A recent article in Daily Mail highlighted the story of Lauren Juliff, one of the early digital nomads who quit her job in 2011 to travel the world full-time.
As Juliff poignantly shares, “Exploring new countries made me feel alive…for five years.” However, the constant change led to panic attacks and a longing for home.
While I recommend reading her full story in the original piece, it underscores the harsh realities many nomads face, beyond the glamorous Instagram shots. As Juliff noted, “I don’t see a lot of digital nomads sharing the downsides and realities of this lifestyle to their followers.”
In this post, I aim to peel back the curtain and dive deeper into those unspoken struggles.
The Dark Side of Endless Travel: Anxiety, Isolation, and Emptiness
After 5 years of constant travel and change, Juliff began suffering severe and repetitive panic attacks. She attributes this to the lack of stability or predictability in her nomadic lifestyle. Every few weeks brought a new country, friends, cuisine, and language with no consistency.
Juliff also found herself constantly eating out due to changing apartments and kitchens, making her sick and unhealthy. The only thing that helped stop her panic attacks was thinking of home and settling down.
Once Juliff settled down in Lisbon, Portugal, her mental and physical health improved drastically. She was able to make meaningful friendships, pick up hobbies beyond travel, learn to cook healthy meals, and dedicate more time to growing her business, tripling her income.
The roots, community, and stability of settling in one place provided the antidote to Juliff’s panic attacks and nomad burnout. Constant change had taken its toll mentally and physically.
Why The Digital Nomad Trend Has Blown Up Recently
A combination of factors has driven the exponential growth in digital nomadism. Let’s examine the key societal shifts that have made this remote work-travel lifestyle newly possible and popular.
The Ability to Work Remotely
The pandemic has accelerated the shift to remote work, enabling many office jobs to be done from anywhere with an internet connection. This has given people newfound flexibility to travel and live abroad as digital nomads.
The Rise of Freelancing
Platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, etc. have also made freelancing more accessible. This provides income streams for digital nomads pursuing location independence.
Social Media Influence
Influencers on Instagram and TikTok portray exotic, glamorous lifestyles as digital nomads. This provides inspiration and FOMO for their audiences to pursue nomadism.
Younger generations increasingly prioritize experiences and freedom over material possessions and career ladders. Digital nomadism aligns with these evolving lifestyle values.
Improvements in remote collaboration tools, global connectivity, smartphones, and computing power enable seamless working from anywhere.
The alluring promise of freedom, travel and adventure coupled with the means to work remotely has made the digital nomad lifestyle more appealing and attainable than ever for many. However, it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons before pursuing.
Pros And Cons Of The Digital Nomad Lifestyle
- Freedom and flexibility to live and work anywhere in the world
- Ability to travel frequently and experience new cultures
- No daily commute or being stuck in an office 9-5
- Lower cost of living in some foreign destinations
- Adventure of constantly exploring new places
- Working in exotic destinations can spark creativity
- Isolation and lack of community/roots
- Hard to build deep relationships or find like-minded social circles
- Constant change can be taxing and unsettling
- Easy to burnout without structure and routine
- Unstable internet and power outages in remote areas
- Tax/legal complications from perpetual international travel
Is Digital Nomadism For Everyone?
The digital nomad lifestyle may appeal most to independent, adventurous personalities who crave constant change and novelty. Outgoing extroverts tend to thrive best in the lifestyle as they establish connections abroad.
Those who require stability, predictability and community roots are likely to struggle with the disconnection and impermanence of perpetual travel.
Tips For Transitioning To The Digital Nomad Lifestyle
After weighing pros and cons of digital nomad but you still want to explore this lifestyle? Here are some tips for transitioning to a sustainable long-term digital nomad lifestyle:
- Start with shorter 1-3 month stints abroad to test it out before fully committing.
- Set up a routine and create structure for yourself to maintain productivity.
- Make an effort to meet locals and build community in your new destinations.
- Learn basics of the local language wherever you stay for better immersion.
- Alternate periods of movement with basing in a location for a few months to avoid burnout.
- Build regular habits that support mental health – exercise, eating well, journaling.
- Nurture relationships with friends and family back home via video calls.
- Develop hobbies or interests outside of travel/work to maintain balance.
- Set savings goals for the future – retirement, rainy day fund, etc.
- Invest in ergonomic equipment to create a comfortable and productive workspace.
- Prioritize quality accommodations and reliable internet – don’t jeopardize your work.
The exciting digital nomad life shown on social media doesn’t tell the whole story. While travel and adventure can be great, there are also struggles like loneliness and health issues.
Veteran nomads like Juliff teach us important lessons. Taking it slow, making local friends, and finding a home base can help avoid burnout.
With realistic expectations, intentional habits, and some roots, being a digital nomad can be rewarding. But you have to be ready for the hard trade-offs too.
The dream life isn’t perfect. But by being prepared for the challenges, you can make the digital nomad lifestyle work long-term. Just know that it takes effort to keep the glamorous Instagram life from becoming a stressful mess.