About a year and a half ago, I was living in Granada, Spain when we decided to take a two-week trip to Morocco. While traversing the Sahara Desert and exploring the medina of Fez were unforgettable experiences, my laptop charger shorting out in the riad we were staying in was one experience I could have done without. With a full-time job remote job, I needed to get a new charger as soon as possible in order to check in with work. I scoured the medina, and found a charger that could have worked, but as luck would have it, it did not, and I was unable to return it. Luckily, I was able to borrow my girlfriend’s laptop for the remainder of the trip, but even when we got back to Spain, it took me days of shopping to find the correct charger, and that was only after ordering it on Amazon Spain and having it delivered to our landlord’s apartment because we didn’t have an address that came up on Google maps.
The above scenario is one of main disadvantages of being a digital nomad. Things that would be seamless in your own country, such as getting a new computer charger, become much more difficult when you’re traveling. But this most recent trip for me has been the first time that I’ve really been a digital nomad in its purest form (whatever that means). We’ve been backpacking for the past four months straight. We started in Vietnam and ended up in Australia, traveling to six countries and fifteen cities within that time period.
Before this trip, the longest I had backpacked (without a home base to return to) was a couple of weeks in between terms when I studied abroad in England for a year. When I’ve travelled in the past, it’s either been a short-term trip (ten days to two weeks) or one where I had a permanent space to live or go back to. Having that home base, that sense of routine, is what normalizes life and makes it stable.
But a nomad, by definition, does not have a permanent home. For some, that can work really well. For others, not so much. I’d consider myself in the middle of those two extremes. That being said, one of the biggest disadvantages of being a digital nomad is constantly reorienting yourself, but it’s also one of the greatest joys. There’s nothing like immersing yourself in a new culture and location one week, just to start over the next, but it’s also difficult if you actually like where you’re staying. If you have a warm bed or a great wifi connection, it’s hard to leave it behind for the potential unknown of a bunk bed and a 500 megabyte per day wifi limit.
That’s a lot of the travel lifestyle; the disadvantages of being a digital nomad can also be its greatest strengths. While you don’t know what your next meal is going to be (it will probably be unhealthy) you’re almost certainly going to walk it off because there’s a lot to do and a lot to explore. It’s not unusual to walk five or even ten miles in day, which would almost never happen during a normal routine. But even newness loses its luster eventually, and soon enough you’ll have visited more temples and churches than most holy men. When you start to compare experiences and collect countries, it may be time to step away for a little while and evaluate what else you have going on.
For me, possibly one of the biggest disadvantages of being a digital nomad is that you’re putting your so-called ‘real life’ on hold. All of your relationships with your friends and family are essentially put into stasis, and if you’re gone long enough, they eventually start to become less meaningful. That’s not to say that it’s not good to see everyone, but when you’re on an extreme time difference, and doing things mostly every day, it’s hard to find the energy to keep up relationships with people who don’t want to put in the effort or judge your life choices.
I remember when I first moved to study abroad to England for a year. Because I was in school, much of my social circle came with me, and I made new connections that came back with me to school the following year. And my closest friends even came to visit. But now, it’s become an expectation that I’m gone most of the time, and that can put strain on even the toughest of bonds. As you get older, it’s harder to maintain your relationships by default, as everyone has less time. If you think about it, you’ve already spent the vast amount of time you’re going to spend in your life with your childhood friends and family. But while exploring the world, sometimes you’re leaving even the possibility of that behind, and that can be depressing.
That’s not to say that you should stick around for your friends and family, but it does mean that you are giving that up by being a digital nomad. As far as the disadvantages of being a digital nomad go, it’s a pretty big one. Still, there’s something both empowering and restricting about the lifestyle; you’re exploring the world but giving some of yourself to it at the same time. That’s why I don’t think digital nomadism is ultimately a lifestyle I want to continue, although it doesn’t mean I’ll stop travelling by any means (in fact, I already have six more trips planned in the next six months).
But to travel at the current pace we’ve been going will just have us burn through the world, and then they’ll really be nothing to look forward to. That’s not to say it isn’t a great thing to do, and I think everyone who has the means and ability should try long-term travel. But there’s a big difference between moving abroad with an intact support system and absconding to run away from reality. That’s not to say that I I’ve done that, but at this continual pace it’s starting to feel that way.
The truth is, I have nothing to run away from. I have a great life, and a great family, relationship and network of friends. But nomadism in an era where it’s not functionally necessarily seems to make people never satisfied with their surroundings. Maybe I’m just satisfied with where I am.