It’s no secret that we love our job. Starting our blog and becoming digital nomads was the best decision we’ve ever made. We love it so much that our goal in life is now to get more people to start their own blogs, find remote work and travel more often.
But, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. We have numerous posts on this website that show the positive side of online work, but there are some cons as well. In my opinion, the upsides far outweigh the downsides!
In this post, I’m going to share with you the pros and cons of being a full-time remote working digital nomad. I hope that after you read this, you’ll have a more honest, transparent picture of what remote work may look like for you.
Firstly, What Defines a Digital Nomad?
Basically, a digital nomad is someone who uses technology, namely the internet, to earn money online while having the freedom to travel and live anywhere in the world. This simple definition is usually enough to convince someone to get into this lifestyle.
What could be better? Working when you want. Choosing your own hours. Working for yourself. Working from anywhere in the world. Making good money. Being free.
It all sounds so great, and believe me… it is.
Our digital nomad life revolves around our blog. We started this blog in 2012 and after about a year it started earning a bit of money. After less than 2 years it was earning enough to pay for our travels and today the blog is earning nearly quadruple what our well-paying jobs in Canada ever did.
We chose the blogging route, but there are literally hundreds of travel jobs and even more remote jobs that you can find. If you don’t enjoy writing, taking photos and sharing things online, there are plenty of other ways to make money on the road.
As long as you’re utilizing the world wide web to make a living while travelling and living around the world, you’re technically a digital nomad.
The Pros Of Digital Nomad Life
I have to tell you, the pros of digital nomad life are far easier to write than the cons. This article might sound like I’m biased. As if I’m trying to sell you a timeshare and in doing so, I make the pros sound so much better than the cons, but in my experience, this is the truth.
Had Dariece and I not pivoted our life and taken this path towards location independence and financial freedom, I don’t think we would have ever been so happy. Of course, my opinion is biased! I’m a digital nomad myself and the internet basically saved my life. I went from working 12 hours/week, in a dark factory earning $30 / hour, to working in my pyjamas in a beach villa for 15 hours per week, and feeling financially free.
Yes. It’s easy for me to think of the positive aspects of digital nomad life because to me, it’s the best lifestyle I can imagine.
You Can Have The Freedom To Work From Anywhere (with Wi-Fi)
Also known as “location independence”, this freedom means everything to a digital nomad. The internet has changed the landscape of the workplace so much so that your workplace no longer has to be a particular place at all. Today, your office can be from a surfing village in Bali, a mountain town in Nepal or wine country in Italy.
The freedom to work from anywhere is the core of what makes location independence so great.
Our offices have been beautiful pool villas in Indonesia, beach huts in Thailand, volcano craters in Guatemala, a seaside house in the Caribbean, co-working spaces in Bali, a city apartment in Malta and many more. We’ve created our own home offices in more places than we can count and each of them was unique.
By working in so many different environments, we’re able to keep our time on the computer fresh and fun. It never seems to get boring. When your coffee break can be spent kayaking in a volcanic lake one day and surfing the waves of Canggu the next, your job just never seems to get old.
I know I’m already writing this like a salesman. As if I’m trying to convince you of something. But in reality, this feeling of freedom is indescribable. It’s great. The funny thing is that as I’m typing this now I’m looking out over the sea from my outside office in Grenada and thinking about how fortunate I feel.
For a travel-lover like myself, the freedom to work from anywhere in the world is the ultimate pro to this lifestyle.
You Can Choose Your Own Hours
When I worked in Canada as a printing press operator, my hours were decided by the company. I had to work morning shift one week, afternoons the next and graveyards whenever there was extra work to be done. Studies have shown that nightshifts can literally take years off of your life and every time I changed shifts I felt exhausted and drained.
I remember dreading Sundays because I knew that I was going to have to wake up on Monday at 5:00 am to make it to work on time. While I was at work I would watch the clock and tick each minute down, excited to rush home to see Dariece.
Now we sleep in until we feel like waking up. We start the morning slow with a coffee and a walk. When we make it to the computer, that’s when our shift starts. Whenever we want. We work side by side and the minute I find myself looking at the clock, I get off the computer. At that point, I’m not being as productive as I could be, so instead of wasting time being unfocused, we close up the laptops and go out to do something.
This freedom to choose my own work hours has not only made me feel less stressed out, but it’s also made me healthier, closer with Dariece and ultimately much, much happier.
Working when you want doesn’t mean that you never do any work. I’ve found that now that I’m working for myself, I actually want to work. Every minute I put into our blog and online businesses is another step up in our entrepreneurial journey. For every hour I put in, I’m repaid in income, growth and fulfillment.
Not only do we get to bid farewell to the scheduled 9-5 work hours, but we’re also able to have as many holidays as we want. When we worked in Canada we were limited to just 2 – 3 weeks of holidays per year (I had 2 weeks, Dariece had 3). This meant that we didn’t have enough time to really experience any country. We could go on a holiday, but we didn’t have enough time to travel and really get underneath the skin of any place we visited.
Being able to go on holiday for as long as you want, whenever you want is one of the greatest things about working for yourself, working online and having location independence.
The Pay is Good!
This is where so many people get confused. For some reason, when most people think of blogging as an occupation, they picture a broke backpacker working from the beach to earn a few hundred dollars a month — just enough to pay for surfboard wax and a hamburger. But that’s not the case anymore.
These days, bloggers, remote workers and web entrepreneurs are some of the wealthiest people in the workforce. Go to a remote working hub like Bali, Chiang Mai or Lisbon and meet a few people there. 10 years ago you would have met a bunch of destitute travellers scraping by on $5 per day, trying to save enough for a flight home, but today these places have boomed as digital nomad hot spots and the financial demographic has shifted.
The age groups are relatively the same and the way they dress hasn’t changed all that much, but these days there are hundreds, if not thousands of millionaires in their midst. Some made it big on Bitcoin, others started a successful dropshipping company, while many of them have built a blog empire that now earns them hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Yes, there is more competition to succeed online than there was 10 years ago, but today there is much more opportunity.
That’s why places like Canggu, Chiang Mai and Lisbon are thriving with this type of work. Many governments have seen such an influx of remote workers that they’ve had to change their immigration policies to accommodate the number of people who are coming into their borders with a full-time remote income.
Having financial freedom, paired with the freedom to work from anywhere and choose your own hours is the bedrock of what makes digital nomad life so amazing. This is the trifecta of remote work and when you have all three, you’ll likely be singing its praises as I am in this article.
You Can Earn Money While You Sleep
While financial freedom is great, it’s even better when you free up your time so you can do whatever you want, while still earning a living. Passive income isn’t possible with all types of remote jobs, but one of the best ways to build up a good amount of passive income is through blogging.
By simply growing your traffic to a certain level, you can turn on ads on your pages (like the ads you see on this page) and they can earn passive income. Once you flick that switch and turn on ads, you’ll be earning money while you sleep. The ads you see on the pages on this site currently bring in around $4,000 / month, and we hardly have any turned on because we value the user experience so much. We don’t want to annoy you with ads and force you to click away!
We know of some other bloggers who turn on more ads, but have less traffic than us and still make a lot more money from the ads.
But ads are just one way that you can bring in a passive income. Affiliate sales, product sales and email marketing are just a few ways that you can work hard now and then reap the benefits later. This is a passive (or deferred) income strategy and it’s one of the best parts about running your own online business.
The best part of running your own business and working online is that you can stop trading dollars for hours. When you start earning money through your own channels, you’ll start seeing the traditional method of hourly pay and salary to be slightly primitive and old-fashioned. With the internet and most forms of remote work, you can make your money work for you.
Now you can set something up that can run automatically and generate income for you long term. Take for example a blog post that ranks well in Google. After you publish that post, you can forget about it, but it can continuously earn you money through affiliate sales, product sales and advertising. This is known as passive income and it’s something that the internet has made more attainable than ever before.
You Can Help Others
Depending on what remote job you go for, you may find that you’re able to help people. Money and freedom are great perks of this job, but there is nothing more rewarding than knowing that you’re having an impact on the world.
If you’re teaching English online, you may find that you’re giving young people in developing countries a brighter future. If you’re working in tourism you might be able to show people how to make the most of their holiday, and if you have a blog you can help people do whatever they want. You can give them more confidence, show them how to build things, teach them about tech, help them be better parents, show them how to make money online… the list goes on and on.
The paycheck that we get from this blog is great, but I don’t think we would be able to keep with it if we were just adding words to a website. The fact that we’re able to help people get off the couch and explore. The emails that we get from people who have quit their jobs and now earn more working one are more valuable than the emails from Paypal notifying us of a deposit.
You can help people in so many ways online. The internet has given everyone a voice and an audience. By working in a field that helps others, you may find fulfillment in your work and in your life.
Not All Dollars Are Created Equal!
When you have the freedom to work from anywhere, you also have the freedom to go where your dollar is worth a lot more. Working in Canada, it’s almost impossible to get by on $1,500 / month. But in places like Thailand, Indonesia and parts of Eastern Europe, you can live quite well on this amount.
In our case, most of our income comes in the form of US dollars, so when we convert that to Thai Baht, Mexican Pesos or Indonesian Rupiah, we’re doing quite well for ourselves!
There are hundreds of cities around the world where the cost of living is literally half of what it is in places like Vancouver, London and New York, so by living in those places while earning foreign currency, you can literally live twice the life at half the price.
No More Getting Stuck in Traffic
When Dariece and I worked in Canada, we had about an hour of commute to get to and from our jobs every day. That means that when I worked 12 hour shifts, I was actually away from home for 13 hours. Dariece chose to commute by foot for one hour each way, so even though she only worked 8 hour shifts, they were actually 10 hours by the time she returned home.
These days the only commute is from our comfy beds to our computers. Sometimes we don’t even set up our office, we just drag our laptops from the nightstand to our laps and we lie in bed while beginning the workday. Amazing.
No Make-up, No Getting Dressed, No Prep
I have to be honest here. When I worked in the factory in Calgary, I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, threw on some clothes (often dirty clothes) and went to work. My job was dirty and sweaty anyway, and there was no dress code, so I really didn’t have to get ready for it.
But in Dariece’s case, working for a law firm in downtown Calgary, she had to spend an hour getting ready and time getting unready every day. By the time she finished work she had spent about 11 hours out of her day getting ready (shower, makeup, hair, clothes), commuting to and from the office and then removing the makeup, changing clothes and relaxing into the couch at home.
Not anymore! Today we both work from our pyjamas and, unless we have a video skype call, we don’t have to dress up for anyone… ever.
For women, this is often a major pro of being a digital nomad. So many women find freedom in not having to dress to impress for anyone anymore and in Dariece’s case, it’s one of her favourite parts of the job.
No Annoying Co-Workers
If you are working in a co-working space as a digital nomad and someone annoys you, you can simply sit somewhere else, go to a different co-working space or just stay at home and work instead. But in a normal job, you have to put up with those people day in, day out.
Even in my job in Canada, where I loved most of the people I worked with, there was that one guy. He would always say something to annoy me. He’d try to downplay my work or get me in trouble with the bosses.
By working remotely, not only do you have the freedom to work from anywhere in the world, but you also have the freedom to work with whomever you want. If you simply want to work by yourself, you can do that. If you only want to work with your partner, you can do that too. If you run your own online business, you’ll never be forced to work with someone who you don’t agree with ever again!
You Can Travel Non-Stop
For many hardcore travellers, this is the ultimate goal. To travel forever. Remote work and digital nomadism can offer you this freedom, but you may find that once you have it, you crave a bit of normality.
I know hundreds of bloggers, dozens of them whom I’ve met in person, and not one of them has been able to travel non-stop in perpetuity. Some of them more than others, but all seem to inevitably search for a home base. Nevertheless, if travelling non-stop is your thing, then there’s no better way to do that than by working online.
SEE ALSO: How To Work and Travel in 2019
The Stress Of A Bad Day At Work is a Thing Of The Past
I’m not saying there’s no stress in working for yourself online. There is and we’ll talk about those stresses a bit in the cons section of this post, but the stress is different.
Both Dariece and I had relatively stressful jobs. She was dealing with multi-million dollar mortgages at the law firm, and I was creating hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product each day. Simple mistakes from either of us could cost the company tens of thousands of dollars (I once printed $200,000 worth of unusable product at work).
This accounted for a lot of stress. I remember sitting in the parking lot at work before a big, expensive job and stressing that I’d mess it up. Dariece would be stressed out before any day that she had to do closings on mortgages and both of us would be more on edge with each other during these times.
Even though I tried to not allow my job to affect my home life, I often came home frustrated and irritated after a long hard day. Now, if a day isn’t going my way, I’ll simply walk away and do something else.
If you find yourself stressed out from your job on a regular basis, it’s time to make a change. Working for yourself and working online can offer so much stress-relief that you can often feel healthier, more alive and more fulfilled.
The Cons Of Digital Nomad Life
Okay here is the part that many of you probably clicked on this article to read about. The positives of digital nomad life are quite clear. There may not have been many surprises there, but there are a few cons and some of them you might find substantial enough to consider a different line of work.
The Unsteady Paycheck
This may not be true for you if you’re simply doing remote work with set hours like teaching English online, or if you’re working for someone else who pays you a steady salary, but for bloggers, website owners, drop shippers and any other type of online entrepreneur, the unsteady paycheck can be hard to deal with.
This is particularly true when you first start out, but every entrepreneur in the world, whether they work in brick and mortar or online will have a fluctuation of finances month on month. This was definitely true of us when we were first starting earning a full-time income online. We would have one month where we earned $5,000 and the next, we’d earn $1,500. It was a bit stressful and made it hard to really settle into one particular lifestyle.
Your monthly income dictates what kind of lifestyle you can comfortably live, so if it’s always fluctuating, you’ll likely have to live on the lower end of your monthly income one month, just in case you hardly make any money the next.
Today we’ve built a more steady income and while it still changes each month, we have a reliable base that we know will come in. The key is to diversify your income streams so that you can be sure of a certain amount of money each month.
The Eternal Struggle of the Work-Life Balance
Before you started working remotely, you probably just saved a bunch of money each year so that you could afford to travel for a while. But when you start earning money online, you’ll find that you can travel while you’re working. This is great right? Well, not always.
The ability to work while you’re travelling is a blessing for sure, but it can also be a curse because many of us are unable to “switch off”.
What used to be a holiday trip to Spain is now tainted by the nagging urge to “get caught up”. Instead of enjoying your breakfast and coffee at the cafe, you may find yourself frantically answering emails or replying to social media comments that have been building up while you were on a plane or riding a bus.
The key to unlocking a healthy digital work-life balance is to plan definitive holidays. Sure it’s great that you get to travel the world while earning a living, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need a vacation every once in a while. Dariece and I recently “switched off” on a trip to Ecuador and Peru and it felt great.
We were able to put our laptops away and aside from a few social shares, we were completely in the moment. Before our departure, we scheduled months of content to go live while we were on the road and we hired some help to allow us to be away from the business for an extended period of time. To our surprise, our income and traffic actually grew when we were away and we returned from the trip feeling refreshed and recharged.
The Lack of Community & Local Support
One of the great things about working online is that no matter what job you’re in, there’s likely a Facebook group or a forum somewhere that allows you to feel connected to your fellow colleagues in the area. But how connected are you really when you’re travelling from place to place every few days, few weeks or few months.
It’s hard to form a solid group of friends when you know you’ll be leaving in a short time. This lack of friendship and community led Dariece and I to form a base in Grenada. Many bloggers, web-entrepreneurs and digital nomads are doing this these days. Instead of being fully nomadic, they set up a base in a country they love and travel from there.
When you first start out on this digital journey, you might love not having to make plans with all of your friends, but after a few years or decades, you’ll probably miss having your own support group to fall back on. I know that we did. Luckily there’s a cure for this ailment. All you have to do is set up shop somewhere that you love.
It doesn’t mean that you have to stop travelling, in fact, many people travel even more when they have a home base because they get more work done in when they’re home in their familiar environment.
A home base can allow you to set up a better, more ergonomic office, it can allow you to make a lasting group of friends and can give you time to recharge your batteries every once in a while. It’s also nice, after years of moving from hotel to hotel, to actually unpack, buy a few necessities and feel like you have a bit of a home.
Missing Friends and Family
As we get older, we find that we miss our friends and family more and more being on the road. We always try to meet up once a year either back in Canada, or somewhere else abroad, but it’s not always easy.
Seeing photos on Facebook of our nieces growing up, my mom having fun with aunts and uncles and my friends going out for the night sometimes makes me miss home. For some people, this pullback to home life proves too much and they end up abandoning the digital nomad life for a more normal job back in their home country.
We are fortunate enough to have a family that can afford to come and visit us, and a few friends that we can see after 5 years and feel like we haven’t missed a beat, but for some, this isn’t the case.
Homesickness is a real thing. For me, I don’t miss Canada, my job, our home or the things we did (I just miss the people that we did them with).
I don’t often curse in my blog posts, but wi-fi warrants it. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to work online with shitty wi-fi. It’s awful. There are times when you just need to upload a photo, join a class/tutorial, or post an article and the wi-fi simply won’t allow it. Luckily wi-fi is improving all around the world, but when you get to those places with a bad connection, you might be tempted to hurl your laptop through a window.
Having To Plan For Your Own Retirement
This is another thing that we’ve started to think about more as we get older. For the first three or four years of our travelling life, I didn’t think about retirement at all. I was young, having fun and 65 seemed like two lifetimes away.
But now that we’ve settled down a bit and have grown this business, we’ve had to think about retirement. In Canada and in most developed countries, there are a few automatic safety nets in place like pensions and old age security, but the longer we live away from Canada as non-residents, the more these funds depreciate.
In reality, by the time we retire, we won’t be able to take advantage of any government-subsidized systems and we won’t have paid in enough cash to a Canadian pension to get any real return when we retire. So what do we do?
Having done the math many many times, we’re confident that we’ll have more money in retirement doing what we’re doing now than we would have if we stayed working at the same jobs in Canada. It has taken a while to build up to this point, but we’re confident that if all goes well for the next 5 years, we’ll be able to retire comfortably.
So, Is It Worth It?
In my opinion, the pros of working online far outweigh the cons. I measure success by the level of happiness that it brings. In our case, this digital nomad life has brought us more happiness and fulfillment than our jobs, and lives in Canada ever could have.
We travel the world, which is our greatest passion. We are free to do what we want when we want. We get to experience new things each and every day and we get to share this all with each other.
We’re no longer apart for 12 hours a day. We no longer come home stressed from work. We no longer worry about money, bills, bad co-workers or bosses breathing down our necks.
Becoming a digital nomad was the best thing we ever did.
Do you want to become a digital nomad? Check out our list of 101 Travel Jobs that can help you get into this life. We’ve tried many remote jobs, but the best by far is blogging. If you want to start your own blog about anything (it doesn’t have to be about travel), Click Here and I’ll show you how to start one on 10 minutes. You’ll also get my free Beginner Blogger Course to walk you through the initial steps of setting up, designing and building a successful blog.
*Lead image courtesy of The Dharma Trails.
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