Working poolside in the sun will actually roast your laptop faster than you can say “Phi Phi Island."
“How did you get so lucky?”
“Are you always on holiday?”
“When will you finally settle down?”
These are questions often posed to digital nomads, a rapidly rising group of portable professionals who travel and build their careers on the internet. What was once a fringe movement has now gone mainstream due to the mass shift towards remote work that the pandemic ushered in.
A 2021 study found that more than 15.5 million U.S. workers now classify themselves as digital nomads, a 42% increase from the year before. Similarly, Airbnb’s 2021 Travel and Living report found that 11% of their long-stay bookers live nomadic lifestyles. In the same report, a staggering 74% of over 10,000 respondents worldwide wished to move somewhere other than where their employer was located.
Despite the increasing popularity of this lifestyle, plenty of confusion persists about digital nomads. Having been a location-independent travel journalist for several years, I have had my fair share of scrutiny and probing questions ranging from passive-aggressive and accusatory to puzzled and desirous.
I have been fully remote since 2017, when I sold my belongings in London and hopped on a flight to Panama, which I had fallen madly in love with two years prior. I now mentor aspiring and established nomads looking to design their lives around freedom and flexibility. I have gained greater insight into the misconceptions holding people back from taking their jobs on the road. Here are 12 of the most pervasive myths and untruths about the digital nomad lifestyle debunked by the people living it.
Top Picks for You
Digital Nomads Are on a Permanent Vacation
Social media images would have you believe that nomads live a charmed existence of hard-core leisure, sipping umbrella drinks poolside all day, but we simply leverage our ability to work online to access a higher quality of life. Sure, in my time, I have encountered retired crypto millionaires and bonafide members of the FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early), but digital nomads do work, and often very hard. When your job can technically be done anywhere, the lines between work and play rapidly blur, and switching off can be challenging.
Far from not working, many are “freedompreneurs” with multiple income sources. In my case, I write articles for travel publications (like this one), I host a top-rated online travel trivia game, I have five online courses and two books, including Escape to Self—a framework for breaking free from the hidden curriculum of life—and I run Discovery Sessions, a location independence education business where I help freedom lovers travel and work online. It’s not uncommon for nomads to be multihyphenates with their fingers in various digital pies.
You Need a Lot of Money to Be a Digital Nomad
“This couldn’t be further from the truth,” according to Meghann Reilly, an online money and life design coach based between New York City and Mexico. “You’ll likely find that this lifestyle actually puts you in a better financial position,” she asserts. “There are so many lovely cities and countries where the cost of living is probably less than where you live now.” Reilly has helped her clients get more money in their pockets by ridding themselves of rent and car payments, trying more affordable locations, paying off debt, and starting to invest, all while seeing the world. “Money definitely shouldn’t be a barrier to living borderless if that’s what you want,” she adds.
You’re Always Working on the Beach or by the Pool
“Don’t believe the photos you see online.” For Vanessa de Burgo, a lead generation specialist and owner of the virtual assistant company By Magic Solutions, working by the pool or at the beach isn’t practical at all. A digital nomad since 2020, she prides herself on being able to do great work for her clients any time, any place. “From your standard coworking space or coffee shop to parks, hostel bunkbeds, hotel restaurants while taking a break from meals, train stations, and even hairdressers while waiting for my hair to dry; I’ll open up my laptop anywhere.” However, she draws the line at posting up poolside or on the beach. “The thought of a body of water that close to my costly not-waterproof laptop is unthinkable, not to mention the sand and glaring sun on the screen,” she remarks.
You Can Become a Digital Nomad Overnight
Plenty of snake oil sellers purport that you can fast-track your way to full-time travel. While you can simply book a flight and be on a Brazilian beach in a matter of hours, becoming a digital nomad requires a lot more consideration than a vacation. “It’s a process to re-design an entirely new way of living.” Meesh Carra helps would-be itinerant workers do just that with her business, One Way Nomad. “Transitioning from a location-dependent career into a fully nomadic lifestyle involves molding a new mindset, persistence, mentorship, and organized preparation.” Carra, who is also a psychic medium, states that it simply cannot happen overnight, particularly for people seeking a sustainable nomadic lifestyle with purpose and those hoping to secure a career that aligns with their personal values.
Nomads Are Mostly Developers and Tech People
Working remotely opens up the doors of the world, and in reality, most jobs that can be done in an office can be done online from anywhere. Digital nomads are freelancers, founders, and people with full-time remote jobs. There are indeed many developers and tech-savvy wanderers roaming the world’s coworking spaces, but so are translators, consultants, artists, marketers, and photographers. Over the years, I have met and befriended viral TikTokers, fashion e-commerce consultants, podcasters, SEO specialists, CFOs, breathwork coaches, pharmacists, customer success managers, and a filmmaker with a YouTube channel about dating around the world. There are a great many ways to earn a living online and untether yourself to seek greener pastures.
Digital Nomad Life Is Lonely
Working remotely needn’t be a solo affair. Group work and travel programs like Remote Year, Wi-Fi Tribe, and Coworking Safari make it easier for newbies and established nomads to find community on the road. Picking a well-known nomad hub like Bali, Indonesia; Medellin, Colombia; Lisbon, Portugal or Playa del Carmen, Mexico will also help to boost your nomadic network. Fede Vargas is the host of My Most Authentic Life podcast, who has been living and thriving in Playa del Carmen since 2021, where he formed numerous strong social bonds. He highly recommends this Mexican Caribbean beach city for its well-developed infrastructure and nomad camaraderie. “It’s an energetic place with an abundant community spirit weaved together by a network of social media groups.” And how does one meet fellow telecommuting friends there? “Facebook and WhatsApp groups are most prominent,” he says. “From entrepreneurship to fitness, EDM to yoga, there is something for all interests.”
Your Career Will Suffer If You’re a Digital Nomad
Wild success and wonderful adventures do not have to be mutually exclusive, as Justine M. Fulama discovered. She left a mildly enjoyable career in human resources and became a location-independent entrepreneur in 2018. Now a blogger and content creator, she has picked up new skills and feels more confident and in alignment with her work. “Going out on my own forced me to really understand my talents and skills so that I could monetize them,” she states. “I now know about web development and SEO, which I wouldn’t have learned if I stayed in my office job.”
Fulama isn’t the only knowledge professional benefiting from going remote. A recent study of nearly 3,000 companies in the professional services industry in the U.S. found that remote workers earned 17% to 58% more than their non-remote counterparts.
Digital Nomads Travel all the Time
“There is this stereotype that digital nomads have to be in a new country every month, but, having been one for eight years, I’ve seen many people burn out this way.” For Julia Guerra, travel is water for her soul, but she can’t take in too much too fast. The SEO and content marketing strategist and digital nomad lifestyle blogger has lived throughout Latin America and describes herself as a “slowmad,” basing herself in a new country every year or two. “The advantage is that it helps us build a community, follow a healthy routine, focus on our businesses, and immerse ourselves in the local culture,” she notes.
Not all nomads are constantly darting from place to place. Some are indeed perpetual travelers, while others have a few bases that they regularly return to. Some only travel domestically and choose to devour their own backyards. Everyone is free to define their own ideal style of travel.
It’s Only a Phase
“If I had a penny for every time I heard ‘you’ll settle sooner or later,’ I’d be sipping cocktails on my panoramic view balcony on the French Riviera,” declares Croatian nomad Tena Taylor. Being a digital nomad is viewed as a transient state akin to some sort of Peter Pan syndrome, an experience which one must get out of their system before inevitably choosing stability over uncertainty and freedom. Not for Taylor, who has no plans to return to Croatia full-time.
“I have been mesmerized by adventures since I was a little girl,” she states, “and after living, loving, and creating in 10 cities, five countries, and three continents, I can boldly claim that nomadism will be the life-long romance that I’ll never tire of.” A female empowerment coach helping female leaders thrive in their personal and private lives, Taylor acknowledges that the travel lifestyle is not for everyone. “Becoming nomadic is a pure expression of undiluted liberty, and only those who are completely into it will ‘get’ it,” she proclaims.
All You Need Is an Internet Connection
“It’s true that an internet connection is a requirement, but you need a little bit more than that,” says Julie Renson, who co-founded Noskua, a SaaS platform for event marketers. “If like me, you have a lot of calls, you need a really good, high-speed internet connection and a quiet place, so your clients don’t hear background noises,” she advises. A nomad who has traveled and lived in Vietnam, Argentina, Ivory Coast, and Guatemala, Renson looks for comfort wherever she works. “Choose a place with not too many power outages, so your work isn’t continuously interrupted, find an apartment with a backup generator, always leave the house with your laptop battery fully charged and bring an extension cord in case there is only one wall socket where you go.” Her most important tip? “Don’t skip the basics: a desk and a chair at home.”
Life Is Always Exciting
Turning your out of office on indefinitely certainly has its perks, but every day isn’t idyllic. There are some obvious drawbacks to digital nomadism, like homesickness, language barriers, and things people don’t think about, like currency fatigue. There might be new smells and flavors to bite into, world-class beaches or iconic monuments steps away, but you have to roll your sleeves up and labor away on your computer while potentially playing scheduling battleship with colleagues or clients in different time zones. You might travel somewhere and then find out a natural disaster is about to occur (Puerto Escondido, Mexico) or have a medical emergency (a fish bone stuck in my throat for a week in Panama, resulting in a laryngoscopy). There is undoubtedly potential for masterpiece days, but some feel more like Groundhog Day when you complete repetitive admin tasks like apartment hunting and researching travel requirements.
The Digital Nomad Lifestyle is Unattainable
You don’t need to be independently wealthy, have social media infamy or be an influencer to be a digital nomad. If you have digital skills, you’re halfway there. You can land a remote job, ask your current office job if you can work remotely, freelance, become a digital entrepreneur and set up your own company, move your brick-and-mortar business online, or buy an existing online business so you’re not bound to any one location and can travel.
If you have grown weary of your commute and no longer believe that work should be a place, make a plan and perhaps get a mentor to guide you toward location independence. Being a digital nomad is an education in the world where you get to fill your days with your desired life ingredients, be it sunshine, juicy tacos, or a like-minded community of wanderers. For this, I do feel incredibly lucky.