The digital nomad dilemma

Travel is often sacrificed in favour of work, money and stability, making it easy to fall into a repetitive cycle of continuous work with no play. We need to work, we need the money, we need the travel. So why not combine all of the above?

Enter, the digital nomad. In the age of technology, more and more can be done with a laptop than ever before. I am writing this in the UK, but who’s to say I couldn’t write this on Copacabana Beach? All one needs is a laptop and a stable WiFi connection, and you are good to make yourself a fully nomadic earner. Most digital nomads operate through a business they have started, whether that be offering a service, creating a product or art, or simply doing a job they previously did domestically but instead working remotely. Graphic design, writing, tutoring, website design, social media work are some of the careers and industries up for grabs here.

For years now I have followed YouTube accounts and blogs describing this life seemingly perfectly. These people have such a following and skill, that they can hop from country to country, while funding their trip with a few taps of a keyboard.

Kara and Nate, a personal favourite YouTube channel of mine, used savings to take off and travel for one year, to then return home and continue as ‘normal’. A decision they made to record videos as they went was initially for the pure joy and the fun, but when their following increased, they could then begin to rely on the income they made to fund more travel, before deciding to keep going until they reached their goal of visiting 100 countries, a goal they achieved in December.

Now, that sounds like a dream, but getting to this level is often very idealistic. Kara and Nate did not embark with the expectation they would hit a million subscribers, instead enjoying the travel for what it was with their side hobby being a manifestation of that travel. The assumption that the digital nomad lifestyle will work out seamlessly and money will flow consistently is absurd, which is a stark reminder that anyone looking to pursue this lifestyle needs to heed.

This is yet another example of the age-old cyclical dilemma of finding work without having worked. As a passionate writer, I would love to go freelance and work abroad, but I cannot do that without clients. How do I get clients? By doing work and having experience. How do I get experience? Clients. Infuriating, I know.

This cycle is very hard to break. Making this even harder is the over-saturation of industries where remote work is possible and easy. So many people share this dream and dilemma that I just described, but the amount of jobs is not changing. More to the point, as touched on earlier, when clients are obtained, there is no guarantee that the job intake will be constant. One may go for six months with no work, meaning funds run dry and problems arise. There is no way it can be predicted, so if you are a person who needs security, maybe have a rethink.

More to the point, the mental adjustments needing to be made to pursue this life and make it work are unparalleled. There needs to be a mental resilience to push through the tough times, problem solving will also be key, and a love for what you do is absolutely essential. Of course, travel is great, but falling into a field of work purely for the sake of having this opportunity is a bad idea. This could be a career that supports you for multiple years, and you would not stick at a job you hated unless there was no other choice, so the same applies when on the road.

How, then, does one break into the nomadic life and live under the sun for the rest of their days? My answer would be to build a base back home, wherever that may be. Build clientele and then, once income is more guaranteed, book the ticket. The whimsical lifestyle I am describing is very easily fixated on, and reckless and misinformed decisions can be made. What happens if you can’t find work? What happens if you run out of money?

I would be the first to tell you how amazing this lifestyle sounds, but it obviously comes with a strong overwhelming insecurity and risk. Sure, it seems great, but it comes with so many risks that in my mind, counteract the gains. I suggest a hefty pros and cons list before any decisions are made, because this lifestyle is not for everyone.  

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About Author

Sam Hewitson

Travel Editor - 2019/20

Editor-In-Chief - 2020/21

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December 2021
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