Real-Life Lessons About Being a Digital Nomad & Working Remotely

Sergi Mateo
Feb 9 · 7 min read

There are many reasons for becoming location independent and being able to travel the world while earning money from anywhere. And even though it sounds like a dream, like everything in life, this lifestyle also have its downsides. For that reason I want to share with you some of the real-life lessons I learned after more than 6 years living abroad and working remotely.

Currently, there are thousands (if not millions) of people around the globe taking online courses on how to become a digital nomad. Although some courses provide valuable information, most of them are bullshit trying to sell you the dream. And you just can’t buy freedom with just a few clicks.

The dream is all about leaving your traditional 9-5 office job behind, buying a one-way ticket to South East Asia or any other tropical destination, and starting living a more fulfilling life with new friends, lots of travels, less stress, more adventures, and eventually becoming your own boss.

The location independent lifestyle can very rewarding, but if this is the path upon which you do wish to set yourself, you need make sure that it’s definitely the life that suits you and it’s aligned with your values and life goals.

# Achieving work-life balance is a challenge

People think that traveling around the world is so glamorous and easy, but actually it’s not. As a digital nomad, you will be able to make your own schedule, which is amazing, but you will still have to work. A lot.

You will need to master self-discipline. Remove temptations. Know your weaknesses. Set clear goals and have an execution plan. Eat often and healthy. Practice sports or exercise in the gym. Create new habits by keeping it simple. Fail and start over. Forgive yourself and move forward.

I found it tough and some would say that it’s almost impossible to build a business from scratch while trying to travel and enjoy life at the same time.

The distractions. The things to do. The things to see. New people. New places. The unknown. The obstacles. Everything. All the time. Time never stops.

You are in a new place and you want to see as many things as possible. Taking planes, buses, and trains at different times. Renting scooters to explore around. Getting used to new cities or towns, your new home, and food.

All those things are great but they make it hard to build a routine.

It is important that you set times for work. Sure, you can always move it around a bit depending on the circumstances. But if you have a work schedule to follow, you will more likely make plans around those hours, and you will have enough time to get your work done.

# Digital nomad is not a profession by any means

Yeah, you read it. It’s a way of living. You have to beware that you cannot simply become a digital nomad and expect big money. You still need a job.

In other words, you have to make sure that money keeps flowing in to maintain this lifestyle.

Nowadays, there are many options to earn money from your laptop. You either have to work for a company on a remote basis, do freelancing jobs, or start your own business. Whatever generates you enough income to pay your bills every month and purchase flight tickets to your next destination.

You can find remote work opportunities in websites like Workew.com

You also have to keep in mind that, especially as a freelancer, sometimes you have to constantly look for new clients or projects. It’s not like you apply once and have a secured job for the next years. Well, unless you manage to get a long-term contract with some clients, which is not always the best idea.

If you don’t earn a fixed salary as freelancer or newbie entrepreneur, you never know how much you will earn in 2–3 months from now or in the near future. This gets trickier at the beginning, when you have to build that product or service you aim to launch to the market, find the kind of job that works best for you or to build a professional reputation.

This unstable job life is not for everyone. Many people prefer having job security, given work structures and a reliable monthly income. That doesn’t make them boring though. It’s simply different preferences and lifestyles.

# You might feel lonely

Living like a digital nomad is great because you can move as often as you want, travel to as many countries as you dream about and meet a lot of people along the way. But the constant moving also has its downsides.

Relationships don’t last for too long, friends come and go, and of course you can keep in touch with them through social media or phone, but you might get to a point where you could start to feel lonely. You might be missing having real-life social interaction friends and your family.

Finding true love and having a serious long term relationship with someone when traveling and not being ready to settle down is definitely challenging.

Let’s be honest here. I don’t think that most people are ready for being alone. People don’t know how to spend quality time with themselves anymore.

You can eventually become a digital nomad but if you’re not able to cope with loneliness for some periods of time, sometimes for very long periods, then being a digital nomad is definitely not for you and you need reconsider it.

# You never know what can happen

Traveling is an adventure itself. You’re exploring life out of your confort zone and this always comes with surprises and unexpected situations. Although this might sound exciting, you can turn this around, and those surprises can sometimes turn into nightmares.

When planning a trip you always plan the good things that are going to happen, hoping nothing bad ever does. But we have to be realistic, especially when constantly moving because things can also go wrong.

Shit happens. And that’s okay.

Your flight might get canceled due to snowstorm in the airport, your bag might be stolen or worse than that, you might get into an unfortunate accident that requires you hospitalisation for a few days or even weeks.

All these things will affect your work, and those things need to be considered.

I strongly recommend you to travel with a medical insurance like SafetyWing.

Of course, disasters can’t be predicted, and it is hard to be prepared for them. You never know. But getting into this lifestyle you need to be ready for anything, be flexible and be able to act quickly if the situation requires it.

# Do not take your laptop to the beach

Just search for ‘digital nomad’ into Google Images and you’ll see a few young guys working from a beach sipping a coconut or cocktail under a palm tree.

Have you ever actually tried to work on your laptop on a beach?
Sand everywhere, salty water, sunburns, no plugs, no wifi…
Working from a beach is actually a pain in the neck.

Digital nomads can work almost anywhere on Earth, but beaches tend to be quite far down the list of suitable workplaces.

It’s always a better idea to work from home, coworking spaces or even quiet coffee shops with reliable Internet connection.

There are a few cities in the world where digital nomads tend to gather for working online and having a good lifestyle.

My favorite city is Chiang Mai for several reasons: nice weather all year round, delicious food with plenty vegan friendly options, affordable cost of living, rich Buddhist culture, unbelievably natural places, easy to meet people from all over the world, and great coffee shops with free WiFi.

Other excellent locations for working remotely are Bali (Indonesia), Penang (Malaysia), Cancun (Mexico) and Medellin (Colombia). Lately, a few cities in Central-East Europe are gaining traction as digital nomad hubs, such as: Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary), Plovdiv (Bulgaria).

# Banking, finances and taxes

Ok, let’s talk about money once again. As a digital nomad, you will face a lot of financial issues which can be annoying, time-consuming and quite expensive if you don’t handle them the right way.

You should start taking care of your finances even before hitting the road or jumping on the first flight. In case you want to work as a freelancer or start your own business, your income is never guaranteed.

First, get rid of your debts or at least minimize them as much as possible and then start saving money. I recommend to save enough money so you can sustain yourself without any income for at least 3–6 months covering your basic needs including: travel expenses, accommodation and food.

One of the most annoying parts of being a nomad is dealing with taxes. Many people think that if they are perpetual travelers and don’t stay more than six month in their home country (183 day rule), they don’t have to pay taxes there. Unfortunately, it is not that easy.

Some countries will give you a tax exemption when you prove that you are now a resident in another country and pay your taxes there. But some countries won’t let you go that easier. Get advice at your local tax office.

When you travel often and maybe have bank accounts in different countries, you will sooner or later have to transfer money from one currency to another. This is usually quite expensive and the transfer may take a few days to complete, which is very inconvenient. You may want to use Revolut and TransferWise, they will be your friends when it comes to saving money.

# Conclusion

The things listed above are some challenges that I faced over time as digital nomad traveling to +35 countries and living for long periods in 3 of them.

Now that I shared them with you, I hope they don’t take you by surprise.

Despite some difficulties, I don’t regret any second of my journey and the lifestyle that I build for myself. So much that I always encourage friends to work remotely in whatever they love and getting freedom back to their lives.

You’re not doing anything wrong by not following the traditional path that society tell us. The world needs more people like you trying to pursue happiness by creating your own destiny and living on your terms.


Follow my journey and travels on Instagram 📸👨🏻‍💻✈️🌎

Sergi Mateo

Written by

Digital Nomad & Blockchain Enthusiast

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