Digital Nomad Myths: What It’s Really Like to Be Location Independent

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 01/28/10 •  6 min read

This post was originally published in January of 2010 just weeks after I quit my job and moved to Thailand. It gives an accurate depiction of what life was really like as a twenty-something experiencing what it’s like to live abroad for the first time.

If you want more insight into pros and cons of being a digital nomad. I highly recommend you take a look at this post about the downsides of becoming a digital nomad.

Since I’ve started my adventure in Thailand, I’ve learned that there is a very distinct difference from those that are traveling and those that are working.

When I first began, I thought you could be both.  In the back of my mind, I thought I’d be able to join my friends and travel on a whim to anywhere I want.  While there’s some truth to that being possible, it’s the exception rather than the rule.

It’s interesting to meet other travelers because most of them don’t get what I’m doing.  They don’t understand the concept of remote work; and don’t even try and use the term “location independent”.  I’m coming to the fast realization that there are fewer of us out there than I thought.

For instance, last night I met a graphic designer from New York.  This girl has traveled all over the world, spent a year in India and was bemoaning the fact that she had to go back to work soon.

If there were ever a perfect digital nomad job in the world, I’d have to think graphic design would be it.  When I tried to explain the concept of working remotely, she didn’t get it.  I mean it wasn’t even in her realm of consciousness to be able to live abroad and work at the same time.

That’s why she also couldn’t understand why I would want to spend an entire month living in Bangkok when there are “so many other places to see.”

Sure there are an unlimited amount of other places to see, but:

  1. I don’t have to try and see them ALL during a three week holiday
  2. You can’t work and travel simultaneously.

When I use the word travel, I suppose I should replace it with “backpack or bounce around.”

The reality is, you have to be able to get into some kind of routine to be productive.  Look at any of the location independent people out there, the vast majority of them have a home base.  This is the realization I’ve come to over the past three weeks.

Being a digital nomad means making sacrifices

Contrary to popular belief it’s NOT one big party (although there is certainly a time and place for that).

Sure you can head to Buenos Aires, Bangkok, or any number of other ex-pat hotspots, but you’d better be willing to sacrifice.  This means not taking the cliff jumping/snorkel excursion because you have to design a logo for the new site.  Or maybe it’s passing on the Full Moon Party with all of your friends because you are trying to build a million-dollar business.

These are all decisions I’ve had to wrestle with over the past week.

I’m torn because in my previous life I was a traveler, and those are the things that travelers do.  I made the mistake of assuming that when I got here I could still be both a traveler and a worker.

Not the case.

NOTE: Years after I originally published this post you’re reading now, I found this lesson to be reinforced while traveling for two months in Europe.

It’s also become more clear that I’ve got the drive to make this work.  If you’re willing to work for it, this lifestyle can provide you with an unlimited amount of rewards, not the least of which is freedom of time.

Sure there’s always work to get done, but at least I get to dictate when that work happens now, not my boss.

Another myth is that being a digital nomad is cheap

For the last two years, I’ve heard all the talk about geo-arbitrage and how it’s the greatest thing in the world.  Well, it can be, if you are in the right mindset. However, if you aren’t, I’d argue it’s more expensive than being back home.

I’m just now getting out of the traveler’s mindset.  For the past three weeks, I’ve been spending like I was on a vacation.

Spending nearly triple the amount I would normally want to be spending on a room.  Dropping 20 bucks a night on beer and buckets, those are things travelers do.  So should you want to pursue a lifestyle of geo-arbitrage, the most important thing you can do is get out of the traveler’s mindset, because until you do, you’ll be spending like one.

At the same time, Thailand can be VERY cheap.  6,000 baht ($180) a month for an apartment in Bangkok (but be prepared to stay for at least a month).  For dinner, I had 30 baht sweet and sour chicken with rice and a 20 baht coke.  The equivalent of about $1.60.  Not too bad.

The bottom line is that traveling and being a digital nomad are not one and the same.  If you’re being location independent you can see so much, and learn a great deal over a long period of time, but don’t try and see a new place every three days.

Because then both work and travel suffer.  Commit to one or the other, and you’ll be glad you did. For me, I’m committed to work.  And over the course of the next six months, I still plan to see and do a hell of a lot, and believe me, I will DEFINITELY make it to a Full Moon Party!

Update: 12 years later, and I still have not, in fact, made it to a Full Moon Party. Still on the bucket list! Although, I did make it to a Half-Moon Party on the same beach!

Looking to become a digital nomad yourself and start a new business? We can help. Grab our free six-day course and let’s do this thing.

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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45 comments on "Digital Nomad Myths: What It’s Really Like to Be Location Independent"

  1. So THAT’s the view from up that hike! This post is doubly relevant because I never got to see that view… because I had to work!

    So by the tone of this article I’m guessing you won’t make it to the FMP this time; I’m only sorry I won’t share it with you, but glad you’ll make it soon anyway 😉 After this weekend I’m going to have to put a cap on the bouncing around and spending like a tourist. As you say, it can be more expensive than being back home!

  2. Derek says:

    Right on Sean, I agree with everything. This is something I’ve noticed / struggled through over the last year.

    I’m glad you took a couple weeks to party before settling down. That’s the way I try to do it now. My first 10 days in Mexico were spent as a traveler = drinking mucho. And you’re right, it’s much more expensive that way.

    Now, I’ve settled back into somewhat of a routine. It’s funny though, friends back home still can’t understand it. They always ask me, “What do you do all day? Why haven’t you seen this or that?” I respond, “I do the same thing as you but in Mexico, near a beach, and for half the price. And if I want to take a ‘vacation’ from it, I can do that for a couple months if I see fit.”

    That usually helps them understand.

    Good post.

  3. Audrey says:

    Very well said. The original goal of our journey was to travel around the world. Then, we picked up some freelance work and realized we could extend the life of the journey if we try to combine both travel and working. That sounds easier than it sounds – I’d say it’s almost impossible to do both well. The “happy medium” we’ve come to is that we take time off from our travels to work. Sometimes that time off is a few days, sometimes it’s a week, sometimes it’s a couple of months (like we’re doing now in Buenos Aires). But during that time we focus on work and stop being travelers – it’s OK not to see every sight and just enjoy being in a place. Those places aren’t going anywhere – you can always return.

    We often get strange looks from other travelers who pity us for spending time on our laptops. We’ve lived the life where we’ve had our vacations and returned home to the office. That works for many people – they don’t want to think about work when traveling. But, for right now, we’re trying to combine the two. We can’t keep up this pace of travel forever, but we hope to be able to continue for a couple more years to see Africa and the Middle East and then find someplace to settle down (Bangkok is high on our list)…for a bit.

  4. Kristin says:

    Such solid advice on mindset. I learned that on my week long trip in BA to visit Colin. I kept getting emails from clients that I wanted to deal with immediately, but there was so much to see and do! At the end of the week I was just exhausted. It was a fabulous trip, but there is so much more I would have liked to do, and my work really needed more attention than it got.

    That’s more or less why I’m making it my goal to work really hard now while I’m grounded and make a legitimate leap to location independence in a year. Oh that sounds so far away!

  5. Matt says:

    Hey Sean, I stumbled upon your site a few days ago and it has really struck a chord with me. You are doing, to some extent, what I plan on doing with my family later this year.

    Our plan is to move to Indonesia (my wife’s home country) where my wife will setup a small cake shop, which is what she loves to do, while I will explore ways to use my photography in unconventional ways. Lofty goals but these are the things we both enjoy doing and feel passionate about so we are moving forward to make them happen.

    In Indonesia we will have the added benefit of having family around but even with that I have to admit that the thought of going through with the move still terrifies me.

    I’m glad that you are blogging about some of the challenges you face. Both my wife and I are aware of some of the more blatant sacrifices we will need to make to live the life we desire so it is nice to read about others such as yourself. I look forward to reading much more from you.

  6. great point about the differences. It seems you managed a good compromise, doing a little of the traveler’s life to start out (unless you feel you overdid it?) before settling in to the new working life. Good to keep in mind timeframe: you don’t have to do everything in 3 days because you LIVE there. So long as you plan to take the highlights in at some point (don’t get lulled into the typical resident’s mindset of NOT seeing the sights because they’re right there)

  7. Hansen says:

    Great post, it really is what I needed to hear while I am preparing for my location independent adventure coming up. When I tell my friends my plans, they assume that it will be one big vacation/party the entire time and when I try to explain to them its not all fun and games, that’s when confusion settles in.

  8. Nate says:

    Very cool lessons you are learning. I can imagine that it’s hard to separate work and play, and easy to underestimate the difficulties that come with finding time to actually work.

    That meal you described for around $1.60 just got me really excited. One of the draws to Thailand for me would be the affordability of good food, super cheap food like that.

  9. Hey Sean,

    Great to hear about your epiphany. I have always maintained that being Location Independent and being a nomad is not the same thing. Though some people like Dave and Deb and Cherie and Chris are able to manage it just fine.

    My goal is to automate the income generating, so I have income coming in while I travel. I also like the idea of doing work that can be fun and flexible, so I can continue to travel.

    Great to see you’re keeping your priorities straight.

    I am still waiting for the video of you playing the guitar like no one is watching, but everyone is paying. 🙂


  10. Moon Hussain says:


    I bet it’s going to be really hard to stop being a “traveler”. After all, you’re in a beautiful place, highly enjoyable… and who wants to go back to work?

    I guess you’ll have to ease back into it slowly. Maybe an hour or two of work every day till you can define how long you want to work each day.

    G’luck (and that image is amazing!)

  11. Rob Blasko says:

    Great advice here, Sean… I expect I’ll go through this same sort of transition period when I start my adventures as well. Are you staying focused solely by keeping your eye on the prize, are you organizing weekly goals for yourself, or are you using some other method(s)? Oh – and great photo by the way, even without tripod.

  12. Raam Dev says:

    As someone who has already quit his job and left his apartment to start a nomadic LIP lifestyle in India this March, THANK YOU! This post really puts some reality to the whole notion of living and working remotely from a cheap foreign country.

  13. Gary Arndt says:

    I just arrived in BKK last night. Let me know if you’d like to meet up.

  14. This is a very level-headed view on a sometimes over-glamorized lifestyle.

    I’d use the analogy of being a frequent tourist in your own hometown.

    Oftentimes the place where we grow up (or any place you live for a long time) is full of interesting places and fantastic sites. But the complacency sets in really early and those things become “the tourist spots” and their beauty and allure are overlooked. Being able to enjoy what is right by you and nearby will make all the difference, no matter where you are.

    That lure of the unknown and unfamiliar gives that oftentimes false sense that the distant and mysterious places far away are more attractive. Mastering the “local traveler” mindset will help you enjoy what you have, no matter where you are.

  15. unbjames says:

    Nice insights Sean … you can learn, see and discover things overseas without seeing a new country every 2 weeks … slowing yourself down, soaking in your surroundings, seeing how the locals live their lives.

    Living (reveling in the cheap chicken, rice, and coke) seems to be far superior to binge traveling (although partying like a rockstar at first to get it out of your system seems like a great idea too!)

  16. Archan Mehta says:


    Just keep on writing your posts and sharing with your readers.

    Some of us may not have the opportunities to travel like you do. All the same, it is great to learn about exotic places through your eyes.

    I think you are doing a fabulous job and keep up the good work.
    Also, it’s generous of you and nice to share your experiences.

    I am glad Thailand is treating you well, and I also hope other places all over the world prove similarly rewarding. My best wishes on your sojourns abroad. Stay safe out there and stay outta trouble. Cheers!

  17. Sure, both CAN be done, but the key is slow travel, deep immersion and living like a native.

    We’re living examples as a family traveling/living/working/schooling around the world since 2006 …to 4 continents, 32 countries, over 175,000 miles (most overland) so far, on just 23 dollars per person per day ( & we have lived large.. the majority of the time in “expensive” Europe).

    Too many Americans have “vacation” mixed up with travel and are totally wasteful while they play “2 week millionaire” on their vacation. Many will never get out of that rut or way of thinking. I think the majority of people want a very conventional life & are not willing to even consider the possibilities.

    Sure, there are sacrifices and pros & cons to EVERY life, but we find this a fantastic, easy, rewarding life. It’s not for everyone, but it is a fast growing trend for a reason & many people have been doing it for a loooooong time.

    It takes a little while to get your own rhythm, but after a bit, it’s quite easy to have a great balance of travel and creative work. Travel feels very enticing in the beginning when one wants to do it all, but having time to reflect and immerse deeply actually enhances the faster travel times.

    We love the interplay of unplugged travel play, unknown open road and explorations combined with time for routines, plugged-in creative work and deep immersion.

    Great photo!

  18. James P Hart says:

    I changed from saying, “I’m on holiday here” to “I’m living here for x weeks/months” and the attitude from others changed a bit. It helps to explain why you are in a beautiful place and sitting doing work rather than out doing the tourist things all day every day.

  19. Thanks for the refreshing realistic view! It’s so easy to get caught up in the glamor of traveling when reading about it, and planning for one’s own lifestyle changes.
    I expect that I will be “moving around a lot” instead of “traveling”. This will give me a built-in schedule to acclimate to new places. Move somewhere new, explore the area, settle into work, repeat.

  20. What you’ve discovered here are some fine distinctions that many folks stumble upon. I would say that travel and location independence can indeed be done at the same time. What is significantly less sustainable is extended vacation and location independence. There are some huge mindset shifts that need to occur to realize the differences between travel and vacation.

    Travel (when not in a vacation context) sets the pace for establishing a workday, routines and ‘normal’ day living that helps keep the lifestyle sustainable.

    Vacation can keep you distracted and spending on a vacation budget. We made some of our own distinctions between the two a while back at:

    We also just included this post in a post we’ve been working on exploring the merits of Domestic Nomadism as a form of location independent nomadic living – which we feel we’ve made very sustainable and affordable for nearly 3 years now.

  21. Lex Mosgrove says:

    Interesting post. I’ve been considering working remotely for a while. Now after reading your article, it seems to be an even better idea. Thank you!

  22. Brad says:

    Sean, I have really been enjoying your story man! Very inspirational, and I think it’s great that you are doing what you want to do. You get to see so much, and as you know too many people cannot even comprehend leaving their box. Great job man, and good luck!

  23. Thank you for putting things into perspective and pointing out that there is a difference between the two. All too often we hear about folks quitting their job to work for themselves remotely but they never get into the work aspect of it. We hear reports of how they are on the beach blogging and that’s it, nothing about the hard work that goes into it.

    I am glad you are making a go of it, I look forward to hearing more.

  24. Einat says:

    Another great post! Being in Thailand has been treating you well! Love the photo (again) and really appreciate the candor. I thought being a LIP would be one big party and you are giving me a more realistic picture (which still kicks my cubicle’s butt any day!)

  25. dan delphin says:

    Great and enlightening post. I recently stopped working full time and have come across some of the same issues as you but I definatly enjoy the freedom to work whatever I want and be working for myself! Next step is to get myself to “travel” without thinking of it like that. Also, that pic is one of the most amazing I’ve seen. Anyway I could get a hi res copy of it? Id like to use it as my desktop background. Thanks!

  26. Great post! We’ve been “living” in Costa Rica for one month now, and just committed to a rental for a full year. But since it will take another week for them to get our house ready, we are now “vacationing” to other parts of the country while we wait. And the mindsets really are completely different.

    I’ve been spending a lot more money going with the vacation mindset than the living mindset. I am usually able to keep my work under 2 hours a day, and that’s no problem at all when on the living mindset. I still have most of the day to do what I want. But when I’m in the “vacation” mindset, I feel like I’m torturing myself if I have to spend any time doing work. Very strange phenomenon. Thanks for shedding some more light into it.

    The trick for me is not thinking about work except during the specific time I’ve set aside to work. Otherwise it interferes with all the fun. Even though I know this, it’s still tempting to check e-mail throughout the day just to “see” if there are any urgent tasks that need to be done. Crazy me…

    1. Sean says:

      I am continually amazed at the varied and high quality comments that you guys are always coming up with. I’m disappointed that I haven’t made more of an effort to respond to all of the comments, but I’ve been hard at work with the Tropical MBA stuff, and as I mentioned in this post, work has to be my priority right now! I did just want to mention that I read each and every single comment and certainly don’t take your participation for granted.

      Let me know what kinds of posts you are wanting to see more of in the future. There is so much I could right about with my experiences here, it can be easy to overlook the things you actually WANT to read about. So let me know your thoughts!

  27. Its definitely more expensive if you’re in a travellers mindset. I think its a great skill to be able to work overseas on the cheap.

  28. Meg says:

    This is a great post! Definitely eye-opening as someone who’s read a lot of accounts of people doing it but always wonders what goes on “behind the scenes.” For me, I just want a location-independent job because my husband is military — I don’t want to spend a few years building up a career in one place only to lose it because we have to move and being stuck starting over somewhere else. Not when I can instead work on a business/income stream that doesn’t care where I am at any given moment.

    For what to write about — Fun stuff, of course, because it would be horrible of you not to! 🙂 But more on the process of setting up a routine and “life as usual” in a different place. That, I think, would be very interesting to read. (Basically more stuff along the lines of this post.)

  29. @Sean: might be interesting to read what (if any) compromises you have had to make and how you feel about the trade offs, especially given that they are long-term, rather than short term (and therefore okay b/c they’re part of the ‘adventure’). For example – is it hard to find wi-fi spots? Are you missing any modern conveniences? What about longing for an ordinary hamburger?

    You’ve noted that massages are crazy inexpensive – is there anything that goes the other way and is crazy expensive?

  30. Sean, thanks for your thoughts. Does travel become less appealing once you are traveling for a long time?

    Also, why not monetize your blog? Although I’m donating all my earnings to charity, if you could live off $15,000-$20,000 a year, which seems highly possible in Thailand, why not?

    Blogging is totally location independent once you have the advertising revenue coming in.

  31. Earl says:

    Hey Sean – Typically, I try to stay in one place for 3-4 weeks at a time in order to concentrate solely on work and then spend 1 month or so traveling. Of course, each person needs to work out the balance that works best for them but I remember discovering that travel and being location independent are not the same thing. And it was indeed quite an expected realization at the time.

    It does take a lot of sacrifice at the beginning but as soon as you find your balance, the sacrifices aren’t so difficult. After all, hopefully you enjoy the work you do as well!

  32. Magnus says:

    Hey dude, great insights. We found that taking our two days away to visit you guys was a great trip, and I enjoyed NOT taking the laptops and just bringing one bag – doing it traveller style… and then returning to our luxury apartments here 🙂

    We’re going to do it again soon, I’m thinking of hopping over to Ankor Wat for my next visa run.

  33. Ash says:

    I had issues with this just recently, and the only thing I had to worry about was the blog – I can only imagine! And you’re so right – it’s tempting to splurge on things because “it’s a once in a lifetime experience” and it’s so easy to justify everything that way.

  34. You are correct in that you can’t ‘travel’ and work at the same time. Somehow people associate travelling with a constant movement from place to place like someone with ADHD. I live totally on the road, I have no home, and I work at the same time. I write and I freelance. I need to stay in places for an average of a month at a time and I am looking for longer. Not only do I need the time to work I also want to get to know a place and the people who live there. I am not a tourist who just moves around taking as much as he can, I am a traveller, an Earth Pilgrim

  35. Michael says:

    Very good points.. i spent some time in thailand in 2008 and because i was just traveling i did spend quite a bit. as strange as it sounds, with thailand being so cheap it’s very easy to spend a lot. when bottle service is $30, why not, right?

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