Out here in the wilds of Southeast Asia, it’s fair to say that the common perception of digital nomads isn’t great. In fact, we’ve even overtaken English teachers as the object of contempt among the expat community and they’ve been at the bottom of the heap since they defined the word “expat”.
This is because there are a ton of digital nomad clichés that are embarrassing, wrong or even fraudulent and it makes everyone else hate us. So, here’s what you can do to avoid becoming one of these “digital nomads”.
Table of Contents
They Don’t Shut Up About Being A Digital Nomad
It’s cool to be a digital nomad. The freedom to work and travel is an amazing thing. However, when you insert the phrase “I’m a digital nomad” into the first three paragraphs of conversation with someone new – you’re not cool, you’re desperately trying to gain credibility you don’t have.
What’s even funnier is that the people who can’t shut up about being digital nomads often write long-winded blog pieces on how it sucks when everyone thinks that their life must be amazing. You can’t have it both ways either you don’t talk about it or you deal with the fallout for it.
In truth, given that “digital nomad” is neither a job nor a visa category – you might be better off (even when asked) talking about what you really do for a living or how much you enjoy travel instead.
The Working From The Beach Photography
It just doesn’t happen. Sorry, but the only time that people work from the beach is the first time they go to take that Instagram photo. I’d like to share one of mine but I have never worked on a beach at all (in fact, in nearly 20 years in Asia, you can count the number of times I’ve been to the beach on the fingers of one hand – I’m not a huge fan of sand).
Sure, some people will work from a café or hotel room overlooking the beach (and I confess, I like a sea view as much as the next person) but on the beach? Never.
It’s a “lifestyle porn” moment and it makes everyone who understands how real work goes – distrust you in an instant.
You Talk Like An Idiot
“Live like a boss”, “I’m crushing it”, etc. these stock phrase clichés make most people want to murder you and then dispose of your body in the Cambodian jungle. They, quite literally, impress no-one.
Have you ever heard Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg talk about “crushing it”? No. You know why? Because successful people demonstrate their success without boasting about it. Do you know who does boast? Losers trying to “fake it until you make it”.
The truth is that if you’re going to be successful, you’re going to have to work hard. Sadly, digital nomad life makes it hard to find the motivation to work 20 hours a day because you’ve always got something interesting to do outside.
In fact, the best way to make your first million might be to move to Siberia for the first 3 years of nomadic life – then you’re not going to want to go outside at all because it’s freezing.
You Lie About Easy Money
There is no “get rich quick formula” for digital nomad life. Many people seem to sell blogging as the way to make millions, but the truth is that even the best and most dedicated bloggers are going to take 1-2 years to see any real income from their efforts.
And while millions are not impossible, you’re going to have to put in years and years to make them.
One of my favorite articles ever was published in the Huffington Post (and sadly, seems to have been deleted now) by an angry nomad blogger who’d quit her job, traveled the world and then called mom and pop to beg for spare change to go home.
She even included a link to the travel blog that was going to make her rich. She’d written an average of 1 x 500-word piece a week. That was her plan. No wonder she failed. She was an idiot.
Sadly, she was an idiot that almost certainly fell for someone else’s lie about easy money.
Want to know where the bar is set for making money as a blogger now? Well, you’re going to need a minimum of 200 articles on your blog and they ought to be at least 1500 words long and many should be much, much longer. That’s roughly 400,000 words of content. The same number of words as writing 4 novels or 5 non-fiction books!
Then there’s the marketing, the monetization, etc. on top. Doesn’t sound so easy now, right?
(Note: If you really wanted to make this work you can – it takes 4-6 months to create that kind of content and do the SEO for it while working full-time on it and you might even do it faster if you have experience and then you wait about 9 months for Google to work its magic on your content – but it’s not easy).
You’re A Life Coach
Confession time. I was one of the UK’s very first qualified life coaches. Why? Because I am a training and coaching pro and when I was offered the chance to experience this “exciting new field” for free (thanks Newcastle University) I jumped at it.
Here’s what I learned on that course – only an idiot would hire a life coach. It is a blind leading the blind discipline that assumes the person being coached already has all the answers they just need someone to keep asking questions until the light bulb goes on.
This is pure horseshit of the highest order.
The only people who pay for the services of life coaches are thus, the rich and deranged and the easily led middle-class person at a moment of mid-life crisis.
Do you know who these people aren’t paying for life coaching? 20-somethings living in Bali. That’s because they have, quite literally, no life experience to base their coaching upon. You’d be better off with an emotional support hamster than using the services these people offer.
Real coaches have experience in what they coach and are capable of providing options and even answers when the person being coached has none.
Seriously, stop already.
You Think That Every Digital Nomad Is Broke
There’s nothing quite like the “Live like a King on $300 a month” article to make everyone hate you. In fact, I wrote a piece entitled Living on $0 a day in Chiang Mai in order to mock these folks.
The truth is that long-term digital nomads aren’t normally living like peasants in the developing world. In fact, most of them have businesses that enable them to live anywhere they want.
They can afford to make the most of the opportunities in front of them but… they’re very quiet about these things. Mainly because there is a tendency for them to be shouted down by the “digital nomad community” online and because they have better things to do than boast about their situations.
You cannot “live like a king” on less than $500 a month anywhere in the world. The phrase is not a “metaphor for freedom” it is a metaphor for a life of opulence and excess. Now, you can live very well on $5,000 a month in Southeast Asia but even that’s not “living like a king”.
Being endlessly broke is not something to be proud of. What you ought to be doing is trying to get out of the poverty trap as fast as possible and making your digital nomad life comfortable and fun.
The Digital Nomad Community
The “digital nomad community” has come to embody all the horror stories laid out above. It is the source of every scam and terrible tip for life on the road. This is probably because much of it is dedicated to flogging dropshipping and multi-level marketing to the would-be digital nomads.
Real community is not a bunch of online bulletin boards populated by kids who will never work and travel the world but who want to assert their credibility, instead. It’s something you find in real life. Don’t let anybody fool you on this. There’s actually a great community of online workers and travelers out there but they’re not online and they don’t refer to themselves as “the digital nomad community”.
None of these clichés stop you from having an awesome time as a digital nomad. In fact, if you steer clear of this kind of nonsense – you’re much more likely to succeed. Surround yourself with other professionals (including expats) and switch off the nonsense of the 20-something first-time in Thailand but knows everything about digital nomad life.
Then when that guy has gone home and been replaced by the next nearly identical Instagrammer, you’ll be sipping Martinis and working where you want to work.