"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
Lots of people would agree with Robert Louis Stevenson, as they're eager to travel and see the world -- or more of their own country. Many of them simply can't, though, because of being tied down to an office job, perhaps with relatively few vacation days and other demands on their time. The business world is changing, though, and many people can now claim the title of "digital nomad" -- able to do their job from any location, thanks to technological assistance.
The digital nomad life can seem appealing, and it does have lots of advantages. Yes, you can travel the world while continuing to work and you can often choose exactly when you work. But it's not all rosy. Here are some things to know about being a digital nomad.
1. You shoulder more responsibility
If you're not working a 9-to-5 job at an office but instead are working from home, from coffee shops, and from around the country or world, you have more responsibility on your shoulders. It's up to you to focus and work. It's up to you, sometimes, to find that work for yourself. If you're traveling a lot, it's up to you to oversee travel arrangements and finding places and ways to work.
2. Freelancing means no benefits
If you're a freelancing digital nomad, you will be shouldering more responsibility for many things that you previously enjoyed as employer-provided benefits. You'll probably have to provide your own health insurance, for example, and may need to buy your own life insurance, too, while contributing to retirement accounts on your own. Most salaried jobs offer paid vacations and sick days, but freelancers and contractors don't get those. On any days when you're not working, you're probably not bringing in any income.
3. Living abroad can be challenging
There are many wondrous things about living and working abroad or in other regions, such as the chance to get to know new cultures and cuisines. But that kind of travel can also make life more complicated. You may be dealing with different currencies, for example, with fluctuating exchange rates. You'll be dealing with different customs and norms, too. It may be hard to find a furnished apartment, for example. Even electrical outlets vary around the world. Also, many products you're used to and love may not be locally available -- such as personal care items and even over-the-counter medications. If you're used to having a washer and dryer in your home, you may find that you need to use a laundromat, which can take more time. You may have to work some odd hours, too, if you're many time zones away from your customers, and your taxes can get complicated, too.
4. You'll need more than just internet access
When planning for your next work location, don't just ensure that it offers internet access. You'll probably need more than merely that -- depending on the nature of your work, you'll probably need good internet service. Be thorough in your research. Having a hotspot can help, but sometimes it won't be enough of a help.
5. It can be financially stressful, so prepare
It can cost more than you expect to move to a new location and set up working there. Before you embark on your new digital nomad lifestyle, consider stockpiling funds to draw on, at least for your first year or so. It can help to learn to get by on less money, too, so you might start practicing that before you become a digital nomad, too. For example, try making more coffee, snacks, and meals on your own instead of grabbing them from restaurants and other vendors. On the other hand, in some places where you might travel and work, the cost of living can be quite low, letting your money stretch further.
6. It can get lonely
You're not alone if you're working remotely -- a Gallup poll recently found that 43% of American workers did so last year, at least for a while. Still, the digital nomad lifestyle can be a lonely one. Ideally, you'll make new friends wherever you go, but that can take time. Simply working on your own instead of working in an office setting can be lonely, as you'll no longer be surrounded by workmates -- even if some of them were annoying. It can be especially tough if you fall sick, with few or no friends or family around to look in on you or take you to the doctor. Be prepared for this loneliness, and plan for ways to get around it, such as looking for activities and groups to join in your new location(s). You might seek a co-working space, too, where remote workers do their own work on their own, but sharing a space.
7. Being all over the world means being away from home
Even if you make new friends, you'll be missing your old ones, and your family, as well. Traveling all around the country or the world has many perks, but you'll be missing out on some important things, too, such as being around many loved ones over time. You'll inevitably miss some big events, such as births, deaths, graduations, holidays, and other celebrations.
8. It can be easy to lose track of your opportunities
Be sure to take advantage of being in new regions or countries and explore them as much as you can. It can be easy to just work a lot and then rest, finding new routines that keep you from going on adventures. Take day trips and multi-day trips. Try new cuisines and activities. (Snorkeling? Tai chi?) Remember that you're in your new location for a reason, so make the most of that.
9. There are resources you should tap
The idea of becoming a digital nomad may be intimidating, as there's a lot to learn and many mistakes you might make. Know that there are lots of resources online that can help you, and seek them out. For example, the nomadlist.com website ranks locations on how well suited they care for digital nomads, taking into account factors such as the cost of living, weather, internet speed, safety, nightlife, and so on. (Top-ranking cities recently were Berlin, Budapest, and Bangkok.) The Work Hard Anywhere app can help you find work spaces around the world, as can other apps dedicated to work sharing and coworking. The "Hoffice" service lets people rent out their home offices to others, much like AirBnB. A little Googling will turn up lots of aids.
10. It might not be the right life for you
Finally, after reading up on the digital nomad life and perhaps chatting some people who are living that lifestyle, you might conclude that it's just not for you. That's fair. You might simply enjoy being a telecommuter, or a freelancer working in your hometown, or even remaining a 9-to-5 commuter with an old-fashioned office job. If you have some wanderlust in you, and great curiosity about the world, you might just take some extensive vacations now and then. There are many ways to explore and get to know our wide world.
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