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If you follow the Instagram feeds of digital nomads, you might think their life is one long vacation. You see epic sunsets and beautiful people with perfectly highlighted hair leaping in front of the wonders of the world. Or you see someone casually reclining in a hammock, laptop on their lap as they sip a piña colada (ugh, so bad for your neck and shoulders!).
But we all know Instagram only shows the highlights; it doesn’t tell the full story. As with anything else, the digital nomad lifestyle has cons along with all its pros. So while the perks of being a digital nomad can be pretty incredible, there are also some downsides to consider if you’re going to embark on this path.
If you’re wondering if becoming a digital nomad is right for you, first consider how well you’d adapt to these potential downsides. And if you’re already a digital nomad, rest assured that your struggles are totally normal.
1. You might get homesick
When you’re away from home for long periods of time, it’s natural to get homesick. Not only will you miss friends and family, but you might also long for the comforts of home, where you understand the language and simple things like buying fruit at the grocery store or navigating the metro doesn’t make you feel like a clueless rube.
Often, the first few days or weeks in a new place are thrilling, but once the novelty wears off, you start to miss the people and surroundings you left behind. Luckily, Whatsapp, Skype, Gchat and other modes of online communication make it easy to stay in touch with people. And if you can afford it, you can always fly home for a visit.
2. You’ll miss out on stuff happening at home
Moving away could also mean you’ll miss out on important events and celebrations at home. It can be hard to fly home for every birthday party or holiday if you’re hopping around Southeast Asia halfway across the world.
Hopefully, your friends and family will understand, and maybe you’ll be able to fly home for big events, like a best friend’s wedding. But you can’t be in two places at once, so there will inevitably be some events you miss out on.
3. Naysayers might question your life choices
Working online from all corners of the globe isn’t exactly a conventional choice, and some people, especially in the older generation, might feel uncomfortable with your choice not to be tied to one location.
For some reason, certain life choices tend to invite criticism, and long-term travel and working in a creative field (e.g., “I want to be an actor / writer / artist!”) are two of them. But while it’d be nice to have the support of others, remember that everyone has their own perspective.
It’s not your job to make others see things the same way you do. All you can do is act from a place of authenticity and make affirming decisions that honor your unique self.
4. You’ll have bad travel days sometimes
Anyone who’s been bitten by the travel bug knows the joy of exploring new places. But the act of traveling from one place to another isn’t always smooth sailing.
You might encounter delayed or canceled flights or end up on a crowded bus with no air conditioning on the hottest day of the year. Or you could get charged an extra $60 on a RyanAir flight because you didn’t print a paper ticket (been there). Or get scammed by a scary Hungarian taxi driver who has boxing gloves dangling from his rear view mirror (yep).
While these setbacks often make for a funny story after the fact, they’re not so fun when you’re living them. So if you’re traveling a lot, don’t be surprised if (ok, when) you encounter obstacles along the way.
5. Travel can be mentally and physically exhausting
Lots of traveling can be tough on the mind and body. Long flights can leave your skin dry and your body susceptible to other people’s colds. Jet lag can make you exhausted, headachy, and even sick in extreme cases. And all those hours crunched in weird positions on trains, planes, and buses can be rough on your body if you don’t counteract them with exercise and yoga.
Being sleep-deprived can be a drain on your mental health, too. Plus, you might be dealing with homesickness or culture shock.
With all these challenges, it’s important to make time for self-care. As long as you check in with yourself, you can prevent these difficulties from becoming deal breakers.
And if you’ve got an incurable case of wanderlust, you know that traveling is usually worth these rough times. Elizabeth Gilbert explained this (occasionally masochistic) pursuit best in Eat Pray Love:
I have always felt, ever since I was sixteen years old and first went to Russia with my saved-up babysitting money, that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby—I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to—I just don’t care.
6. Your income might fluctuate from month to month
Although some digital nomads work a full-time remote job with a company, others are self-employed or work as freelancers. If that describes you, you might have to live with an uncertain income.
Some months you’ll rake in the cash, whereas others you’ll have to hustle to make ends meet. These financial ups and downs can be stressful, and it can be challenging to adapt your spending habits from month to month.
Of course, if you move somewhere with a low cost of living, you might not have to work all that much to stay afloat. But to avoid going broke in a foreign country, make managing your personal finances a priority as you move from place to place.
7. You could feel like a confused outsider a lot of the time
Traveling opens you up to new perspectives, languages, and cultures. It opens your mind and helps you understand the world better.
As Mark Twain said,
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s life.
Ok, “vegetating” is a little harsh, but you get the point. But while travel can blow your mind wide open, stepping out of your comfort zone can sometimes be, well, really uncomfortable.
You might not know the language, and you could commit cultural faux pas left and right without meaning to. Plus, you might get confused about basic things that others around you take for granted.
To reduce miscommunications, try to do some research on your destination before you head there. Learn some basic phrases in the local language, and make sure you know about any important customs so you don’t transgress cultural norms.
Prepare yourself for the challenges of a location-independent lifestyle
Although location-independence is the dream for many (myself included), you can’t expect sunshine and rainbows all day, every day. When you have the freedom to go anywhere, sometimes it’s hard to settle on a destination in the first place.
And once you hit the road, lots of travel can be tiring, so make sure to take care of yourself along the way. Get enough sleep, eat healthy food, and take time to exercise, practice yoga, or meditate. And if you’re feeling lonely, try to connect with other digital nomads in your area.
You might find people through Facebook groups or Meetup.com, or you could join a coworking space to meet other remote workers. This guide lists five of the coolest coworking spaces with locations all around the world.
In the end, being a digital nomad means the freedom to design life on your terms. Reflect on what your ideal lifestyle looks like, and don’t be afraid to make changes along the way.
By coming from a place of self-awareness and open-mindedness, you can find the right balance among your career, your wanderlust, and your relationships with the people in your life.