The digital nomad lifestyle.
Sitting on a beach with a laptop and a drink in your hand, right?
Then it’s back to your villa overlooking a rice terrace in Bali. Scooters, beach parties, and meeting other nomads who are all trying to escape something from their past.
This picture is what people think of when contemplating the digital nomad “lifestyle.”
And guess what? It sounds really awesome to people. Hell, if I had to slog through a 9–5 job and constantly get berated by a middle-aged boss, I’d sure want to be on a beach in Bali as well. In fact, I’d chug a few Mai Tais on the plane ride over there in anticipation.
Wait, I’m sounding too much like a digital nomad lifestyle blogger right now, aren’t I?
I’ve been to Bali. Twice. Yes, I’ve started my own online business as well. I hate offices, I’m a privileged white dude, and I love endless traveling and shucking the norms of traditional American society (get married, get a house, have kids, etc.).
I sound unbearable, don’t I?
The truth is, the digital nomad lifestyle — at its core — is beautiful. Sure, us digital nomads make a lot of mistakes and we’re ignorant and many times we don’t know how privileged we actually are.. but the essence of being able to spend time thoughtfully wherever and with whomever you please is as close as you can get to heaven in this life.
Those who pursue this ideal with intention and an unselfishness should be applauded. Those who pursue this ideal with the singular desire to get fucked up on some random beach with a bunch of other digital nomads should be unfollowed.
Let’s talk more about why I feel the digital nomad lifestyle is unbearable, and allow me to answer a few key questions like, “Are Digital Nomads happy?” “What do digital nomads actually do?” and “How do you live a digital nomad life?”
Are Digital Nomads Happy?
So, are Digital Nomads happy?
It’s difficult to say since we’re such a diverse group of people.
I think, though, that happiness can only be found when you take on more responsibility in your life. When you look after other people, and do your part in serving others.
A lot of the messages put out about the digital nomad lifestyle tend to center around shucking responsibility.
Get a drink. Untie yourself from the responsibilities that everybody else has to deal with. Have a laptop? Good, book your plane ticket and don’t look back.
This is the dream that’s sold to us, and while I believe you can have your drink and drink it, too, so many in the community focus ONLY on the selfish aspects of working abroad.
They never focus on how you are now free to spend time intentionally with friends, family members, and locals. It’s a great opportunity for you to LEARN about other cultures and countries.
How come it’s always about parties, parties, and more parties, then?
This is an empty existence, and I believe a lot of digital nomads realize this relatively early on in their journey.
The digital nomad lifestyle they’re sold is all flash and no substance. Sure, you got a drink in your hand on the beach, but you still have to work insanely hard to keep your business afloat — and you can’t work that well when you have a hangover the next day.
So, are digital nomads happy?
I think many digital nomads are! I think those who open their mind, value the locals, and try to make a difference in the communities they’re staying at are very happy. It’s a dream life.
I think the other digital nomads who just want to party in Bali every night aren’t that happy.
What Do Digital Nomads Actually Do?
Fantastic question. I’ll answer it when the next Mai Tai gets to my table.
*Mai Tai arrives*
That’s what we actually do!
Okay, enough horsing around. What do digital nomads actually do? Here’s some quick bullet points:
- Work (duh)
- See tourist attractions nearby
- Make friends with other nomads
- Book Airbnbs
- Book Flights
- Relentlessly research next destinations
- Nurse hangovers
- Call our friends/parents over Face Time
- Engage in pseudo-sign language with non-English speaking locals
- Learn new languages (if we’re trying to be respectful)
- Chill at all the best local cafe’s
- Complain about the Wifi
This is meant to be a bit funny. Honestly, most of my life as a digital nomad is spent right in front of my laptop screen. I spend 9 hours working and 8 hours sleeping per day. That only leaves me another 7 hours every day to cook, work out, do some reading, or see some sites.
What do digital nomads actually do who are like me? I’ve always broken up my time is as follows:
Monday — Friday: Work.
Saturday — Sunday: See as many nearby sites as I can.
This is all I can do. Monday — Friday I spend time living like a local. If I get off at a decent time I’ll go grocery shopping and cook, or I’ll go to a restaurant nearby.
A lot of people expect the digital nomad lifestyle is nothing but freedom and endless drinks. No, it’s a LOT of work still. In many ways it can be even more stressful to work abroad since you feel like there’s so many new things for you to see, but you’re stuck inside working on your business.
That’s the answer to the “What do digital nomads actually do?” question.
How Do You Live A Digital Nomad Life?
I love this question because you could take it a number of different ways. You could take it as “How do you live a digital nomad life?” or you could take it as “How do you live a GOOD digital nomad life?”
Let’s break down the things you typically need first:
- A High-Paying Remote Job — If your job allows you to work remotely, then you’re golden. Freelancing applies here, too. If you have enough freelancing clients to support yourself abroad, then you’re set.
- A Lot Money Saved Away — You don’t *need* this per se, but it’s certainly helpful in case you need to book an emergency plane ticket back home, or in case you come up against some monumental expense abroad.
- An Online Business — If you don’t have a job, and you don’t have a lot of money saved, you need to start your own online business. You could start your own blog, dropshipping store, Print-On-Demand store, or you could setup a variety of other online businesses. Here’s a guide with a few ideas for you.
- A monthly Airbnb — Or a hotel, you know.
- Transportation — Typically you can get a scooter in a place like Bali, or if you’re in a big city, you can use Uber and other public transportation.
So, now that we have a few essentials, how do you live a digital nomad life?
I want to get one thing straight with you. Nobody gets to tell you how you “should” be living as a digital nomad. Everybody tells you to go to Bali, right? Or Belize or something. Why don’t you just go where you want to go? Do you like beaches or mountains? Or both? Do you like big cities? What part of the world speaks to you the most?
Throw out all the images digital nomad influencers love to throw in all of our faces.
What do YOU want to do? You can be a digital nomad and stay right in the town you grew up. Many times children move away from their parents because they need to find a job. What if you never needed to do that? What if you could continue spending time with your loved ones? It’s a worthwhile question to ponder.
Many times the keys to a fulfilling digital nomad lifestyle are already right there inside you. Listen to what YOU want to do, not to what all these influencers are telling you you should listen to.
What Should The Digital Nomad Lifestyle Look Like?
Listen, I’ve spent the last six months living with my parents. In 2019 and 2020 I spent nearly all my time living abroad in the Philippines.
The place where I live changes according to what I value most in my life. Right now I value my family time.
The digital nomad lifestyle is a gift and a curse. On one hand you have this incredible amount of freedom and lack of responsibility that makes every day an adventure. On the other, all that freedom can come with a lack of structure.
What do you want your life to look like, ultimately? Being a digital nomad offers you a vast canvas to bring your dreams to reality. The problem is, everybody is painting the same picture.
To me that picture is boring and unfulfilling.
You don’t need to do what the digital nomad influencers tell you to be doing. Sure, go try out what they’ve done and see if you like it. But the more I travel the more I realize the answer was within me all along.
Trust yourself. The mainstream digital nomad lifestyle ideas are awful and meaningless. Go make friends with a few locals and give unselfishly to others.
Now we’re talking!