I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a digital nomad.
I’m a short-term digital nomad, meaning I travel and work from my laptop for periods of time. I’ll often hit the road for months or even years but I always return to my base. Rinse and repeat. I’ve been doing this for almost a decade. Yet I still make mistakes. I suppose it’s human.
But there are a few big mistakes I’ve made, especially early on in my nomad ventures. Most of them are common (I’ve seen many others make the same blunders).
I want to help you avoid making these mistakes yourself. So, here goes…
Digital Nomad Mistake #1: Traveling Too Quickly
When I first became a digital nomad, I had no set plan. I picked my first destination and hit the road. I had a loose idea of where I would go second, but no idea of when I’d go or how long I’d stay. It was almost like a race to see as much as I could in a short time. And I wasn’t the only one. Most of the nomads I met were also like me. Some would spend a week in one city, bounce to another, then bounce to another country, even. It wasn’t long before I suffered the consequences of hopping around too quickly.
My work suffered, my health suffered, and my bank accounts suffered.
This isn’t to say there aren’t people who can handle so much upheaval in a short time. I’m not one of those people and I think this style of frequent moving is not suitable for most. You either burn out or you realize your work/exercise/hobbies are being impacted.
Digital Nomad Mistake #2: Not preparing the boring stuff
As fun as nomadism sounds, there are a lot of non-sexy aspects to the lifestyle.
There are many boring details to work out before you go. It isn’t enough to daydream about all the fun you’ll have and the excitement of waving goodbye to your normal life. You also need to handle a lot of logistics before you leave home.
- Creating a budget.
- Figuring out your financials (do you need to open specific bank accounts to avoid heavy overseas charges, etc.).
- Sorting out health insurance that’ll cover you on the road in case of sickness or accident.
- Getting the right phone and other electronic gadgets you need to stay connected.
- Figuring out what will happen with your mail while you’re away.
This is a short list of the many essential logistics you must take care of before you leave home.
Digital Nomad Mistake #3: Only making fleeting connections, not meaningful ones
It can get lonely on the road. Very lonely.
In my first two years as a nomad, I battled with this pervasive feeling of loneliness. The next time I went nomad, I realized what I’d done wrong the first time. I hadn’t actively made any efforts to form real bonds with people. This one goes hand in hand with traveling too quickly.
It’s near impossible to form meaningful connections with anyone if you’re only staying in one location for days or weeks.
So, to solve this, I now stay longer in each location AND I actively seek to meet people and spend time getting to know them, both local and other nomads.
Digital Nomad Mistake #4: Poor Working Habits
Unless you’re nomading on a trust fund or living off savings, you need to support yourself. This requires maintaining some semblance of productivity and effective work habits.
This may be the biggest mistake I see nomads make, especially younger ones, and especially in countries like Thailand where the sun is bright, the bodies are warm, and temptation is high. You could spend weeks, months even, just ‘hanging out’ doing everything from partying to yoga to meet-ups but not getting any real, focused work done.
Every nomad must figure out a work system and create effective habits that facilitate productive work.
This is non-negotiable if you want to sustain yourself.
Digital Nomad Mistake #5: Overspending/not budgeting
Another essential aspect of self-sustainability is budgeting.
I like to keep strict tabs on my money, but I don’t believe each person should keep an intricate penny-by-penny budget. What I do believe is that to avoid the mistake of overspending, you need to have an idea of how much is coming in and how much is going out in fixed expenses, coupled with awareness around the amount you are spending daily.
Because nomadism can feel like a fun vacation, especially at the beginning, it’s easy to spend indiscriminately. One night having drinks here, two dinners there, a daily excursion on the weekend, daily cappuccinos and lunch at your favorite trendy cafe etc. etc. It all adds up, especially if you’re in Western Europe, for example. And if it adds up to more than you have coming in, you may have a problem.
To avoid these problems, stick to a budget, even a loose one.