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Build Your Career Work-Life Balance

Inside the Life of a Digital Nomad

Inside the Life of a Digital Nomad
Credit: Alex Brylov/Shutterstock

With today's technology, it's no surprise that many jobs can, in fact, be done outside of the office. The workplace is becoming increasingly digital, and increasing numbers of employees are opting to work from home, travel or create their own schedule. Enter the age of digital nomads.

"Having a job that allows you to be a digital nomad is the ultimate flexible work environment,” said Phil Shawe, co-CEO and co-founder of translation service provider TransPerfect. "With just a laptop, Wi-Fi connection and [a] phone, you're armed with everything you need to do your job and be successful."

Most people dream of the chance to live life on their own terms while getting paid to do what they love, but what is it like to be a remote worker? We asked several members of the digital nomad community about the pros and cons of the digital nomad lifestyle and what a day in their lives is typically like.

There are some obvious upsides to working remotely, from selecting your office each day to thriving in spontaneity.

"The perks are many and varied," said Colin Wright, author and international speaker of Exile Lifestyle. "Most of them revolve around the freedom to go and do things that other people don't find to be easily attained. You can live where you want to live, be around whomever you want to be around, [and] spend your time on projects that you think are valuable and important."

Shawe also noted the obvious benefits of no commute times and more flexibility: "Remote workers are able to work at hours when they feel most productive, whether this [is] very early in the morning or late at night."

There is no set schedule for these nomads, so it's up to them to choose their hours and follow through with their assignments and tasks. This allows them to channel their work through their adventures and experiences.

"They are able to travel while working; they are not bound to any particular office locale, meaning they can come and go as they please," said Shawe. "In turn, this can spur creativity. Being surrounded by a different environment, culture and way of life will definitely spark ideas that workers wouldn't previously have thought of in an office environment."

Being a digital nomad may look relaxing – you may picture an individual working on the beach with their laptop perched on their lap. But according to Manuel Ebert, founding partner of summer.ai, a machine intelligence agency, and cinematographer of a documentary on digital nomads, daily decisions can become taxing after a while.

Ebert became a digital nomad when his U.S. visa expired and he, on a whim, journeyed to Tokyo to work while waiting for a new one. Normally, he doesn't stay in one country for more than three months; his way of finding motivation is exploring a new environment, meeting new people, trying new food and creating new adventures.

"A lot of digital nomads struggle with loneliness," Ebert told Business News Daily. "In a way, introverts are the better nomads – if you're getting your energy from being around friends, you might have a much bumpier start."

Rob Erich, founder of Money Nomad, a site that helps aspiring digital nomads, said the main challenges he faces are finding ways to balance work and fun, maintaining healthy relationships from home and locally, and staying motivated to achieve goals.

"Motivation is one of the hardest parts of not having a regular office," he said. "I've known many people who failed as freelancers, entrepreneurs and digital nomads because of a lack of motivation or discipline."

A "typical day" varies depending on the nomad. Since they can create their own schedule, they aren't held accountable for working a strict 9-to-5 business day. However, that doesn't mean they sleep until noon, work a few hours and then party all night.

"Contrary to popular belief, most digital nomads aren't living a four-hour work week and surfing the rest of the time," Erich said. "Misinterpreting 'digital nomad' for 'perpetual vacationer' will quickly result in someone running out of money and finding themselves miserable in a foreign land."

It's clear there's a hurdle in terms of perceptions that remote workers must overcome. However, just because they lack a permanent location or can pack up and go wherever and whenever they desire does not mean that digital nomads don't complete their work.

"I like to get up early, around 6 a.m., and start working early … [I] frequently leav[e] whichever co-working space I'm in around 2 p.m.," said Ebert. "I want to use my afternoons to explore the country around me. I feel focused and productive in the mornings and often get more done in six hours than I would get done in nine hours in an office."

If you're interested in the digital nomad life, Ebert advises focusing on creating a career that is feasible to develop. Though the process may seem impulsive, it shouldn't be that way at all, he said. You'll want to make practical decisions to ensure a smooth transition and an overall successful endeavor.

"Burning through your savings, feeling lonely, losing touch with friends and family are all completely OK for a few months or a year, if you're looking for a transformative experience. But as a lifestyle, that's not sustainable, and burnout is a real problem in the digital nomad community," Ebert added.

Many people believe that working remotely is a goal they feel they'll never achieve, but it may not be as unrealistic as some think it is. According to Erich, anyone who does most of their work on a computer can become a digital nomad. He grew up in a family that values travel, new experiences and different cultures, so leaving his previous job to pursue his own project felt like a natural process for him.

"You only need to make two decisions in order to become a digital nomad," Erich told Business News Daily. "One, develop a skillset that you can monetize online, often based on your current job or hobbies. Two, buy a plane ticket."

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela is a recent graduate of Rowan University, where she majored in writing arts and minored in journalism. She currently works as a Purch B2B staff writer while working on her first novel in her free time. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.