The challenges of a digital nomad lifestyle
When the whole world’s your home, you don’t bring your work home. You take your work to the world. In this article, Sarah Johnson discusses the digital nomad lifestyle as a modern twist on stay at home work.
How often have you sat at your desk thinking about the possibilities of just taking off on the next plane to the islands? What if you could take your work with you? Being on the road full-time, or mostly full-time, and working while doing is the literal dream of most people. However, it’s not without its challenges, as I’ll describe to you below.
Travelling and working means putting aside expectations of long brunches, afternoon cocktails, and raging, all-night parties. It means – essentially – working full time but being on the road while doing it. Can’t be that difficult, you say. What a dream to be able to be a laptop warrior, working from the terrace at the luxury hotel, or the balcony overlooking the pool.
Read on for the challenges you’ll face as a digital nomad.
Actually Getting Work
One of the biggest challenges that I face is actually getting work. I am a writer, which can literally be done from anywhere, but often potential clients panic when they learn that I am in X country, thinking that because I am off adventuring that I can’t possibly meet their deadlines. Ergo, I get less work unless I can convince them to hire me. It is a constant struggle to assure clients that even though I am taking a day to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef or to spend one last day with my friends before I leave Australia, I will still get a few hours of work done that day. I don’t take weekends – I work at least 3-4 hours each day, some days more like 8-10. Convincing potential clients of this can be stressful, and when you’re competing with hundreds of other freelancers for a job, it’s the difference between a nice guesthouse or a cheap hostel.
Once I’ve convinced a client to hire me, I strive to meet all their expectations. Sometimes, these are completely unreasonable, like the client that wanted to use my personal travel photos in the blog. When I didn’t give him any, he took them from my Facebook page (which, by the way, is not linked to my freelance account!). I asked him twice to take them down and then went to the platform I use. Otherwise, most clients are understanding of my hours and my constant travel. I have some clients that I write for once every two weeks, others that are every day contracts.
Staying in Touch
As a traveller, timezones mean catching up on sleep or getting your bearings in a new place. If you’re also working, they mean lost workdays, disruption of work schedule, and more. But as a digital nomad, timezones are actually your friend. Want to work interruption-free? If you’re on the other side of the world, clients won’t be bothering you halfway through your day asking how it’s going. They won’t be inundating your inbox with new ideas, new thoughts. Okay, they might, but you get them all in the morning when you wake up. It is your schedule and you get to determine how and when you respond. I love working in the mornings and then again later in the evenings. It gives me part of a day to go and see something of the place I am in while not sacrificing a workday.
Doing it All, and I do Mean All
One of the biggest struggles a digital nomad faces is the need to get it all done. You’re over there shaking your head at me because you work full-time at home too. You have to go to the grocery store, do the laundry, pick the kids up from school, etc. I fully understand that! As a digital nomad and solo traveller, everything I do is on me. I’m the person that does the cooking and the laundry, packs my bags and moves from place to place. If I had a travel partner, that duty would be shared, and I could take a nap during part of a six hour drive, or start dinner while they’re in the shower and vice versa. But for me, I do all the driving, and then have to get myself sorted at the next place. On a day like that, I may only work for two to three hours unless I am on deadline. Luckily, at the moment I am a full day ahead of many of my clients and while I strive to exceed their expectations by submitting work the day before their deadline, sometimes I’m forced to submit on the day due to travel. It is exhausting, but without it, I wouldn’t be seeing so much of the world.
The Need to be Compact and Organised
I expect your desk looks a lot like mine did when I had a permanent residence. Laptop and charger, planner, post it notes, books, references, bottle of water, nice potted succulent. Those things don’t get to go with you when you are a digital nomad. For the last eighteen months, I have been living out of a backpack. Two, actually: on holds my clothes and toiletries, the other holds my computer, chargers, iPad, tech bag, and camera. I don’t have a book, they’re all on my ipad. I have a small journal, but I make most of my notes in my planner or on my computer.
Lack of space is a big issue, so it is highly important when you’re a digital nomad to be organised. Everything needs to have it’s place, so you can quickly access it or pack up in a rush to catch the next bus.
Lack of WiFi
Unfortunately, space might not be the only thing you’re lacking while travelling and working. WiFi (and especially free WiFi), while common across much of the US and New Zealand, is a luxury that many people just don’t have. I learned very quickly to pick up a local sim card with plenty of data so that I could hotspot when WiFi wasn’t available. Additionally, one of the most frustrating things is going to a cafe to work, only to learn that they don’t have free WiFi , or prefer that you don’t have your laptop there.
Being a digital nomad is highly rewarding and if your work allows it, one of the most amazing ways to see the planet while still making money to do it. It doesn’t come without challenges, but if you persevere, the outcome can be incredible.
About the author
Sarah Johnson is a digital nomad currently in Bali. She has been on the road full-time since late 2015, balancing freelance work with exploring new destinations. Follow Sarah on her blog at www.thegirlwiththemaptattoo.com.
For more tips for digital nomads, you might want to read about the life of a digital nomad couple. If you are going to pursue computer-based work as a digital nomad, be sure to invest in a reliable desk for your home office or a standing version of your favorite desk.