7 January 2021
Nicoletta Marchionne
Reading time: 6 mins

A few years back, "digital nomads" were not so popular, while now it seems to be a new trend among millennials. The previously almost exclusive lifestyle to travel bloggers has now spread to other professional profiles due to the increase of smart working.

Translators, language teachers, and more, those involved in customer service, sales, commercial development, digital marketing, web programmers, and many more, working most of the time remotely, can aspire to become digital nomads.

It is no coincidence that I used the word "aspire" I bet that many of you link the words "digital nomads" to the image of those guys on Instagram, working on the beach, drinking pina colada or sipping from a coconut shell, with palm trees and hammocks. 

Although life as a digital nomad is exciting, full of adventures, and admirable, to admire is also the strong spirit of adaptation of all the people who decide to embark on this lifestyle.

"Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die" like everyone wants to work while sitting on the beach, but not everyone wants to do what it takes. The "beach and coconut" part is only an itsy bitsy part of that lifestyle.

Although it does not come as first thought, behind the perfect Instagram post, with dream locations between Bali and Chiang Mai, there are a whole series of difficulties for those who have chosen to live a life in constant motion, far from their country and their own affections, always sharing spaces with different people.

A few weeks back, in one of the many Facebook groups for digital nomads, someone asked about the struggles and negative aspects of life as digital nomads. I enjoyed grouping the nearly 600 responses, highlighting the most common replies.

Some joked that working on the beach was actually a nightmare, struggling between the sun's reflection, the heat, the sand in the laptop, the often weak internet connection, but then among the most common answers, far more serious inconveniences came up.

Many put first the difficulty of finding satisfactory housing every time they move to another country. Difficulties include both bureaucratic difficulties, often without a local employment contract and without local documents, it is difficult if not impossible, to rent an apartment without an agency. Not to mention contract electricity, the internet, and all the utilities. Agencies obviously are more expensive, moreover many people are not very happy to rely on websites like Airbnb, following bad past experiences.

Another widespread point was loneliness, often underestimated before starting the digital nomad life. The new community you find while traveling is not always able to compensate for homesickness, and you easily end up missing friends and family. For many people who live far from home, no matter how consciously they decide to live free and nomadic, having to miss important events in the lives of their loved ones and somehow disconnect from their home remains one of the most negative aspects of their life choice. 

Often connecting with the local community is not always that easy, and it takes time. If you only bond with the digital nomads' community, you risk becoming part of a group of people, who are very like-minded to you and have the same lifestyle, so they often leave or change location. Digital nomads struggle to have stable and long-term relationships.

Among the various comments of the past, there were also several tips on how to overcome these difficulties. More than one person proposed co-living as a solution both for housing, as that type of accommodation and facilities should be able to satisfy the common housing needs of digital nomads, and for the social aspect: coliving often facilitate the bond with the community that lives there and helps to acclimate to the new surroundings. 

Some co-living, such as "cohubitat," try to select their community matching their profiles and the period of stay of the entire group, so they can live the whole experience together. The host of the coliving is also a key figure for discovering the local life and to connect with the locals.

Packing light is also painful. Even if you don't want to while living abroad, you often accumulate new things. Still, if domestic movements are already painful and expensive, international movements are much worse!

You can avoid moving many things around by choosing a fully equipped accommodation where you don't need to buy anything and go digital. Instead of collecting those beautiful paper books, I know you like to leaf through and look at them every now and then. You can still switch to the digital version: an e-reader is an excellent space/weight saver solution, and it is also green! The e-reader helps, yes, but unfortunately, it is not the solution; many digital nomads also carry a lot of digital equipment with them for work, so traveling light is often a challenge for everyone! As for clothing, It is worth spending on certain tech clothing, lighter but performing; without going into details, I stop by saying that digital nomads often end up traveling only with the essentials.

Not having a "fixed" address and residency is another issue that brings too many barriers linked to the possibility of opening bank accounts, tax jurisdiction, the renewal of passports and visas, health coverage, etc. Many digital nomads spend a lot of time and energy to settle the various bureaucratic aspects, therefore the time to find a new balance and a new routine that the time is already approaching to start the search for information, flights, and accommodation for the next destination again.

On the other hand, precariousness is one of the intrinsic characteristics of life as digital nomads, who tend to lead a nomadic life for a period of 3-8 years, at most ten. After that, a desire for stabilization usually takes over.

A fascinating aspect that emerges from the comments of that same post is the tendency of many, who after some years spent as digital nomads, now prefer "workations," instead of being in constant motion, it seems to be more sustainable to settle somewhere and be able to take a break working from another place or country. In this way, in addition to regenerating with these escapes, they manage to stay in touch with the digital nomads' community.

These I have talked about so far were the recurring aspects; there were other answers about having to give up traveling with your dog or pet (mostly due to the complications of traveling, finding accommodation, etc.) or having to give up a project linked to a specific territory, or often feel not professionally respected by those who still cannot explain how some jobs can be carried out remotely. I confirm this last point. I work as a business developer. Although it is nothing abstract or avant-garde, I find myself having to explain to my grandmother every week how I may work from Spain, Italy, or Ireland or simply from the living room of her house. It's still unclear, she thinks it's not actually working, but we'll get there!

This article certainly does not want to discourage digital nomads' lives; we actually hope that it will be useful for some novices to take into account some aspects and better prepare for this nomadic life. We reassure you by saying that the piña colada on the dream beach exists, it comes only after some working hours…

We believe that it is all a matter of choices and priorities, that digital nomads are among the protagonists of a process of change and social innovation, where true wealth is no longer measured on the accumulation of goods and properties but on having more time for yourself and your projects. A slower time where sharing knowledge and collaboration are also protagonists of positive change.