Enter “How to become a digital nomad” into a Google search and you’ll turn up hundreds of blog posts and guides that will walk you through the exact steps to launching your digital nomad adventure, starting to work remotely and begin travelling the world. (Many of those guides are on this site!) You’ll learn all about creating passive income streams, turning your brick-and-mortar operation into an online business or starting a new freelance business so you can travel and earn money at the same time. They make it seem simple and straightforward – and it can be. But in an attempt to be simple and digestible, these guides may not be able to tell you the whole story of digital nomad life.
What these kinds of guides often leave out are the hardships and stumbling blocks that you might encounter along the way as you convert your life from stationary to nomadic. The job search can often be overwhelming and requires aspiring remote workers to be patient. You may also encounter pitfalls as you establish yourlocation independent business, like successfully creating pricing structures, and falling prey to common timing mistakes. We’ve put together a guide to the most common stumbling blocks people encounter when starting their journeys to join the digital nomad lifestyle, and offer some advice on how to avoid them, so you can get on the fast track to location independence.
10 Common Mistakes People Make When Becoming Location Independent
1. Thinking The Nomadic Lifestyle Is As Freewheeling As Social Media Makes It Seem
Apps like Instagram and Facebook have made it easier to share our experiences and it’s easy to get caught up in the stunning posts on digital nomad accounts and think that this lifestyle is always amazing. Humans have an intrinsic desire for approval, which adds pressure to post mostly positive things and leave the negative aspects for another day. We want to share how wonderful our lives are and all the great experiences home based work provides, but it’s easy to leave out the challenges this lifestyle presents. These unique challenges require adaptation in order to be successful as a location independent worker.
Feeling Lonely On the Road
One of the most common downsides to the travel-while-working lifestyle is, quite simply, that it’s easy to get lonely. When you’re constantly on the road, it’s hard to foster deep friendships with people who understand the joys and challenges of your nomadic lifestyle. Tools like Skype help to keep you connected to loved ones back home, but they may not be able to relate well to your lifestyle on the road. To combat these feelings of loneliness, you can choose to stay in hostels or share rooms in an Airbnb so you can meet new friends during your travels. Community events and meetups also provide an opportunity to plug right into a community as soon as you land in a destination.
Missing Important Events Back Home
Since you’ll be constantly on the go as a digital nomad, you may have to miss out on important life events like weddings, birthdays and even funerals back home. You’ll also miss your support system during challenging times abroad like when you get sick or if you get caught up in a natural disaster like an earthquake or typhoon.
Just because you live an epic life of travel doesn’t mean that the normal challenges of life cease to exist. Things that used to be simple back home – like figuring out to get from place to place – can now be extremely daunting, depending on the infrastructure of your new home. You also still face normal business, financial, and personal hurdles and obligations – losing jobs or clients, mundane tasks like laundry and grocery shopping, and so on – which are a part of life, no matter where you are in the world. But you won’t have the same social or family support as you do back home. That’s not to say that none of this is manageable, or that you can’t build support systems on the road. You can! It takes some work. And, of course, being a digital nomad in Africa will have different challenges than being one in Bali or Chiang Mai for instance, so as always, you’ll want to plan ahead and prepare for any obstacles that may arise.
Finding a Balance
Many digital nomads set out on new adventures and quickly discover that striking a balance between work, old friends, new friends, and enjoying travel can be a difficult task. Different time zones often make it harder to connect with family and friends back home and you’ll also feel the pressure to start making and spending time with new friends. All the while, you’ll have to juggle clients, work and strict deadlines. It can be tempting to skip out on work to go check out a temple or epic surf spot instead, but you’ll soon find yourself paying the price of those decisions. Try to remember that balance is key, so pencil in work, but also make sure to schedule enough fun and exploration. You get the hang of it after some trial and error and a lot of practice.
Getting Used to Discomfort
The location independent lifestyle forces you to step outside of your comfort zone in a million ways. Whether it’s finding your first remote job, trying new foods, hearing new languages, or learning the (sometimes surprising) customs of new cultures, it’s easy to constantly feel off balance. Days can be overstimulating and, no matter how adventurous you think you are, it can be hard to settle down and get some mental peace. Feeling comfortable with the uncomfortable will take time and awareness, so make sure to check in with yourself, establish consistency where you can, and adjust as needed.
2. Leaving Before Having Enough Income
One of the most common ways people become digital nomads is to start freelancing. Whether you decide to be a writer, consultant or digital marketing master, you want to make sure that you have established a consistent and sufficient income before leaving. Many digital nomads make the mistake of leaving too soon and end up spending too much money and depleting their savings abroad as they struggle to adjust to a new country and find work. Talk about setting yourself up for stress and failure. Be realistic with your planning: it can take a long time to find potential clients or a remote job so make sure to give yourself enough time to get set up. You can also save money for a few months before you leave to build an emergency fund in case your first freelance gig falls through or isn’t long term.
3. Spending More Than You Are Earning
Just like leaving before you’re ready, it can be easy to spend more than you earn as a digital nomad if you aren’t careful. Once you are abroad, it can be tempting to try out every new activity from scuba diving to skydiving and everything in between. While the whole point of the location independent movement is to earn money so you can travel and gain new experiences, that doesn’t mean the rules of adulting no longer apply and you’re free to do anything you want.
The hard truth is that, no matter where you are, money is still a factor, and despite working remotely, you still need to live within your means. If you feel overwhelmed by the number of things you want to try, make a list of the most important ones. Make a monthly budget and pencil in a new activity each month that won’t break the bank. Slowly, you’ll get to do all the things you’ve dreamed of doing and you won’t have to take a break from travelling – or ask mom and dad to send money.
4. Not Packing the Right Stuff
Being a digital nomad involves not only mental and financial challenges, but also logistical ones. When packing, many new digital nomads make the mistake of either over packing or under packing. Bringing along too much stuff will only slow you down and make travel days unbearable.
Most of the time, it’s easy to pack just the basics and buy everything else once you arrive abroad. However, there are some products that you can get in your home country that can be difficult to find overseas. Things like feminine products, medicines, and clothing can all vary greatly abroad.
The best rule of thumb is to try to focus on bringing items that have more than one purpose or use and limit the desire to bring everything you own, and at the same time, double and triple check to make sure you have all the essentials that you can’t (or don’t want to have to) buy on the road.
Some medicines that are available over-the-counter in America can be illegal in other countries, and that goes for prescription medicines too (you may need to make sure you have proper paperwork for prescriptions; check with your doctor to make sure you have what you need!). It’s important to make sure any medicines you require or are bringing along are not only legal, but also readily available in case you need to stock up abroad.
Toiletries and Feminine Products
In America, we are used to having a choice of a variety of toiletries and feminine products. You may be surprised to find that many foreign countries only offer one option or have different preferences. For instance, you’ll be hard-pressed to find moisturizers in Asia that aren’t whitening products since the beauty ideal there is to have pale skin. For feminine products, some countries only offer one option so it’s useful to stock up before you leave or to bring along a menstrual cup. Other products that many digital nomads prefer to bring from home include bug spray, good deodorant and contact lenses.
5. Not Knowing The Value of Your Expertise
With websites like Upwork making it easier to find freelance work, it can be tempting for digital nomads to undervalue their work, assuming that, you offer the same services for less, clients are more likely to hire you instead of someone else. The problem with this race-to-the-bottom strategy is that it makes it much harder for you to start charging more after the initial low-ball offer. You’ll end up feeling frustrated by doing work for less than you are worth and, often, the quality of your work will eventually suffer. It’s a lose-lose. So, don’t be afraid to set your pricing equivalent to what you think you are worth. With a little patience, you’ll find clients that value high quality work and are willing to pay for that level of service.
6. Not Valuing Your Time
Just like undervaluing your skills, it’s easy to not value the time and effort you put into things. Whether its charging for the amount of time you put into a project or just intentionally making time for the things you need, you need to be aware of the value of your time.
This means making time not only for work, but also for vacations, relaxing evenings and enjoying this lifestyle. As a digital nomad, you’ll still be working a lot and you deserve a break just like everybody else.
7. Not Taking Goals and Deadlines Seriously
As a remote worker, you don’t have someone in the office constantly monitoring your progress and making sure you hit deadlines and targets. You decide each and every day where you will get work done, how long you work and even when you work. As a freelancer or location independent business owner, it’s up to you to hold yourself accountable to your goals and deadlines for clients. Many digital nomads make the mistake of being too free-spirited, which can affect their productivity and happiness.
If you’re remote job involves working with a distributed team, use tools like Trello to easily manage tasks and connect with your team instead of getting bogged down in emails. You can also use a website like RescueTime to get detailed reports on how you spend your time on the computer. These tools monitor how long you spend on each website, in meetings or checking emails. You can even block websites that you consider distracting while you practice establishing your perfect work-life balance.
8. Assuming the Internet is the Same Everywhere
Many digital nomads get so excited by the prospect of moving anywhere in the world that they forget to take into account the basic essentials that all digital nomads need to make a living online, especially Internet.
There is a huge difference between internet speed, access, and coverage from country to country. Just because a coffee shop or restaurant says it has Internet, doesn’t mean that Internet is reliable or fast enough to get work done. In some countries, your Internet connection can be throttled after reaching a certain limit, making it near impossible to conduct business.
When you’re checking out a potential workspace, use an app like Speedtest to test the upload and download speeds of the Internet connection before making a commitment. Your best bet will often be co-working spaces, since these are set up specifically to function as pseudo-offices and often have the most reliable and fastest connection speeds.
9. Having Unrealistic Expectations
Since most of our perception of the digital nomad lifestyle comes from those incredible Facebook and Instagram posts, it can be easy to enter into the lifestyle with unrealistic expectations. Then, it becomes easy to start being too hard on yourself if the process takes a long time or if your first client decides to move in a different direction. From the get go, make sure you understand that there isn’t one specific path to becoming a digital nomad. If you’re just starting out, be patient and kind to yourself, and remember that this is just another learning process. Like most things in life, failures and mistakes will only make your journey more valuable in the long run, so learn to take things as they come and be patient when starting your digital nomad lifestyle.
10. Doing Things That Aren’t a Good Fit For You
The digital nomad lifestyle is a very personal journey, and is a lifestyle that is experienced slightly differently by each individual. Trying to replicate another digital nomad’s lifestyle or path to success is a surefire way to fall flat. Someone else’s route to success won’t be right for you, and will only lead to disappointment.
So don’t just follow the trends: don’t plan your business based on what has worked for a friend. Don’t pick digital nomad destinations just because someone else said it was amazing or completely avoid a place because they thought it was terrible. Get information and then decide what is right for you. It sounds so simple, but can be the biggest pitfall in establishing your location independent lifestyle.
Just remember: stay true to who you are and do the things that make you happy because after all, that’s what the whole location independent movement is about.
Learning how to become a digital nomad doesn’t mean following a specific path and checking boxes on a to-do list. Each digital nomad has a different story, experiences and goals in life, which is what makes this movement and community so wonderful. It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes and encounter failure along the way, but if you stay at it and work hard, this nomadic lifestyle will reward you in ways you can’t even imagine. With this list, you can avoid common mistakes beginner nomads make along the way and enter the lifestyle with your eyes wide open.