Is Being A Digital Nomad A Lie?

Hacker News: Is Being a Digital Nomad a Lie?

Hacker News: Is Being a Digital Nomad a Lie?

Pretext: Only if you believe (in) it, it can become a lie (that affects you). If you don’t mind and let it pass — like you do with a lot of things in life because you can’t save everything and everyone from the sickness of this world — then the discussion / trend / hype of being a Digital Nomad will only be a side-topic or not a topic at all — like bad commercials.

However, if you feel called by the term because you sense that it could be related to what you’re doing, you’re wanting to do it or dream of doing it, here’s my view and more extensive response than my initial comment on Facebook, a kind-of response to what Yann Girard initially wrote under the title „The digital nomad lie“ (originally found on Facebook).

Remote or location-independent

From my perception and conversations with people who apply this kind of lifestyle (fully or partly) the term „Digital Nomad“ is something they don’t like that much. To be a „Remote Worker“ comes closer to what identifies them, and I personally like being called „remote worker“ (working location-independent like that most of the time since 2008) more than being a nomad because it sounds more down to earth.

And it’s what Yann said: You can’t buy a book or bundle, read, view or study it and then all of a sudden be what that content is about. You need to live it and by doing that you find out if that is actually the lifestyle you want to proceed. It’s also the more honest approach to yourself — everything else is just „blah blah“ and (good or bad) marketing.

Work and travel

He also wrote:

Every time you change your location you’ll lose a few days. Well, it’s not actually losing time but it’s time you can’t use to work. Because you’ll want to explore the city.

You lose at least some hours landing in a new location and adjusting your workplace to productively work. True.

The moving and exploring part of work & travel (and losing time) can be seen from at least two sides:

  1. You need the movement because the move and eventual change of scenery keeps your cells fresh.
  2. There’s no force telling you you have to explore the city. You decide yourself that you want to explore the place where you newly are. This can raise the question why you moved / traveled here in the first place if you don’t want to explore – whose answer is point 1. In conclusion it could mean: You don’t want to travel and see the world, you just want to move a lot and are quickly bored by the same scenery surrounding you.

He adds:

Just think about how hard it is to get your work done anywhere else than the office. Sometimes you might be able to work from home.

But only when you have the perfect setting. It gets soon much harder to get anything done when just a few things just don’t feel right.

Definitely my favorite point of working location-independently because it comes with the biggest challenges. You encounter the craziest places to work from / in. You can become very creative in your choice workplaces, a few real-life examples:

  • in a coworking space with an ordinary table and chair (Chamba, Guatemala City)
  • on the floor in the airport leaned against the wall because there are the only plugs (New York JFK)
  • in the bus with a bumpy road so you for sure get dizzy (it must have been in Laos entering Thailand again)
  • in the rear area of a car with no seat editing videos while it’s heavily raining (Cartagena, Colombia)
  • overnight in a semi-abandoned, very creepy bus terminal station waiting for the bus to arrive (Sumatra, Indonesia near Lake Toba)
  • overnight in a police station because had no accommodation and the Mosque nearby either didn’t let us or we were scared to ask – I can’t remember (Sumatra, Indonesia near Lake Toba)
  • in a port waiting for the boat to arrive on a 24-hour bus trip when we had to cross water (Philippines from Tacloban City to Manila by bus)
  • with a table in front of the beach with no big sunshine because when the sun is out it becomes hot, sweaty and impossible to read the screen (Palawan Island, Philippines)
  • in a bar-restaurant of a little town with Mediterranean flair and an excellent playlist (Ajdovščina, Slovenia) — one of my favorite places to work
  • in a hospital because it’s the only cheap place to go after the typhoon (Tacloban, Philippines)
  • in the lounge of a hotel (may or may not) being a guest but still asking and using their Wifi (e.g. Bangkok, Thailand or Maribor, Slovenia)

I would like to work in a boat (e.g. Coboat). In case you wonder: I never worked in an airplane (airplane is time for movies, music, deep thinking, reading, note-making and conversations).

Accommodation and housing abroad

Housing is a big issue, Yann mentions it:

And staying in hostels and going to work at a coworking space or local coffee shops is also not a real option. I tried it. More than half of the time I stayed in hostels

And the sleep you get there just isn’t real sleep. You’ll be too tired the next day to get some real work done. Even with earplugs.

Back in Berlin where I’m originally from I’m having a small room at my mother’s apartment paying a small (family-discounted) rent. Worldwide, my partner and I are trying to use Couchsurfing or sleep at places of our global friends. This can sometimes be off the central part of the city like it happened to us couch surfing New Orleans (NOLA): We ended up in Marrero with a lousy bus connection to NOLA. Luckily, a (new) friend we met let us stay close to NOLAs Central Business District (CBD) which is why I found the LaunchPad a good coworking space:

  • You enter,
  • show up at the front desk,
  • ask your questions and for Wifi,
  • and find your seat.
  • And: If you want your team to have a space you pay. If you work solo, you don’t.

Work and travel 2o out of 30 months

In 2008 I started working remotely (home office in Berlin). In 2009 I worked 5 months in New Zealand, and traveled to Samoa and Hawaii while I was an intern with Greenpeace Zealand. Except for vacation trips (10 days Florida in 2011, 40 days Mediterranean Sea in 2013) I worked in Berlin (mainly home office, sometimes in cafés or at events). Summer 2013 was my personal kick-off for working almost constantly remotely:

  • September 2013: Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden
  • November-December: Mexico, Colombia
  • January-April 2014: South East Asia
  • July-August: Austria, Czech Republic
  • January-April 2015: Curaçao, Colombia
  • May: USA
  • June: Costa Rica
  • August-September: Slovenia
  • October: Mexico
  • November: Guatemala
  • December—…: Colombia

Isolation or focus?

Coming back to what Yann wrote:

The only way I was able to get some stuff done was when I completely isolated myself from everything that was going on around me.

During these past 3.5 months I went out partying maybe twice.
The thing is this:

When you want to get stuff done, when you want to build (and not just manage) something, you just can’t do what everybody else is doing.

You have to focus on your own shit. Otherwise you could have stayed at home.

Traveling for about 20 months within the last 30 months (see my list above), I can confirm that letting the „party animal“ out happens very selectively, mostly on formal occasions like weddings — it seems everyone is getting married, and I attended 3 weddings within the last 2.5 years.

Yann calls it „Isolation“ which has a negative connotation. Calling it „focus“ gives it another twist which I would prefer because you don’t isolate yourself, you’re just shifting focus to „focus on your own shit“ as he correctly writes.


Yann wrote:

I call bullshit on everyone who says that being a digital nomad is like living the dream. It’s one of the hardest things out there.

And it can be very lonely. I just don’t think that most people are ready for this. Most people don’t know how to spend quality time with themselves anymore.

And if there’s one thing I think that disqualifies almost everyone for being a digital nomad it’s this.

If you’re not able to be alone a lot, then being a digital nomad is definitely not for you.

I’ve been traveling with my love partner in total together for about a year and a half. You could say I’ve always had company while I was working remotely. So, being a „digital nomad“ doesn’t mean loneliness. And if you reach this point, Pieter Levels built a community for people living that lifestyle called “Hashtag Nomads“. I’m not a member, but I’m also not lonely. Sorry, I’m just kidding. I didn’t want to pay to 65 USD entrance without getting an idea what it offers (Pieter, I would like a Freemium model).

Routine and habits

Yann wrote:

One of the most important things to get stuff done is to have a routine. And it’s soon hard to get a routine up and running when you’re constantly changing places.

I found this to be THE most important thing for me to get going. To have something I do EVERY day. What helped me soon much to keep on going was to write and publish one blog post every day.

No matter how many hours I spent traveling in a bus, no matter what obstacles I encountered during the day, I always pushed myself to do this one thing.

And once I did it, I was usually able to do some more thing. I think if you don’t have a routine, you won’t be able to make it work.

Strongly agree. Routine or habits put you into an automation mode which makes you do stuff you’re proud of — building a foundation to be able to do other stuff after.

Success is not (always) public

Yann wrote:

The really successful digital nomads, the ones you’ve probably never heard of, the ones who don’t brag about being a digital nomad, are usually the ones who just do it and don’t talk about it. The ones who just do their thing.

The same as in every field I know of. There are super successful nobody knows of because they are busy working on their thing and don’t or rarely do promote what they’re doing to the wide public.

It’s not bad to sell what you’re doing. It’s bad to have no substance behind what you’re doing. Do first, then teach or be open and say:

Hey, I want to learn to xyz. I’m sharing my progress and invite you to be my student and teacher.

Please do more of that because initial transparency in your communication sets the roots for whatever you’re building. People trusting you from the beginning on will be your success element — in the long run.

Freelancing to successfully work and travel

Yann wrote:

The only thing I see how being a digital nomad might work out is to freelance. But this doesn’t work over night. It needs years and years to make a name for yourself.

You can’t just quit your job and start freelancing from an island tomorrow.

You need to build your network first. And your portfolio of clients. And this will take a lot more than just buying an online course on how to build a freedom business.

Freelancing on a comission-basis is a good way for location-independent working. However, clients are or should not be the only source of income. Just like a chair or table it needs 3 pillars or columns to be stable, and Sean McCabe defined three for you, so you can just apply them. He says:

Building and managing

Yann wrote:

What might also work is to just manage an already well running business. A business you’ve already built BEFORE you became a digital nomad.

Starting an online business from scratch, starting anything from scratch while traveling and enjoying life at the same time is just not possible.

I tend to partly disagree. He is a bit rigid here. I’m doing freelance client work right now, co-creating a travel-learn community startup (ON BOARD) and creating a learn-to-write community (Coastery). I live from what my clients think my work is worth to them and have a little monthly income from a Berlin-based photography-event stream (PhotoCityBerlin).

ON BOARD and Coastery don’t provide me a regular income, and I’m doing both from scratch. Without the income from my commission-based work I wouldn’t be able to sustain myself, and I think that’s what Yann actually wants to stay.

So, you either have savings, have jobs you do before and after you build up your online business or rich people who support you financially. Otherwise, you’re out on your own — into the wild. Scaaaaary but also f***ing exciting — because you wanna look back at your life and say:

Oh yeah, that was one hell of an adventure!

Side note: In May 2014 I actually stopped being convinced of working while traveling and called Travel + Work a “failed experiment”.

Also published on Medium.

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