6 Minutes Read | Working Remotely

10 Unglamorous Facts of the Digital Nomad Life

Romina Viola

Spanish Community Champion | Piktochart

Hello there! My name is Romi and I work remotely for the Piktochart marketing team. My boyfriend, Maxi, is an asset designer with us, which means we are both location independent and on the road together.

A year ago, we both decided to become full-time digital nomads, which means that we left our apartment behind in Córdoba and now we travel the world – making a city our home for one month at a time.

To find a new home, we usually use Airbnb. Many hosts give great discounts when you book for a month. That’s how we decide on destinations and length of stay, by budget!

What Instagram Doesn’t Tell You.

There’s a lot that remains unsaid about the digital nomad life.

More often than not, brands on social media glamorize a lifestyle that, in reality, most of the time is full of not very Instagram-worthy moments.

In my personal opinion, the digital nomad lifestyle makes sense because there’s no better feeling than not having to wait a year for only a handful of holidays to travel the world. I also understand that this reality represents a new and beautiful paradigm, the exception and not the rule. A lifestyle that, seen from afar, seems to work perfectly.

After a hectic day in New York City, waiting for a train for more than 40 minutes and knowing I was late for a virtual team meeting, I started thinking: What unglamorous facts do people generally leave out when describing the digital nomad lifestyle? Many brands linked to the digital nomad lifestyle work as inspirational platforms that would-be digital nomads may use to idealize the ways of the modern gypsy.

But there are many moments, the trials and tribulations of the experience, that rarely come up in their social media feeds.

That’s how I came up with this list, 10 unglamorous yet very real facts of the digital nomad life. Most of these are tiny details, the outcome of major decisions I made years ago. But these details can help you see the whole picture, beyond the glossy pictures on Instagram and promo videos that glamorize this lifestyle which in actuality – is a challenging one to live.

Details that, if you choose to become a digital nomad, can be a big part of your future life.

1. You’re traveling yet not vacationing.

“Beach day” in Bali. If you don’t mind these clouds in monsoon season.

This is the most important fact. Last year we decided to spend a week in Bali. We had no vacation days left, so we were planning to work full-time and hit the beach after our job was done for the day.

Unfortunately, every day around 5 pm when we were done with everything – it would start to rain. Pouring rain. “Monsoon season!” – the locals told us. We were very naive to think we would be able to enjoy the island like we were on vacation!

Every time I arrive in a new destination, I want to devour it. I want to get lost in the streets and alleys, try the local cuisine, talk to strangers, sit in a cozy café to experience the local life.

But work comes first. After all, that’s what allows me to continue traveling. Deadlines are the priority, and that changes the entire picture.

2. You’ll experience #FOMO, times two.

#FOMO, or the Fear of Missing Out, in our case is a double threat. Why the double #FOMO?

Because we’re working a third of the day, in many occasions we feel we’re “missing out” on the city we’re living in. Some days, I wake up thinking about deadlines, I open up the window and it’s the perfect day to grab a bike and get lost in the city. But work comes first.

At the same time, I also feel #FOMO about what’s happening back at home. On Sunday mornings, when I have the day off and I’m thinking about where to have lunch, I call my family and they’re all together, lasagna in the oven, spending time together.

If I had a teleportation machine, I would use it every single Sunday.

3. Tired? Too bad. Introducing: Bed Lag.

Anyone who has traveled across a few time zones to a destination knows of the ill effects of jet lag.

It’s awful. You feel drowsy all day, except when it’s 4 am and you jump off the bed with enough energy to run a marathon.

Spoiler alert: said energy drains out as soon as you start doing something. It feels like being drunk and sleepy, and it’s the absolute worst – especially when you’re adapting to a new place or trying to enjoy being back home.

From one bed lag to another.

As digital nomads, we experience something similar. I call it “bed lag”: the amount of nights you need to get used to sleeping in your new place. There are oh-so-many factors involved: the mattress, the street noise, the neighbours’ nocturnal habits, the dripping of a faucet, a dog barking in the distance.

It’s hard to assimilate to a new environment to achieve a good night’s sleep. And once the new place starts to feel like home – it’s time to pack and leave again. In a new home there’s a new bed with a whole lot of bed lag waiting.

4. You’ll spend some time getting to know the neighborhood.

Where’s the best place to grab quick, inexpensive lunch? Where’s the best place to do laundry? What’s the shortest route to the train station? What train should I take if I’m coming back home late at night?

When you arrive to a new destination, you’ll ask yourself these questions. Once you know the answer – it’ll be time to leave again. It takes some time to learn the tricks of a new place. And pressing the reset button each month means starting all over again in a new location.

5. You’ll see it’s possible to get tired of traveling.

I know it sounds ungrateful. But it is really possible to grow tired of the nomad life. I don’t think it’s happened to us yet, but it’s very common to hear other nomads complaining about the lifestyle. I said this already: when you’re in a new city, you want to devour it. And because you’re working full-time, you’ll spend all of your free time discovering the city.

And tourist life can be exhausting.

Working from a bar? Deadlines can’t wait.

We walked over ten miles today, strolling our way from Times Square to Chinatown. If you choose to stay at home to chill, play video games or watch TV you’ll feel like you’re betraying your limited time in the city. Then you wanderlust your day out, sometimes until exhaustion.

6. You’ll learn that less is more.

The awkward truth about being a nomad: Moving around with heavy luggage is very expensive and inconvenient. Imagine carrying your entire wardrobe across train stations, climbing up stairs in walk-up apartments, trying to fit as many bags in overhead bins as you can while the rest of the plane rolls their eyes at you.

You don't need more space, you need less things - Marie KondoClick To Tweet

Before you travel is the perfect time to get rid of the things you don’t use anymore.

Donate or give away what you don’t use, call your friends and organize a swap afternoon. If something isn’t practical enough, if it needs ironing, or if it’s too heavy, leave it behind. You can only bring outfits you can wear over and over again.

7. You’ll be repeating outfits – a lot.

You’ll be going out every day, getting to know the city. And your baggage is limited. If you connect the dots, this means your outfits will repeat – a lot.

You’ll go to all these beautiful places – and in every single picture you’ll wear the same jacket. And if you bring your favorite pieces of clothing, get ready to say goodbye to them. The laundromat’s temperature will probably ruin the outfits you love the most.

Different days, same jacket.

There’s a system, aptly called “The System”, that I’ve been applying even before knowing there was a name for it. It means making sure that you have a limited number of clothing items in neutral colors. This makes it easier to match and you’ll save time, space and money!

8. Forget about buying souvenirs.

Two main reasons. One: the space and weight they’ll add to your very limited luggage. Second: where would you put it? the digital nomad life means getting to live in a thousand houses across the globe, with none of them being your own.
So you go to exquisite markets in Thailand and Cambodia, tiny stores in Shinjuku, to a vinyl record store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and you leave empty-handed. You can take hundreds of pictures, though, and hope it’s enough to bring you back to that trip a few years from now.

9. You’ll lose track of time.

One detail about traveling and working: your colleagues and deadlines will probably maintain a steady schedule, while you’ll be crossing time zones like lanes on the highway.

At any given moment, these changes will catch up with you. You’ll have meetings at weird times, you’ll be catching up with colleagues while sitting on your bed at 3 am, or stay up all night finishing a task that it was due yesterday at the Japan timezone!

Most probably, Slack and its feared push notifications will follow you anywhere. Don’t be tempted though: if you turn them off you might get in trouble!

10. You’ll always be afraid it’s gone.

Like Uncle Ben told Spider-Man once: “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility”. Having a job you love and that allows you to carry on with this particular lifestyle, it also means also dealing with constant stress.

Why? Because it’s a position you’ll work twice as hard to maintain. It’s not only a job: it’s a lifestyle, it’s your home. There’s a continuous threat because of that myth that dictates that “good things don’t last” and it’s a bubble you need to keep from popping 24/7.

And if that bubble pops, well, it means we would lose our jobs and we wouldn’t have a house to go back to. It’s a risk we’re willing to take every day. And luckily, up until today, we haven’t regretted it once.

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