Being A Digital Nomad, What It’s REALLY Like
We all sugarcoat things from time to time. Whether it’s telling your mum that she definitely still can pull off the jeans she wore back in the 80s, or just making our own lives look just that little bit sweeter from the outside. Sometimes life as a digital nomad needs a bit of sweetener mixed in there too.
Think of it as putting an Instagram filter on your life. Making it a little bit brighter and bolder to everyone else.
We all do it, and it can sometimes seem almost impossible to be able to distinguish between the unfiltered truth and the rest of it. People who live the good ol’ permanent travel life are more guilty of this than anyone else.
Their behaviour, however, is ultimately just a reflection of what their followers demand from them.
After all, would you follow someone who posts photos of their latest food allergy reaction, bug bites and bad hair days? Or would you rather see their beautiful, happy faces scrolling through your newsfeed every day?
I’m actually more partial to the former, but just like my preference for them, these types of accounts are in the minority.
Fair enough. By following [especially famous] people on social media we get a glimpse of their seemingly perfect lives and get to live vicariously through them, if even just for a few minutes a day.
I’ve definitely been guilty of dreaming about going on best friend dates with Doug the Pug and Ellen DeGeneres. How great would that day be? Oh man.
However, I do think it’s important to acknowledge the not-so-glamorous side of the travel lifestyle.
This is why Nick and I are both quite transparent in discussing our experiences with issues we’ve encountered while travelling as well as those within the digital nomad world.
Just like regular humans, some freelance clients will be assholes, while others will be wonderful.
Some days you might have to sacrifice going stand up paddle-boarding with your new travel friends because you have a deadline.
Other days you might get to spend the whole day away from your laptop and in the pool with a mojito in hand, chatting up the sexy bartender.
So let me demystify a few things about the no-pants laptop lifestyle. Starting with, you guessed it – the lack of pants-wearing.
The No-Pants Dance
I won’t lie this is definitely a bonus for me. I hate wearing shoes and clothes in general with a burning passion. Bras were clearly invented as a torture device and if I could pay someone to just hold up my boobs for me I really would.
I have also considered nudism as an option on several occasions. But I do think that there is a slippery slope between having the ability to not wear pants, and becoming so lazy that you forget to wear pants when your in-laws come to visit.
As wonderful as it is to occasionally have a pants-free day, it’s a habit that tells your brain that the work you’re doing isn’t important. As a digital nomad, it is vital that you take control of this before you realise that you actually live in a onesie permanently.
Especially during client interviews or meetings. A professor at university once told me if he ever had to have a video meeting with someone, the first thing he does is ask them to stand up.
This is because so many people only dress from the waist up for Skype calls. Hilarious, but tragic if your client feels like you couldn’t even put in the effort to put something over your Hello Kitty underwear for your meeting.
I’ve definitely had clients jump on a video chat with serious bed head, with a stained t-shirt on.
Regardless of how relaxed your client is, you’re the one getting paid and they need to have confidence in your ability to do the work… and that starts with wearing pants.
The Freedom Fantasy
Awesome, work you can do from anywhere in the world. One of the benefits of becoming a digital nomad is that you can work by the pool in Miami, at an ecolodge in Vietnam, or on a beach in the Maldives – as long as you have WiFi you’re good to go!
Just because you’re ‘free’ to work from anywhere, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ‘free’ to pick people up from the airport or help the kids with their homework.
Unfortunately, by working outside of the traditional four white walls of an office, you’re giving people the impression that you’re working less hard. It can be really difficult to convince people that you just can’t up and leave every time someone wants a favour, even though you are seriously busy working online.
I often do my work by the pool when we’re back home and even though I might be in the midst of organising a $30,000 product launch, I still get asked to help with the dog or something equally trivial.
This is super sucky but it’s just something to simply clarify to your loved ones. Freelancer doesn’t mean “free to become the neighbourhood rent-a-Batman”.
When the keyboard is a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’
The Meal-Time Melodrama
Hell yes, you no longer have to hide your muffins in your desk drawer and eat when the boss isn’t looking. You’re an adult and can eat all the Dunk-a-roos you please.
You actually need to be monitored like an infant. Seriously, you may not realise how much being a digital nomad can consume you, but you will forget to eat (pun, most certainly intended).
You will then become so hungry that you will eat an entire pizza in one sitting. At least, that’s how it works for me. Nick is more of a ‘grazing carnivore’ so he will be snacking and eating around the clock, just because the fridge is close-by and that’s still a novelty to him.
PS. If you thought travelling with your partner revealed a different or interesting side to them, try working from home together – it’s certainly challenging but nevertheless fun!
Aside from your newly acquired weird eating habits, you’ll naturally be moving less than you would be working in a regular job so eventually, your body will start to hate you. I had to set myself alarms for ‘feeding time’, because otherwise I would completely forget.
Yes, just like those bears at the zoo.
The Bossest Of The Non-Bossy Bosses
You’re now the employee of the month every month. You’re also the bossest boss anyone could ever have.
Seriously, how great are you? Telling your employee (yourself) to show up to work whenever they (you) want, and have Netflix on in the background while they (you) work.
And enforcing a mandatory catch up with the Kardashians via some friendly Instagram stalking every morning? Way to go, you!
You still have to get all of your work done regardless, so now because you let yourself get up at noon and waste time on social media you’ll be up till 2 am missing out on valuable cuddle time with your dog. I mean… significant other. No… no I mean dog.
It takes a while to get the hang of being your own boss and learning to set yourself boundaries that’ll help you in the long run.
It only becomes awkward once you send yourself to the naughty corner.
The Predictable Predicament
You don’t have any water-cooler work drama to deal with.
There is no off switch.
You’ll have clients who may not understand that you have other work, or a life outside of them.
You might be helping to manage a client’s social media page from your personal account.
In trying to check your notification of your crush posting a video on your Facebook wall of a kitten riding a Roomba, you’ve now suddenly seen that your client’s customer posted a complaint on their page.
Now, you won’t be able to sleep until you sort it out. This is especially tricky if, like me, you’re travelling across different time-zones while your client continues to assign you tasks with deadlines that used to be your 1 pm and are now your 5 am. Please refer back to this point if you ever feel inclined to comment on my caffeine obsession.
The Mental Monotony Manipulation
You no longer have real-life coworkers. This may seem obvious, but I didn’t realise just how important this would be for my mental health. Even if you hated your coworkers at your old job, at least they kept things interesting. That bitch Berta always stole your yogurt and Janice may have kept undermining you in meetings. But at least they were there.
Monotony can be the most difficult part of the digital nomad life. You don’t commute to work anymore, you don’t have coworkers or a boss to argue with, you also don’t have real-life customers. If you’re not careful you could end up spending several days indoors without even noticing. This can really screw with your brain and if you’re like me – kick your anxiety into high gear.
The good news is, all it generally takes is working from a café twice a week for a bit of a different atmosphere. Maybe getting a gym membership and signing up for that pole dancing, I mean… stamp-collecting class you’ve always been curious about. So you can make other stamp-collecting friends.
Making sure your mental health stays in check is very important as a digital nomad working online because it’s very easy to slip into the antisocial albatross mode. As a multipotentialite myself, keeping a dynamic environment that can bring my passions together is crucial to my sanity.
There are lots of amazing things about the nomadic life. However, I do believe it’s important to be aware of the potential downsides as they’re all preventable.
Basically, as long as you occasionally put on a pair of pants, remember to eat, stick to a routine and interact with real-life a.k.a. offline, three-dimensional humans, you’ll be just fine!
PS. For actual budget travel tips geared towards digital nomads, freelancers and anyone else working online, check out our posts on finding the best accommodation, booking cheap flights, money-saving tips and housesitting.
If you’re already a digital nomad and would like to add to my myth-busting list here, let me know in the comments below!
What’s something that’s surprised you about working online? I’d love to hear from you!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Maggie is a