I get the impression that many people think being a digital nomad is like being on a never-ending holiday… which is sort of is, but sort of isn’t. The transition has been a huge learning experience for me, even though I’ve not been touring the globe. I work as an online tutor on a music BA and have travelled in the UK and rural France.
Here are some of the pros, cons and unexpected outcomes of living this lifestyle.
- No more travelling to work: Actually, it’s likely you’ll still spend a lot of time travelling, from one city or one country to the next, but this feels more meaningful than running back and forth to the office every day.
- New experiences: When you do new stuff, it leads to more new stuff. Meet new people, see new places. It’s said that people who try new things are happier, even if they don’t always like what they try.
- Work from anywhere: I’ve had some completely amazing experiences whilst still maintaining my teaching schedule work hours. If I had a regular job, I’d be waiting till the holidays for these opportunities and even then they might never happen. I even rejoiced at being able to help my friend in Wales insulate her living room. Instead of having to say “sorry I’m working that week”, I simply ducked out to change my shirt and do a couple of tutorials.
- Reliant on Internet: At first I’d envisaged myself as a permanent van traveller but that’s not possible because mobile-internet isn’t strong enough for my needs. Getting to a fast connection, in a quiet room, preferably where I can Ethernet connect my laptop is a restriction. I believe you should NEVER let a nomadic lifestyle compromise the service you provide in your work, so I worry about arriving in a house, only to find the router is unreliable. Having said this, it hasn’t happened yet.
- Constantly moving my stuff: Some people are psychologically rattled by constantly having to move. I’m not really, but it sure is a pain moving all that stuff! I’ve obsessively read one-bag-travel blogs to see if I could cut down to that, but I just can’t without giving up music, which I obviously won’t. Having said this, I’ve already minimized more than I ever thought possible, and realized the existential value in that, as well as the logistical flexibility. Many people purge quickly, but I find it takes me time to learn to live without something.
You’ll get your work life balance sorted!: Many over-workers comment on how much they would love my relaxed lifestyle, but guess what – you take your baggage with you! If your work life balance is off, making your own schedule will only accentuate it. The good news is, being a digital nomad and designing your own timetable can give you the opportunity to examine this and change it.
I’m a recovering over-worker, and my big challenge is to be able to relax and do something else even if there is still more work to do that day, or even that week. At first I tried to do the week’s work (apart from scheduled online tutorials) the start of the week, but this plain didn’t work. Now I do a little every day AND do something creative every day.
For me the key is FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS – to be truly working when I’m working and truly playing when I’m playing. I never force myself to do anything anymore, I simply wait until I’m excited about it and then get started. The result is, I’m much more productive in everything I do, and enjoy it more, which was a complete revelation!
Overcoming feeling displaced: Although I don’t really experience displacement, that’s partly because I’ve got some strategies to combat it. It helps that I’ve got a van – a mini-room in itself which can feel like my own space. It’s not big enough to live in, but it’s a constant.
Since I have few possessions, I interact with them often and they become my portable environment, which helps me feel grounded. It may surprise you to know, that even as a minimalist, when possible I travel with my own knife, spork, mug and bowl, because these little things help me feel at home anywhere. If I’m on a shorter trip with just a backpack, I still bring my meditation mat – my smallest portable environment.
Coming out of my shell: Although the requirement for a strong internet connection stops me from buying a big van and moving in, it’s forced me to seek housesitting opportunities, which has led to meeting wonderful people, seeing more new places and generally being out in the world more. What I’ve learned is that although it seems like we might be safer and happier keeping ourselves to ourselves, in my experience the opposite is true. This is a big topic (which I’ll do a full post on soon) but it stands to say, a nomadic lifestyle challenges your ideas about what you’ll need in your life to feel safe and happy.
So that’s it. For me, the pros clearly outweigh the cons, and the unexpected benefits can’t be measured. However, I wouldn’t say it was easy – I welcome the challenges because they are part of my choice to live this way.