With little more than a week left before I head off on my big round-the-world trip and try to become a true location independent professional, methinks now would be a fine time to get some advice from someone who’s been rocking the digital nomad lifestyle for quite a while.
So below you’ll find a guest post by Paula Pant, creator of Afford Anything – the blog that believes money should never hinder your dreams. There’s also video of me and Paula chatting about all this funky stuff above. Click here if you can’t see it.
All yours, Paula!
Lots of bloggers praise the ‘location independent’ lifestyle, a fancy phrase that means “you can work from anywhere that has an Internet connection.”
Location independent people – like me – are free to roam the planet. Armed with a laptop, we can run our business from any corner of the world – Tajikistan, Brazil, Malaysia. Our lives seem glamorous and free.
The benefits location independence are obvious: I can go anywhere I want. Argentina for a year? Japan for 6 months? No problem!
But there’s a dark side as well, and it’s rarely discussed. People don’t like to talk about the negatives. They’re afraid of sounding … well, negative.
I’d like to clarify: I love the location independent lifestyle – that’s why I live it everyday. But if you’re considering becoming a digital nomad, I want you to know the full story.
Here are 5 dirty secrets about being location independent:
1) It’s hard to unplug
Being able to carry your work everywhere is a double-edged sword. Sometimes you WANT to unplug. Step away from work for awhile. Let new ideas brew in your mind.
Unfortunately, it’s tough to tear yourself away when you can work just as many hours in Bali as you can in Kansas.
(Here’s a hint for digital nomads: If you need help tearing yourself away from work, try camping. Go to the middle of nowhere, where you have no electricity, running water, mobile phone signal or wireless signal. Yes, sometimes tearing yourself away from your work requires that level of extreme.)
2) You miss some of your surroundings
What’s the point of being in the Caribbean if you’re glued to your computer instead of surfing at the beach?
And yet, if you’re a digital nomad, you’ll be clacking away at a keyboard in the Florida Keys while your friends are splashing in the ocean.
Niall wrote about working 60-80 hours a week from his apartment in Spain. Despite all the time and trouble he spent in reaching Spain, the bulk of his waking hours were spent in front of a computer. That’s the reality of location independence.
3) You lack resources
When I’m at home I’m set up to work efficiently. I’ve got a printer and access to a fax machine. I have an ergonomic keyboard that’s gentle on my hands and a large computer monitor that’s friendly on my eyes. I’ve got a stack of file folders next to me. I can reach pens, staplers, tape, stamps and envelopes without getting out of my chair. I know exactly where the nearest post office is.
Working abroad is a different matter entirely. I don’t have envelopes, stamps or a stapler with me. I don’t have my files. I can’t always access a printer, fax machine or post office.
Even when I can find one, its not always open. I once needed something shipped to me in Bali. I paid FedEx to send it – even paying extra for expedited shipping. But the FedEx center in Bali was never open, not even during its posted “open” hours. Everyday for a week, I’d walk 30 minutes to the FedEx office at opening time, pull out a book, and wait for hours. It never opened.
One morning I made my usual return and found a handwritten sign taped to the door saying the office would be closed for another week. By that time, my visa was expiring and I had to fly out of Bali. I never received the package.
4) Internet can be slow
This is probably the worst thing of all. At home, my Internet is always high-speed and reliable.
In some places, however, the Internet crawls at a snails pace. A task that would take 20 minutes at home, like checking email, can take two to three hours overseas.
In many places I traveled, I’d groan when I’d see that a friend sent me a message through Facebook. Doesn’t my friend realize that she’s asking me to open a new browser tab, load the Facebook homepage, login, and click on her message? That can take 10 minutes!
Internet speeds were so slow in some countries that I’d read a book while pages loaded.
5) You wake up at odd hours for phone calls
While I was in Bangkok I tried to write a magazine article for a U.S. publication, which required me to schedule telephone interviews with several people in America. Unfortunately, “normal business hours” in America is the middle of the night in Thailand.
So I’d schedule a phone interview for 4 a.m. Bangkok time, setting my alarm for 3:30 a.m. Then I’d call via Skype. If I was lucky, the interview would go smoothly in the first attempt. Usually, however, the person I was calling would say: “Sorry, I’m in the middle of a meeting that ran late. Would you mind calling back tomorrow?”
I hope I’m not turning you off from location independence. I really do love it. And – despite the points that I just listed — I’m actually a very upbeat person: I don’t want to dwell on the negatives.
I’m only telling you this so you can have a balanced, realistic view of the digital nomad life. It’s not all roses.
But I can’t emphasize enough: I love being location independent. I love having choices. I love the feeling of freedom. I can live anywhere – New York, Paris, Beijing– while maintaining my life’s work. That freedom, to me, is worth an occasional 4 a.m. phone call.
Hi there! I’m Paula Pant, the author of this post and the creator of Afford Anything, the blog that’s based on one radical idea: money should never hinder your dreams. Check out my site to learn how I traveled to 27 countries over the span of 2.5 years on a tiny budget.