Why There’s No Reason For Digital Nomads To Fail


I’ve been reading a bunch of articles recently which suggest that the “digital nomad lifestyleTM” is doomed to failure. The authors, who are invariably 20-something Millennials, have it all figured out except, of course, they don’t.

Firstly, let’s get this clear – you cannot fail at being a digital nomad. The only qualifications to be a digital nomad are you work online, and you travel to live in other places on a regular (or at least, semi-regular) basis.

That’s it.

It’s 2019. If you hold a passport from a developed nation and you can’t find work online and can’t work out how to travel – you really need to go back to school before you book a flight.

So, why do our Millennial friends seem to think you’re setting yourself up to fail? And what can you do about it?

Well, to find out – we reviewed all the top articles on Google and then came up with a response to each and every point.

They Left Without A Plan!

 

A Pirate Treasure Map For Unprepared Nomads

I have never had a plan in my life. Never. I find it hard to commit to going to the pub this evening if you call me at lunchtime because it feels too much like planning.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t do a little research before you go somewhere – namely, check that you can afford it (some places are surprisingly expensive when you arrive), what kind of visa you need and that they have reliable enough internet to do whatever you do. That’s it.

You don’t need a plan. The joy of a life of relative freedom is that if your first plan turns out to be shit – you can switch to another and another and another. If you get to CM and loathe it, you jump on a train for Bangkok or fly to Hanoi and start again. No big deal.

They Didn’t Have Enough Information

What information do you need exactly? Well, we touched on this in the last point – you need to be sure you can afford to be there, that you can work and that you can get into the country. After that, you can wing it.

You have a bank account, right? You have work, right? You can travel, right? Oh, and you work online, so you can Google when you need to, right? Good, that’s all you need.

Not Having Enough Savings

 

The empty piggy bank of the would-be digital nomad

You only need savings if you have no income. Sort out the income before you travel, and this becomes no issue. Otherwise, pack an emergency credit card which is your ticket home if everything goes to shit.

Having said that, I’ve gone broke twice out on the road and I’m still here. A friend of mine who used to be the head of sales for IBM in China says; “If you want to know yourself, wait until everything goes wrong and see if you can dig yourself out.”

People regularly run out of cash in their own countries too. It’s a good idea to have savings, mind you, but if you fail because of a lack of savings – the reality is that you didn’t have work and thus, were never a digital nomad to begin with.

They Spent Too Much Money

The shopaholic exists everywhere in the world this isn’t a digital nomad problem. If you’re unable to manage your money – it’s a good idea to set up a bank account with debit card access and pay 75% of everything you earn into this account. Pay the other 25% into an emergency fund.

Then live only by spending cash from the account you’ve been putting 75% into. If you have no money coming in, you don’t do anything until you do have money coming in.

Or you could make a big fancy budget that you’ll never look at twice when you’re in the pub and somebody says; “Shall we order some champagne now?” Look in your wallet, if you see moths, don’t drink the champagne.

They Had No Skills

If you have no skills, you’re not a digital nomad, you’re on vacation. That’s OK. Vacations are awesome but unless your mom and dad are both rich and generous, sooner or later, vacations come to an end.

That’s not to say you can’t learn the skills that you need to be a digital nomad. Amazingly, you can even learn them online. I take a course (or sometimes two) nearly every month. It ensures I still have some market value. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

In fact, you can learn nearly any skill today by just Googling and working your way through the topic area. $0. That’s what skills cost to acquire. So, don’t give me nonsense about being broke – if you want skills, they’re yours for the taking.

They Worked Too Much

 

Digital Nomad Female Working In Many Ways
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/misbehave/408266642

What is working too much? I am something of a workaholic. You can tell because I am holding down two full-time jobs while I type this, and this isn’t for either of those paying clients.

If you like to bury yourself in work, you’ll do this everywhere you go. I manage this by forcing myself to take one full day off a week in which I am forbidden to check e-mails or work.

This is another problem which simply isn’t a nomad problem. In fact, I’d go so far to say this is something of a rarity in digital nomad circles. Lazy kids sat on a beach pretending to work is a much more common in the “digital nomad lifestyleTM” than working too much is.

They Lost Their Job

Find other work. If you lose a major client or lose your job, don’t go and drown your sorrows, don’t spend a month sulking about it – attend to the problem first. Find more work.

There’s plenty of it out there. Talk to everyone in your network. Send out queries. Join job sites and send your resume to everyone with even a remotely interesting position. Work your behind off to find more work.

When you find it – then go out and celebrate. People will like you more like this. You will be happier like this.

They Travel Too Much

Yup, this one I believe. Constant endless travel like a 21-year old gap year backpacker will lead to burn out. But you don’t have to do this.

If you’re intending to be a digital nomad rather than someone on a 1 year “digital vacation”, then you have your whole life to explore the world. Slow down. No rocket science here, right?

You’ve Never Worked Remotely And Travelled At The Same Time Before

 

Two digital nomads working on bean bags shot from above.

So what? You have to learn sometime, right? The trick here is to understand that when you’re working – you cannot be a full-time tourist too. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

This means you need to allow more time than you would for a vacation. How much more time? Well, it depends on how hard you work and how much you like to travel. This week, Megan and I have been out a couple of times to see some local temples (temples most tourists would never see) the rest has been work.

That’s because I like to work and because I like money. Your priorities might be different.

It’s also worth noting that I never go clubbing and rarely stay up late drinking with friends either, now. 10 years ago, I would have danced all night long as I downed the best part of a bottle of Jack Daniels to go with it. I didn’t see many temples back then nor did I want to. Now I do.

If you want nightlife, you may need to add even more time on top.

You Don’t Connect With Others On The Road

I love my own company but just like almost everyone else, I can get lonely too. Recent surveys show that almost everyone in the Western world is lonely and yes this is true despite the ever-presence of social media.

This tells you something important. Friendships don’t really exist on social media. This isn’t to say that social media cannot help support friendships but it shows that if you want friends; you’re going to have to fall back on “real life” to find them.

The good news? It is astonishingly easy to find friends if you want them. The bad news? You are responsible for making the effort to initiate friendships. There is no secret society out there desperately waiting for you to turn up so they can lavish love upon you.

That means getting off your backside and going out into the wider community to introduce yourself and to meet people. Go to the bar, go to the gym, go to the co-working space, go to the coffee shop and keep going until you meet people you like. Easy enough, right?

You Can’t Adjust To Local Cultures

If you can’t adjust to local cultures, I’ll give you a hint. Don’t adjust to them. There is a phenomenon that is known as culture shock.

It works like this – when you first arrive in a place and up to 6 months later – you love the place you are in.

Then you fall out of love with it for 6 months to 12 months before coming to the end of this phase of culture shock.

That second phase of culture shock can be really miserable. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s pretty clear how to avoid it, right? Move on at the 6 month mark. It’s a great date on the calendar for most digital nomads.

Yes, you can exploit culture shock for your own benefit as a digital nomad. Many expats wish they were as lucky as you are.

You Lack Purpose

Confession. I lack purpose. I lack goals. I lack plans too. I don’t find this distressing. The joy of digital nomad life for me is freedom.

I am not buying into new cultures with the intention of settling down. I am here and one day I will be somewhere else. Forever. Over and over again. This suits me to the ground.

If it doesn’t suit you. Find a purpose. Set goals. Make plans. If you need clarity about where your life is heading; only you can provide that.

The “mid-life crisis” is just as common in deskbound workers in your home country as it is on the road. This isn’t a digital nomad problem.

You Hate Working On The Beach

 

An image of a desk on a beach, the ideal work location for some digital nomads

Join the club. Sun glare on your screen. Particles of sand in your computer and your clothes. A panicked run for shelter when it rains or the tide comes in. Working on the beach sucks.

So, don’t do it. Do your work somewhere else and then go to the beach to have fun. Like normal people do.

Better still, no-one will steal your stuff if you work this way too.

You’re In Debt

Well, there’s no better place in the world to deal with debt back at home than when you’re living in another country. Contact your creditors and feel free to haggle over the amount you will repay, ask for interest to be frozen and ask for a payment holiday if you need it too.

You see if they can’t find you; they can’t make you pay. So, you can take control of your debt and work out arrangements with your creditors to pay them off. You have the power over your debt as a digital nomad.

Just try not to bury your head in the sand over it.

You Feel You Lack Support

This is fairly common, and it could be reworded as “you don’t have as many friends as you’d like”. If you want to bond with other nomads; go to a nomad hub to charge your batteries and engage with the community.

If you want better friends where you are – engage with expats rather than nomads, backpackers, etc. all of whom tend to move on quickly and have no incentive to form meaningful relationships.

Join a Slack channel for Nomads or a discussion group with like minded people in it. That sort of thing. There’s plenty of support out there but you need to take action to access it.

The End Of The Digital Nomad Line

While it is true that you cannot fail to be a nomad. It is also true that some people decide this life is not for them.

That’s perfectly OK.

There is a tendency in the “digital nomad community” to lionize a life on the road as the only valid option. I can understand how you could end up falling for this line.

However, it’s not true.

You can decide to be a different person at any time.

You can go home and continue to work online.

You can go home and get a desk job.

You can settle down somewhere you love and keep working online.

You can settle down with someone you love and keep working online.

And so on…

Choosing any of these options does not mean you “failed” at being a Digital Nomad.

Quite the contrary. It means you chose the freedom to live your life the way you want. The real freedom of digital nomad life is to choose what makes you happy.

You’re not a digital nomad to make me happy or to impress a bunch of idiots on Reddit or Facebook. You’re a digital nomad because you want to be. If you don’t want to be a digital nomad any more, just stop.

Then tell everyone how you succeeded as a digital nomad because you worked out what you really wanted from your life.

Nicholas Barang

Nicholas Barang is a veteran digital nomad. In fact, he was probably "digital nomading" before it was called that. He believes that anyone can make a free and independent life if they want to. He wants to help those who commit to finding their own path. And to cut through the nonsense told about this "lifestyle" by those in search of a quick buck. If you want to reach him you can send him an e-mail at nicholasbarang@gmail.com or to nick at nomadtalk.net.

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