We’ve all read articles about running a location-independent business and working four hours a week, while sitting on the beach and raking in the money.
This isn’t one of those articles. What this is: My honest version of what my location-independent lifestyle looks like as I travel and run my solo business.
In my reading about being location independent (I’ve done a lot), I’ve discovered several myths that are believed to be true -- ones I’ve been able to debunk throughout my experiences. Before I get to those, though, please remember this: Everyone’s version of running a location-independent business and living the digital nomad lifestyle is different.
Now, let’s dig in.
Myth #1: Running a location-independent business is lonely
I’m not going to lie -- yes, it can be. You have most likely left your family and friends back home to travel to places where no one knows you. But, it doesn’t have to be lonely.
First thing’s first: Go slow -- you’re not on a vacation. Meet your neighbors, learn the basics of the language, find niche communities in your area. One of the best ways to assimilate as a business owner is to find co-working spaces and/or cafes where other people are working -- and strike up conversations. Often, these people are in the same boat as you and you can find common ground.
In my case, I am currently in Mexico doing volunteer work with my husband, so our community of fellow volunteers has become our “Mexico family,” relieving any feelings of loneliness I experienced when first arriving.
Other ways to beat the feelings of loneliness are in online communities. It’s not always the same, but often there are entrepreneurs traveling through the same area that you can catch up and share your experiences with.
Of course, sometimes nothing beats catching up with family and friends back home. Fortunately, there are a plethora of apps that allow for regular catch-ups without breaking the bank. Some of my favorites: Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, and Voxer.
Myth #2: You get to work from the beach every day
We’ve all heard this one -- and it’s a big attraction for some, but not for me. Don’t get me wrong, it can be done in certain places. But in my case? It doesn’t quite work: the best beaches are deserted, which means no internet, I don’t enjoy having sand in my laptop keys, and I don’t associate the beach with work -- I associate it with relaxation.
Instead, I work from my little apartment most of the time, sometimes breaking it up to work at a cafe. To get outside and enjoy the scenery, I’ll often take a break and go for a walk to the Malecon (ocean boardwalk) to enjoy the sunset with the locals, then come back and finish working.
My working hours vary depending on the project and the client, but on average I work 20 hours per week, and I am more productive in an environment where I can concentrate without too many distractions. The beach just isn’t one of those.
Myth #3: Running a location-independent business is easy
This isn’t meant to scare you off; rather, it’s to point out that it’s not as easy as packing up your laptop and charging cord and hitting the road.
A truly location-independent, digital nomad lifestyle takes a lot of initial planning to get your mindset right, prepare your family and clients back home, figure out what to do with your stuff (sell or store), successfully set up your finances, and more.
Once you start traveling, language barriers can be difficult. There are times when you get frustrated because you don’t understand what is going on, but it all comes down to your mindset and your attitude. Quite simply, if you can laugh at yourself, you will be fine.
Here’s a story that might help with that: When my husband and I were first here in Mexico, we learnt the correct phrases (in Spanish) to ask for people who spoke English. One afternoon, my husband was having difficulty pronouncing certain words and rolling his ‘R’s. (We’re Australian -- we don’t pronounce ever our R’s!) So instead of asking for people -- “personas” -- who speak English, he was asking for nipples -- “pezones” -- who speak English! The locals had a good laugh at his expense, and so did he once he realized what he was saying. Making an effort to learn some of the language gives you insight into their culture, and sometimes into your own personality flaws.
Another difficulty can be time zone differences. In my case, all of my clients are back home in Australia. This means a time zone difference of 16 hours, so if I want to schedule meetings, it’s always in the afternoon-evening or late at night, if needed. It’s all part of being location independent.
Myth #4: Location independence is expensive
If you live as a location-independent business owner in the same way you vacation, then yes, it can get expensive. You cannot maintain that level of spending and live long term as a location-independent entrepreneur.
It’s important to establish your level of what you can and can’t live without. When on the road, can you live without hot water; plush comfy sofas; air conditioning? In my case, here in Mexico, I can live without hot water in the summer. (It’s too hot to have a hot shower!) But, air conditioning is essential for me. Knowing what you can and can’t live without will help you determine your expenses. You’ll be surprised at what you can do without and still enjoy the experience.
Living frugally doesn’t mean that tickets, other accommodations, food, memberships, and more, won’t add up. This is where you need to get creative: There are always deals on flights, and if you search for accommodations where the locals search (not always on sites like AirBnB and Craigslist), you can find some good deals. I found that searching for accommodations online in Spanish allowed me to find cheaper accommodations here in Mexico.
Myth #5: That much time spent with your spouse/partner is crazy
To be honest, this is one I was concerned about most, as since my partner and I have been together, we had always worked full time for different companies. In fact, back home, I worked out that I was spending more time with my co-workers than with my husband.
In reality though, this lifestyle has brought us closer together. For one, we are experiencing different things together, both good and bad. Second, while I still have my work, he is able pursue his own interests, and though we spend most of our time together, we haven’t gotten sick of each other, even after six years of living as on-and-off digital nomads.
A truth: Running a location-independent business isn’t for everyone
Everyone’s version of location independence will differ -- and for some, the lifestyle may not be appealing at all.
Sometimes, I find it challenging and frustrating because nothing is the same as the comfort zone of home, but overall I find it extremely rewarding. I have learnt a lot about myself as a person, and as an entrepreneur. (Not all of it good!) But the biggest truth I’ve learned is this: As long as you have the right mindset and don’t take yourself too seriously, you can do it, too.
Are you currently location independent? What are the biggest myths you’ve found? Tell me your version.