The pros and cons of being location independent

Do phrases like rat race, 9 to 5, or case of the Mondays, lead you to ponder signing up for a lobotomy? Are you pining away on Instagram looking at images from people living the digital nomad lifestyle?

Certainly, there are many people out there that can relate to the unbearable tedium of spending eight hours in the office counting the minutes and peeking above the beige cubicle wall to ensure nobody can see you playing solitaire instead of working.

That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with working a traditional schedule. Not everyone can launch into new and exotic places every few months when what they love is the life they have built at home. But for others, like long-time nomads Hermina Solomon and her husband, “The idea of running the clock until retirement is not appealing at all.”

What defines a digital nomad?

The term “digital nomad” gets thrown around a lot. It has become a catch-all phrase for people who endeavor to maintain a livable income while having no fixed address. This typically involves a person spending a large amount of their “workday” on a laptop and other devices to make that income possible. Digital nomad jobs can range across many fields; photography, copywriter, marketer, computer programmer, just to name a handful of common occupations that fit well with the lifestyle. Teaching English online has also become a popular choice among nomads in recent years.

Whether you are backpacking or jet-setting around the world, the unifying factor is that you don’t need to stay in one spot should you fancy traveling to another locale. Someone who decides to take on a new direction in his life after 20 years of corporate is just as qualified to be a digital nomad as the recent college graduate looking to build her own travel photography brand.

Ready to sign up? But wait–

Perhaps you’ve got the travel bug, but you’re not a millionaire (yet). Or you want to find out if you can really capture that perfect picture of a piña colada in a hulled out pineapple sitting next to a laptop while overlooking a white sand beach (you can!). The allure of the travel lifestyle may draw many people to try their hand at packing up and setting out. But don’t let the Instagram pictures fool you. The nomad lifestyle can be lonely, hard work, and disappointing. For every image you see of someone getting a luxurious massage at the base of some unpronounceable volcano, there are 30 days spent working in a cramped hotel room at odd hours because the internet only works when it wants. Before you buy your one-way ticket, here are the pros and cons to help you decide if the digital nomad lifestyle is for you.

digital nomads looking at map

The Digital PRO-mads

Never suffer through a cold winter or humid summer again. Location independence means choosing where you settle down and changing your place of residence whenever you want. Sending pictures of sunbathing at the beach while your family is shivering through a New England winter never gets old.  

Experiencing new places and adventures cannot be summed up and labeled with a price tag. The world is a large and beautiful place. Solomon and her husband now get to share the world with their children as they journey across the United States in an RV. “Nomadic lifestyle has provided my family the ability to spend time together while experiencing different cultures through the art of travel,” she says.

Some people can use their home currency to drastically boost their quality of life while in countries with lower costs of living. Making $2500 a month while in NYC is barely enough to pay rent, while $2500 a month in Bangkok equates to a very comfortable lifestyle or a chance to build savings.

You are your own boss. You can set your vacation days and prioritize what’s most important to you, whether that’s family, travel or you-time. Kiki Johansen manages her own online business and is currently located in Mexico. For her, the best part of the nomad lifestyle is that “you can travel and still make a living. You’re not being overlooked for promotions, and you’re not stuck in a cubicle or at a cash register for 10 hours a day.”

The Digital NO-mads

You will spend a lot–like an inordinate amount–of time on the computer or your phone. And, you may be up at different hours of the day to accommodate time zone differences. Sometimes your destinations are picked for you because that city or country has the best internet connection options. That’s where the “digital” part of this way of life comes in. But just as in an average 9 to 5 job, it’s vital to maintain work-life balance and put away the devices so you can enjoy the scenery around you.

female digital nomad working

On the other hand, it’s easy to put aside work so you can have fun instead. After all, there isn’t a boss or a timesheet keeping you glued to your desk!  Keeping motivated and dedicated to what you do is key. Whether it’s setting a schedule or meditating to stay focused, you can’t forget to work sometimes. “Time is yours to do what you want. But, time does get away from you if you don’t have a schedule,” says Solomon. Whether it’s setting a daily goal for yourself or meditating to keep focused, sometimes you do have to sit down and work. Otherwise, you might find yourself surviving on instant noodles at the end of the month.

You are your own boss! That means taking on the responsibilities and liabilities that a company would typically take on. ”You have to make sure you have some money put aside for any medical bills or retirement as there are no medical benefits being paid for you,” cautions Johansen.

Decision time

Choosing to become a digital nomad is a serious undertaking. The most important consideration is to be honest and realistic with yourself about your expectations and ability to self-manage. It can be a fantastic experience that leads to dramatic new opportunities, or it can be an arduous journey. Either way, it will be life-changing.

I started teaching English abroad after graduating from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts with a degree in English Literature. Although I originally planned to teach in Cambodia for a year, I discovered I had a passion for helping students around the world achieve their academic, professional and personal goals through language learning. I’ve been an Alo7 tutor since April 2017 and am currently living in South America.

I am Chinese-Japanese American, but sadly, I’m not trilingual. I grew up in a relatively “Western” household–no Tiger Moms but plenty of fried rice and a healthy dose of Asian guilt. My favorite part of English teaching is getting the opportunity to learn about my students’ daily lives, traditions and customs, so I’m very excited to be writing about Chinese culture on the Alo7 blog!

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