Before stepping off the flight into a new country with a duffle bag full of work gear and dreams of relaxation, digital nomads have to explain. Friends and family will find digital nomadism challenging to understand. Likewise, answering “what if” questions (often rooted in fear rather than interest) tests one’s patience.
When audiences observe the digital nomad lifestyle via Instagram or travel vloggers, they don’t get a full or fair understanding of the challenges of work and life abroad. In truth, a fraction of the story is moments of adrenaline or excitement (surfing for the first time, reaching a mountain’s peak, falling in love with a regional delicacy, or going out with new friends). It’s easier to gloss over the moments of discomfort, but digital nomads know that there are lessons nested in the distress. Coping with and conquering life’s challenges as a digital nomad is a core part of the lifestyle. Unfortunately, those unable to adjust quickly and make sacrifices have a hard time with digital nomadism. This post will break down the most common challenges for digital nomads.
1. Too many decisions
Decision fatigue is real. For example- finding a workspace can be challenging. The local coffee shop has regulars. Their wifi might not be great for multi-person video calls (with screen-sharing). Unfortunately, the wood table with the perfect natural sunlight won’t always be available for your video calls.
More complicated than finding decent wifi and a desk, what places should you visit during your weekends off? Is this city enjoyable enough to stay in for another four weeks? Can tourist visas be extended? Ticket prices for flights to Costa Rica are going up? Has that college roommate selected a date for their baby shower?
Decisions small and large weigh on digital nomads. Each decision brings a series of follow-up questions. Nomads themselves have the final say regarding almost all of it. Sometimes the travel limitations can be a blessing, simplifying the complex equation.
The most straightforward cheat code for all decision fatigue: join a digital nomad group. Program leaders plan some weekly activities and give nomads the option to “g
o with the flow” rather than steer the ship. Groups like WiFi Artists arrange housing, coworking, and arrival dates. With those significant issues sorted, enjoying the ride becomes a lot simpler.
2. Unexpected expenses
Budgeting for your travels goes a long way, but even the best plans change. Saying “yes” to a day trip with new friends feels great, and not every expense fits into a master spreadsheet.
Part of the fun of travel is getting swept into an unexpected adventure. However, a few lavish drinks or an impromptu shopping spree adds stress. There are great tools for budgeting while traveling like Splitwise, Trail Wallet, and TripCoin. You can share expenses or budget for solo travels. It’s best to have a sustainable income before leaving for an extended period. Like most digital nomad groups, WiFi Artists requires employment or student-status verification before joining.
A core theme of digital nomadism is intentionality and self-reliance. But, unfortunately, this applies to finances as well.
3. Noise, noise, noise
Everyone’s threshold for noise is different. Some love the hum of traffic or the sound of small talk in a shared workspace. To some, complete silence is intimidating, uncomfortable, or off-putting.
However, there’s a distinct difference between the “hum of a city” and loud construction noise, constant honking, and the 5-hours of screaming resulting from a World Cup qualifying match victory.
Relative quiet helps many professionals create, conversate, or synthesize new ideas. Unfortunately, quiet might be hard to find in the coffee shop down the street or even in a private flat. Noise-canceling headphones are an excellent investment. Custom earplugs are a great option if you’re next-level about maintaining quiet.
4. Fitting life into a suitcase
The struggle of hauling multiple suitcases along cobblestone roads encourages us to pack light. As a digital nomad, luggage is more than a collection of valuable essentials. Luggage represents home and is a constant. For those committed to digital nomadism, invest in high-quality bags. Items like packing cubes and sectioned toiletry bags are great as well.
Knowing what to bring is a skill, and most nomads learn via trial and error. There’s a delicate balance between having too much and being ill-equipped, especially if you want to hike, camp, or adventure outside major cities.
There are some tough decisions between technology for work and extra footwear. Prioritize what will help you make money or be productive; figure the rest out later.
5. Missing out while having the time of your life
Maintaining relationships is challenging regardless of physical proximity. Becoming a digital nomad can sometimes feel selfish, prioritizing learning and personal growth over presence in the spaces we call “home.”
The exchange of excitement and new relationships can come at the cost of comfort and routines with our loved ones. Somehow larger and smaller than we all think, most digital nomads are never more than 36 hours from home. It may be a grueling 36 hours of planes, trains, and automobiles.
Fear of missing out is real, both at home and abroad. Being at peace with this trade-off is essential for enjoying your time as a digital nomad. Going back home is always an option. Very little in this life is permanent, except the past.
6. Keeping your head on a swivel
Most international cities are safe. However, as tourists and digital nomads, there are places we shouldn’t go. There are times when crimes are more likely to occur. Genuinely relaxing in a foreign country can be difficult and sometimes unsafe. Being constantly fearful in a foreign country doesn’t make sense. The United States has seen a stark increase in crime since early 2020, yet few Americans are afraid to go outside. Locals in many countries are friendly and eager to share their culture. Learning how to move through a foreign country is an important skill to maintain our physical safety and be respectful of locals. So keep an eye out, not just for pick-pockets, but to make sure you’re not clogging up the sidewalk for someone using a wheelchair. Keeping your head on a swivel can become exhausting. However, being aware of where you are and how others are looking at you is different than having your guard up every second of the day. That extra layer of thinking is essential for international travel.
7. Cultural dissonance
Digital nomads are inherently guests in whatever city they’re staying in. People’s appearance, language, cuisine, and cultural norms often remind us that we are guests. It’s normal to feel like an outsider, but many nomads don’t expect to feel that way when booking a new destination ticket.
Learning some of the local language, leaving the tourist neighborhoods, and making friends with locals go a long way to alleviate the cultural dissonance. Not everyone shares the same beliefs. So be prepared to deal with some discomfort along the journey toward global citizenship.
8. Being too busy for fun
Work is important, but workaholics may be better off remaining in their home country. The entire point of traveling is to experience new things. While coworking spaces (and the people who use them) are often lovely, they are not why we travel. If building a side-hustle and getting that promotion needs to be the focus for another few months, that’s okay. Creating clear boundaries between work and play is essential for digital nomads. Yes, work a full day. Don’t cheat partners, an employer, or your team members. However, spending time outside and trying new things teaches you just as much as another online “thought-leadership” session.
Enforcing work-life balance is essential to enjoying the benefits of remote work and digital nomadism. So make sure to go outside and try something new every day (if you can). The world is infinitely more interesting and complicated than appears to us online. New perspectives, relationships, and lasting memories await you - outside.
The easiest way to combat these eight challenges? Join a digital nomad collective. Facing these challenges alone is intimidating. Surrounding yourself with like-minded professionals gives you a community to lean on, learn from, and problem-solve with.