When digital nomads talk about their lifestyle it usually sounds like a dream come true. As an entrepreneur or freelancer you get to work from the most beautiful locations around the world — cocktail in one hand, computer mouse in the other and warm sand between your toes — all while making money online.
But that’s only one side of the coin. The truth is, there are quite a few challenges digital nomads face. Challenges that not only rob you of your time and energy, but also of your motivation. All that glitters is not gold!
Things that have driven me up the wall over the past 3 years of working as a digital nomad and traveling through more than 20 countries
1. Confiscated Credit Card
On the Caribbean Island, Caye Caulker, Belize, my credit card was confiscated. Therefore it makes sense to travel with at least 2 credit cards, so you don’t have to cancel your trip early. It also makes sense to have a VISA and Mastercard on hand.
Someone who plans to travel for extended periods of time should definitely get a credit card that offers free money withdrawals abroad.
2. Blocked PayPal Account
When I was in Myanmar and booked flights en route to the Philippines, my PayPal account got blocked. Myanmar and Cuba had been on the blacklist for US companies until quite recently. I had to send them my current power bill from my apartment in Berlin to proof that I wasn’t living in Myanmar but in Germany. Only after they had verified my information, did they unblock my account.
Those who are traveling as digital nomads should back up all important documents in the cloud, in order to be able to access them from anywhere.
If you want to avoid being blocked or get around a security check while in exotic countries, you should use a VPN connection.
3. Broken Technical Equipment
Whilst in Taganga, a small fishing village off the Caribbean coast of Colombia, my girlfriend’s charging cable gave up. Without power, no working on the MacBook, meaning no money. We had to go to the next biggest town where we spent 8 hours in the heat, going from street vendor to street vendor, from shop to shop and eventually to the mall to find a cable, but no such luck.
In the end, a local shop owner was willing to sell us his own used cable.
As a digital nomad I exclusively travel to warm regions with lots of sun, beach and ocean. This combination puts a lot of stress on your technical equipment.
Don’t cut expenses at the wrong end but rather invest in quality. For me personally the iPhone in combination with a MacBook Air has proven to be the perfect setup for working location independent.
4. No Entry Without a Return Ticket
In order to be able to travel to the Philippines, I had to show a valid return ticket. However, being a digital nomad, I hardly ever plan ahead as to which country I’d like to visit next. That’s why when I was traveling to the Philippines; I booked a ticket from Manila to Kuala Lumpur in order to be able to have an exit ticket to show. Although in the end, I just hopped on another flight from Kuala Lumpur, directly to Bali.
When traveling to Thailand or Indonesia you might be asked for a valid exit ticket before being able to enter as well.
For flexibility’s sake you should just buy a return ticket that can easily and cheaply be changed to any given date.
5. Non-working WLAN
There’s only one thing more annoying to digital nomads than no internet: Slow internet.
I’ve had to reschedule my fair share of Skype calls with customers and business partners all over the world simply because the internet didn’t want to cooperate.
Don’t rely on Wifi internet cafes — your first step after entering a new country should always be buying a prepaid SIM card with data plan.
If you should be without internet during a flight or while traveling on a boat, download some exciting podcasts onto your smartphone beforehand, use the time to catch up on your writing via an offline tool like Scrivener or read some interesting articles that you’ve saved to your Pocket app ahead of time.
6. Time Difference
As a digital nomad in a different time zone than your business partners or clients, I sometimes have to set my alarm clock to wake me up during the middle of the night so I can make a Skype call at three-thirty in the morning.
I’m currently traveling through South America which is 6 hours behind Europe.
Most digital nomads prefer being in a time zone that’s ahead of their business partners. Asia, for example, is many hours ahead of Europe and US time.
7. Important Mail
When we took our first trip as digital nomads to Asia we put in a mail forwarding request at the post office to have our mail forwarded to my girlfriends parents’ house.
Whenever they got mail, they took a picture of the envelope and emailed it to us. That’s how we decided if the letter was important and needed to be opened or if it could wait until we were back in our homebase.
Nowadays there are smart services who will scan your mail for you and then put it online for you to access.
But not every letter will be forwarded by the post office. Mail from the internal revenue service should be forwarded directly to your tax consultant using a power of attorney. Official government mail is also not forwarded and should be scanned from someone on-site.
One of the biggest challenges as a digital nomad are focus and productivity.
One who travels a lot, has lots to see. The first few months on the road as a digital nomad I participated in tons of activities and traveled from one place to another relatively fast. Behind every turn there was an exciting new world for me to discover.
When you’re constantly traveling like this, you tend to lose focus and end up losing track of your business.
In order to stay productive it’s a huge help to get into a daily morning routine. Before breakfast I get into positive thinking with the 5 Minute Journal. I write down what I am grateful for, what would make the day a great day and my daily affirmation. After breakfast I meditate, work out and then take care of the most important task of the day, — which I already write down the night before.
Starting your day with zero distractions through emails or social media and getting right to the most important task of the day means you will have a maximum amount of energy, willpower and focus.
Once you’ve taken care of the “Most Important Task” you’ll feel fulfilled and will be able to tackle the remaining tasks of the day more relaxed.
As far as your daily routine is concerned, the app Coach.me will help you, when it comes to focus, the tool SelfControl which puts certain websites that distract you on a blacklist will help you stay on track.
9. Lack of Exchange with other Digital Nomads
Digital nomads don’t do backpacking trips or trips around the world.
Yet, people constantly approach me asking “How much longer do you have to work for?”, “Poor guy, always has to sit in front of the computer”, “How exactly do you make money, I want to be able to travel as much as you do.” You find yourself having to explain your lifestyle over and over again.
So what’s cooler than exchanging and discussing business ideas with other like-minded Digital Nomads at Hotspots like Chiang Mai, Medellin or Bali?!
More and more frequently you’ll also find digital nomads in co-working spaces. These have even started popping up in beach locations like the Surf Office on Gran Canaria or the Kohub on Koh Lanta, Thailand.
Those of you who plan on attending the First Conference for Digital Nomads, the DNX GLOBAL in Berlin, will have plenty of opportunities to compare notes and connect with other digital nomads and like-minded people.
10: Sports & Exercise
I’ve always been doing lots of sport and eating a low-carb diet.
During my first trips as a digital nomad it presented itself as a real challenge to stick to my nutritional principles and workout routine while on the go.
Arriving at a new place, I’ve now developed a good feel for where to get lean poultry, fish and fresh vegetables from. When searching for accommodations I make sure there’s a kitchen for me to cook my own meals in.
You see: Digital nomads have to overcome quite a few challenges related to self-employment and travel.
At the same time, every new challenge is also another experience gained — an experience that no one can take from you. You will grow with each new challenge. For me the combination of entrepreneur and digital nomad is the future and I’m super excited to be a part of it.
The learning curve and the personal growth as a digital nomad is extremely steep: You travel, you learn!