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One of the things I quickly noticed – and almost as easily forget at times – is that the digital nomad lifestyle is a pretty alien concept to many people. And understandably so: after all, making a living online while travelling the world full-time does sound a little bit too good to be true. Type “digital nomad” into Google image search and it looks too good to be true, too.
Well, I hate to break this to you, but you can forget those pictures.
Even though I can work from anywhere with a WiFi connection, I’m not always looking out to a perfect view. Sure, I’ve been able to work in some scenic spots since I started this digital nomad life last year, but I’m more likely to be found at a hotel room desk or an office-like co-working space with nothing but a blank wall for a view. Not to mention I have to lug my laptop, hard drives and everything else I need to work productively around with me.
What is digital nomad life really like?
The “working in paradise with a cocktail in hand” image is just one of the many ways in which the digital nomad life is over-romanticised – and probably why it seems too good to be true. So today I want to clear up a few of the other misconceptions about digital nomads and talk about the reality behind the most common myths!
1 – Digital nomads are on a long holiday
The myth: Being a digital nomad just means taking an extended holiday where you can spend every day exploring.
The reality: Nope. This is probably the most frustrating one for me because this lifestyle is anything but a holiday. As much as I appreciate people wishing me a “nice holiday”, it’s really just a reminder of how I should take a holiday at some point. I usually work around 6 -8 hours per day, 7 days a week. I’m not complaining because I love what I do, but I work at least the same number of hours as I did at my full-time job in London – usually more.
Perhaps it would be slightly different if I wasn’t running a travel blog and YouTube channel, but most of my time spent exploring still involves work. It’s work I absolutely love, but it means it’s almost impossible to switch off. Not only that, but it becomes kind of hard to take a holiday – how do you take a true holiday when you travel full-time?
The good: Even though it’s hard to switch off, I like that I can take a one day holiday without having to board a flight. There’s always something to explore nearby when I do manage to take a break!
2 – Digital nomads work at the beach
The myth: Digital nomads can work from anywhere, so most of them work from hammocks hanging from palm trees, sun loungers by the pool or on perfect beaches at sunset.
The reality: I’m not going to pretend I’ve never worked from a sun lounger – okay, I may be writing this post from one – but most of the time it’s a lot less scenic than you might imagine. I spend most of my days working hard in a hotel room (admittedly sometimes they’re ON the beach like this hotel in Koh Samui) or a makeshift office so that I’ll have time to get out and enjoy those hammock/sun loungers/beaches – something that doesn’t always happen. I share all the good work spots on my Instagram Story, so you’ll know when my office for the day doesn’t suck. Otherwise, you can bet it’s not somewhere you’d want to send a postcard from.
Oh, and you should NEVER take your laptop to the beach. Sand is a killer!
The good: Once I finish work for the day, I can lounge around and watch the sunset from a hammock. Or I can go for a swim during an afternoon break.
I do go to the beach… but there’s not a laptop in sight. Just lots of coconuts.
3 – Digital nomads are backpackers
The myth: Digital nomads are just backpackers who get their laptops out every now and then to update social media.
The reality: Ah, where to start with this one? Of all the reactions I got, I wasn’t expecting this one. I don’t really know what to say apart from… sometimes I really envy backpackers. Sometimes I’d love to spend all day travelling, relaxing and doing whatever else it is backpackers do, but I don’t have all that much free time. And I don’t want to stay in dorms. In fact, I very very rarely stay in hostels. And, er, I don’t even own a backpack.
The good: I’ve gotten over the fact that I never did the backpacker thing. For a while I felt like I missed out, but I’m not sure it’s my style of travel.
4 – Being a digital nomad is like taking a gap year
The myth: We’re taking a set amount of time out from our careers/lives to travel.
The reality: I never took a gap year because I couldn’t face the thought of spending money every day without earning. And if I was going to travel hard like that, I would want to make the most of it… and that costs money. I also didn’t want to delay going to university or getting started in my career, because I was just super keen and excited about all of that.
When I realised I could travel and build a career, I didn’t really need to think twice. But even though the travel part is the side people think of when you tell them you’re a digital nomad, the career/work part ALWAYS comes first. And that means sometimes you miss out on the travel.
The good: Becoming a digital nomad is a good way to have it all: we travel and we have careers, without sacrificing one or the other. Even when work gets busy and you miss out on the travel part, it’s still better than being restricted to 25 days of annual leave.
5 – Digital nomads are funded by the bank of Mum and Dad
The myth: We can afford to travel full-time because we have rich parents or family members who help us out.
The reality: First of all, I’m sure this may not be so much of a myth for some people, but that’s certainly never been the case for me or most digital nomads I know. I can’t speak for everyone, but I haven’t asked my parents – or anyone, for that matter – for financial help since my university days (when my student loan didn’t even cover my shared room. Exeter is expensive).
The fact that people assume this is kind of insulting. It took a lot of courage and hard work to get where I am, and it kind of undermines that. I knew this was going to be a big financial risk, but it was one I was willing to take. I risked all of my savings when I left my stable job and comfortable life in London to travel and work for myself, but luckily I never needed to dip into them.
The good: I’m more financially free than ever! Even if people assume otherwise.
6 – Digital nomads don’t pay taxes
The myth: Digital nomads don’t pay taxes because they’re not based in one place and move around too much. They’re cheating the system.
The reality: There’s been a lot of this in the media recently so let’s clear this up. Again, I can’t speak for everyone, but I do pay my taxes (even though I rarely use the services). In fact, I spend a whole day every month getting my books in order AND I have to do my own payroll before I get to take any money home every month. I have a Limited Company based in the UK and I am a full-time employee of that company, meaning I pay both Corporation Tax and Personal Income Tax.
The good: I know a LOT about taxes. Yay! I also have a clean conscience and still have access to healthcare back home.
7 – Being a digital nomad is easy
The myth: Digital nomads are “living the dream” and don’t have to worry about everyday worries like bills.
The reality: We just have different everyday worries. Sure, I don’t have to pay council tax anymore, but have you seen how much I spend on long term travel insurance and gadget insurance? Do you see how much time I spend reading about taxes (and subsequently worrying that I’ll get it wrong and face a hefty fine)? Being your own boss comes with a LOT of responsibilities, even if they’re slightly different, and you’re the one who’ll face the consequences if you don’t stay on top of it.
The good: I know even more about taxes. And business. Starting your own business is a good way to learn a lot of new skills because you have to wear many, many hats.
8 – Being a digital nomad is hard
The myth: The lifestyle looks appealing but only a certain type of person can do it. Maybe it’s something in their genes?
The reality: Becoming a digital nomad isn’t easy, but it’s no harder than starting your own business at home, getting your dream job or saving up for that totally overpriced handbag you’ve spent your whole life dreaming of. Like anything that’s worth having, it takes a lot of work and dedication to get there, but it’s not impossible – or hard – if you really want to make it work. You just have to prioritise it.
The good: Anyone can do it (if it’s the thing they really want)! And it feels pretty fantastic when you do.
9 – Digital nomads are “living the dream”
The myth: Digital nomads live a perfect life. It’s not fair.
The reality: Am I living my dream? I don’t know, but I’m certainly living a life I love. There are still a lot of things I definitely don’t love about the digital nomad lifestyle, including being away from family and friends, rarely taking a day off and the usual uncertainties that come with working for yourself. Most days I wake up full of energy and excitement, but some days I wake up frozen with fear.
And even if this is MY dream, it doesn’t mean it’s THE dream. This isn’t a lifestyle for everyone and it’s one that I don’t think most people would enjoy. As much as it’s fun, exciting and full of adventure, it’s terrifying, stressful and things do go wrong.
The good: If you’re living YOUR dream, that’s all that matters. And this is a dream that’s very possible.
I hope this post has given you a little more insight into digital nomad life and cleared up a few of those digital nomad myths! This isn’t meant to sound negative in any way – I’m living my life exactly as I want to right now and wouldn’t change a thing – but it’s important to see both sides of that postcard-perfect picture.
As always, drop me a message if you have any questions or subscribe to my newsletter for more tips and advice on becoming a digital nomad and making your own dream come true (bad days and all).