The idea of a digital nomad lifestyle appeals to a lot of us. In fact, people ask me about it all the time. I am fortunate enough to work remotely. My job as a public relations consultant allows me to earn a living while being mostly location independent.
Having the freedom to set my own hours and work from anywhere is no doubt a selling point for remote work. Traveling whenever – and wherever – while still being able to earn a paycheck is definitely a bonus. And even when I’m not traveling, just being able to work in yoga pants with my greasy hair in a messy bun and zit cream on my face is… well… pretty awesome.
What is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is someone who works remotely and can earn a living without being tied to one city or place. While some digital nomads live a true nomadic lifestyle, traveling from place to place and carrying everything they own with them in a true nomadic fashion. Others will put down roots in a place they will call “home” temporarily.
There are lots of great cities in the world for digital nomads. In fact, more and more digital nomads are establishing temporary residences in inexpensive Asian countries where their paychecks can go further and they can live on less.
Finally, there is a group of digital nomads who aren’t truly nomadic but have the ability to be, if they choose. This final group of digital nomads have homes or apartments where they spend much of their time, but enjoy the freedom to pick up and go whenever they want without strings attached.
I fall in that finally category. I work remotely and travel significantly, but I still maintain a home.
Things to consider about the digital nomad lifestyle
While I will admit working from home comes with its perks, it also comes with its own unique set of challenges. The digital nomad lifestyle isn’t for everyone.
Here’s what you need to know before jumping into the world of remote work.
1: No paid vacation, sick leave, or holidays.
Unlike working in a job that offers you the benefits of paid time off and company holidays, that is typically not the case when you work remotely. Most digital nomads are self-employed. We are contractors, freelancers, or small business owners. Which means, if I take a day off, I am not making any money.
So, while I may have the freedom to take extra time off, I do so without pay. And just like every other job, digital nomads still have responsibilities. I can’t always just pick up and go… If I do, chances are I am taking my work with me. Plenty of times, I’ve worked from my hotel room, or I’ve responded to emails on my phone while “on vacation”, even while in another country.
2: Remote work is still work.
This one is a no-brainer, yet so many people think working from home isn’t like having a “real job”. Several other moms have asked me to help them find remote work so they could stay home with their kids. Usually, when someone finds out I work from home, their first statement sounds something like this: “You’re so lucky to be able to work from home. I would love not having to pay for childcare.”
Ummm… I don’t know what these ladies think I do for a living, but I definitely can’t do it while watching my daughter. Sure, my rambunctious ball of sunshine and occasional tantrums is often home while I’m working, but I’m not the one watching her. Luckily, my husband and I work opposite schedules, so we do save on childcare.
Most of the time, my husband takes her for a bike ride, to the park, or the gym each morning while I work. When we’re on a trip, he’ll take her exploring without me for a few hours.
When he can’t watch her, we hire a nanny. I can’t be on a conference call with a client while I have a screaming toddler in my lap. I can’t focus on work while entertaining my child. Remote work is still WORK.
With that said, the lifestyle of a digital nomad does allow me to be able to take a break and have lunch with my daughter, or rock her to sleep for her afternoon nap, but don’t think for a minute that working from home is any less of a job.
3: You can’t always set your own schedule.
One of the best things about the digital nomad lifestyle is the flexibility. I typically set my own schedule. For me, this means I usually work several hours in the morning, spend the afternoon with my daughter, and work again after she goes to bed.
I love it, especially on the days that actually turn out that way. But remote work isn’t always that flexible. There are definitely exceptions. Things come up that have to be taken care of immediately.
Often times in public relations, things happen that require you to respond instantly. Sometimes clients or colleagues need to meet with you on their schedule not yours.
If you’re in Europe and your client is in the United States, chances are they aren’t going to want to schedule that weekly conference call at 3 a.m. their time. So you aren’t always setting your own hours. Often you’re actually working around other people’s schedules.
4: It takes discipline and time management.
Working remotely takes discipline. A lot of it. You have to have the discipline to get up and get to work because no one is watching to see what time you arrive. You have to set work goals, even when traveling. And you have to manage your time wisely when your home is your office. Otherwise one of two things could happen.
You’ll end up working nonstop because you’re “always at the office”, or you’ll slack off because “you’re always at home.” You have to find that delicate work/life balance. Managing your time and using discipline often means waking up instead of sleeping in… yes, you will still be a slave to the alarm clock. Because, after all, as I mentioned in my second point, it’s still work.
5: You aren’t paid for your downtime.
When I worked in an office setting, I had quite a bit of down time. Sometimes I would stop in the break room for a cup of coffee and ended up chatting with a colleague for 10 minutes. Other times, I’d surf the internet while waiting for a necessary email response before I could proceed with the task at hand. This wasn’t laziness. In many ways, it’s expected in an office. In some professions, these types of breaks are required by law.
The thing is, when I worked in an office, I was paid to be there, even when there was downtime. That’s not the case when you work from home. I’m only paid for the hours I am actually working, which at times makes it feel like you’re putting in way more hours than you ever did in an office.
So, while I can take as many coffee breaks, or pee breaks, or cuddle with my kid breaks as I want, much like my first point — those breaks are unpaid.
All of this aside, working remotely is still the best job I’ve ever had. The digital nomad lifestyle is not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. Working remotely allows us to live flexible life; it gives us the liberty to travel and to show our daughter the world.
It seems so many people these days are tired of punching a time clock. They’re looking for jobs that offer more flexibility and freedom.
Unfortunately, not all businesses see the value in remote work, which makes location-independent jobs highly competitive. But I think as more industries become vastly digital, we’ll hopefully see an upswing in the number of companies offering this sort of flexibility to their employees.
Do you work remotely? If so, what do you like or dislike about the digital nomad lifestyle?
10 comments on “The Digital Nomad Lifestyle | 5 Eye-Opening Realizations about Remote Work”
While I don’t work remotely in an “official” capacity, my employer allows me to work from home “as needed.” So in the event of a mid-day doctor’s appointment for Luke, or if I’m not feeling 100%, or if there is some work or personal life reason that I need to be on the north side of Houston near the beginning or end of the business day, I am free to work from home.
Also, when I came back from maternity leave my CEO and COO granted my request to work from home every Friday – which allows me to clean the whole house, do the laundry and complete my work all during my usual work hours – so my weekends are completely free to spend with my little monster 🙂
I am also very fortunate to make my own work hours! Due to my heinous commute, I choose to work 7:30-3:30 as to be home by 4:30 (God willing) and spend 1.5-2 hours with my son before he goes to bed (yes, I’m THAT MOM whose kid sleeps 12-13 hours per night).
Finally, I was able to negotiate the number of vacation days I get per year upon hiring. So I have 20 vacation days, 10 paid holidays, 5 sick days and 2 personal days PER YEAR for travel! HOORAY! For those who can’t work remotely, be sure you try and negotiate more paid time off – it’s priceless!
Loved reading your post! I am considering remote work too. I am aware of all the ‘downsides’ but there are so many things that you can explore when you have that freedom of setting up (in a way) your own schedule. But as you said, work is still work. 🙂
I totally agree with all that you have said. Some people believe that being a digital nomad is all fun…and you get to travel for free. There is so much more that goes behind it ..and I think that discipline is the most important. It is so easy to let go of a schedule, not exercise and procrastinate work. It takes a lot to be able to work from anywhere..and still have the focus. Kudos!
Thanks so much for sharing this! It’s so hard to decide whether or not to go that route and it’s nice to hear about the cons also to help balance the decision. I sure do love my PTO… 🙁
So true. Although you are your own master and so much more in command of your life but its quiet a work! Agree with your points.
I find it so hard to be disciplined with work when I am not in the office. It’s so much easier to get distracted when you are at home or on the road. I practically live in hostels and when you get invited out for a drink you want to do that rather than work. It’s so hard getting in a routine but hopefully I will get used to it soon 🙂
I really enjoyed reading this post as it really highlighted the reality of working remotely! I totally agree: time management is definitely the key to getting everything done on time!
All of these are so true, and while I’m not a mom (too young for that at 22 I think haha) I know that it is quite impossible sometimes to do work when you have someone else around. I’m currently planning on being a digital nomad from next year on after I graduate uni 🙂
I really appreciate this post because you tackle the realities of being a digital nomad. I see so many articles out there about the benefits of the lifestyle – of which there are many – but there are realities of it too that people should know about. Not having paid time off is one of the reasons I keep my full-time job, but the trade-off for me is not having as much flexibility to pick up and go wherever and whenever I want to. Thanks for the honest perspective!
I can relate with the things you mentioned here, especially about setting your own schedule and time management.There are deadlines to beat and emails to respond to instantly, so it’s not like people like us who work remotely can always dictate “I will only work from this time to this time.” Also, it’s sometimes hard to manage your schedule when other things get in the way, such as personal or work emergencies.
Nadine Smith | ScenesFromNadine.com