Before I made the gut-wrenching decision to return to the U.S. in March as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, I’d been living as a digital nomad for a grand total of two years, two months and a week. After selling or donating most of my belongings, leaving my swanky apartment and quitting my job in favor of freelance writing, I spent two months backpacking around Southeast Asia before heading south to start my Working Holiday Visa years in Australia and New Zealand. It was the greatest solo travel adventure of my life and I loved it.
That said, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experience and there are some things I wish I’d known before diving in headfirst. For starters, not every day is going to be a party, since the same things that drive you crazy and the same things you often deal with at home seem to find you wherever you go—it’s the same for taxes if you’re an American, by the way, as you still have to pay them even if you are living abroad. Here are three other things for anyone who may be considering a location independent lifestyle to keep in mind.
You’re Not On An Endless Vacation
One of the most aggravating misconceptions about being a digital nomad is that you’re constantly on vacation. It’s easy to see how that idea exists—you’re probably posting lots of pics on your Instagram for all the folks back home, right?—but in reality, you’re working just as hard, only from a different place. You still have deadlines, you still have to spend time researching and pitching websites and publications to ensure your next assignment and you still have to hound clients who take forever to pay you after your project is done. Did I mention that this is all done in a completely different time zone from the people you’re working with? This can also be tricky when it comes to conference calls but nothing you can’t figure out and plan for.
While you may have given yourself a more beautiful backdrop to work with, you’re still going to spend a decent amount of time behind your laptop wherever you go, though on the bright side, you will also have the opportunity to work alongside the locals, hear different accents, taste new and amazing food and check out your new surroundings whenever you’re off, so it’s all good. Remember that while work may be necessary to fund your future adventures, making time to experience the place you’re now living in is just as important, otherwise, why bother leaving home in the first place?
You Have To Keep Track Of All The Red Tape
Whether you use your nifty phone calendar or an old-school planner, it’s important to keep track of when you enter a country so you can calculate when you need to leave it. The rules vary by country, too, so do your homework so you know how long you can stay there legally as a tourist—some countries say 30 days, while others say 90 or 180.
You also aren’t allowed to get a job in any of the countries you’ll be staying in unless you have a Working Holiday Visa or another visa that allows you to legally work there, so make sure you have enough money to cover your time there. If you’re a freelancer, plan for slumps by being extra careful to save up during your better months. Stretch your hard-earned dollars by staying in hostels, trying out shared Airbnbs instead of renting out the whole place or by doing some house sitting to save money on accommodation. You’ll also get a completely different experience than if you were staying by yourself in a hotel.
It Can Be Really Hard To Start A Relationship
For me, the hardest part of being a digital nomad was trying to meet people and potentially start a new relationship. For some reason, I always seemed to meet someone really interesting at the end of my stint in Australia or New Zealand and sadly our communication wasn’t so hot once I left (read: ghosting is for chickens). That said, it can also be really fun to live life to the fullest under a known time limit, especially when you’re with a fellow backpacker and are fully aware that one of you will be leaving soon. Other times, I found myself harping on the fact that I’d be leaving in a few weeks and wondered what the point of it all was. I’m not saying it never happens and know of other digital nomads who have found love on the road. I guess it depends more on what you’re going through at the time and who you meet.
On a similar note, it can be hard to make friends in a new city, though chances are you’ll meet heaps of people as you travel. Striking up conversations in hostels and going sightseeing on guided tours both give you a chance to chat with your fellow travelers, while attending Meetups is a great way to mingle with other like-minded people who live in your new city. As William Butler Yeats said, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.” After experiencing this firsthand all over the world, I couldn’t agree more.