An increasing number of self-employed freelancers and entrepreneurs working in digital, online-based roles in the UK, are considering joining the popular trend of combining work with travel as a ‘’digital nomad’’.
In fact 3.5 million of the 35 million digital nomads in the world are British. Which is not surprising considering the current climate – economic, as well the weather.
For anyone who is confused by the term digital nomad, thinking it might be some kind of robotic camel, it simply means someone who works remotely and location independently. Usually working from their laptop whilst travelling along one of the World’s traditional backpacking routes.
So essentially combining the fun and adventure of global travel whilst getting paid. Sound appealing?
Many of us who have worked from a UK office in mid-winter, will have spent hours dreaming of what it would be like to work from a beach bar in Thailand. Especially if we’ve seen inspiring, yet irritating, photos of friends doing it on Instagram or Facebook.
However, despite the vision of paradise and hedonism you may currently hold, the life of a digital nomad is often not all fresh coconuts and beach parties…
Believe it or not there are some challenges and obstacles that require a certain type of attitude and knowledge to navigate. If you want to ensure the experience is an enjoyable one, you need to be informed and prepared.
So you can stay safe, meet the right people and find the joy, liberty and thrills you are seeking.
In this article we’ll take a look at the common challenges digital nomads encounter and how to mitigate them.
What makes setting out on a digital nomad journey so exciting is the sense of freedom and independence. Living in a totally new environment, more or less when and wherever you please, is clearly one of the biggest attractions.
However, although in most digital nomad hot-spots and along well-trodden backpacker routes you’ll usually have no shortage of social interactions, making meaningful connections can sometimes be more of a challenge.
Even if you’re surrounded by young, friendly, outgoing people, at the end of the day you’re far from friends and family/support networks. And building a group of people you fully relate to inevitably takes time.
So bear this in mind when you’re considering what kind of locations you want to go to.
For example, if you’re travelling around South East Asia or Central America staying in beach- side bungalows, then you can rest assured that you’ll be inundated with new people to meet everywhere you go.
But these will likely be short-term relationships. If you’re seeking to build more substantial and consistent friendships then spending longer-periods in cities might be a better option. Although it usually takes a bit more effort to get out and meet people in a city.
The best and obvious solution is to get involved in events and activities, to meet like-minded people. Some particularly good options that are both fun and social include: language exchanges; salsa or dance classes; martial arts; surf lessons; diving courses.
Most cities that attract a lot of digital nomads will have nomad networking events, as well as talks on subjects related to the digital industries like marketing, crypto and so on. You can usually find these on meetup.com and often they have a WhatsApp group you can join.
Not having consistent access to Western services and conveniences
An important issue for digital nomads, and one they often neglect to consider before they jet off to a new exotic location, is the availability of essential services that you have on hand at home.
Everyday facilities, like transport systems or bureaucratic processes, may work in a way that is different and not logical in comparison to the standard you would expect in your own country.
And some of the app-based services might not be available abroad. It may shock you to hear that you might not be able to use Uber in certain European cities, or have a pizza delivered at 2 am in a mountain village in Vietnam.
Furthermore, the basic infrastructure in less developed countries tends to be somewhat ‘’earthy’’. And this is something you will need to be prepared to navigate.
This can all get a bit frustrating at times.
So it’s important to research what amenities and resources are available and how you can access them, before you select what country or countries you will visit. Also you should make a list of essential items you need to take with you, based on what is hard to get in that country
For example, if you plan on playing a sport, like tennis, in South America then you’d definitely want to buy a racket in the UK. As this kind of product would likely cost you 5 times the price over there.
Also, it’s a good idea to save the location of shops, bars, train stations, parks and other places you will need to use to google maps. As well as taking some time to familiarise yourself with the local regulations regarding any activity you want to do or facility you want to use.
Remember that the digital part of digital nomad refers to working in a digital based role that can be done remotely - it’s not a holiday.
This can be especially hard to accept when you are invited to join a jungle trek or spend an entire day surfing by people that have greater flexibility with their schedule. It’s also not easy to be working full-time when you’re in a beach town or backpacker spot that’s solely geared to relaxation and escapism.
Being obligated to sit at a desk, slaving over a laptop when you’re itching to get and explore the culture and landscape of your new surroundings can quickly take the edge of the nomad lifestyle.
The solution to this is scheduling your time in a way that enables you to take a break and make the most of opportunities to partake in activities. Planning activities ahead in your calendar makes it much easier to manage your time and gives you motivation and events to look forward to.
Also having a list of various fun things to do or events to attend for the days/times you are not working prevents you from forgetting about what’s on and missing out.
Having a daily routine
A consistent routine is what many digital nomads say they miss the most when living and working on a location independent basis. It’s very difficult to feel settled when you are staying in temporary accommodation, as obvious as it may sound.
This can be far more frustrating than you realise, before you experience the reality of remote work and travel. It’s a well-known fact that human beings need a regular routine for their psychological well-being. And when you are constantly changing location, only staying for short periods, it’s not easy to focus on performing certain tasks or attending social/recreational activities on a consistent, regular basis.
Without all of the same resources at hand as you have at home this requires some organisation to implement.
The key is to keep it simple and have realistic expectations of what you can do.
For example, if you’re only spending a few weeks in different surf spots in Central America, then you probably won’t be able to attend a life-drawing class on a regular basis. But you would be able to do something more common like group yoga sessions, which are widely available pretty much everywhere.
It’s best to have an attitude of flexibility when it comes to establishing a daily schedule. So you can base it around what is possible depending on the facilities at hand. Ideally it should consist of simple things you can do anywhere. Like a walk on the beach/park, a swim or stretching in the morning, etc. You might not always be able to find the perfect co-working space, but if you have Wi-Fi in your accommodation you can always work from your bed.
Pictures don’t reflect reality
If you’ve seen the content of the numerous digital nomad/travel influencers on Instagram or Youtube then no doubt you’ve seen countless pictures of people working from a hammock on a tropical beach coconut in hand.
The never ending stream of images featuring young, adventurous people having untold fun in lush, exotic escapes or romantic, vibrant global cities whilst ‘’actually working’’ paints an idyllic picture. And they constantly rave about the many joys and thrills of working remotely.
However, we can tell you from first-hand experience that behind the camera these popular nomad destinations are often slightly more ‘’rugged’’ than the influencers make them seem.
What they typically neglect to cover is that, although these places are somewhere you can escape the many of the annoyances you find at home, they usually have a few unique ones of their own.
· Stunning tropical beaches covered in plastic and litter
· Disgruntled locals that don’t like better-off foreigners pushing up prices
· Corrupt officials only interested in scamming or extorting you
· Insufficient and dilapidated transport links
· Dirt cheap, delicious street-food that is actually more expensive than you thought
· Poisonous creatures that make, swimming in the sea, walking barefoot or even taking a shower a risky endeavour
Are just a few things you might not see in rose-tinted travel vlogs.
You can mitigate many of these by planning your route and again by researching the destination thoroughly, to find out what the common hazards are. As well as the local laws and customs and what type of crimes/scams are prevalent there. You can use this information to get a more detailed and accurate impression of a certain location which will help you select somewhere that’s right for you.
Working as a digital nomad can of course be an incredible experience. But it requires a large amount of research if you want to save a lot of time, money and stress and enjoy it to the full. Give it some careful consideration before you decide whether it’s right for you. And remember it can be challenging as well as exciting. It’s not always easy, but rewarding things that are worth doing never usually are.