What nobody tells you about being a digital nomad
The the bad, the worse, and the ugly and what you can do about it
For the first time in the three years of the ultimate freedom life as someone who’s traveling the world while working online, I’ve been feeling low energy, sad, and depressed on more days that I don’t. I haven’t been my usual happy and positive and kick-ass self in months. Friends and even strangers have noticed.
I’ve never regretted quitting my job to travel the world while working online and I still don’t. I’ve always been an advocate for this lifestyle and I still am. I wouldn’t live any other way. But since I’m now experiencing the worse part of it, I find it only fair to keep it real and talk to you about the things nobody tells you about being a digital nomad. The things everyone hides behind their pretty Instagram pictures.
I wake up and feel sad for no reason. Tears come easily, I don’t want to get out of bed, and I just feel like everything is too much. At the moment, I was hoping to find peace in Dahab, a small hippie town on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, where everyone does yoga and meditates, where people develop their concept of “happiness” schools, and where vegans are lucky to find meatless dishes, a rarity on the African continent. I expected to find peace here because last time I was here I was on one of the highest highs in my digital nomad life. I deeply connected with my higher self and was able to read auras and people as well as never before.
But I should have known better. Peace is not at a place, peace is within you. Because I’m not at peace right now, I focus on the bad things that Dahab is offering me right now: the strong stench of goat poop that lingers in the streets and on most days, in my room as well. The men that look at me like I’m a piece of meat. The seven year old kid that drives by on his bike, looks at me with squinted eyes and repeats “sexy” without fully comprehending what he’s even saying. The men that purposefully mistake my friendliness for flirting. The men that mistake my being rude for being a stuck up tourist who doesn’t smile. Only not to be too friendly. The Airbnb hostess who constantly asks me to go outside, like a mom (not like MY mom, because my mom doesn’t do that) and who can’t just let me be because that’s really what I want to do right now. Me having to flip a switch for the water to turn on. The water just sprinkling out of the faucet without the water pressure I’m used to because Dahab is located in a desert. Me having to put toilet paper into a bucket and having to touch its dirty lid rather than into the toilet. The hippie people in town that are too hippie for me and to whom I can’t relate (just yet?). You see, the list is getting longer and more and more ridiculous and yes, I’m 100 % aware of that.
But such are the things that come up when you’re not at peace with yourself; however, I’m coming to peace with that being ok. That just being what it is. Neither good nor bad, but just being.
So, let’s get to it – the things nobody tells you about being a digital nomad:
1. It can get lonely AF
You can have all the best and amazing and inspiring friends all over the world, but what does that do if they can’t physically give you a hug? 100 hugs. As many as you need in that moment. Hugs that are scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety and increase your serotonin aka happiness levels.
Not having your loved ones close to you or just a few hours away from you, but instead continents and oceans, will wear you out at some point.
That’s why I’ve made it a point to see my friends in L.A. and Germany at least once a year for several weeks. That’s still not enough, but it’s better than nothing. I also try to stay in touch with them through texts and calls.
Sitting behind your laptop for work can also get lonely. We need live human interaction. Some of us more, some of us less, but we do. Therefore, it helps if you get your a$$ up and meet up with people in your location. Find them in Facebook (expat or digital nomad) groups, on meetup.com, or couchsurfing.com.
And when you find that you just can’t meet any strangers to have deep convos with because you’re not vibing with anyone, change your attitude or leave a place. Not every place is for you. Or just pack up and go “home” – wherever that is for you. For me, it’s where my friends and family are.
2. Your relationships will suffer
You’ll miss out on birthdays, weddings, and other celebrations, because you just can’t fly from Africa to North America and back for someone’s birthday. I mean, you can, but do that 10 times a year and you probably won’t do it again.
Some people will feel a certain type of way when life gets in the way of regular contact or visits, others will not care. When you see the latter, it’ll feel like you can just start where you left off and things are easy. The former can be a bit exhausting. My simple solution: #byefelicia them real quick. They will just bring drama into your life. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Surround yourself with people who understand that you have a life that can get in the way and that you also don’t get upset when it happens to them. People who celebrate your successes and lift you back up when you think you fell. These are your true friends.
3. Yes, you can get tired of traveling
I know, I know, what a first world problem to have with our European passports and currencies that take us to most places in the world without a lot of trouble, saving, or paperwork. We are so effin’ lucky to be able to experience all of this. And for that, let’s please take a moment and be grateful and NEVER forget that we have a privilege that most people in this world DO NOT HAVE and some NEVER WILL!
But you will get to a point where you’re tired of being in a foreign place. Of flying. Of carrying your luggage. Of having to adjust.
Here’s an example:
Within the first three months of this year, I have been to 7 countries on 4 continents across 4 time zones, 17 flights, more than 20 beds in various hotels, Airbnbs, and friends’ places. I have had diarrhea more times than you want to know. #tmi. That aside – will you believe me when I say I AM TIRED? EXHAUSTED? DONE?
I literally called my dad crying and asked him to stay at his place for 1 or 2 months, so I can recover. In a familiar place. In a place where I can be free. Free from foreign smells, unknown gut bacteria that give me the bubble guts, men that are looking at me like they want to devour me, and a culture that I’m too unfamiliar with.
I traveled too fast. Too much. Too often. Too far this year. My longest journey took over 60 hours. I didn’t give myself the time to recover properly. And now I’m paying for it with depressing thoughts. But ain’t no comfort in growth, right?
But, I beg you, whenever you feel tired of traveling, STOP. Take time for yourself. Take a bath. Get a massage. Meditate. Etc. (In fact, here are 16 ways to recover from travel fatigue). And if these don’t help anymore, go to a place where people will take care of you, whether that’s your friends or your family. Go see your loved ones. Have them hug you, squeeze you, and feed you. Let them spoil you. Ain’t no shame in that.
That’s what I’m about to do. And boyyy (giiiirl) am I looking forward to it.
4. You have to make the uncomfortable and uncertainty your comfort zone
But what does this mean? It means, for example, that if you’re working as a freelancer, you will not know where you money is coming from the next month and how much you will have. For me, that’s the most uncomfortable part. That’s why I’m working on several income streams as well as passive income and you should, too.
Being outside of your comfort zone and uncertainty also mean that you may book a flight 3 days in advance without knowing where you’ll be staying. And with whom. You may find yourself in a smelly basement without windows with a bed sheet that is covered with old semen and sweat stains.
You won’t know how the simplest things will be working, such as a stove or a faucet. You won’t know your surroundings – can I go outside in my shorts wearing my camera around my neck? What will I have to do if there’s no Uber?
It means that every new foreign culture will feel uncomfortable and uncertain. Every day something will happen that you’re not prepared for or you won’t know how to handle it.
One day you may catch malaria (like me), the other day you will vomit or poop your heart out because you brushed your teeth with tap water.
Another day, the police will tell you not to lie on the grass in the middle of a city square in Cairo, because you’re only allowed to sit. Another time, a moron will threaten to call the police on you because a hotel canceled the room you were supposed to have the hypnosis session in with said moron.
Or you’re on a date and someone tells you that your friend was stabbed to death. Or you’re on a date and you prefer the friend your date brought.
Or your friend bites into a tomato and all its seeds spill over your face and clothes and instead of helping you get the burning seeds out of your eyes, your friend just sits there laughing.
None of these scenarios are made up. Life writes the best stories.
Celebrate that sh!t, laugh about it, and tell yourself that that’s life. All these stories, as bad as they may seem at that moment, you will tell with pride later and laugh about them.
Comfort is the enemy of growth. Only by embracing discomfort and uncertainty can and will we grow. It’s your luck to be in an almost constant state of discomfort and uncertainty because you will most likely grow a lot faster than others.
5. But a point will come where you will crave “normalcy”
While you may constantly grow and learn during your travels to unfamiliar places, there will be a point where you will crave normalcy.
You will want to just hang out with your friends on an almost daily basis, take up a sports or music class and not miss one, go to your regular coffee shop or restaurant, knowing where everything is and how everything works.
Some of us will find that our constant travels may have come to an end and that we prefer a home base, while others will settle down for a few months at a time, get their routine on, and pack up and leave once again when they feel ready.
As for myself, I like to settle here and there for up to three months in a place familiar to me (L.A. or Cape Town or my hometown) , and then leave again, because I have not yet seen enough of this beautiful world out that’s out there.
But the more I travel, the more I learn that, no matter where you go, people from everywhere hope, dream, laugh, and fear (reminds you of a Maya Angelou quote by any chance?). And that peace and happiness comes from within you. You won’t find it in a place or a person.
Fellow digital nomads, if you feel me, let me see a “hell yes” in the comments 😀
Future digital nomads – don’t let this scare you please! This lifestyle is still the best (for me at least) because it’ll give you the ultimate freedom. To become a digital nomad, check out these related posts:
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