For some, the nomadic lifestyle is the actualization of their dreams. For others, the challenges might not be worth it.
Let’s take a look at some of the problems you’re likely to encounter as a digital nomad. Are these struggles you’re comfortable facing? Do you have what it takes to become a digital nomad?
Social Challenges of a Nomadic Lifestyle
Imagine if – for some strange reason – you were trying to make yourself lonely. How would you arrange your life? What things would you change?
The result probably looks a lot like the nomadic lifestyle.
Physical Distance Impacts Friendships
We’re swamped with technology to help communicate. Everyone has a camera in their phone for real-time video chats. Call-enhancing software like Krisp helps create the perfect phone call.
Despite this technology, physical distance still makes relationships challenging. Not being able to spend time with your friends in person is an inevitable side effect of the digital nomad lifestyle.
You’ll miss important events – weddings, birthdays, and more. This erodes relationships.
Set reminders to stay in touch. Make a point to stay as involved in your friends’ lives as possible.
Romantic Relationships or Starting a Family Might Be Impossible
A nomadic lifestyle doesn’t make romantic relationships any easier. Long-distance relationships can work, but they can also be challenging.
Even if your partner is traveling with you, the variety of challenges, stress, and experiences you both encounter can add considerable tension. Starting a family is even more difficult, if not impossible, during the nomadic lifestyle.
Is this tradeoff worth it to you?
Distance from Family, Friends, or a Partner Can Leave You Without Emotional Support
Distance from your family can add even more relationship stress. Even if they’re supportive of your nomadic lifestyle, you’ll miss them – and they’ll miss you. If they want you home, the extra pressure can create a rift in the relationship.
Combine the struggles with faraway friends, romantic partners, and distant family members – and you risk a lack of emotional support.
Do you feel you can maintain these relationships? Can you find the tools to support yourself during difficult times?
Community and Deeper Friendships Can Be Hard to Build
Finding a community tends to be difficult. Even though you have the opportunity to meet other travelers and locals continually, these new acquaintances made during the nomadic lifestyle tend to be fleeting.
In some cases, this can be good. For example, if you struggle with social anxiety or shyness, this can be a great way to try things out and boost confidence. If you do something embarrassing, it doesn’t matter. You’ll never see these people again.
On the other hand, it’s easy to become jaded when you become used to making friends for a few days or weeks – then saying goodbye forever. You’ll gravitate away from building deeper relationships.
Online communities are a location-independent option. You can find Facebook groups for digital nomads living in most regions. More general online travel and nomad communities can also provide some relief.
In “real life”, co-working spaces and other local activities can help you meet new people – just be ready to say goodbye.
Do you feel comfortable being outgoing and friendly while accepting that your community will be a short-term investment? Alternatively, are you more introverted and enjoy spending time alone?
Social Fatigue Can Develop
Spend long enough in the transient social situations of a nomadic lifestyle, and social fatigue can set in.
It’s easy to become exhausted. You avoid the effort of building a real-world community. Long hours slouching in front of a laptop and bathing in the solitude of your Airbnb turn into depression.
Do you enjoy being alone? If not, are you motivated enough to continually put the effort in to stay social?
Remote Work Challenges for Digital Nomads
The digital nomad lifestyle is defined by work. While location independence offers fantastic opportunities, it can also make things difficult while working remotely.
There are ways to get better at working remotely – but be ready to face these challenges.
The Nomadic Lifestyle Often Has Uncomfortable Working Conditions
A quiet environment, ergonomic office chair, multiple computer monitors, and comfortable keyboard and mouse are luxuries you might not have.
Instead, you’ll find yourself with a sore neck as your fingers scramble on a touchpad while you hunch over the fluorescent glow of a laptop – often in a noisy environment.
Co-working spaces can offer some amenities, but uncomfortable chairs are still a common complaint.
Are you willing to accept some discomfort and be creative with your workspace?
A Mobile Lifestyle Affects Productivity
Productivity in the nomadic lifestyle isn’t just impacted by this lack of comfort.
Unreliable WiFi is another common problem that throws a wrench in your work output. Other unexpected problems crop up, too. For example, if you work from public places such as cafes, something as simple as finding a power outlet can be problematic.
Transportation schedules, power outages, hard-to-replace broken equipment, and timezone differences can also impact your productivity.
Are you willing to be flexible, avoid procrastination, and make the most of good working conditions when they’re present?
Your Work-life Balance Can Become Challenging
When you’re less productive, then work takes longer. This triggers another problem in the nomadic lifestyle: work-life balance.
For some, the challenge is focusing on work instead of exploring the titillating new world around them. For others, the problem is stepping away from their laptop and achieving a clear work-life separation.
If you’re working remotely for a company with traditional hours, work-life balance might be easier to manage. On the other hand, many freelancers and entrepreneurs have a – sometimes crippling – freedom when setting their schedules.
Are you able to be mindful and watch yourself for signs of burnout? Can you stick to a realistic remote work schedule?
Financial Problems in Nomadic Travel
Our world is designed for people who live in one place with a physical address. When you’re a digital nomad with no set residence, things can become tricky.
Banking and Addresses Pose a Problem
This lack of permanent residence can make banking difficult.
In the past, nomads could often use a mailbox service in their home country to substitute for an actual street address. In some countries, this is getting more difficult as laws change and require a physical address.
If you frequently change your address, continually updating and providing proof of addresses for banks and credit card companies can become tiresome. You’re also exposed to complications with service available for the given address or country where you’re living your nomadic lifestyle.
Are you comfortable with doing your research and dealing with these hassles?
Cash-based Societies and Currency Conversions Make Things Difficult
Another challenge related to banking is how payments are handled at your destination.
Many parts of the world are cash-based. If using a credit or debit card is the norm in your home country, this can be a rough adjustment.
Frequent trips to the ATM, hefty withdrawal fees, carrying wads of cash on your person, currency exchange fees, and the risk of your bank freezing your account are daily struggles for many living the nomadic lifestyle.
It also exposes you to risk of having your debit card skimmed or stolen and finding yourself with a drained bank account.
Diversifying your money between several banks helps reduce risk if one account is frozen or robbed. It can also save you if you lose a debit card, or find yourself at an ATM that won’t accept your bank. Also look for a bank that refunds ATM withdrawal fees – it can save you a considerable amount of money.
Running out of Money Is a Threat
Beyond banking, having enough money to maintain the nomadic lifestyle is another common challenge.
Freelancers and the self-employed have some perks. Many of them can take extended time off work when they want to between projects or contracts.
The downside? They won’t earn any money. It can be hard to find the motivation to get back to work until your bank account becomes dangerously low.
Unexpected emergency costs come out of nowhere – a missed flight, a medical crisis, a stolen laptop – and leave your bank account bleeding as your stress levels rocket.
Even if you’re committed to regular work, you’re still at risk. Many freelancers acquire clients and set out to become digital nomads, only to lose their clients and become strapped for cash. Entrepreneurs take an even higher risk since they’re often required to invest money back into their risky business venture.
If you work remotely for a company, you’re entirely at their mercy. If you’re laid off, it can take months to find a replacement job that provides the same level of income.
These problems don’t have to be show stoppers. Do you have enough money saved to carry you through unexpected costs? Do you have the skills, self-marketing ability, and resume to find new work quickly?
Nomadic Lifestyle Struggles
Being on the road for an extended time brings a set of unique lifestyle challenges.
Paperwork and Mail Become Difficult
Some nomadic lifestyle problems are simply inconvenient – such as dealing with paperwork. Receiving important mail can take weeks longer than usual.
If you’re frequently moving, you might have to put your travel plans on hold to make sure you can intercept your mail at a specific address. Even worse, international mail can be unreliable. Your letter might never show up.
Sending mail isn’t any easier. Mailing a simple form turns into a time-consuming and expensive situation when you need to hunt down a printer, find a ride to the nearest post office, pay a massive amount for international shipping, and hope your mail isn’t stolen or lost.
Have you moved as much of your correspondence as possible to digital platforms? Do you have a person in your home country who can help send and receive critical mail, and sign documents for you?
It’s a Struggle Not to Become a Dirty Vagabond
Another inconvenient problem that most nomads can relate to is borderline comical: having clean clothes.
Your wardrobe probably needs to fit into a backpack. Laundry services in the nomadic lifestyle can be scarce – or expensive, if you’re running low on cash. You might find yourself thoughtfully sniffing old laundry like a college freshman and making questionable judgment calls.
Of course, it doesn’t always have to be this way – especially if you’re living in a convenient location for an extended time. A little planning goes a long way.
Still, are you comfortable with not always looking (or smelling) your best? Are you willing to commit to feeling your best no matter what, and prioritizing your experiences over other people’s perceptions of you?
All Your Possessions Are Always at Risk
Keeping your clothes, laptop, and other possessions safe during the nomadic lifestyle can be another struggle.
Everything you own is carried in one or two bags. Being robbed, or losing your luggage to an airline mistake, turns into a catastrophic event.
Material things are replaceable – but it’s not usually as simple as ordering items on Amazon. Additionally, losing a laptop before a critical deadline can lead to you losing clients or your job, leading to more serious financial repercussions.
Do you have money set aside to replace your essentials immediately? Are your critical documents and work backed up to the cloud?
It’s Hard to Plan for an Uncertain Future
Uncertainty is another problem in the nomadic lifestyle. For some people, this is a thrill. For others, it’s constant impending doom.
It’s challenging to plan for the future when you can’t confidently say where you’ll be in a month, six months, or a year. Plans are easily made, but quickly go wrong.
Unexpected problems are commonplace. Language barriers can make simple tasks take far longer than expected. Missed or canceled transportation can disrupt weeks of plans.
For example, my passport was stolen. I had to cancel a nine-month travel plan spanning several continents while I waited several months for the replacement.
Another time, a bus company refused my electronic ticket moments before boarding – and instead demanded a paper printout. This resulted in a missed bus and rescheduling all plans.
Are you comfortable with not being in control, keeping your cool, embracing uncertainty, and making lemonade out of lemons?
Cultural Differences Can Be a Shock
Cultural differences can also add more stress to the nomadic lifestyle.
Timetables and deadlines are a sacred rule in some cultures, but more of a recommendation in others. Rules are flexible and inconsistently enforced in some cultures, while in others, they are unshakeable.
Bribes are normal ways of doing business in some places. In other cultures, they are abhorrent. An inability to adapt to the environment will make a nomad’s life exceptionally difficult.
Are you willing to set your cultural expectations aside so you can experience and embrace other cultures’ ways of life?
The Health Hazards of Nomad Travel
Last but not least, the nomadic lifestyle adds health challenges.
Say Hello to Higher Health Risks and Dubious Healthcare
Finding quality healthcare in the event of a severe injury can be a legitimate concern.
There are horror stories of contracting diseases from unsanitary hospitals and healthcare practices. Being exposed to a variety of new diseases also increases the health risk of a nomadic lifestyle. Language barriers can make it difficult to get and understand medical care.
Don’t be too alarmed – most people end up fine. Still, do you have your vaccinations? That rabies shot might save your life.
Do you know where the nearest reputable hospital is? Got a plan to get there on your own during an emergency?
International Health Records Are Hard to Maintain
Another challenge in the nomadic lifestyle can be maintaining adequate health records. For example, getting dental records transferred between doctors in different countries can be tricky.
Are you good at keeping your records in order? Carry translated copies of medical information such as vaccinations and allergies with you. Keep online and downloaded backups.
Medical Insurance Gets Expensive and Might Not Deliver
Depending on their country of origin, medical insurance that works with the nomadic lifestyle can be a problem.
Out-of-pocket medical care in your country of destination can pleasantly affordable. At the same time, medical insurance can be a pricey problem if you have a severe issue that requires you to return home.
Sometimes your travel insurance provider will refuse to reimburse you. In any event, you typically need to pay the costs upfront, then make your claim.
Do you have extra money set aside to pay for costs upfront? Do you have enough leftover to keep yourself going if your insurance providers won’t reimburse you?
Maintaining Proper Nutrition Can Be Impossible
Crisis situations aside, the nomadic lifestyle can make it hard to maintain healthy habits.
The more nomadic you are, the more difficult it can be to find quality food and keep a stable diet. Micronutrient deficiencies can lead to more severe physical and cognitive issues in a matter of months. The difficulty of estimating calorie intake can lead to unhealthy weight gain or loss.
Do you have a basic knowledge of food, micronutrients, and how they impact your health so you can nip problems in the bud? Do you have a nutrition tracker that can help you spot any issues?
Good Luck with the Gym
Maintaining fitness can also be challenging.
Finding and affording a local gym during a nomadic lifestyle can be a struggle. If you’re frequently on the move, it’s nearly impossible.
Are you motivated enough to keep your mind sharp with some level of physical fitness? Do you have adequate running or walking shoes, or TRX equipment for on-the-road workouts?
Fatigue Makes Cowards of Us All
Frequently moving is exciting and a defining part of the nomadic lifestyle. It also becomes stressful.
Combine this with any relationship, financial, and lifestyle stresses – plus any biochemical issues resulting from nutritional or sleep problems – and you have the recipe for severe exhaustion and burnout. Instead of a fun adventure, your nomadic lifestyle turns into a gauntlet of terror.
Are you easily stressed out or worried? Do you have coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness, ready for when stress gets to you?
Don’t Be Scared – Be Prepared for the Nomadic Lifestyle
Despite the challenges listed above, the digital nomad lifestyle opens the door to unique activities as you travel and work remotely. Dealing with problems and solving them is a powerful teacher. For many, having amazing experiences along the way makes every struggle worth it.
Be aware of the downsides. Prepare solutions. For some personalities, the challenges of being a digital nomad might not be worth it. For others, setting realistic expectations will provide the adventure of a lifetime.
Many people make the nomadic lifestyle work – and love every step of the journey.