The digital nomad lifestyle is the dream for a lot of people that I meet. And rightfully so – there’s so much to gain pursuing a life with more freedom and travel.
But of course it can’t stop there, with just laptops on the beach and drinking out of coconuts. The digital nomad lifestyle comes with it’s whole own set of difficulties and challenges.
This week I did a poll on my Instagram asking people if they would be a digital nomad if they could. The response was an overwhelming 97 percent YES.
I’ve lived the ups and downs of the digital nomad lifestyle, so I want to let you in on some insight that I wish someone has shared with me.
My “why” for leaving the 9-5 world
I vividly remember a conversation that I had right after I graduated from university. I was flabbergasted that all of that work pursuing my degree and a good job out of the gates was for this: Sitting behind a computer all day until it’s time to go home and then do it all again tomorrow.
At first, it felt devastating. Almost all of my time was spent in the rat race, chasing the cheese. I desperately told my mentor:
“There is no cheese – money won’t buy my life back that’s spent fading away in my cubicle.”
I tried to squish myself into the mold, a phase which I now have affectionately nicknamed “corporate Kayla.” I chopped my hair off, curated a business casual wardrobe and told myself that wanting to have fun (fun – so frivolous!) was not what I had worked for in college.
Thus, I spent a few years behind a desk. And even working at some jobs that I really enjoyed! But no amount of enjoyment for the tasks at hand could outweigh the numbness that I felt towards the way I spent the bulk of my time.
This quote by Annie Dillard haunted me daily:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Aniie Dillard
Now, this isn’t putting down anyone who has a desk job. The light bulb moment that I want to share is that you have the option to choose another recipe if this one isn’t for you.
And to be honest, I’ve had desk jobs that I’ve loved and thrived in. It’s possible I’ll end up back there again someday, but on my terms. This time off the beaten path has changed everything about how I approach life, and continues to change me every day.
Things No One Tells You About The Digital Nomad Lifestyle
1. It’s an emotional roller coaster
A structured job provides you certainties that are always there. There’s always someone who will tell you what to do if you’re not sure. You never have to worry about everything. Someone will pay the electricity bill. If the whole company were to go under, you’d have a group of people to go cheers unemployment with at the bar across the street.
With the structure of typical employment removed, you can do anything. You can start every morning with hours of meditation or long hikes. Read an entire book cover-to-cover every day.
Become a nudist. Adopt a nocturnal sleep schedule and do all of your activity at night, naked.
The magnitude of choice is both exhilarating and completely overwhelming.
It took me months, maybe even longer to find a balance. It’s been more than 2 years since I left my desk job in Chicago, and I still experience ups and downs.
2. You’ll experience soooo much growth
If I had to pick one word to summarize this phase of life (leaving convention behind and trying something alternative), it would be: growth.
Just the fact that you’re thinking about pursuing the digital nomad lifestyle shows growth.
It takes courage to seek a free-form life, where you figure out making money, your schedule and your location in the world. Pursuing and executing that lifestyle will change every cell in your body (at least, it’ll feel that way).
3. It takes work to still socialize
The digital nomad lifestyle means you can work from anywhere. But where do people actually work? Most digital nomads fall into one of these 3 categories:
- Working online, from home
- Working online while traveling
- Utilizing a co-working space either at home or abroad
One and two are the most common. People who are location independent in the long-run usually experience a mix of all three.
This point is for the dreamers who fit into category #1: it will take work to socialize.
And by “socialize,” I mean seeing another living human ~in the flesh.~
When you work from home, meeting new people takes work. Heck, even seeing people, any people, can be an accomplishment some days.
I hit digital nomad rock bottom when I had just moved to the Netherlands in 2018. It was the dead of winter. I was in the middle of a big freelance deadline. And I hadn’t spoken out loud to someone other than my husband in d a y s .
Truth be told, this might also happen to you while traveling (category #2) too. Depending on where you’re at in the world, there may not be any other English speakers around.
I traveled through South America in the low season, and there were many occasions where hostels were completely empty and no other backpackers to be found.
4. Most people won’t get what you’re doing
There have been many occasions where I’ve shied away from the conversation about having a nontraditional working life. I pick my battles when it comes to explaining my lifestyle.
So you don’t like working?
Wouldn’t you be happier if you had more money?
I just can’t imagine not having a career.
And it’s not their fault – we’re a part of a society that rightfully places a lot of value on work ethic and career. The idea that you can be both non-traditional and still be working hard can take some adjustment for some people.
A short conversation about the lifestyle will usually help people understand. I was lucky to have exceptional support when I transitioned into the digital nomad lifestyle.
However, I think it’s important to brace yourself for some negative reactions from people in your life.
5. You have to learn to live without certain things
Many people taper their transition into the digital nomad lifestyle. I think for most people, this transition includes a dip in income and some very low-budget living to get by.
My digital nomad lifestyle transition went like this:
- Saved up some money
- Quit job, moved out of apartment
- Stayed with my parents and couch surfed in the US for a month while building up my online work
- Flew to Mexico with a one-way ticket and worked out of hostels as a I traveled
In the long run, it’s completely realistic to have lower expenses and more wealth with the digital nomad lifestyle. But you shouldn’t expect a sacrifice-free transition. Some staples in my life that I had to sacrifice at first to make this lifestyle happen:
- my La Croix addiction
- going to the bar
- eating salmon
- buying clothes
And to be honest? I just never went back to buying those things. Once I learned to live without them for so long, I never needed them again.
6. It’s completely possible to make it happen if you make changes to your lifestyle
Maybe quitting your job and becoming a full-time traveler, starting your own business or simply diverting those 40 hours a week somewhere else sounds like a pipe dream now. But it may not be that far out of reach.
After all, if tons of people are doing it all over the world at this exact moment, why not you?
There are two typical paths people take for finding location independence:
- Having a typical full-time job in your field, just online. This could even be the job you have now, but doing it remotely. You’d have a normal salary and normal working hours.
- Working online, but taking a step back from full-time work. This could be working freelance, teaching English remotely, blogging, etc.
The most people I’ve met fit into category #2,
Where to begin? Minimize expenses, teach yourself to budget and learn to live without things.
In a nutshell, that’s what matters most about getting started living without your normal income. And you can start doing those things today to start making your dream of becoming a digital nomad a reality.
The basic principle of getting started living without your 9-5 job: if you can drastically reduce the money going out every month, than you can live off of much less.
My blog posts that can help you start saving money right now:
- Maintaining your clothes to avoid buying new ones: Capsule Wardrobe Upkeep: Removing Armpit Stains From Colored Clothing
- Reducing your home expenses: 6 Sustainable Laundry Ideas That Will Save You Money In The Whole House
- Spending less money on food and drinks: 9 Food Prep Ideas For Saving Money & Reducing Plastic Use
- Shopping less: One Step To Spending Less and Minimizing Your Footprint, Starting In Your Inbox
Is leaving the 9-5 world for you?
What made you read this article? Are you considering leaving your desk job, trying to work for yourself, or becoming a digital nomad?
I’d love to hear! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know 🙂
Hello, friend! I’m Kayla. I help people shrink their footprint on the Earth and find freedom in owning less. On Writing From Nowhere, I share ideas on living more intentionally and sustainably.