Being a Digital Nomad: The Best and the Worst
Nikki’s Top 5 Pros & Cons of living a nomadic lifestyle
By Nicole Tan
I know you’ve probably heard the terms digital nomad and location independent many times, and also seen the many definitions out there. I believe there are many definitions of a digital nomad, but here’s my take on it:
A digital nomad is someone who leverages technology to be able to work from anywhere they want — be it a different country, a coffee shop, their own bed, the bus/train, or even a plane with wifi. The list goes on and on.
I’m Nikki, a “little” girl from Singapore who is a digital marketing nomad. I got my start as a digital nomad back in 2012 when I had a remote, location independent job with a tech startup called OlinData. After working with OlinData for 13 months, I took off to New Zealand where I (sadly) had a full-time office-based job for a while. It was August 2014 that saw me going back to digital nomadism and running my own one-woman digital marketing company — Pink Tangent.
Since then, I have been able to work from everywhere I want to — a backyard facing the alps in Oberstdorf, a bar by the beach in Boracay, an apartment with the harbor view in Sydney, and right now? An awesome co-working space in my home country of Singapore!
I am often asked what is so awesome about being a digital nomad. Here are my top 5:
The 5 best parts of being a Digital Nomad:
1. Having the freedom to be anywhere I want to be!
Being a digital nomad means being location independent so I get to go anywhere I want! As a digital nomad, you usually only require 3 things when you need to work: your laptop/working device, a decent wi-fi (or even just decent 3G that you can tether from), and a power point to charge your devices! This then opens many options around the world for you to work from: coffee shops, libraries, various co-working spaces all around, co-living spots (check out Nomad Pass’ latest unique destination spots!), hostels, hotels, AirBnB places and more. It is all at your disposal to choose wherever you would like to be.
2. Eat. Sleep. Work. Travel. Repeat? Yeah!
Adding on to point 1, having the freedom to be anywhere I want to be means being able to travel the world and simply eat, sleep, work, travel and repeat. With my trusty MacBook Pro in tow, I’ve been both traveling and working whenever I can afford it. Countries I’ve backpacked to while being a digital nomad include Croatia, Australia, Montenegro, Serbia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Italy, UK and more!
3. Flexibility FTW
Just because you have a flexible schedule does not always mean you have the freedom to go where you want. But as a digital nomad, you have the freedom and the flexibility all at the same time! Working from my laptop means I get to choose when I would like to work as long as I meet my clients’ deadlines. This allows me to make time for traveling and for family and friends. My favorite perk? Having random lunches with my grandparents.
4. Meeting amazing people anywhere
Being able to work from wherever I want and when I want means getting to meet people anywhere around the world! I’ve met awesome friends, some of whom have become clients or people I collaborate with, both locally in my home country of Singapore and internationally at networking events, startup meetups, by the beach, at bars/cafes and more.
5. Learning life lessons and gaining life experience
More than just freedom, flexibility, travel and amazing people, being a digital nomad enhances my persona as it allows me to expand my own life experiences. Digital nomadism has challenged my views on what is important to me in my life (e.g. family, friends, freedom, travel and money) and really made me learn what matters most to me. It has also allowed me to experience life on the road with my backpack and all the important life lessons that came with it — something that I would not be able to experience if I had a full-time location-bound job. I’ve learned how to live minimally, how to stretch my dollar, how to rely on myself and stay safe while traveling, how to appreciate life for everything that it is and so much more.
As with everything, there are two sides: the good and the bad. This goes for digital nomadism as well. While it has been absolutely awesome being a digital nomad for over 2 years, it hasn’t always been fun and games. These are the top challenges I face.
The top 5 challenges of being a Digital Nomad:
1. Explaining my life as a digital nomad
While the term “digital nomad” seems to be more widely known in Western countries, this may not be the case for some of us in Asia. It has been rather easy for me to explain my job as a digital nomad to my friends and people of a similar age group here in my home country of Singapore, but for my parents and grandparents, it took some convincing.
The older generation can sometimes have a more traditional mindset that you have to work for a big multinational company and you have to work the usual 9am to 6pm for 5 days a week in an office. As such, my parents and grandparents initially found it difficult to understand digital nomadism when I first explained it to them. Over time, with more explanations and being able to show my flexibility to them, they began to understand that I can choose where and when I want to work. So much so that today, I get lunch invites and the top question they ask me is “where are you going next?” Pretty cool transition, though it did take months!
Luckily, explaining my digital nomad life has only been difficult with the family. I haven’t experienced anyone else I’ve met on the road who has been as difficult to explain too. Well, not yet. -crosses fingers-
2. A choice between freedom & flexibility and money
My main revenue stream is through Pink Tangent, my brand for all my digital marketing work. I have a number of clients I work with, and I get paid at the end of the month or at the end of the project. But this does not mean I make the same amount as I would if I had a full-time job, which is fine with me simply because I choose freedom and flexibility over money. I understand that while most people may like to choose freedom and flexibility, money is often the practical choice because of the need to survive in this very expensive world.
For me, freedom and flexibility means everything to me right now. The main reason being goes back to a personal tragedy I faced back in 2013 when two good friends of mine passed away within a span of 4 months. I was affected badly, and this episode brought to light the importance of living “in the now,” and the importance of treasuring every moment I have and that being stuck in an office through my 20s was not how I wanted to live. Hence, my choice of freedom and flexibility today.
3. Money, money, money. It sometimes is a rich man’s world.
You have to be smart about choosing freedom and flexibility over money. Most of us aren’t millionaires, we can’t afford to just travel and have freedom and flexibility.
Even though I have a travel blog, it’s a not money-making one as I personally do not believe in having ads on my blog. Neither do I have any sponsors who give me free trips/accommodation in return for my reviews. All my trips are self-sponsored. If you are starting out and do not have many clients yet, I totally understand that it might be a big challenge. It was exactly this situation of starting out that taught me how to live minimally and stretch my dollar.
My best advice to you would be to keep trying: keep trying to pitch to clients, keep trying to network to get your name out there and keep trying to live the life you want to live. I am still trying myself, but I am not giving up. You have to go out and find your clients. Try hard, and you will see the results.
4. Self-discipline: the balance between working and traveling
Yes, a digital nomad life seems fun and “glamorous”, but the truth is that you’re not always sitting on a beach with a beer in your hand. There are times where you have to give up the beach in order to finish all the work for your clients, or times you have to work on buses/trains/airplanes to ensure you complete your task list.
Self-discipline is rather important to help you strike that balance between working and traveling. I am able to overcome this challenge most of the time by ensuring that I have a good working environment with decent wi-fi and power points so that I can complete my work and enjoy the good times after. I like to have fun without having to wonder about the work I have to finish tomorrow, which is why I do my best to discipline myself to complete my work fast and to do it well. The beach feels so much better knowing I’ve done good work!
5. It can sometimes get lonely!
Unless you are traveling with your family (hey, some digital nomads do that!), friends or partner, it can sometimes get lonely being a digital nomad. Personally, I am rather close to my family and friends so I do miss them terribly sometimes when I am far away from Singapore.
Luckily, the global travel community of digital nomads and backpackers as well as the startup communities around the world are very welcoming, and they really do help make you feel less alone. Hostels, co-working spaces and startup/travel meetups are my favorite places to go whenever I feel alone, as they have vibrant, lively atmospheres that make it easy for me to meet like-minded people to hang out with. Of course, sometimes you still do feel alone in a crowd, it happens to me too.
Balancing things out:
I feel that digital nomadism is definitely a trend that is happening more today. I meet digital nomads everywhere! And it’s especially fun to work together when you meet a fellow digital nomad. Who knows? This could possibly be the future of work especially with many jobs being able to be done remotely today.
If you ask me whether I would change my life even though being a digital nomad isn’t the future of work? My answer right now would be no way. Being a digital nomad may not always be the smoothest ride, but it’s one that I absolutely love.
Nicole Tan is a traveling digital marketer who runs Pink Tangent, her own marketing and digital communication company. Drawing on a strong international expertise in digital media, marketing, public relations and event management, she believes in helping organizations use the digital space to catalyze communication for their business needs. Being a digital nomad and major traveller, she loves travel blogging, co-working and startups!
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