Hey Digital Nomads! We Need to Talk.
About a year and a half ago I took my first step to become a digital nomad. I signed up for one of those paid online communities that promised to teach me the skills I needed and within a few days I wrote a post for a travel blog and made my first 20 bucks from my laptop. I was amazed: “OMG, it worked! I can do this”.
Over the next few months, I moved from copywriting to other business ventures including podcasting and second-residency consulting in Spain. I left Brazil and quickly met many other digital nomads at conferences and meet-ups in Asia and Europe; we are a great group of trailblazers, living life on our own terms and managing businesses while traveling the World. People that truly value freedom and autonomy. Though Instagrams may tell a story of Mai Tais and infinity pools… the truth is most of us work more than we sightsee. There are landing pages to create, funnels to optimize, sales to 10x.
If it’s about how to start or grow a business or where to go for your destination, the amount of information available is only limited by your download speed. But what about everything else that goes along with choosing this life? Beyond business, what are the challenges?
Here are some recurring themes:
Should I stay or should I go?
Depending on the passport you hold, this can get complicated. Traveling on a tourist visa will limit how long you can stay in any particular place. Options include visa runs, student visas, second-residencies or the simpler and shadier solutions like duplicate passports or trying your luck and just overstaying. Many of us have had to deal with delays at the border, refusal of boarding without onward tickets and in some cases even losing legal residency in their country of citizenship for not spending enough nights at “home”. Keeping up with all these rules is a nightmare. How do we do better?
My passport is full of stamps, but I’m gonna die alone.
Romance and dating while traveling is complicated to say the least. Richelle Gamlam recently wrote an article featured in the Huffington Post, How Travel Is Ruining My Love Life. Constant travel means you have fewer chances to get to know someone and even if you do, they probably live there and you don’t. If you’re fortunate and you find another digital nomad to date, that can complicate things even more. Wanting to keep seeing someone could mean that you’ll continue travelling together, so now you’ve gone from a couple good dates to actually being a couple, living together after knowing each other for just a few months. Or if you just want to maintain a decent sex life, monogamy goes out the window and cycling through Tinder becomes a habit. Not everyone is looking for their soulmate, but there’s enough of us to not have to be alone.
No, mom. I’m not coming home to get a real job.
Like a good son or daughter, you try to call home from time to time. You’re tired of hearing about the latest political candidate scandal, imminent natural disaster or senseless act of violence (maybe that’s just my parents because I’m from the U.S.). You try to tell them about some new places you’ve been or people you’ve met, to which the response is a lukewarm “That’s nice, dear”. Or you share your latest business endeavor with enthusiasm only to get a flat, “Hmmm. Interesting. Good luck with that”. Well, they heard your voice so at least they know you’re not dead. As much as I miss my family, talking to them doesn’t usually give me a kind of support that actually “gets it”.
If I go home, am I a quitter?
Sometimes we just need to know it’s okay to take a break from the jet-setting lifestyle and see something familiar, speak the mother-tongue for a while, get some Chipotle or a proper scone. When you trade one life for another, there’s so much pressure to stay in it — no one wants to be a quitter. I’ve had a number of friends go back after years living abroad and building successful online businesses… my friend Diana Edelman went back to Las Vegas after living in Thailand and Madrid. Anna Wickham transitioned her content marketing company to a base back in Oklahoma City. No one is judging them, but what does that mean for the rest of us that continue to travel? Maybe we’re ignoring the writing on the wall and someday we’ll just get tired of it.
Is this a thing or am I gonna get too old for this?
Beyond the potential for travel burnout, the location-independent lifestyle is often seen as glorified backpacking; something you do in your 20s. This was a topic on a Tropical MBA podcast from earlier this year, The Long View on Location Independence. When asked about why he quit the lifestyle, blogger Mark Manson responded, “it’s kind of irresponsible not looking that far ahead… and to think it’s a life to do forever.” He went further to say, “You shouldn’t be going on year 6 of visa runs. If you have like 26 stamps from Laos for doing visa runs, I think that should be a wake up call to ask what you’re doing with yourself.” So if a Coconut Cowboy is some kind of Peter Pan, does being a responsible adult mean going back to get a mortgage and have a few kids? I left because I never wanted that in the first place and I think there must another “grown-up” choice besides these two opposites.
Let’s hope I don’t get sick.
You will. Everyone gets sick eventually or requires some sort of medical care. The healthcare insurance options are not great. Another problem stemming from a lack of a stable residence; luckily we can now get consistent healthcare from online medical professionals, like Dr. Alexis Shields whose clients are digital nomads around the world. We need more access to online treatment through affordable plans.
Co-working. Co-living. Co-everything.
AirBnb is still the go-to for accommodations unless you’re willing to try your luck couch surfing; but now traditional tourists have embraced AirBnb and are moving away from hotels and driving up the rates. Some co-living/co-working alternatives have been popping up which include Roam.co — where you can pay a monthly “rent” to stay in one of their various locations — or entrepreneur accelerator programs like The Entrepreneur House, which has different locations throughout the year like Rio this past February and Chiang Mai coming up in October. The growing number of location independents will continue to drive up the cost of temporary housing, especially in the more popular destinations. How do we collaborate to keep prices down? What should the new alternatives look like?
These are some of the hot issues impacting those that work and travel, and if you’re a woman and/or not Caucasian, there are many other taboo topics like safety, pregnancy, sexism and racism.
But that’s what we signed up for, right? These are “trade-offs” of the lifestyle… but do they have to be? Will these things change in the future? What we really need is more dialogue to come up with ways to support each other and create solutions as a community.
Many of us are familiar with “Thought Leadership” when it comes to marketing and establishing authority, but we could use more when it comes to creating a better lifestyle for ourselves and that involves having more conversations about it. Conference agendas are packed with value-bombs about business, but not so much about the future of a location independent life.
A new digital nomad conference, 7in7, will begin in Bangkok this year; it focuses less on how to improve your business and more about how we come together to improve our lives as a community; along the same lines, we have created a live online event called Digital Nomads LIVE!! Where we’ll get together on a pitch-less online event, covering lifestyle topics on a single day over 12 hours so no matter where you are in the world, there’ll be a chance to weigh in. The first event is just for women because, hey, there are actually some of us who can talk for 12 hours straight.
I am sure this is just the beginning of a movement to improve an already pretty great lifestyle; digital nomads all over the world are ready to come together, in-person and online to create an even stronger community. Ask the questions. Get support. Feel inspired. Let’s Talk.
What do you think? Join the conversation.
Thanks for reading, commenting & sharing.