Oops, I’m NOT a Digital Nomad – and That’s Not Really a Problem!
You’re probably wondering why the hell is there an article titled “Oops, I’m NOT a Digital Nomad” on a blog with a fancy name like Nomad, Not Mad. I mean… things have to make sense in this world, right?
Well, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Or out there (if you’re old like me and you’ve watched the original adventures of Scully and Mulder)… Either way, the truth is that I don’t feel like a digital nomad and, as strange as that might be for me to say it, I no longer want to be a digital nomad. And you might be in the same position, without realizing that yet.
Stop! Don’t hit that X button now, thinking “well, then, good luck with your life, but I’m no longer interested!” This article might still be extremely useful for digital nomads and especially wannabe nomads, as it is for many other types of people who are interested in extensive traveling and earning their income online.
It’s just that, for me, being a digital nomad, in a traditional way, no longer makes sense. Not only that it doesn’t make sense, but this no longer appeals to me. So… I shouldn’t call myself a “digital nomad” – it would’ve be fair.
But what is a digital nomad?
We’re going to Wikipedia to check the definition, because everybody seems to have their own. Even I have a definition for DN, one that is not entirely in line with what Wikipedia says. Which is:
Digital nomads are a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles.
Also, Wikipedia adds some very important details:
People who become digital nomads often do so due to positive reasons, such as financial independence and a career that allows for location independence. Negative factors for why people become digital nomads include a reduced amount of full-time employment, political unrest, and a high cost of living in their country of origin.
Reading this, it is even more obvious for me that I am indeed somewhere in the middle. And if you are in a similar position, you can surely consider yourself a digital nomad. I don’t. Because there are other things that make a real digital nomad and I no longer meet those requirements.
The fakeness of digital nomads
Since there’s no definition of this concept that everybody accepts, the same person might be described as digital nomad or “definitely not” digital nomad, depending on who’s judging.
Are those foreigners living in Chiang Mai digital nomads? No, because they only live in one place. Yes, because they’re away from home, traveling, and earning their living online. You see? It all depends on who’s watching and deciding what you are and what you’re not.
The most important thing here is that this does not matter. Really, it doesn’t!
I know that many people are proud being called (or calling themselves) digital nomads. I’ve been there, striving for this status, striving to be in this elite group of people who live their life freely, doing whatever they want, whenever they want it from anywhere in the world.
If you put it like that, being a digital nomad is indeed a dream come true. But the truth is that nobody does that. Or the number of people who really enjoy life to the fullest and are only their happy Instagram selves is extremely low. No matter where you’re living and how much money you have – or how open minded you are when it comes to personal comfort – you will have problems and needs and real life will happen.
If you really can read between the lines or dig a little bit deeper, you will find out that the story most digital nomads sell is far from how their life actually looks like. No, they’re not partying all the time, relaxing on the beach and working on their laptop in idyllic landscapes. No, they are not working just 4 hours a week and bagging in the big bucks! Things are not always as they seem.
I personally know some digital nomads with somewhat of a following that keep selling the dream of a perfect life, although they are aware it’s not 100% real. Photos of working from a large balcony in Thailand, overlooking the rice fields or in front of the pool – this is something that rarely happens and – at least in many occasions – are just photos for Instagram.
Yes, people simply go out on the balcony, take a few pictures and share their “work place for the day” – without mentioning that it’s so hot and humid out there that their laptop’s circuits would drown if they kept them in the open and they’re actually having a much better time working from inside their small studio with the air conditioning turned on.
I am not saying that is a bad thing: working from a small studio in Thailand usually beats being in a cubicle, doing stuff you dislike but it’s not working from paradise either, with birds chirping around you, cocktails being brought by scantily clad ladies who also feed you grapes while you press “Enter” on your keyboard every 5 minutes and your business keeps growing.
Most of these people still need a good chair, a silent room, some air conditioning and most of their days and nights are boring and repetitive and filled with work and stress and everything a non-nomad deals with on a daily basis.
Most of the people are just selling the dream without living it. There have been various “gurus and experts” in digital nomading being exposed in the past for actually being broke and unhappy – but still selling the dream and making everything look perfect just because that’s what the audience wants to see.
Would you still want to go live in Chiang Mai if it was promoted like this: Come to this wonderful city that’s always packed with people, where crossing the street is a nightmare since there are no traffic rules, where you can’t breathe between February and April because of the burning season, where the humidity will keep you sweaty and sticky at all times, where the sun will try to burn your skin and mosquitoes will feast on your bodies daily, where you’ll always see trash laying around in heaps at street corners, with some areas reeking and with your dream $100 per month apartment being a single room with just a bed, a desk and a bit of storage space in an area that nobody wants to live in.
And it’s not just Thailand that has its negatives. Everywhere in the world, you will have to make adjustments. Accept some things you don’t like and get hit with unexpected problems. There is no perfect place on earth, no matter how much you’d like that statement to be incorrect.
Of course, Chiang Mai and Thailand are beautiful. You can meet a ton of amazing people there and there are indeed things to see that simply fill your heart with joy and happiness. But there are also negatives, just like anywhere in the world. Some can live with them, some can’t. But the problem is that most digital nomads tend to simply ignore them or straight up lie about them just to be able to keep selling the dream and prove folks at home that they’re doing great.
Unfortunately, that was the dream that I bought when I first heard about digital nomads, sometime in 2008, when I heard that you can live like a king in the Philippines for $500. There were articles to prove it and people already doing it. I had no idea that it’s not the case. I had no idea that being a digital nomad is not all about traveling constantly, partying and living the great life. For most of us, being a digital nomad should mean working hard in order to afford it.
Which, again, is not really a bad thing. It all depends on what you like to do with your life, what you want to see, the experiences you want to live and where you want to be. Traveling the world and working hard still beats working hard and not traveling the world. Just don’t expect pink butterflies and unicorns when you make the jump into this new life.
I’m not a digital nomad and I can’t be one!
I want to be a digital nomad, but I don’t want to be a digital nomad. Does that make sense? To me, it does. There are so many Pros and Cons of being a digital nomad that it’s hard for me to decide what I am and what I’d like to be.
As you know, I have a family and this makes things even more complicated because when kids appear in the equation, you have a lot more to consider and much more money has to be spent. And although I did that, I wouldn’t recommend to anybody traveling with kids to fast travel the world: we did one month around Europe, visiting 9 cities in 30 days and it was exhausting. It was fun, in the end and we have seen a lot of great things during this adventure, but we never had the chance to actually settle down a bit, relax and really enjoy the experience. We were always on the run and our son was getting more and more tired (just like we did) as time went by. Being a digital nomad with kids is an even greater challenge.
There are so many people who flaunt their 300 visited countries and 2,500 cities they have visited and you might say: wow, these are people living the life! But why travel just to tick some boxes and inflate your numbers? Spending three hours in an airport in Switzerland doesn’t mean that you’ve visited Switzerland. Spending a few hours in Valencia between your flights doesn’t mean that you’ve been there.
Being a digital nomad – and living a happy life, actually – is not about the numbers. Is not about seeing as many places as possible and getting all over the world to tick boxes and scratch a new country on your map. Being a digital nomad is about enjoying the freedom your way of living gives you. That is the most important thing in the world and that is the lesson that it took me a while to understand.
Anybody who has traveled extensively will start to become immune to attractions and beautiful things that each country has to offer. You will end up harder to please, less and less impressed by the places you see and, if you’ll be honest with yourself, you’ll end up asking: what’s the point of this? Why am I doing this? Who am I trying to impress? Is this really worth it?
You’re living your own life and you shouldn’t live it for Instagram followers, for Facebook likes or for the envy of your friends back home who are stuck paying mortgages and living the boring, traditional life of a 9-to-5 worker. Everything you do should be done to make you happy. Because, in the end, that’s all that matters.
This is not a race, it’s a marathon. Seeing a hundred places and learning nothing from this doesn’t make you better than staying at home in a small village and watching Netflix all day. Visiting 100 countries and taking nothing from that experience – learning nothing from the people living there or not taking the time to actually understand their culture means nothing.
Why go to Thailand from the US, expecting to live the same life that you would back in the States, eating the same fast food from the same fast food franchises, importing your favorite brand of coffee and getting frustrated because everybody’s English is so poor? You are visiting a different country, things HAVE to be different! If that’s something you don’t like, things are easy: STAY HOME!
What to do instead?
I’m not a life coach and I am not here to tell you how to live your life. You decide what works for you and what doesn’t. You decide how you want to do it and how many countries or cities you want to visit. It’s your life. It’s your choice.
But make sure that you take all things into consideration before making a decision. Because being a digital nomad is so much more that what you see on the social media accounts and the most popular blogs of other digital nomads. Things are not as easy, as perfect and as cheap as they make it sound. Trust me! They are NOT, no matter how healthy you are, how friendly and sociable and liked by people you are, how well you can manage tight finances or how much you think you’ve got things figured out. If you’re only reading about the good stuff when it comes to being a digital nomad, you’re miles away from the truth.
Do you know how I decided to do it? Under my own terms. At my own pace. Choosing the things that I want to see and giving me time to truly experience the good and the bad of each new country and city that I visit.
I will no longer spend just a few days in a new city because that means nothing to me. Unless we’re talking about a very small city, a few days will never allow you to scratch the surface and really feel the city and see everything it has to offer. For example, I spent two months in Budapest (over two years) and I still find new and amazing things in that beautiful city. A few days there would allow me to tick it on my list and say that I’ve been there, but that is not what I want to do.
Instead, my goal is to live at least one month in each place, in order to feel the vibe there, to get accustomed to things and learn how they are done. To take it slow and be able to work and explore at my own pace. And even so, I am not able to tick 12 cities each year because my son’s got to go to school and I personally like the house that I built back home, where the mattress on my bed is perfect, as I chose the best one for me, as my office chair is perfect as I chose it as well, where the internet works flawlessly and I have everything I could need at any given point. But is that a problem? NO.
I am still living the location independent lifestyle, being my own boss and choosing my own hours. I still earn my living online and I travel as much as I want to. Sure, I get antsy feet sometimes and I just take a break and visit another city for a few days just to get my dose of travel, but everything I do, I do for me. And my family.
Am I a digital nomad? Not really. I don’t travel either, because living in a different city and working and spending a month there is not really travel either. I chose the destination and I choose how to make it happen. I’m living life my way, under my own terms, after looking at the pros and the cons. After experiencing all ways of living this life and making an educated decision.
And I believe that this is the best thing one person can do. This is the healthiest and best approach. Do as much research as possible before starting your journey, learn to look for the Cons as well, not only the Pros and only then give it a try. Then adjust the lifestyle to be exactly as you want it to be. Because you’re doing this for yourself, not anybody else. Do it your way, no matter what others think or say or do. But be honest. Don’t live in a lie and don’t fake it. There are negatives. There are always negatives. And it’s OK!