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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