Many people started to rethink how they work and live in the past few years. One trend that has gained popularity in recent years is the digital nomad lifestyle.
I discovered the possibility of working from anywhere in the world in 2013 when few resources for Digital Nomads were available. Before that, I had been traveling as a non-digital nomad (not working online) for three years. After the pandemic, more people joined me, and companies have become more adapted to the possibility of remote work.
This is an excellent advantage for those who aim to become digital nomads now, and many professionals are choosing this alternative approach to work and daily life.
But is this choice ideal for everyone? In this article, I share some of my experience accumulated over these 13 years and tell you about the challenges and benefits of the digital nomad lifestyle.
So, considering the advantages and disadvantages of remote work, you can see if this option suits your personal needs and aspirations. Let’s go!
What is a digital nomad?
The concept is straightforward: a digital nomad is a professional who works remotely, using technology and the internet to do so while constantly moving between different locations and countries.
Essentially, a Digital Nomad works from a laptop and uses the flexibility of geographical freedom to travel more, often spending long periods in one place, thus experiencing the day-to-day life of cities.
This trend reflects a shift in the perception of work and personal life, prioritizing the freedom to choose where and how to live without being tied to a fixed location or a traditional office.
A Trend On The Rise
The popularity of the digital nomad lifestyle has been increasing significantly in recent years, driven by various factors transforming how people work and view their professional and personal lives.
It’s estimated that by 2035, 1 billion people worldwide will have adopted this lifestyle.
This trend was accelerated by the need for companies to adapt due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the evolution of remote work technologies. Today, it’s possible to work for large companies and institutions without needing to be present in an office daily, something unthinkable when I started.
A study conducted by MBO Partners, a company providing services for independent workers, found that in the United States, 2020 about 10.9 million self-employed workers considered themselves digital nomads.
Compared to 2019, there was a 49% increase in digital nomads in the USA. Although this number does not represent the global population of digital nomads, it indicates the rapid growth of this trend.
Suggested Read: Best places for digital nomads this year
Advantages of Being a Digital Nomad
Like any lifestyle, this isn’t the ideal choice for everyone, but there are several advantages to being a digital nomad.
Here are some of the main benefits of adopting this lifestyle.
1. Flexibility and Geographic Freedom
Over the past few years, my life as a digital nomad has provided me with geographic freedom and the flexibility to explore different corners of the world while working.
Thanks to this, I’ve been to over 40 countries and considered myself a “resident” in at least five. This unique experience has been one of the main attractions of this lifestyle for me. If you have a travel bug like me, it’s a way to keep traveling or, at least not just during vacations.
Instead of being tied to a fixed office, I can work from a cozy café in France, a paradisiacal beach in Thailand, or even the comfort of a rented apartment in Mexico City.
Geographic freedom has allowed me to experience different cultures and broaden my horizons. I’ve had the opportunity to learn Spanish in Buenos Aires, complete a postgraduate course in Spain, and isolate myself on a beach in Bahia when the pandemic hit hard. All this without having to give up my career.
2. Living a Life Full of New Experiences
Traveling and working as a digital nomad also helped me break the routine and combat the stress and monotony of everyday life. Being constantly on the move and facing new challenges keeps me motivated and curious, bringing me more happiness.
However, it’s important to note that flexibility and geographic freedom also require constant planning and adaptation. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of organizing myself and balancing work and personal life, ensuring I can make the most of my digital nomad life.
3. Flexible Cost of Living, Adapting to Your Earnings
As a digital nomad, I can live in countries and cities with lower or higher living costs, according to my current income and personal preferences.
In leaner times, this freedom allowed me to explore living in places with a lower cost than my own country, thus enjoying greater purchasing power without suffering too much from a temporary reduction in my income. This way, I could keep traveling without compromising my financial security.
In more prosperous times, I followed my dream of living in major and expensive cities like Berlin and London.
4. Travel More and Learn from Other Cultures
I embarked on this lifestyle to travel and experience as many cultures as possible during my time in this world. I’m not interested in life hacks and other issues that usually arise in nomadic communities.
Traveling to different countries allowed me to experience firsthand local people’s traditions, customs, and ways of life. Meeting and interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds has been a great way to expand my understanding of the world and to develop critical interpersonal and intercultural skills.
Through the experiences I’ve lived and the friendships I’ve made along the way, I’ve learned to be more empathetic, resilient, and tolerant. These skills have been fundamental for my professional and personal growth and well-being.
5. Global Networking and Cultural Diversity
By making friends worldwide, you can also build a global network of professional contacts that can help in your career. It allowed me to access information about job opportunities, collaborative projects, and shared learnings.
A few years ago, for example, I participated in a web doc project with friends I met in Spain. And many people from developing countries I know take advantage of remote work to work for companies in Europe, Australia, and the United States, thus earning a solid currency.
Furthermore, exposure to different business environments can teach you to adapt to different professional contexts, a fundamental skill in any career.
Suggested Read: Work Exchange: What is it and how does it work?
Disadvantages of Being a Digital Nomad
Of course, it’s not all roses. If it were easy, everyone would be a digital nomad, but we see many people giving up after trying this lifestyle.
For me, these are the main disadvantages of working from anywhere in the world:
1. Lack of a Fixed Routine and Stability
Being in constant motion and adapting to different time zones and environments can make establishing and maintaining a consistent routine difficult.
This can affect our personal and professional lives, making establishing healthy habits and maintaining productivity challenging.
The need to adapt your routine with each time zone change can lead to a work-life imbalance, resulting in increased stress and a sense of overload.
It’s not uncommon to hear nomads feeling that they are working too much or too little, not enjoying the places they visit, or falling into unhealthy habits and diets.
How to Deal With This
I admit this was a big challenge in my journey as a digital nomad. But, after so many years, I think I’ve found a formula that works for me:
- Have a routine that’s easy to adapt in any situation: I have a list of simple habits that help me be more productive and healthy, no matter where I am: yoga and reading in the morning and fixed work hours. Although I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule, it works better if I repeat the schedule week after week.
- Establish a weekly plan routine: I set aside time every week to go over all my projects (personal and professional), organize my to-do list, and distribute it in the week’s agenda. This way, I can ensure I’ll have time to do everything I need and enjoy my time off to tour and explore the destination.
- Invest in your mobile office: Have everything you need to work with you. Carry laptop stands for ergonomics, tablets or second screens, e-readers, notebooks, and noise-canceling headphones. Nowadays, it’s easy to find all this in a compact format.
- Exercise discipline: Discipline was never my strong suit when I was younger, but life on the road forced me to develop this skill. Without a structured routine, you need to be the adult in the room and force yourself to work at the right times, exercise, eat healthily, and more. Today, I consider myself someone who does what needs to be done when it needs to be done. If I can do it, so can you!
Fixed Job or Freelancer: Advantages and Disadvantages
As I said, the number of fixed jobs that can be done remotely has increased significantly with the pandemic. Choosing this path can help you have more financial stability and peace of mind to start a nomadic life.
On the other hand, being a freelancer gives you more control over your schedule to increase or decrease your workload as needed. However, it requires greater self-management and discipline.
2. Challenges to Physical and Mental Health
The lack of routine and stability can harm various aspects of our lives, including physical and mental health.
Not knowing how to manage the local health system, adapting your exercise and eating routine with each change, and not being physically close to your therapist can be some of the challenges to our health.
How to Deal With This
- Establish an exercise routine: Create a regular and adaptable exercise routine that can be done regardless of where you are. Consider exercises that don’t require special equipment, like running, walking, yoga, or functional training. However, I must also say that any medium-sized city in the world has a gym or various physical activity classes 😉.
- Make healthy food choices: Cooking at home helps you not suffer so much with menu changes. You can also hire a nutritionist to make an adaptable eating plan.
- Take care of sleep and ergonomics: Choose comfortable accommodations where you can count on a desk to work and a good bed to sleep at night. It makes a lot of difference.
- Establish boundaries between work and personal life: Learn to separate work from personal life, setting specific times for work and leisure. This can help prevent burnout and ensure a healthy balance between the two spheres.
- Do online therapy: With the pandemic, the offer of psychologists and online therapists has increased significantly. It will be easy to find someone you like.
- Pay for travel insurance for digital nomads: Consider health insurance plans specifically designed for digital nomads and expatriates, offering global coverage and access to a vast network of medical service providers.
Best Travel Insurance for Digital Nomads
SafetyWing is a travel medical insurance developed by nomads for nomads, adapting to the needs of this lifestyle.
I don’t leave home without activating mine!
It costs only $49 per month, and the best part is that you can purchase a policy even if your trip has already started; plus, you have the freedom to pause and resume coverage as needed.
With it, I have medical coverage in 185 countries and don’t need to inform my itinerary in advance. Therefore, it’s perfect for people with flexible plans who never know where they’ll be next month!
3. Difficulty in Adapting and Loneliness
The transient nature of the digital nomad lifestyle can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. The lack of enduring ties and a stable social circle can be emotionally draining and make it challenging to build meaningful relationships.
How to Deal With This
- Participate in online communities: Look for groups of frequent travelers and digital nomads on major online platforms. Facebook and Telegram have been good places for this. There, you can meet people with the same lifestyle as you.
- Consider using coworking and coliving spaces: Coworking and coliving spaces are great places to meet other professionals and digital nomads. They also offer a social and collaborative work environment that can help alleviate the feeling of isolation.
- Participate in local events and activities: Look for events, groups, and activities in your area that align with your interests and passions. This can help you meet people with similar interests to yours.
4. Legal and Bureaucratic Issues
Traveling is a very pleasurable activity, after overcoming the involved bureaucracy: visas, stay periods, immigration, luggage, long flights, complex itineraries, choosing accommodation… phew!
Going through this process several times a year can be pretty stressful!
How to Deal With This
- Stay longer: The faster you move, the more bureaucracy you’ll have to deal with. Choose a destination and stay there for a few months before starting it again in another place. This also ensures you will have a more authentic experience of each destination and some stability in your routine, at least for a while.
- Be well informed: The tendency is that, after traveling a lot, you might become careless with the bureaucratic process of travel, as if you have already mastered it all. Don’t fall into this trap; when entering a new country, consult the immigration requirements and be prepared. I speak from experience of almost being denied entry for not having a pre-arranged visa in Azerbaijan.
- Consider specific visas for digital nomads: As a new community, we live in a bureaucratic limbo where we are neither tourists nor residents. Some countries might hassle you if they suspect you will work remotely from there (yes, it happened in the USA 😓). Fortunately, many countries now offer visas for digital nomads, which you might consider, especially if you want to spend more time there.
5. Lack of a Place to Call Home
At times, the lack of a space that’s yours will hit hard, whether it’s to decorate it your way, buy things that don’t fit in your suitcase, have plants, or a pet.
This conflict is constant in my life as a digital nomad, and I often find myself wanting to go back home when I’m traveling and wanting to travel when I’m at home.
How to Deal With This
- Create a sense of home on the go: Carry personal items and things that make you feel at home, regardless of where you are. This can include family photos, decorative items, a coffee maker, musical instruments, a video game console, and even your favorite blanket.
- Cultivate connections with local communities: Make an effort to get involved with local communities and participate in events and activities. This can help create a sense of belonging and connection, even temporarily.
- Stay in touch with friends and family: Technology makes it easy to communicate with important people, even if you don’t have a permanent home. My psychologist told me that the place I always return to can be a person. A home can be where the people you love are, not just a physical space.
- If possible, maintain a base: Many nomads opt for a semi-nomadic style, using one place as a base to explore the rest of the world. If this is viable for you, it can be an excellent way to alleviate the feeling of not having a home and being able to buy typical crafts from the places you visit to decorate. I kept my room at my family’s house for many years for this. Today, I have a studio in my hometown, where I spend a few months every year.
After all, is it worth being a digital nomad?
This is a very personal decision, and the answer will vary from person to person. The best way to decide if the lifestyle is for you is to test it in practice.
You can start slowly, working remotely from a town or beach in your country, and then take more extended flights, making the necessary adjustments along the way. Nothing prevents you from stopping whenever you want and even starting again in a few years.
So far, the benefits of being a digital nomad have outweighed the disadvantages for me. Geographic freedom is a non-negotiable priority. Having the opportunity to explore the world, immerse myself in different cultures, and broaden my horizons has been an incredible experience that I value greatly.
Don’t know where to begin? Check out our Nomad Guides about the best cities around the world!
Editor of Yes, Summer! I am a Brazilian journalist, writer, and digital nomad. I have been traveling the world, telling stories, and tasting local beers since 2010. I am the co-founder of 360meridianos, a reference in travel writing in Brazil, and author of the newsletter Migraciones. On social media, I'm always reachable at @natybecattini.