Digital nomadism is a trend that's going mainstream. As technological advancement makes remote working ever more convenient and attractive, people have taken to travelling the world to work or start their own business in increasing numbers. The phrase even has its own Wikipedia page, but despite the desirability of this lifestyle, is becoming a digital nomad really for you?
Many people may dream of leaving the workplace to spend their time typing away on a Balinese beach, and remote working certainly gives you the freedom to explore the world. These days there are far more options for flexible working, starting your own business and freelancing, and employers are more open to the idea of people working outside of the office. The Internet has made it possible to have clients in the USA while being based in Italy, France or South East Asia, where the only limitation is a good Wi-Fi connection – Antarctica still may be a challenge!
The kind of work/life balance can sound very romantic – all adventure, picture-postcard scenery and amazing discoveries – but it isn't for everyone and may not even suit keen travellers. Here are ten considerations to mull over if you are thinking of becoming a digital nomad.
Planning and practicalities
Unfortunately living as a digital nomad isn't something you can simply dive into. Practicalities such as global health insurance, working out how much you are likely to earn in any given month, which clients you'll lose and who you could gain, as well as thousands of other small details are all things you'll have to plan for. As with most things in life, planning is everything.
Where will you live and work?
While a lovely idea, working on the beach isn't a practical idea; water and sand are the natural enemies of all laptops. If you want to make your business a success, where you live and work is going to be key.
It's also worth researching the digital nomad hotspots across the world. Chang Mai in Thailand, Hoi An in Vietnam, Amsterdam in The Netherlands and digital nomad hubs such as Hubud provide suitable workspaces and assistance in finding a place to live. These communities have the facilities to support travelling entrepreneurs and can be great places for networking and collaborating with like-minded individuals.
The biggest challenge and frustration of a digital nomad is finding an Internet connection in the far-flung corners of the world. Co-working spaces are one solution, as are travelling through cities and only going off the beaten track when your work commitments have been met. USB dongles can also be a valuable back up, but aren't always reliable.
One of the downsides of being a digital nomad is that you're entirely reliant on a good Internet connection to conduct your work. Having problems when you're on a tight deadline can be very stressful.In the more remote regions of the world, recognised names like Starbucks and MacDonald's can provide a lifeline, although it's arguably not the "glamorous" lifestyle you imagined.
It's also important to remember that some countries can be more challenging than others. China for example has restrictions on the Internet, and many Google products simply won't work there. You can get round this by setting up a VPN network, but it's much more efficient to highlight these requirements in the early planning stage.
Maintaining long-distance relationships
Keeping in touch with people can be difficult enough at the best of times, and if you want to become a digital nomad you'll have to get used to your nearest and dearest only being available via video calls. You may find yourself missing the people at home, as well as the people you've met but moved away from as you've travelled. Maintaining your close relationships with friends, family and partners can be more difficult for digital nomads, so if you're the sort of person who likes to have their loved ones around them, this is certainly something to consider.
One of the main emotional challenges is that when leaving home for any length of time, especially if you're not staying in any one place and are travelling alone, you could end up feeling isolated. For most people this is an occasional feeling and may pass, but for others it could ruin your entire experience and could also affect your work productivity. This is another reason why digital nomad hotspots can work so well. Don't get too caught up in your laptop and give yourself the time to socialise, network and enjoy yourself.
Unsociable or erratic working hours
It's very likely as a digital nomad that you'll end up in a different time zone to your clients. There are ways to organise this, like adding a world clock to your laptop and scheduling your calls in blocks so you aren't dealing with clients across all hours, but inevitably it will throw up some challenges. It may be that for weeks on end you'll have to work evenings or into the night, and it will be hard defining a set schedule for any length of time. This may actually suit some people, but if you like a routine it could be something that makes working abroad less appealing.
Keeping your career healthy
If you're running your own business overseas, then your career prospects may not be at the forefront of your concerns. Alternatively it may be that simply earning an income in order to travel takes priority over career progression for you, but being a digital nomad may even impact your ability to do this. If you plan to get back to being an "employee", having a strategy and being able to demonstrate tangible success means that you won't necessarily have to take a step backwards in your career.
Tax, visas and bureaucracy
Unfortunately, you can't out-travel bureaucracy. Organising work visas, tax, VAT and pensions can seem frustrating, difficult and dull. But with many countries clamping down on international tax, there could be fines if you don't get your finances in order. Local tax requirements often vary dependent on the laws of each individual country, so it's important to carefully check the specific requirements before you visit a country, and to find an accountant or consultant who has experience with international tax law.
Planning for emergencies
Having an emergency fund will provide great peace of mind for both you and your love ones, and it's essential to always have enough money to get home if you need to. Other important things to remember include the aforementioned health insurance, and making sure that the people who care about you know where you are and your plans.