The benefits of being a digital nomad are well publicized and are what draw so many to this lifestyle in the first place. What’s harder to talk about, and what often gets glossed over, are the very real obstacles you will encounter along the way.
It’s been more than three years since I started my location-independent business and I’ve seen my fair share of highs and lows. Below are the top digital nomad challenges I’ve faced, and the exact solutions I found to overcome them.
1. Friends and family not understanding how I could be "at work" when I’m not in an office.
Of all the challenges I’ve faced, this one hurts the most on a personal level. People mistakenly believe my life is an endless vacation. Whenever I travel abroad, whether it's Peru or France, someone asks if they can join me for extended stays. While I’d love to see them, the fact of the matter is I’m working. Asking to stay with a digital nomad for an extended period of time and expecting them to host you is basically like barging into an employee’s office in the middle of a workday. You wouldn’t do that to a friend who works a desk job, would you?
Solution: Set boundaries -- and stick to them!
I find it’s best to let go of the expectation that your relatives or even your best friend will ever understand your digital nomad lifestyle. Even so, it is important to set boundaries with them. Make it clear when you are at work and when you are not. If they want to join you on your travels, make sure they’re okay with exploring the city on their own while you work, or ask them to visit you on weekends (if those are the days you have off).
It’s been hard handling this because I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, but even when I’ve had friends join me in a foreign place, I let them know when I have a deadline, and then I go do my work in a separate place (usually a local coffee shop). They can go exploring, and we meet up later. Those who truly love you will respect your boundaries and your work.
2. Not having a stable address.
Digital nomads love to say they have no set address -- but that simply can’t be true. You have to have an address. It's required to pay taxes, it's required for your ID cards, and it's definitely required for any business!
Solution: Pick a city to use as your home base, and open up a private or virtual mailbox there.
Since I move so much, I opened a private mailbox with The UPS Store in my home base, San Francisco. Employees will email you notifications whenever you receive mail. You can also authorize people to pick up mail for you.
Alternatively, you can use a virtual mailbox like TravelingMailbox.com. They’ll scan all your mail so you can access it online from anywhere in the world. I haven’t used them myself, but I’ve heard good things.
3. Feeling lonely.
I'm an introvert and a solo traveler; I do really well alone. So I was shocked when I found myself feeling depressed after I quit my desk job. Without the constant interaction with my coworkers and the supervision of my manager, I felt down and unmotivated.
Join online entrepreneur communities. Ones I recommend: One Woman Shop (of course!) and Blog + Biz BFFs.
Ask a fellow business owner to be your accountability partner. It is crucial to have a confidante who is also a business owner; they can understand you on a level that friends and family can’t. I have a “business bestie” who’s also a solopreneur, and we check in via video chat every Friday for one hour. This has done wonders for my productivity and sanity. She holds me accountable and offers advice that others simply wouldn’t know how to give!
For fun, try Meetup.com. When I was feeling lonely in Paris, I went to a Spanish conversation Meetup. It was great to connect with locals and expats while also practicing my Spanish skills!
4. Juggling travel and work.
Constant travel can undermine your personal and business health. Many of us live this lifestyle because we dread routine, yet routine is essential to productivity. Each time you travel to a new location, you’re having to find the stable wi-fi connection, where to live, where to buy groceries, and more. If you’re constantly changing locations, your mental energy will be spent on making sense of your surroundings, and there won’t be much left to focus on your business.
Solution: Travel slowly.
This is why I’m an advocate of slow travel. I stayed in Cusco, Peru, for four and a half months. This allowed me to rent an apartment, set up my own wi-fi, and work as needed. I stayed in Paris for five weeks, also renting my own apartment and settling into a routine. Now I’m based out of San Francisco and spend most of my time here. Being location independent doesn’t mean you have to change locations every day. Go with what works best for you.
5. Feeling burnt out.
As a location-independent solopreneur, work life can sometimes overlap with personal life to the point I can’t even distinguish between the two. This becomes especially problematic while traveling. My hotel room, airplane seat, or restaurant table becomes my office, and it can be hard to switch out of “work mode” and enjoy my surroundings.
Solution: Take a real vacation!
As an employee, you’re given vacation days. As a solopreneur, you have to give yourself the vacation days! It’s so easy to forget, especially because you’re the sole person responsible for your business, but taking a vacation is crucial to recharge your batteries and come back to work refreshed and productive.
Though I'd traveled a lot since starting my business in 2013, I didn't take a real vacation (you know, the kind where you don't do any work) until late 2015! I was so caught up in making sure I was growing my business that I neglected my personal well-being.
Before taking my vacation, I wrote an email to all my clients one month in advance, explaining that I would be on vacation (it’s important you use that actual word!) and would be unavailable for one week. I told them if there was anything urgent, they could send me an email with “urgent” in the subject line. A few days before I left, I sent them a reminder email going over what they could expect from me while I was away. I then had a friend check my inbox daily and let me know if there were any urgent emails (you can also hire a virtual assistant for this). At the end of that week, I felt amazing and was able to be more creative and productive with my clients! Vacation does wonders.
I hope sharing my lessons learned as a digital nomad will help others going through similar challenges. Whenever you find yourself struggling, just remember why you began. Being location independent is not easy, but it affords you the freedom to work from anywhere, call your own shots, and explore the world -- something most people only dream about. For me, it is definitely worth it!
Latest posts by Amy Rigby (see all)
- 5 Challenges of Being a Digital Nomad (And How I Overcame Them) - July 27, 2016
- 9 Ways to Prepare Your Location-Independent Business for the Road - August 12, 2015