There's an influx of digital freelancers and remote workers currently pushing the 'get paid to travel the world' line. But does the hype live up to reality?
The idea of being paid while working in exotic locations across the world is no longer a pipe dream. Today, it's a reality for many. I know because I used to be one of them.
Coined "digital nomads", the phrase these days is marketed to portray a dream lifestyle where entrepreneurs sip coconuts on the beach, staring out into the ocean and flick the funds on to their bank account as easy as they flip open their laptops.
Yet the reality simply isn't true. I know because I've lived this lifestyle, and I've met many of the individuals living this 'dream'.
Digital Nomad Disadvantages
The reality is being a digital nomad is short-term, lonely and lacks any fundamental stability for a serious individual not just in business, but also life as well.
The ones that do stick it out often live estranged, detached from reality and in a warped utopia that suddenly comes crashing down back to earth in one way or another.
Here are the main reasons Digital Nomadism is shrouded in short-termism and lacking any real sense of satisfaction in the long term from somebody who had lived the lifestyle for over 3 years.
1) Visa issues
Most countries will only permit short-term stays for foreign residents, meaning you'll constantly have the stress of moving to another location lingering in your mind. While some find this fun in the beginning, the novelty quickly wears off once you're trying to establish another 'base' where you have quality accommodation and a solid group of people around you.
Not to mention that it's also technically illegal to work in most of these countries, even if it is seldom enforced. The fact that this also lingers over many can cause anxiety with day-to-day living.
2) Banking issues
Trying to set up a bank account in a foreign country where you don't have permanent residence is a mess. Even once lax countries such as Hong Kong aren't immune from the worldwide financial clampdown.
You'll soon get sick and tired of paying foreign currency fees no matter what temporary workarounds you find to this issue.
3) Accommodation issues
As aforementioned in point 1, most countries only allow short term stays. This means you're probably going to either look for low-cost hotels or more likely, Airbnb's.
Nothing is more disruptive to work than having to uproot for a day or two at a time. I just had to move apartment with my girlfriend in London over 3 days, and this caused a strain on the operations in our business in meeting deadlines. Trying to do this every week, two weeks or month becomes a giant ballache after a couple of times.
You'd be surprised how fast the novelty wore off working from locations like this perpetually
4) You can't sustain relationships
Whether it's with a partner or friends, eventually you'll find the transient nature of being a digital nomad not conducive to building long-term friendships.
The reality hit home hard for me on this when I was travelling to Istanbul in 2015, and after four months of the lifestyle, took a diversion to Asia just to meet up with my friends from Hong Kong for a weekend in Bangkok.
Being on the road full-time does enable you to meet a lot more people than usual if you're extroverted, but the quality of those relationships isn't the same, even when the interactions are of a high standard.
5) You'll feel lonely
Yes, even floating around palm trees and golden sand beaches in Bali will not be enough to prevent you from feeling lonely after a while.
I'm a big believer in experiences best being shared. There have been some phenomenal solo adventures in my life, but my best memories have always been alongside loved ones to share the moments with and reflect back on.
6) Family are far away
This is something that never bothered me until I got into my late 20's and more appreciative of how important family were.
When you're young, you often take for granted how important the love and support your family give you is.
When you're reaching your 30's, however, with more life experience behind you, you start to miss them more and value the time together.
This was certainly true for myself and others in my circle. You can't expect your family to pack up shop and join you on the beach, no matter how much you fantasise about it.
7) Ultimately, it's not good for business
If you want to run and manage a serious business, you just can't do it with all these conditions hanging over your head.
Running a serious business requires operational efficiency, stability and consistency. Being a digital nomad isn't conducive to any of these traits.
Don't get me wrong, I loved my time living the digital nomad lifestyle. I travelled to over 40 countries, met many amazing people and experienced a lot of cultures that has made me a more well-rounded person. But it's a young man/woman's game for sure, and those with long term aspirations should not be sucked into the delusions that it's as spectacular as others make out. It has its perks, which are short-lived, and remains best suited towards freelancers and young adults looking for life experiences.