My piece last week on how to become a digital nomad got a lot of love. I received emails from peers asking for advice on how to get work overseas, and friends sent me messages telling me how proud they were that I’d achieved my dreams. And while I meant it when I said I’d never give up this lifestyle, I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t telling the whole truth.
You see, this last week I’ve been struggling to adjust being back in Melbourne after my month long stint in my second home, the UK. I wish I could blame my feeling of disconnection on jetlag but if I’m honest it’s a one of the main side effects of moving around a lot over the last seven years.
There’s been a lot written on the perks of living the nomad lifestyle but not a lot of pieces have been written on the downsides. I’m not talking about shitty Wi-Fi and bad coffee either, I’m referring to the shit that keeps you up at night.
Here’s an honest look at the downside of living a nomad lifestyle.
No place to call home
Most people need to feel a sense of “home” – one place where they feel comfortable, safe, are surrounded by loved ones, and where they store their possessions. When leaving home they feel a sense of loss at leaving a special place behind, and when returning home they feel a sense of completion, they know this is where they are supposed to be.
Constantly changing locations can alter this feeling because you don’t know how long you will stay. And whether we admit it or not most of us are changed by the places we visit, and the experiences we have and the people we meet while we’re there.
For me, Tasmania will always be my default “home” because it’s where I spent the first 22 years of my life. But I could just as happily live in the UK or Melbourne. However, Asia is where I get that feeling of coming “home”.
This makes it difficult to know where I should “settle down” or “put roots”. I feel constantly drawn to all places and when people ask me where’s home I don’t know what to tell them. I think it’s important to have a sense of home and the digital nomad lifestyle has the potential to affect our ability to feel grounded if we let it.
Experiencing loved-ones special moments through a device
Technology has been crucial to keeping me connected to my friends and family all around the world. And while it’s easy to communicate, it’s challenging to remain close when you’re separated by an ocean. It’s very easy to grow apart and consider liking a Facebook picture as a real connection.
When you’re away you miss friends’ weddings and their babies being born; celebrating a sibling’s birthday or graduation, and grandparents pass away and your parents grow older. Thankfully, I got to spend one more special day with my Nan in her home before she passed away. While I was in the UK I worried constantly that she’d go without me being able to say goodbye.
Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Do I fly to India to see my friend get married or go home to see my parents? Do I take this job opportunity in Singapore or stay in Melbourne to be closer to my brother? Yes, having friends all around the world is amazing and being able to travel is a wonderful privilege. But I struggle to be what I deem a “good friend and sister”. I want to be a part of people’s lives. To share their special moments with them. And I find it hard to do that through a screen.
Working and living across multiple time zones and cultures
Working across cultures, in different countries, and on various projects would be why many people choose the digital nomad lifestyle. It’s exciting at first but when you have to wake up at 4am to reply to emails the novelty wears off.
You can work from anywhere and all the time, which means you do. There’s no one telling you to close your laptop and walk away. In fact, people are demanding your attention across every platform you can think of: Email, Basecamp, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Voice call, Skype, WhatsApp and LinkedIn.
Cultures communicate differently and rely on different technologies and apps for work depending on what’s most appropriate in their region. My clients in Asia love Skype and Facebook while my clients in the UK and US prefer to send emails. Australian’s love to save time so they always call me.
Most days I find myself flicking between difference platforms trying to find important information or sitting on time zone converters trying to find mutual times to schedule a meeting. The constant switching between time zones and cultures means I get exhausted pretty quickly because my brain is always on. I never really switch off or get to take a holiday. Although I do get to choose who I work with and what work I do, most of the time my days are structured around when work is due and at what time in the world.
The only constant in your life is you
When you take away the flights, beaches, street food and amazing people all you have left is you. Most of the time you’ll be alone because your partner and friends can’t come with you. You’re the only constant in your life which means you need to depend on yourself and create your own routines and daily structure.
This can be hard for some because they are used to be surrounded by friends and having a boss tell them what to do. People love structure and routine but that can be hard to establish when you’re moving every second day or having to work around an intermittent Wi-Fi connection.
When I was living in Bangladesh I often felt frustrated because I couldn’t create a routine and it took me hours to get into the zone every day. I felt adrift and very unproductive. I got used to it but I didn’t enjoy it so now I look to live in places where establishing a routine is easier.
But to be honest the thing I’ve struggled with the most about this lifestyle is knowing how to handle the two different reactions I get when I say I love working and travelling overseas. The first is envy. People try and make me feel bad about my decision to live this life. They tell me it’s bad for my career and relationships. They tell me to stop rubbing my “perfect” life in their faces. Often they list all the reasons why my lifestyle isn’t an acceptable choice.
The other reaction is to assume there must be something wrong with me. What am I running away from? Why can’t I keep a regular 9-5 job? Why don’t I want to settle down? I generally ignore these types of comments but sometimes it makes me upset because I’m constantly having to justify who I am and why I’ve made the decisions I have.
There have been times when I’ve questioned myself and thought it would be easier to just do the norm. Choosing a digital nomadic lifestyle isn’t an easy choice. You have to be confident in your decisions and know what you want. If you’re easily swayed by others opinions this lifestyle probably isn’t for you.
Do you live a nomadic lifestyle? Do you agree with my points?
Featured image from Pexels.