In the past few years, more people have opted for the digital nomad lifestyle. Theoretically, being able to travel to the world’s most beautiful countries while balancing work sounds like a dream come true.
However, becoming a digital nomad is not all sunshine and rainbows; nomads experience many unique disadvantages when switching from country to country on a regular basis. From time zone differences to visa issues, this article will dive into the challenges and drawbacks of being a digital nomad to give aspiring nomads a clearer picture of this lifestyle.
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What is a Digital Nomad?
Digital nomads, or telecommuters, are remote professionals who travel from country to country multiple times a year for extended periods. Telecommuters choose to work whilst traveling, as opposed to using their vacation days and limiting their time abroad.
Many people opt for this lifestyle in order to sustain their travels while experiencing different parts of the world. As travel becomes more and more expensive, many people who hope to spend time abroad must work during their travels.
The Drawbacks of Being a Digital Nomad
There are a few major drawbacks of being a digital nomad, ranging from social to bureaucratic. Below, we will outline some of the major challenges and disadvantages that digital nomads face when switching from country to country multiple times a year and some ways to mitigate their effects.
26% of digital nomads cite loneliness and isolation as one of the major challenges of their lifestyle. It can be challenging to make friends in new countries, especially with a language barrier. Furthermore, making deep, long-lasting connections with others can be tricky, as you will likely only stay in a particular country for a limited period. This can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can further lead to depression due to a lack of socialization.
The solution: Certain apps and online communities cater specifically to people seeking friendships and struggling to find potential friends. For example, the dating app Bumble has a Bumble BFF setting, which allows you to browse others looking for friendships in your area. This can help you to connect with locals and other nomads, making it much easier to meet and connect with people.
Family & Relationship Constraints
In addition to difficulties making friends, the digital nomad lifestyle can make it challenging to maintain stable long-term relationships and eventually start a family. Some partners may not have a desire to travel for long periods of time, and children may struggle to cope with changing schools and homes on a regular basis.
The solution: It is essential to communicate openly with your partner about your desire to travel. Discuss details such as how long you plan to be a digital nomad, which countries you want to visit, and how you can best support one another and the family that you have created. Consider home-schooling for your children, and try to find online tutors that can teach your children subjects that you or your partner may struggle with. Try not to uproot your family too often, as this can cause stress and even resentment in the long term.
Obtaining a work visa from the majority of countries typically requires an offer of employment from a local company, which is not feasible for digital nomads who work independently or for clients in different countries. They often resort to tourist visas, which often come with strict limitations on the duration of stay and may prohibit work altogether. Even when digital nomads find countries that offer more flexible visa options, the bureaucratic process can be complex and time-consuming. Navigating the maze of visa requirements, paperwork, and varying regulations from one country to another can be a daunting task.
The solution: Research countries that offer digital nomad visas, such as Portugal or Thailand. These visas cater specifically to remote workers who want to live abroad, and often allow for extended stays and certain benefits. Additionally, plan carefully before committing to travel to a particular country, and utilize YouTube or Reddit to hear from other nomads about their experiences living and working in your chosen area.
Lack of Stability & Familiarity
Having a place that you can call home, where you spend the majority of your time, is something that many people require in order to feel safe and secure. However, digital nomads generally do not have that luxury. Constantly switching between locations and living out of hostels or AirBnBs can take a mental toll on any person, and can also mean that you cannot collect many personal belongings as airlines can be strict about luggage. New areas will always be unfamiliar to you, and the instability of not having a home to return to can be taxing.
The solution: Digital nomads need to develop strong coping mechanisms for times when they feel uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment. It is essential to have a support system to lean on when things become difficult, such as friends or family members that you can call. Take care of your mental and physical health, and prioritize self-care in times of stress. Connecting with other expats in your location can also help you to cope with a sense of unfamiliarity.
Limited Possessions and Material Ownership
Because airlines have strict rules around luggage, and many hostels and AirBnBs do not have space for many extra items, digital nomads must give up many of their possessions. This means that you will always be traveling light, with no more than a suitcase filled with clothes, shoes, and other essential belongings. This means that you cannot purchase many souvenirs or travel with sentimental items.
The solution: Thankfully, minimalism is a rising trend that even non-nomads are adopting. Having a reason to refrain from accumulating many possessions can help to save money, as you will only buy things that you need, or that you genuinely want. Sentimental items can also be stored with family or friends in your home country, or even in storage units for safety.
Digital nomads may find it challenging to access healthcare services in unfamiliar locations, as healthcare systems and quality of care vary from country to country. Securing appropriate health insurance coverage can be complex for digital nomads. Traditional insurance plans often have limitations based on residency or country of coverage, making them inadequate for those who frequently move between countries. Finding a global insurance plan that provides comprehensive coverage across multiple destinations can be an expensive and daunting task.
The solution: Before traveling to a new destination, research the healthcare system, availability of medical facilities, and quality of care in that country. Understanding the local healthcare landscape can help you to make more informed decisions about where you can travel, especially if you suffer from a chronic condition. Look for health insurance plans specifically designed for international travelers or expatriates that offer comprehensive coverage for medical emergencies and routine healthcare needs.
52% of digital nomads rate finding a reliable internet connection as one of the biggest challenges of the nomad lifestyle. As you will be primarily working online, attending video meetings, and staying in touch with clients or employers, you will need a strong and reliable internet connection at all times. Some countries, especially those with underdeveloped infrastructure, may be unable to provide a secure connection.
The solution: Restaurants and coffee shops often offer free Wi-Fi, and coworking spaces can be found in many popular destinations for digital nomads. Take advantage of free and public internet, and try to get a SIM card for your smartphone so that you can use mobile data in an emergency.
Time Zone Differences
29% of digital nomads report having difficulties working with colleagues in different time zones. Depending on which country you are visiting, there may be a significant time zone difference between you and your employers. This can make it difficult to stay in regular contact with your colleagues or clients, and can mean working during the evenings or early mornings to stay on top of your work.
The solution: There are many tools that help mitigate the challenges of working with different time zones, such as World Chat Clock. Additionally, communicating with your employers about your time zone, as well as making use of collaboration and workflow automation tools, can help you to maintain a positive working relationship with your colleagues and stay on top of your workload.
While digital nomads can expect many benefits from their lifestyle, there are also some difficulties to overcome. It is important to be aware of the drawbacks of being a digital nomad, so that you can plan ahead and cope with these issues.
By following the advice outlined in this article, nomads can have a much easier time adapting to their new lifestyle while staying on top of their workload. By seeking out a support system, making an effort to make new friends, researching visa requirements, and managing time zone differences, you can effectively solve many of the drawbacks of being a digital nomad.