Why People Fail in the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

Common stumbling blocks on the journey of location independence

Disconnect — Photo by Campbell Boulanger on Unsplash

The digital nomad lifestyle certainly has a lot to conceivably offer. When life is good, it can be exceptional. It’s easy to have a tint of rose color in your sunglasses when you’re working from the beach in Bali. What could go wrong?

But it’s important to point out that — while many may try — not as many make it long-term as digital nomads. There are a few common things that can become stumbling blocks down the road if you’re not careful. Since the full expression of the digital nomad lifestyle is still so new, these tend to catch people by surprise.

First Things First

Technological advances in 2018 and beyond present an array of opportunities as well as challenges — whether you live a conventional or nomadic life. The reality is, many aspects of modern-day living are at odds with our human DNA.

The prescription volume of pharmaceuticals in developed countries alone indicate that humankind is widely struggling with conditions related to:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Love and maintaining relationships
  • Mental health
  • Obesity and weight gain
  • Lack of energy
  • Sleep and insomnia
  • Office induced problems like back pain, eye problems, and carpal tunnel
  • Terminal illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more.

Many of these issues are related to a sedentary lifestyle, stress in the workplace, and a general inability to cope with the pressures of modern-day life.

Mondaze — Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The good news is that people have always been nomadic in some form, save the Industrial Revolution, when the world population became more stagnant than mobile. But digital nomads have eons of human history on their side, supporting their choice to take back control of their day-to-day lives, health, and future.

The bad news is, being a digital nomad represents a new category of problems that people in traditional lives don’t necessarily have to deal with. Plus, it can exacerbate the pre-existing challenges listed above.

It’s also important to emphasize that travel doesn’t solve all our problems (or any, for that matter). Traveling while working — something digital nomads tend to do — can further complicate things.

Below are some of the main things that can knock nomads off their game if they’re not careful.

The 4 Main Reasons Why Digital Nomads Fail

Avoid these things

1. Lack of Funds

In my line of work as an international relocation consultant, I’ve helped over 1,000 people move abroad in the past decade. Earlier in 2018, I surveyed many of my former clients on the main factors contributing to both their success and failure as remote expats.

By far, the #1 reported reason they thought people failed in the location independent lifestyle is related to money. Without money, there’s not much else to discuss.

So, before you quit your job or buy a plane ticket, make sure you have a steady job or reliable way to fund your life and travels for at least the next 6 months up to a year.

Connected to the money category are issues such as:

  • Not living within one’s means and not putting in enough hours at work.
  • Not enough drive to succeed.
  • Spending too much on travel.
  • Living and working in an environment that hinders productivity.
  • Poor planning, financial and otherwise, due to insufficient research.

2. Cultural Differences and Inflexibility

Few people discuss the considerable energy required to set up a business abroad, or one that can serve your needs across borders. Many digital nomads learn the hard way that their time can be sucked up by paperwork and red tape on the operational side of their business.

Then there’s the personal side of life as an outsider. Some cultural differences that seem endearing while on vacation can become burdensome while living abroad long-term.

Problems may arise when a person:

  • Cannot adjust to different cultures.
  • Has flawed expectations regarding costs, culture, and work ethic.
  • Can’t adapt quick enough to “make it work.”

The U-Curve of 4 Stages of Cultural Adjustment, developed by Norwegian sociologist Sverre Lysgaard in 1955, portrays how this process unfolds over the course of months or even years:

  • Honeymoon Period
  • Culture Shock or Crisis Period
  • Adjustment Period
  • Adaptation or Mastery Period
Image Credit: David Bourdin — ResearchGate.net

Beyond the Mastery Period, nomads must prepare for what’s next: such as repatriation, permanent integration, or some other type of exit strategy. Most fail to consider this. But it’s important for aspiring and current digital nomads to contemplate this inevitability if they want to succeed long-term.

3. Loneliness

Looking out a window — Photo by Alexandre Chambon on Unsplash

This one’s a doozy. While it’s possible to feel lonely even if you’re married with kids in a comfortable job with all the boxes of the American dream checked, loneliness is one of the most commonly discussed downsides to the digital nomad lifestyle.

Working alone in advancing your online career or business coupled with living in a foreign country thousands of miles from home can be particularly isolating. Issues concerning loneliness extend to all relationships: friends, family, and romantic partners. Dating as a digital nomad is a particularly contentious topic.

While it can be easy to meet people while traveling, it can also be hard to say good-bye. The transience of the digital nomad lifestyle is a factor to keep in mind.

4. Lack of Clarity in Multiple Areas

If you haven’t addressed these 4 main areas, you’re leaving the door open for things to go wrong:

  • Purpose
  • Goals
  • Plans
  • Logistics

If you don’t know where you started, where you’re going, or why — in practical and symbolic terms — you won’t know when you’ve “arrived” or when you’re off course.

Those common piloting-a-plane or sailing-a-ship metaphors — albeit overused — are appropriate here. Without clarity and focus, you’ll end up adrift or in the wrong harbor when it comes to personal and professional goals.

Pay particular attention to why you want to be a digital nomad in the first place, what you want to achieve, and how you’ll do it. As one survey respondent noted, you have to have considerable “self-discipline and be clear on your target.”


How Can You Avoid Failure?

Photo by Debora Cardenas on Unsplash

Thankfully, you can evade failure if you recognize the initial warning signs or weak points in your situation:

  • Lack of a clear why
  • “Taking the leap” without a plan
  • Lack of preparation
  • Being stuck in the uncertainty of “I don’t know”
  • Putting too much emphasis on traveling and where you’re going next; not enough focus on working
  • Falling under others’ influence
  • Quitting your job too early
  • Pursuing a passion project that’s not making money
  • Lack of a budget or overspending
  • Inconsistent revenue streams
  • Insufficient savings
  • Issues with time management and productivity

Looking Ahead

Being a digital nomad is the best thing since sliced bread in some respects. But it also comes with its own set of problems. Fortunately, they aren’t insurmountable.

With a little bit of foresight, planning, and consistency, you can give yourself the best chances for sustained success in the location independent lifestyle and ensure a long future of freedom.

What do you think are the main reason digital nomads often fail? Let me know in the comments.


If you want help succeeding instead of failing as a digital nomad, let’s continue the conversation over in my Facebook group: Long-Term Digital Nomad Success.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 373,685 people.

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