sometimes, it’s harder to be a nomad – you’re often more isolated than you would be at home and that means there may be no-one around to pick you up when you’re down.
At the same time, you can always step outside and find something new when you have no home to return to.
Myth 10: Digital Nomad Life Will Help Solve Your Problems
It won’t. In fact, it’s more likely to exacerbate them. If you have mental health problems – addiction is rife among digital nomads overseas. If you have money woes – they won’t go away, there is no magical number of years away and after which a debt is suddenly forgiven. If you’re not happy with your career, it won’t fix things to work by a pool rather than in an office. And so on.
Some of your problems will vanish as a digital nomad, mind you, but they’ll just be replaced with other different problems. I may no longer have to pay property taxes, but I do have to pay for visas.
Myth 11: Everyone Works On The Beach
Nobody works on the beach apart from the first time they get the opportunity to do so, then they abandon it for the stupid idea that it is.
A recent survey in a professional digital nomad group showed that only a few people had ever even tried to work on the beach, of the hundreds surveyed none was working on the beach during the survey.
It sounds great but it’s neither practical nor fun. Most of us work from our apartments. I am sat at a desk in Hanoi while Megan chats to our Vietnamese friend, Nhi, on the phone as I type this. Outside the window is a tree. I can’t see it because there are blinds on the window (on the outside of the window). This is the reality of digital nomad life.
Myth 12: Digital Nomads Are Always On Vacation
Sadly, this isn’t true either. In fact, the most frustrating thing about being a digital nomad is that you’re almost never on vacation. You’re squeezing in a little time here and there to see things in your latest destination but you’re mainly working full-time and living as you did at home.
We do get out for coffee most days and for a beer every now and again, but our tourist activities are never as pronounced as we’d like them to be.
Myth 13: Digital Nomads Are Always Traveling
Actually, most of the digital nomads I know, who’ve been doing this for a while, spend much of their lives avoiding travel. I hate travel. I love being in new places, but I hate packing up all my stuff, heading to an airport and wasting the best part of the day on an uncomfortable process to get somewhere new.
I travel a lot more than most of my friends and I try not to move countries more than once a quarter because travel sucks.
Myth 14: Digital Nomads Are All About Other Digital Nomads
Once the excitement of becoming a digital nomad has worn off (and for me – it never happened – I was a “digital nomad” before the phrase was even invented) most people stop speaking about the term “digital nomad”.
Digital nomads do not have a good reputation in most places. The phrase is associated with young kids dossing about on their parent’s money before failing at some kind of bad internet business and going home.
Most long-term digital nomads hang out with expats and locals, they don’t seek out other digital nomads. That’s not to say that they avoid each other, but the “digital nomad community” is more of a marketing fantasy than a reality.
Myth 15: You Can’t Digital Nomad With A Family
Yes, you can. We know a lot of digital nomad families and they do just fine. However, it does take more planning than traveling solo and it’s often done around the school year (kids can learn a lot being educated in other countries).
We will, however, point out for reasons of balance that we’ve seen a fair few digital nomad family relationships disintegrate over the years too. We’re not sure that this is down to being digital nomads, mind you, divorce and separation are real everywhere.
The Not Myth: You Have To Travel To Be A Digital Nomad
If anybody tells you that travel is not an obligatory part of digital nomad life, they’re lying. The clue is in the word “nomad” – that means someone who moves around and works. If you don’t move around and work – you’re not a digital nomad.
Yes, we’ve seen some of the insane claims of Digital Nomad 2.0 in which settling down is the new nomadism. This isn’t true. Want to be a nomad? Travel.
Don’t want to be a nomad? That’s fine. Billions of people aren’t nomadic. Many of them are completely content with their lives too. You don’t have to travel but you do have to travel to be a nomad.
One Last Thing
We’ve seen several people claim that people think digital nomads are rich, but we’ve never encountered a single person in real life who thought this. In fact, most people assume you’re slightly better off than your average gap year backpacker but only slightly. So, we are going to say that it’s a myth that this is a myth, as it were.
So, there you have it 15 myths about digital nomad life and one myth that isn’t a myth at all but rather a bizarre act perpetrated by people who think there’s a “digital nomad club” and who desperately want membership of this club.
Sadly, no such club exists and there are no badges or member benefits or maybe there is and they just don’t want Megan and me as members?