The Digital Nomad Lifestyle Isn’t As Great As You Think

Tom Stevenson Austin Distel/Unsplash

When I started my travel blog back in 2015, I didn’t even know what a digital nomad was, let alone aspire to be one.

Starting the blog was a way of providing myself with a creative outlet. The idea that it would become my primary source of income one day was a fantasy.

Three years later, in 2018, I was able to make this a reality. I quit my boring office job and became self-employed, living off the earnings from my blog.

It was a long struggle, but I had finally achieved what I wanted to do since I graduated from university — work for myself. I remember cycling into another long day at my first post-graduate job in a betting shop, wondering how I could make enough money to never set foot in there again.

I never really thought I’d be able to make that dream a reality back then, but I did. The feeling of being able to work wherever and whenever I wanted was fantastic at first. Knowing that I could hop on a plane and fly to the other side of the world and rely on my travel blog to keep me afloat was exhilarating.

I remained in the UK for the first few months after becoming self-employed to work on my site. Then, in April, two friends and I set off on a road trip around Europe to climb the highest point in each European country.

Since becoming self-employed, I had wanted to experience the digital nomad lifestyle. My experience may not have been the idealized image of working on a beach in Bali, but I was still working remotely.

What I found was that although it was an incredible experience, it was not without its downsides. The images we see on Instagram of digital nomads living their best lives on beautiful beaches reflect a small portion of the reality of nomad life.

Far from being this glamourous lifestyle, being a digital nomad is much more mundane than you might think.

Nomad Life

When we set out on this road trip, I had no idea what to expect. Apart from a week visiting friends in the Netherlands and Spain a month before, I had no experience of being a digital nomad.

I had lived in three different countries before, but my work was not location independent. For the most part, I was in one place for the majority of time in Australia, New Zealand, and Spain. This time I would be moving around at pace, staying in cities for a short time.

The first thing you realize about being a digital nomad is an overwhelming sense of freedom. It’s hard to describe, but when you wake up in the morning, you realize that you can do whatever you want.

You don’t have to make breakfast and rush out of the door quickly. You can take your time and savor the flavor of your honey-coated porridge. It’s easy to become addicted to this sense of freedom and let it cloud everything else about being a digital nomad.

Although you have freedom in the sense that you don’t have to report to anyone else, you’re still accountable to yourself. The downside of being self-employed is that you have to do the work.

Despite the freedom to go where you please, you still have to work. You can be in the most beautiful beach resorts in the world, but you still have to knuckle down and smash out the hours.

In some respects, it spoilt the trip for me. I couldn’t enjoy myself as much as I wanted because I was always thinking about my blog. Wherever we went, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be working. I was once walking around Plaza de España in Sevilla, one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in the country, and all I could think about was finishing an article that I had been working on for a few days.

Work and travel had merged, and as hard as tried, I struggled to separate them. I got better at this as the trip went on. Yet, I never got rid of the nagging thoughts in the back of mind that I should be working.

This issue might not be the standard digital nomad experience, but it was mine. The idea of making a living from your laptop, traveling the world sounds good. But the reality is different. Coffee shops become your office, and a rotating cast of faces replaces co-workers.

Even though I was with two friends, there were times when we split up for various reasons. It was during these times that I was overwhelmed by one feeling, in particular, loneliness.

A Lonely Life

One of the chief emotions I felt as a digital nomad was loneliness. For two weeks, I traveled around by myself while we separated as a group. I visited cool places such as Krakow, Prague, and Munich, but I could never shake this feeling of loneliness that followed me around.

Even though I mingled and made friends at hotels, I still felt alone. The word part of traveling is becoming good friends with people only to have to say goodbye to them later. I had experienced this a lot in Australia and New Zealand. Friends I had seen every day for months suddenly departed. Perhaps, it was this experience that stopped me from getting too invested in new friendships.

One place where this feeling hit home was in Munich. It’s a beautiful city. The buildings are magnificent, and the sprawling parks are excellent places to explore in the summer. Yet, doing all this by myself, I just felt empty.

It dawned on me that this would an ideal place to visit with a partner.

Everything I was seeing was viewed through my eyes only. Basking in the splendor of the English Garden in Munich, the only perspective I had was my own. Having someone else to offer their viewpoint with mine would have been nice. At this moment, I felt like an island adrift from everyone else.

The thing with being a digital nomad is that the feeling of freedom wears off fast. Once you’ve got over the initial thrill of traveling wherever you want, you’re left with a realization that there isn’t much more to it.

If you base yourself somewhere for the long-term, it’s different. You can meet new people, develop a routine, and achieve some form of normality. But if you’re constantly moving, the novelty of the nomad life wears off, and you’re left with a void of loneliness in its place.

Home comforts

Our road trip around Europe ended in September. Since then, I have been living in my hometown in England. Before the journey started, I couldn’t wait to leave. Boredom had set in, and the last place I wanted to be was stuck at home when I could live and work where I wished.

These past few months have given me time to collect my thoughts and weigh up the digital nomad life versus living in one place. From only seeing negatives at home, now I see more positives.

I have a close group of friends here. If I want to meet up with them, they are a message away. Staying in one place has allowed me to develop a routine that works for me. I don’t have to worry about making the most of my time in a new location. I no longer worry about work.

Life is simpler. You don’t have to wonder about where to travel to next, whether all the hostels will be booked up and making friends in hostels. I feel happier too.

For years, I hated living at home. Now I see the benefits. Looking back, I also see that I was at my happiest during my travels when I stayed in one place for a long time. Doing so allowed me to develop friendships that stopped the feelings of loneliness from setting in.

This point is the crux of the matter. When you jump from place to place, you forgo the chance to become part of a community. It’s an individualistic way of living that is out of touch with our social needs as humans.

Sure, it’s nice hopping from place to place at first, but it soon becomes tiresome. What I realized during my six-month trip is that the digital nomad lifestyle is not what it seems. The photos on Instagram tell a selective story.

Being a digital nomad may be a dream for many in the 21st century, but it’s a shallow one. Unless you’re integrating yourself in a local community, you’re living a very privileged lifestyle, which, in my case, made me miserable.

Travelling is fun, but so is developing close bonds with friends and family. You can’t put a price on that. To those who wish to become a digital nomad, I have these words for you; be careful what you wish for.

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