The Pros and Cons of Digital Nomad Life

Digital nomad on a laptop on a couch in Austria - the pros & cons of living the digital nomad lifestyle
[I know it may seem like digital nomad life is all palm trees and coconuts but it’s also missed flights, visa runs, and sometimes lonely AF]
Looking to take the leap (once it’s safe to do so, of course) and interested in becoming a digital nomad?

Here’s what I love (and hate) about living a nomadic life.

THE BEST THINGS ABOUT BEING A DIGITAL NOMAD

YOU CAN GO WHEREVER…WHENEVER!

John Suwan Viewpoint in Koh Tao, Thailand has a view of blue water, beaches, and palm trees
[This trip to Thailand was pretty last minute, and I loved that I didn’t have to ask a boss for approval etc…I could just..GO!]
My favorite thing about being a digital nomad is definitely the freedom.

I can literally go wherever, whenever I want! I mean, as long as the flight/train ticket/bus ride is cheap enough, that is…

But yeah, I love that I can just book a trip the next day if I wanted. I haven’t exactly done that yet because to be honest, I’m actually not THAT spontaneous of a person (I’ve met many travelers who are, but I’m way too neurotic for that lol). I prefer to have a plan about a month in advance, but it usually ends up being more like 1-2 weeks. I just like knowing that the option is there if I want.

I’ve gotten to have so many amazing experiences and seen so many bucket list places because I’m able to work remotely and live this location independent lifestyle, and feel like I’m in full control of what I do with my time. I honestly don’t think I ever want to give it up completely.

I know I’ll become more ‘settled’ one day, but I don’t know if I will ever truly be able to stay in one place. My ultimate dream is to live part time in the US to see my family and friends more often (because one month out of the year just doesn’t cut it), and part time in Europe because I just love it here. SO. MUCH.

YOU (PROBABLY) SPEND LESS

Euros next to a purse - I spend much less money as a digital nomad!
[All the money I have to my name! LOL jk, it’s more like €10]
I’m not rich by any means (although you can see how much money I make as an online English teacher here, and 5 different ways I currently make money online), but I also don’t spend very much.

When I was living in one place, I had rent to pay, car problems, gas, and I also bought unnecessary clothes, shoes, and accessories. Now, I don’t have to pay any of that (except rent when I’m not house sitting or doing a work exchange).

Anything I purchase has to somehow fit in my already stuffed backpack, so it discourages me from buying anything I don’t really need. I honestly think I probably save a similar amount to others who bring in more income than I do, simply because I don’t have many expenses.

Slower travel definitely contributes to this – I spend a lot less when I’m in one place for a longer period of time. If I’m moving around once a week or more all those transportation costs certainly add up! So I try not to do that anymore – and not just for my budget, but also for my sanity and the earth. Fast travel is STRESSFUL (for me) and it’s not great for the planet, either.

YOU LEARN SO MUCH ABOUT OTHER CULTURES

Looking at the city in Plovdiv, Bulgaria from an overlook
[During my time in Bansko, I was able to explore a lot of Bulgaria, like Plovdiv]
As I mentioned above, slow travel is my favorite way to move around the world. I love parking my butt down in one spot as long as physically possible (not literally, but you get it…) just because I really like to immerse myself in a place, and because, let’s be real, travel days SUCK. (More on that below!)

I spent 3 months at a house sit in Hamburg, 3 months in Bansko, and now 3 months in Austria, and I’ve loved getting to know each place on a deeper level. I get immersed in the culture much more than if I’d just come for a weekend trip. I get to partake in cultural celebrations and meet locals. Staying for longer periods of time also allows me to really make friends for more than just a day or two!

Not knocking those who prefer to (or have to) travel fast, but as an introvert who takes a while to process my surroundings, slow travel is definitely my preference. Especially as I spent the first year of digital nomad life traveling pretty damn fast (except for 3 months in Hamburg), so I think I kind of burned myself out.

YOU HAVE FRIENDS ALL AROUND THE WORLD

Friends in Bansko
[Some Bansko friends!]
I love that I’ve made so many friends from all around the globe. Well, mostly around Europe (have I mentioned how much I love Europe?) but it’s fun knowing I can visit people in future destinations.

Plus, you get to know so much about other cultures that way, too!

EVERYTHING IS NEW ALL THE TIME…IT’S NEVER BORING

Bottle Feeding a Lamb
[Like bottle feeding a lamb – that was new!]
Well, when we’re not living the quarantine life, that is.

But normally, it’s pretty hard to feel bored. There’s always some new corner to explore, foreign food to try, interesting people to meet, or funny fact to learn about the country you’re in!

Scuba diving in Koh Lanta, Thailand
[Scuba diving was so cool! Harder than I thought (especially getting out of the water with all that gear, lol) but I’m very excited to try it again!]
I’ve been apple picking in Germany (which maybe doesn’t sound SO exciting but to those of you who know how I excited I get about fall…You’ll understand this is a BIG DEAL), learned to snowboard in Bansko, got scuba certified in Thailand, partied until 4AM at Reeperbahn and went to my first Christmas Markets in Hamburg, hung out above the clouds in Switzerland, tried a ton of vegetarian food and desserts, learned how to make cheese and all about farm life in Austria…I could go on!

YOU MAKE YOUR OWN SCHEDULE

I really enjoy that I decide what to do with my time.

If I want to take a morning off and go snowboarding or swimming, I can! If I want to work all day, I can do that, too, haha.

THE WORST THINGS ABOUT BEING A DIGITAL NOMAD

Okay, now that I’ve gotten the good things out of the way – here’s what I don’t like about moving around all the time (in other words, traveling).

CREATING COMMUNITY CAN BE HARD

Cat and Kelsey
[Sometimes it’s just the cats and I…]
I’m sure I sound like a broken record at this point, but I ended up alone in a small seaside English town (aka Saltburn-by-the-Sea) last summer. The only people I met were retirees, families, or tourists. I made a total of 0 friends (unless you count the lady at the coffee shop/pub I frequented and the 4 cats I was house sitting that just saw me as a food machine).

I know I sound dramatic, but it honestly felt like the longest month of my life. It didn’t help that it was one of the first places I went as a digital nomad by myself (I’d traveled with my friend for 3 months prior) so I started thinking I’d made a huge mistake and worried that the rest of nomadic life would be like this.

I had no idea I could be that lonely. It taught me a HUGE lesson about the importance of community, so I make that a priority when picking places to travel to.

In Hamburg, I was able to meet people through the Girls Gone International Facebook Group (it’s certainly easier to make friends in larger cities!) and I was dating someone who lived there, so that helped, too.

Friends in Bansko, Bulgaria
[And then sometimes I actually manage to make friends! LOL. Snowshoeing in Bansko]
In Bansko I joined Coworking Bansko which made it SO incredibly easy to make friends. Not only that, but to also meet other digital nomads who understood my (weird) lifestyle. (Wondering what a typical week in the life of a digital nomad living in Bansko, Bulgaria is like? I wrote an article about it!)

I specifically chose my destination in Austria because the hosts were around my age and I had a feeling we’d get along. (And I was right!)

So, that’s now a factor I consider when choosing my next ‘home’.

YOU MEET COOL PEOPLE (& PETS)…THEN SAY ‘BYE’

Two grey and white cats sitting on a girl on a couch in Hamburg, Germany
[I seriously miss these cats SO MUCH – I was with them for 3 months in Hamburg so I got pretty attached. I’d sit on the couch to work and one would come sit on my lap and the other would snuggle up next to me. SO CUTE]
This is honestly probably one of the things I struggle with the most! I’ve met so many awesome people and saying goodbye NEVER gets easier for me. The nice thing is that many are also nomadic, so chances that our paths will cross again one day are a little higher.

And house sitting is AWESOME, but so hard when you fall in love with the pets and then have to leave them, too. I still think about so many of the animals that stole my heart, especially ones that I watched for longer periods of time.

2 girls in front of a castle in Germany on the Rhine River
[I miss friends and family back home so much, but it’s also really nice when they come to visit! The friend that I began my nomad journey with came to Hamburg for a couple weeks and we went on a road trip!]
It’s also hard to keep in touch with friends and family back home – sometimes I feel like I miss out on so much. I’m very thankful that technology makes it easier to stay connected, but video chatting certainly isn’t the same as actually being there in person.

Because of this, I want to make an effort to stick around the states more next year.

DATING IS…INTERESTING

Girl staring into the distance in Basel, Switzerland in front of white and brown half-timbered houses
[Just me myself and I]
I know I don’t want to stop traveling anytime soon, and that’s honestly the main reason all of my romantic relationships have ended. They all wanted to stay in one place and I…Well, didn’t.

This makes dating difficult unless you just want to have some casual fun, are totally ok with long distance, or find another nomad who happens to want to see all the same places you do (which is harder than it sounds, LOL, considering I’m basically the anti-nomad and have zero desire to visit any warm and tropical places and would rather go to the Arctic).

It is pretty cool to meet and go on dates with people all around the world, though!

TRAVEL DAYS ARE THE ABSOLUTE WORST

Travel days as a nomad are the WORST
[I may look happy but inside I’m a burning fiery pit of rage]
I genuinely used to LOVE airports and now I hate them with a fiery burning passion I never knew existed deep in my soul. I definitely don’t travel super light (I have a 55L backpack, carry on suitcase, and small daypack with me currently) so hauling my shit from plane to train to bus to my accommodation is such a pain in the ass.

Plus there’s the ever ominous fear of missing a flight. Which I’ve done exactly 3 times now, LOL. None of them happened while I was nomadic though! But were scarring nonetheless.

Having to take all your stuff into the bathroom at the airport when you have to pee really sucks, too.

And just saying bye to people and places you’ve (hopefully) grown to love is always a bit emotional for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those people that can leave easily – I usually end up crying at least once.

SOME HOBBIES ARE HARD TO DO

Taking photos in Nyhavn, Copenhagen
[I can still take photos to my heart’s content, but it’s a pain in the ass lugging by DSLR around, let me tell you…]
I LOVE photography, but can I travel with all my lenses with me? LOL nope. So most of them are collecting dust in my mom’s garage.

And camping/backpacking! I have so much awesome outdoor gear back home (I used to work for REI so I’ve collected a few things to say the least…) that I’ve used in places like Mammoth and Yosemite. I LOVE camping and want to do some short thru-hikes eventually. But carrying my ultralight stove and hiking boots around with me doesn’t make a ton of sense.

I also miss all my clothes and shoes! I’m not super into fashion (although my first blog was a style blog, haha), but I love dressing up and, I don’t know, having more than 6 shirts to choose from. A girl can dream, right?

It was honestly really hard trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind, especially when you have these super cute gold velvet chunky heeled booties that really don’t make sense to bring because you wear them once every 6 months but oh, they are so cute…

(And yep, sadly I left them behind.)

CHOOSING WHERE TO GO NEXT CAN BE A PAIN

Sunset in the Austrian Countryside
[Ending up in Austria was never something I’d planned – it just kinda happened! Trying to learn to go with the flow of this lifestyle]
I feel like such a privileged complainer/hypocrite but it’s the truth! Sometimes I dread figuring out my next destination.

Not because I don’t want to see new places, but because there’s a lot that goes into it. Researching transportation tickets, finding accommodation, ensuring you’ll have access to strong WiFi, figuring out how to get to and from the airport (this is literally a job in itself, lol), packing, saying goodbye, etc.

I’m sure it would be easier if I cared less about cost, but I try to be as economical as I can. I also have to consider timezones since I’m mostly teaching children in China and don’t want to have to wake up at 2AM.

Oh, and then when you throw in all the visa stuff…Deciding when to go in and out of the Schengen zone in Europe can be a little stressful since I’m there so often.

For example, one of my friends planned a semi-last minute birthday trip to Budapest and Vienna, and I couldn’t visit her as I’d already maxed out my Schengen days. (For American citizens, you can enter Schengen for 90 days, but then have to leave for 90 days).

So, this requires a little bit of planning. I know others deal with similar limitations in other places that they frequent. But Schengen can be a little trickier since it’s not just one country, but MANY countries in Europe, like Germany, France, Portugal, Switzerland, etc. So, I really have to think ahead and ensure that I won’t be ruining any future opportunities when I decide to max out my allotted 90 days.

THE WIFI…OH, THE WIFI

Digital nomad girl sitting on a bench with a computer above a lake surrounded by mountains
[Hmmm, wonder what the wifi is like here!]
Ensuring you’ll be somewhere with good WiFi is so stressful at times. You never know until you actually get there. This can cause anxiety for someone like me who NEEDS good WiFi to teach. I have yet to invest in one of those portable wifi devices, so until I do, I’ll be chomping my nails to the bit in anticipation every time I go somewhere new.

EXPLAINING YOUR LIFE TO PEOPLE CAN BE HARD

Like your bank. Or your grandma. Or your friends/family back home that want to come visit and are surprised when they show up that you actually have to, like, work.

ALSO: TAXES

Taxes are hard enough as it is, so why not complicate them even more by being an independent contractor, business owner, and also not have a home???

Also, the US still makes you pay taxes even when you live somewhere else. So that’s cool.

MAKING YOUR OWN SCHEDULE IS STRESSFUL

Girl sitting on couch in Austria
[Making my own schedule is a full time job in itself LOL]
I know this was in the ‘pro’ section, but it’s also a huge ‘con’ for me as well! Sometimes setting my own schedule and priorities is hard and I just want to be told what to do.

Or be able to ‘clock out’ and not worry about anything after. I can with English teaching, but I’m also trying to build a business as a freelancer and with this blog, so oftentimes ‘clocking out’ doesn’t truly happen. Or I do the opposite, feel super overwhelmed, and get nothing done!

Since I don’t have a boss standing over my shoulder, it can be hard to turn off my ‘work’ brain or to get myself motivated.

I feel like I have a LOT of decision making I have to do as it is, just with figuring out where to go and when, so it can be tough adding smaller day to day decisions on top of that. Especially for me, as a naturally (very) indecisive person (seriously, just ask my friends…).

SHIT HAPPENS

Girl at the Round Tower in Copenhagen, Denmark
[When shit happens you’ve just gotta put on some sunglasses, try to look cool, and roll with it]
And it can be super stressful. I’ve really learned to roll with the punches living this way. Things fall through, change last minute, problems arise, and you have to (try to) remain calm and figure out the situation on your own.

Like when a pandemic hits and you no longer have a ‘home’ to return to. Or US health insurance. That sure makes things a little complicated!

THINGS THAT WOULD BE SIMPLE BACK HOME CAN BE A HEADACHE ABROAD

Like the time I had to replace my credit card but they didn’t ship internationally, so I had to get it shipped to my mom’s and then she sent it to me in Germany. I didn’t pay for tracking because it was like $60, so I just hoped it would show up (it did, luckily, about a week later). That was fun.

Or when I wanted to rent a car and realized I needed an international license. It’s only $20 and stupid easy to get one back in the states (like there’s no test…You literally just fill out a form) but almost impossible to do so if you’re already overseas.

Half-timbered houses on a street in Basel, Switzerland
[Like, you won’t find these cute half-timbered buildings back in the US, I can tell you that]
I’m honestly surprised I had so many complaints (lol), but to me the quality of the positives greatly outweigh the negative aspects of the digital nomad lifestyle.

I think it’s like that for any alternative lifestyle honestly. Even with the added stress I’d take this lifestyle over another any day because the freedom I receive in exchange is worth it to me.

I wanted to present the realities of being nomadic, and that it’s not just all coconuts and palm trees. I hope this helps you to consider whether or not nomad life is right for you!

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