Becoming a digital nomad and working for yourself always like a combination of unicorns, glitter, and mint chocolate chip ice cream – don’t believe anyone that tells you otherwise.
Ok. That’s a lie.
I’ll be totally honest, sometimes being a digital nomad and solopreneur totally sucks. I mean, usually it doesn’t, but nothing is ever all glitter and rainbows.
With that in mind, today I want to highlight some of the aspects of this lifestyle that often get overlooked amidst the instagram photos of first class flights, lavish hotels, and laptops on the beach.
So if you’re considering becoming a digital nomad, but you want a little dose of reality for what it’s really like? And what some of the downsides are? Then today’s post is for you.
We’re going to dive into not just the realities of traveling and the downsides that come along with that, but also the business aspect of being a digital nomad.
Because let’s face it, you have to have a business to earn the title. Otherwise you’re just on vacation.
Becoming a Digital Nomad: The Pros and Cons (VIDEO)
If video is more your thing, here’s a YouTube video we shot in Vancouver, BC all about the pros and cons of work and travel.
1) There’s only one way things get done: you.
When you’re first starting your business as a digital nomad there’s going to be one giant roadblock in your way: yourself.
If you don’t get work done, work doesn’t get done, and you’re eating ramen for the next month.
As your business gets bigger you can hire people to help (and even then, it can be a difficult transition to make), but in order to be successful you need to be disciplined and have productive routines in place or risk death by sodium induced pasta.
2) Separating Business and Personal Finances is Next to Impossible
Sure I have a separate business bank account, but as a single member LLC, my business and personal finances are largely intertwined.
So when I pay someone a grand to say, fix my website that got hacked, it feels like that money is coming right out of my pocket, rather than the business.
10 years in and this is still a difficult thing to get past, especially for someone who tends to be
cheap, ahem, frugal, like me.
It can also be made even worse if you hit a period of time with slow sales or a lack of new clients. The lack of a steady paycheck can wreak havoc on the business/personal life balance.
3) The “So What Do You Do” Question
Go ahead, do it. Ask me what I do.
Depending on who you are, the day you ask me, and my mood, you might receive one of the following answers:
- I help people build small businesses that allow them to quit their jobs and travel
- I do golf course and product reviews
- I’m a blogger
- I put on a conference for 3,000 people from all over the world in downtown Portland
- I’m a lifestyle entrepreneur
- I do online porn
Anyone of those could come out of my mouth, and most of them are true. I still don’t have a good answer for what I do!
Which I suppose is great, because it means I do a lot of things and keep it interesting. But trying to give an answer to this question is a very difficult proposition, and many people still won’t get it.
Hint: Don’t say you’re an “entrepreneur”. You’ll get a collective eyeroll as the person will most likely move onto someone else thinking that’s code for “I’m unemployed.”
Second Hint: Don’t call yourself a “digital nomad” – you’ll get an even bigger eyeroll. Live the lifestyle, but don’t give yourself the title.
4) The 7 Day Workweek for a Digital Nomad
Don’t get me wrong, I take a lot of vacations.
Well, kind of.
I go a lot of places, and do a lot of fun things.
But no matter where I am and what I’m doing, bubbling just below the surface is the feeling of “I should be doing ______”.
There will always be something you could or should be doing in your business.
That will never go away, and working early mornings, late nights, and on weekends will all be a part of your journey.
Sure, this allows you to golf on a Tuesday if you want, or go work from a nice cafe on the banks of the Song Saigon – but while you’re out on the course, or exploring a new city, you’ll always have modicum of stress about work.
5) The Inability to Take Business Risks
So this is totally counter-intuitive, and maybe it’s just me. But it’s my post, and I’m including it anyway.
I once I wrote about the importance of risk taking. This week at risk of sounding like a hypocrite (see what I did there), I’m going to talk about the difficult part of risk taking as a digital nomad.
And I’m not talking about “eating the mushroom milk shake at the Full Moon Party” kind of risk.
Once you’ve got a system that works, changing it is scary. I can roughly predict how many Location Rebel Acadeny sales I’ll get in a month, how many people will open an email, how many people will read a post etc. on any given day.
Everything works. Could it be better? Could I make major changes and grow the business more?
Would that involve making some changes, and taking a big risk that has the potential to make it all go to zero?
And as a solopreneur and digital nomad that’s all on me, and that’s one risk I’ve found to be difficult to make.
6) You’re the One Who is Expected to Be Flexible
Yeah, I get it, I have a flexible schedule. But I’m still running a business and working more than a 40 hour workweek (ok, usually).
When you’re the one with a flexible schedule, people can expect you to be the one to work around them – which can at times definitely be inconvenient.
This is especially true when everyone around you is essentially on vacation. If you’re with travelers and backpackers who aren’t concerned about getting stuff done, it’s going to be up to you to be disciplined enough to say no and prioritize work when necessary.
You’re also the one who can be available to hang out at odd times. Does a friend have a day off and want to hit the mountain? You’re the guy! Someone else want to go to a gym class at 10am? Sure, I’ll go!
This flexibility is great, but it can be difficult being the one who is always expected to be available. And based on my strategy of almost always choosing play over work, there are times where my desire to have fun wins and I find myself being much less productive than I should be.
Check out this post on Digital Nomad Productivity for some help with this aspect of the lifestyle.
7) Permanent Travel is a Great Dream with a Frustrating Reality
Ah the dream of traveling around the world while making thousands of dollars each month from your laptop.
This dream is absolutely a reality for many people, myself included.
However it isn’t as easy as you’d like it to be.
When I’m constantly on the move, it’s nearly impossible to do work that will grow my business. I can maintain it, but growth is hard.
So when people set out on a backpacking trip and expect to build their business, they often find themselves overwhelmed and frustrated because getting stuff done can be hard.
My advice? Travel slowly and build routines.
Stay in places for at least a week at a time, and during the first day of each location decide where your “office” is going to be and what your “office hours” will be.
Make that the most rigid thing in your schedule.
If you’re in a new hostel every day or two, you’ll prioritize adventure over work, and never get much done.
8) You’ll Face A Significant Lack of Respect as an Entrepreneur
Lifestyle entrepreneurs, digital nomads, or solopreneurs are often compared to startups. What I’ve found though, is that many people in startups could care less about what I’m doing as a solopreneur.
Last year I wrote an article for Forbes talking about this called “What Startups Could Stand to Learn from Lifestyle Entrepreneurs.”
Regardless of the fact I make good money, directly help a lot of people, and have a great work/life balance – many people in the startup world simply aren’t interested.
And that’s fine, but it’s also something I was pretty unprepared for.
I think what I and thousands of other Location Rebels are doing is pretty cool, but that’s not always the sentiment.
9) The Benefits (or Lack Thereof)
One question I get asked frequently is related to the idea of benefits, or in my case lack thereof.
“How do you pay for health insurance?”
“What do you do about saving for retirement?”
The reality? I pay for my health insurance out of pocket, and make annual contributions to my SEP.
No employee matching, no subsidized insurance costs – it’s simply one of the downsides to being a solopreneur.
10) It Can Be Lonely
As a digital nomad, there’s no watercooler. You don’t get to gossip about what happened over the weekend, or go out for company picnics.
Most days, I sit in a coffee shop all day. By myself. Sure I talk to a lot of people online, have frequent in person meetings, and I travel a lot – so it’s not like I’m living in a black hole of loneliness – but there are definitely times I wish there were someone working right next to me.
And often many of the relationships you do build are fleeting. When I lived in Bangkok I still remember two girls who lived near me that in 100% seriousness almost refused to be friends with me since they knew I’d be leaving within a few months.
That’s a real thing.
Yes, These Things Can Suck, But…
Still want to work for yourself?
While yes, all of these are realities of becoming a digital nomad, I can definitively say the benefits far outweigh these downsides.
Over the past 10 years I’ve done all kinds of things I never in a million years thought would be possible, and if it weren’t for the freedom and flexibility that comes with working myself – they probably wouldn’t have been.
What kinds of things? Well for starters here are 14 Things Location Rebels Can Do, that Employees Can’t.
So, ready to become a digital nomad for yourself? Awesome, we’re here to help. Start with our free 6 day email course that walks you through exactly how to get going on your own.