When I wrote this I’ve been traveling and working remotely for three and a half months. Or at least I’ve tried to.
I don’t call myself digital nomad. And I’m not a true digital nomad. Whatever a true digital nomad really is. I just wanted to see what it’s like.
Over the past few months I’ve been to Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia.
And while trying to visit all of these amazing places I was trying to keep all my other stuff going, as well as some new ideas I wanted to work on for quite some time.
And what I’ve learned is that it’s almost impossible to build anything from scratch while trying to travel and enjoy life at the same time.
It’s already super tough to build anything while you’re at home. In an environment you know. Where you know your obstacles. But trying to build something while traveling is so much harder.
When you travel everything is amplified. The distractions. The things to do. The things to see. New people. New places. The barriers. The unknown. The obstacles. Everything. All the time.
And all of this stuff you’re reading online on how awesome it is to be a digital nomad is basically a lie. It’s a lie to sell you a product. Or a lifestyle. Or a service. Or a coaching session. Or whatever.
People are trying to sell you the dream. Or the lifestyle package. Or the freedom package. Or the whatever package. For just $99 a month.
I ask myself over and over again since when we were able to buy freedom online. Since when we could buy freedom with just a few clicks.
And even more importantly why should we even pay for freedom? I always thought freedom was a basic human right. And basically for free..
It’s indeed a strange world we’re living in.
Don’t get me wrong though. I’m really, really grateful for this time and all of the incredible things I’ve learned and experienced. It was an amazing time. It really was.
I just want to share the things I’ve learned over the past few months to paint a more realistic and more honest picture of what it might really look like to be a digital nomad.
# working on the beach
All of these pictures you see online where people work on a beach are just BS. If you’ve ever tried to just check your emails while you’re in the sun, without an aircon, you’d know that you’d die after just a few minutes.
Working on a beach without an aircon is just not possible. As a matter of fact working anywhere in these dream locations without an aircon is absolutely impossible.
Don’t believe it? You don’t have to. Just try to work outside in your home country during summer time for an hour or two. And you’d instantly understand..
# work & travel
Every time you change your location you’ll lose a few days. Well, it’s not actually losing time but it’s time you can’t use to work. Because you’ll want to explore the city.
Even if you don’t want to, you’d have to figure out a few basic things like where to buy stuff, where to go to eat and so on. After all you don’t want to eat Mc Donald’s all the time, right?
Changing location more than every two weeks makes it almost impossible to get a work routine going. It usually took me about two days until I was able to get back into the flow when I moved from one place to another. Sometimes even more, if I didn’t really like the city. Or ended up in a shitty hostel.
Just think about how hard it is to get your work done anywhere else than the office. Sometimes you might be able to work from home.
But only when you have the perfect setting. It gets soooo much harder to get anything done when just a few things just don’t feel right..
Finding a good place to stay where you can live and work at the same time will also take a hell lot of time. And searching online just doesn’t work for most of the places.
Sure, you can go on AirBnB. But they just don’t have many real flats on it. At leat not at the places I’ve been to. It’s usually hostels trying to sell their dorm beds.
And even if there were some apartments on AirBnB, the good ones were usually always fully booked.
And staying in hostels and going to work at a coworking space or local coffee shops is also not a real option. I tried it. More than half of the time I stayed in hostels.
And the sleep you get there just isn’t real sleep. You’ll be too tired the next day to get some real work done. Even with earplugs..
And you don’t want to buy 5 coffees at Starbucks every single day. Unless you have an unlimited budget. Just like staying in a hotel all the time will get too expensive for most of us.
The only way I was able to get some stuff done was when I completely isolated myself from everything that was going on around me.
When I finally found an apartment I could rent short term or a nice place to stay where I could focus 100% on my work.
Or just like right now.
I’ve spent the past two days sitting in the lounge of a hostel where others come to socialize.While everybody was having fun, drinking and going for parties, I was working.
During these past 3.5 months I went out partying maybe twice.
The thing is this:
When you want to get stuff done, when you want to build (and not just manage) something, you just can’t do what everybody else is doing.
You have to focus on your own shit. Otherwise you could have stayed at home..
I call bullshit on everyone who says that being a digital nomad is like living the dream. It’s one of the hardest things out there.
And it can be very lonely. I just don’t think that most people are ready for this. Most people don’t know how to spend quality time with themselves anymore.
And if there’s one thing I think that disqualifies almost everyone for being a digital nomad it’s this.
If you’re not able to be alone a lot, then being a digital nomad is definitely not for you.
One of the most important things to get stuff done is to have a routine. And it’s sooo hard to get a routine up and running when you’re constantly changing places.
I found this to be THE most important thing for me to get going. To have something I do EVERY day. What helped me sooo much to keep on going was to write and publish one blog post every day.
No matter how many hours I spent traveling in a bus, no matter what obstacles I encountered during the day, I always pushed myself to do this one thing.
And once I did it, I was usually able to do some more thing. I think if you don’t have a routine, you won’t be able to make it work.
# successful digital nomads
Here’s the thing.
The digital nomad hype is filled by people making money selling you the dream. The dream of how amazing it is to be a digital nomad.
I think it’s safe to say that there’s a digital nomad bubble.
Just show me one successful digital nomad who is making a living without trying to sell you his lifestyle. Or her freedom package. Or whatever online course to change the world. Or whatever tickets to whatever digital nomad conference.
The really successful digital nomads, the ones you’ve probably never heard of, the ones who don’t brag about being a digital nomad, are usually the ones who just do it and don’t talk about it. The ones who just do their thing.
The only thing I see how being a digital nomad might work out is to freelance. But this doesn’t work over night. It needs years and years to make a name for yourself.
You can’t just quit your job and start freelancing from an island tomorrow.
You need to build your network first. And your portfolio of clients. And this will take a lot more than just buying an online course on how to build a freedom business..
# managing vs. building
What might also work is to just manage an already well running business. A business you’ve already built BEFORE you became a digital nomad.
Starting an online business from scratch, starting anything from scratch while traveling and enjoying life at the same time is just not possible.
Unless you’re trying to sell people your lifestyle (or the digital nomad lifestyle). Then it’s another story. Because it works. It’s probably the only thing that really works.
That’s why most of these so called digital nomads choose that path. And I’m not blaming them. I do the same. And I’m a strong believer in doing the things that work.
What worked yesterday might not work anymore tomorrow. But some things will always work.
No matter how many robots are out there. Or how many algorithms are replacing our jobs.
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[Related: I stopped giving a shit a long time ago]