This post is part of our new “Digital Nomad Girls 101” blog series where we talk about all the basics of the digital nomad lifestyle. Today we call out the biggest digital nomad myths and tell you why they’re full of crap.
Few lifestyles are as shrouded in mystery as that of the digital nomad (ok, maybe apart from vampires and and the yeti, but you know what I mean). Since Tim Ferriss published his 4-Hour Workweek in 2007, digital nomads have become a hot topic. Sadly, there’s also a lot of hot air, plenty of colourful stereotypes and a ton of utter nonsense surrounding this lifestyle.
There’s undoubtedly something romantic about the idea of travelling wherever the wind takes you and making money online with only a few hours’ work a day. But the truth is, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
That’s why today we’re writing about the 6 biggest digital nomad myths and why they’re full of crap:
1. We all work from the pool/beach/lake (insert any body of water + a few inflatable pool toys and you get the picture)
Admit it, you’ve seen this kind of photo before: a tanned young nomad, tapping away while sipping a cocktail at the pool, Macbook sparkling silvery in the soft afternoon sun and inflatable unicorn floating in the background (did I mention I really really want an inflatable unicorn flamingo?).
Maybe you’ve even taken that same picture. But here’s the thing:
I call bullshit.
Don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of taking this kind of instagrammable pic myself. It’s a lot of fun and a great visual metaphor for the kind of freedom this lifestyle can afford.
But the reality is that no digital nomad who actually wants to get some work done ever does it at the beach or in the bright sun at the pool. And why would anyone actually want to work at the pool? When I’m at the pool, I want to play with pool noodles and drink coconuts with rum inside. Not work. That’s lame.
So apart from the technical issues of sand/water/chlorine in your keyboard and a mean sun glare, it’s not really that desirable to take your work with you anywhere you go. It’s important to draw the line between work and play, even if you love your job, which can be a huge challenge for many digital nomads. So next time you see a laptop-on-the-beach pic, don’t be jealous, pity that poor workaholic beachbum.
2. We all make money while we sleep
Aaah, this one’s a classic too. While I’m sure it can’t solely be blamed on the 4-Hour Workweek, I’m sure Tim Ferris’ teachings in this book about passive income have a lot to answer for when it comes to myth #2.
Passive income is the type of income that you generate without having to put in any (or much) continuing effort. Examples include affiliate income made through an affiliate link in a two-year old blog post, or sales on an evergreen course you created once and still brings in money.
While this type of income certainly exists and is obviously awesome, I think it’s also super important to note that a) it’s usually not quite as passive as it’s cracked up to be, and b) you don’t need to make passive income in order to be a digital nomad.
In fact, most digital nomads are either freelancers or remote employees, meaning that they exchange their expertise and time for money while helping their clients solve certain problems.
Many digital nomads now add passive income streams to their businesses, which is great in terms of income stability (you make some money even if you aren’t fully booked with clients that month), but it certainly isn’t a requirement to be a digital nomad. Sure, it definitely adds to your financial freedom and can free up time for travelling, knitting, or whatever other hobbies you might have.
However, I bring this up as a myth because there are a looot of online ‘gurus’ who are trying to sell the dream of passive income and make it out to be an easy solution.
Passive income is never 100% passive, you always have to put the effort in to create, maintain, and analyze whatever it is you create and sell online, which can be a huge amount of work itself.
So, don’t think that I hate passive income – I think it’s awesome – but don’t think you need to become a blogger to be a digital nomad. You’d be surprised at how many aspiring nomad girls with awesome skills and experience think they have to start a blog before they can become location independent.
3. We’re all poor as church mice
This myth lies at completely the other end of the financial spectrum of digital nomad stereotypes, but is also very common and completely wrong.
Are there many nomad noobies who are still getting their feet wet, living cheaply in places like Chiang Mai, Thailand and living off meagre blogging or freelance income?
I know that because it’s exactly how I started out. I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting small and working your way up, especially if you don’t yet have any experience or skills that are easily transferred online.
But the good news is that it doesn’t have to remain that way.
Many digital nomads who work as freelancers or remote employees make a great living, often earning more than they did in their previous corporate jobs while working fewer hours and doing work they love. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you spend some time in cheaper countries, but this should never be the basis of your digital nomad strategy, just a perk or a way to help you get started.
Once you have experience and have found your niche and ideal clients, it’s time to scale your business and make more money.
4. We’re always on holiday
This one is a biggie and I’m sure it won’t go anywhere anytime soon. This is definitely exacerbated by myth #1 (we’re always working by the pool), as most people seem to think digital nomads are constantly on holiday. I don’t know about you, but this kinda bugs me sometimes.
This myth can actually be really annoying, especially when you’re visiting home and people assume you’ll be available at any time for coffee/shopping trips/paddleboarding or any other non-work related activity, just because you work for yourself. I mean yes, I work remotely, but the emphasis is still on work.
It might not sound like a big deal and a bit of a first world problems, but for me personally it ties in with the feeling of guilt that I don’t spend enough time with my family or friends. I know, huge FOMO (anyone else??).
The truth is that most digital nomads actually work a lot, or at least more than most would expect. Part of the reason for that is many of us actually love what we do, so it’s hard to switch off. The other reason we often work crazy hours is that our work-life separation can be pretty blurred, with work dragging out because there are no set hours. That’s why it’s so important to create productive habits as a digital nomad.
5. We travel all the time
This is one of the biggest myths and also something that can put off a lot of new nomads. A lot of people have the impression that we are constantly roaming the planet with our little carry-on suitcases, travelling wherever the wind blows but never really stopping.
It sounds super romantic and adventurous. And super exhausting.
Travelling can already be exhausting, especially if you travel fast (think 11 European cities in 3 weeks kinda fast). But add actual work into the mix, client deadlines, time differences and meetings, and I bet you’d be exhausted after a month maximum.
Most digital nomads either travel slowly or have a home base that they travel from. That doesn’t mean they’re bad digital nomads, it just means they prioritise their mental and physical health, enjoy having a certain routine and like to get to know a new place and people better before moving onto the next destination.
The best part of location independence is the independence, which means you can travel as much or as little as you like. The option is yours.
6. It’s a lonely life
Noooo! I know that one of the biggest worries of aspiring digital nomad girls is that they’ll be travelling all by themselves, working alone in cafes or Airbnbs, and basically being homesick and lonely all the time.
I’ll admit that this was also one of my fears, but it doesn’t have to be this way – trust me. There are sooo many great ways to meet new people, make friends and stay in touch while travelling, meaning that loneliness should not put you off this lifestyle.
That’s exactly why I started the DNG Facebook Group, to meet like-minded DNGs and make friends. That’s the mission of DNG and the DNG Inner Circle, where we can give more accountability and foster ongoing relationships.
Coworking and coliving spaces are also popping up all over the world and are a great way to meet other nomads. One other thing that is invaluable for me is to actually spend quality time with my online friends offline, whether it be at retreats, conferences or other nomad specific events.
The best part is that you can plan your trips around your new friends, and meet up or explore new places together, yay!
There you have it, 6 digital nomad myths that are definitely full of crap. Of course, there will always be people who will try to sell you these myths as the dream lifestyle or use them to put you off your nomadic dreams.
Now that you know the reality, I hope you feel less intimidated or worried to go nomadic yourself. Are there any other digital nomad myths that bug you? Why not share them with us in the comments!