Why Working as a Digital Nomad is Not for Me

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During my four-month trip to Asia, I worked remotely as a freelance writer and blogger, earning the bulk of my income from freelance writing.

While I worked several freelance writing jobs, my main gig was as a Category Expert for Answers.com. Commissioned to write between 10 and 20 articles each month, I hustled hard to reach my monthly quota. Some months I would churn out one or two articles a day, other months I would ignore my workload for weeks and then lock myself in a hotel room for 72 hours, stopping only to eat, sleep and shower.

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Over time I came to resent the weight of my laptop– the physical weight, as well as the emotional weight. The emotional weight manifested itself in a myriad of emotions: the guilt of not working harder, the regret of working so much on the trip of the lifetime and the resentment of knowing I had to work to continue traveling.

And while I loved having a consistent stream of income on the road, working as a digital nomad sucked the fun and excitement out of travel for me. No longer could I disappear for days. No longer could I flit about with few possessions. The pressure to work, work, work began to smother my enjoyment of travel.

Something about being a digital nomad didn’t jive with me but it took me a long time to pinpoint what  it was. I finally realized that it’s not the physical discomfort of long-term travel; I can happily live out of a bag, sleep in a $7 hostel and wear the same clothes for months at a time.

What bothers me most about long-term travel is the lack of community. The disconnectedness you feel when you realize you’ll never see anyone in the hostel again, that the main social interactions in your life are drunken make-outs and two-day friendships.

Working on the road taught me I don’t want be a digital nomad. In five years I don’t want to be sitting in paradise with a Chang and a laptop, surrounded by strangers. And while that lifestyle works for some people, the idea of such a transitory existence fills me with dread.

In Asia I learned all of the beautiful surroundings in the world will never make up for what really matters in life- relationships with other people. While I’d love to be an expat again, I don’t think a long-term solo trip while working remotely will be in the cards.

Other travel bloggers have touched on the same feeling:

When you are travelling, you are what you are in that moment, your most immediate self. The people you meet see only that version of you, and it’s hard to maintain your wholeness in this fragmented and transitory existence. – Hannah Loaring, Furtherbound

 

You see, when you’re sick with two kids, in a foreign country, you become aware of how fragile the relationships you have really are. There isn’t anyone to bring me chicken soup or to help Drew watch the kids, or to just stop by and see how we are. – Christine Gilbert, Almost Fearless

 

So on my big trip to Europe, India and possibly Asia, I’m not bringing my laptop. I’ll be traveling off of the money I saved while living in Michigan. I’ll be seeing lots of friends and spending as little time as possible as a solo traveler (I hate to say it but I’m really over solo travel for the moment.)

And I’ll be doing long-term travel my way.

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

49 thoughts on “Why Working as a Digital Nomad is Not for Me”

  1. This is a really honest and well written post, Ashley. Everyone works and plays differently and it’s good that you were able to recognise that this lifestyle was not for you. But I’m glad you will still continue to travel and I’m sure you will have a blast on your next trip. I hope you get the chance to live life as an expat again too. I’ve had several long term positions abroad and it’s nice to be able to stick around in one place for a while- you can definitely form a sense of community that way. Looking forward to hearing more about your upcoming trip.

  2. Thanks for always being courageous to share what you really think about long-term travel; it’s always over-glamorized in the travel blogosphere but it’s definitely not for everyone, myself included. I’ve personally enjoyed being a temporary expat here in Spain because it’s given me the opportunity to travel both within Spain and across the near vicinity without having to shell out a $1,000 roundtrip plane ticket for every trip. Plus, I’m a big homebody and having my own bed and a place to hang up my clothes (and cook!!!) is reassuring. Looking forward to hearing about your upcoming travels in Europe. (Come to Galicia! ^_^ )

    • Trust me, I’d love to! I visited Galicia when I was 17 and absolutely loved it. And I know what you mean about being a homebody- I’m currently staying with a friend in London and am so grateful to have a warm bed!

  3. It’s funny…the way you worked on your Asia trip is what I’m aiming towards! This is what I want to try and do. Maybe I’ll hate it too, but I’d like to give it a try. Good for you for realising it wasn’t for you, though. And have a great laptop-free trip! (That does sound tempting, of course!)

  4. Glad to know where you’re coning from when you had said you weren’t traveling with your laptop anymore in an earlier post. Its actually a fear of mine that I won’t enjoy being a digital nomad and I’m glad I have a base in Goa for that reason.you’ll enjoy your trip more without your computer it seems so I think its great!

  5. Beautiful and heartfelt post, Ashley. In the travel blog world, I’ve read countless solo long-term travel blogs, and while they provide great content, I have always wondered if the long-term travel is for me. I don’t think it is, but I would be willing to give it a shot. While you gave it a shot and it’s not for you, it’s best that you gave the experience a go. You learned more about yourself and learned what you like best. I am looking forward to being an expat and having a sense of community while teaching in Spain. This will give me a chance to travel while having a community. This post made me feel more connected to you because you were honest about an often glamorized part of travel that is not for everyone.

  6. This is the most honest thing I have read in a while. It is so easy to see travel as all positives, but harder to acknowledge the costs and shortcomings. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I can totally relate to this Ashley, I’ve been been on two 5+ month trips and am 6 months into the second through Europe doing a working holiday picking up various odd jobs and generating freelance income off my blog and while the freedom is great. it does get a bit lonely at times, Plus I begin to miss having that home and community to go back to that you lack being a digital nomad.

  8. I always wondered how you guys full time world traveller feel.
    I always wished I could be like you, traveling the world solo, free.
    It takes courage!!
    I took a moment to think if I could do it, if I could leave everything for the freedom of travel.
    I can’t.
    It’s not the house, it’s not the job, it’s not the things I can afford every month with the money I earn from my 9-5 job.
    It’s relationships.
    That I’m addicted to.
    I totally get your point and I’m with you! :)
    Travel the world having a job and a lot of friends, family, boyfriend, a cat and YOUR place is possible!
    I want to prove it :)

  9. Kudos to you Ashley, for realizing what works for you and what doesn’t. That shows tremendous emotional maturity (not something you always find in travelers – hehe) and courage to do what you feel is best for yourself. Great post.

  10. The digital nomad lifestyle does tend to get over-glamorized and can fill those of us not doing it with envy. Thanks for the reminder that it’s not necessarily what it’s cracked up to be!

  11. This was a great post, Ashley, and one I think a lot of people can relate to. I think the reality is that it’s pretty much impossible to travel full-time and work, unless you happen to have a business that is already well established (or if you only play a small part in it), because (as you know) traveling is exhausting and if you’re in a creative field, that’s requires time and energy too. With only 24 hours in a day, something’s gotta give. I think this is a huge part of why so many “digital nomads” don’t travel very quickly and tend to base themselves in places for longer periods of time. The flipside of that is the other thing you mention, not having a community and the loneliness and aimlessness that can arise from that. I think I’m incredibly lucky to get to travel and work with my husband, and having the blog definitely makes me feel a lot less “lost” than I think I might otherwise. It’s not a 100% substitute for actual real live friends, though, and I definitely think it will be nice to get back to a place where we can actually feel we’re part of the community rather than standing on the fringes peeping in. And kudos to you for figuring out what makes you happy and making that a priority. Not everyone needs to (or should) be a digital nomad, and I think there are plenty of other ways to travel and lead your life. There are definitely a lot of perks to the expat lifestyle, so it will be nice to see where this direction takes you!

  12. This is so honest! Sometimes people only write/talk about the positive things about traveling, but every traveler knows there are definite ups and downs. It’s not always as glamorous as it sounds, so thank you for sharing the truth!

  13. Thanks for being so honest!

    I totally understand what you mean. At the end of the day, most people travel because it’s something they love doing. If something is stopping you from enjoying it the way you should do, then it needs re-evaluating. And there is no ‘one size fits all’.

    Also, what works for you at one time in your life may not always work. It’s the same with solo female travel. Plus, I think too much of anything can be a problem. We need variety, so it’s fine to give up on solo travelling for a while – doesn’t mean you can’t go back to it in the future.

    Looking forward to reading about your future travels, and hope you find that enjoyment again!

  14. I have never even tried to be a digital (freelance) nomad to know that it is not for me, so I count you as brave for trying. It is definitely not for everyone, you and me alike. My travel has grown from my way of finding independence and how I fit in my own skin, to a way of connecting and reconnecting with the greatest loves of my life: family and friends, scattered about the globe. While I am an introvert and more than happy to be alone, there is nothing sweeter than sitting in silence with a dear friend beside a fire, or perhaps taking in a little music at a pub or sharing a bottle of wine or a bike ride by a lake. For me this is the spice of life.

  15. Hi Ashley :)

    Interesting post, though with a few caveats. Your experience only shines on what I think are the worst aspects of a digital nomad lifestyle:

    1) Being immerse in drudgery (freelance writing) just to at the bills, and
    2) The fallacy that more sights! more travel! = excitement.

    I sure wouldn’t enjoy the lifestyle you’ve described.

    As a digital nomad myself, I don’t endorse the “suitcase lifestyle”. Like you, I believe the most important part of travel are the relationships you form. Can’t do that if you’re whizzing through a different town every two days in a drunken haze.

    When you slow travel, whether for a month or longer (going on 2 years for me), you give yourself a chance to get to know people and develop said relationships and to explore at leisure. That’s how you find a community, with locals and expats, not other tourists.

    Not only that, it’s cheaper ($7/day hostel is $300+ a month – you can usually rent a room/studio for less than that). Plus, once you have a home base, you can gather your thoughts and develop your own enterprise that you can run from the road. For me, freelancing sucks. Sure it can pay the bills, but you’re just trading a desk job for another one with a prettier view.

    My 2¢ ;)

    -Rich Polanco

    • Thanks for your input, Rich- though I’m not sure I made myself clear in my writing about what my situation was. Though my job was a lot of work, I did enjoy it- after all I love writing and blogging! And I traveled slowly, spending a week or two in most destinations. I spent a full month in each country (besides Hong Kong and Singapore) so I definitely gave myself enough time to slow down and enjoy. All in all I definitely prefer being a long-term expat and am certainly not a nomad!

    • I’d consider the locals point of view.

      A foreigner comes into town, they’re fun, but they’re only going to be around for week.

      Can’t blame them for not wanting to invest in a friendship with every foreigner that comes through for a week.

      This isn’t a jab at Ashley or anything, but a real take on why some places seem “stuck up” or “not friendly.” One reason being that it could be just as hard on them to see you go as it is for you to leave them behind.

      Props on taking up the long-term approach.

    • I absolutely agree- it’s in no way the fault of the locals, but rather just the nature of traveling rather than living for a while. And honestly the only place that have felt not friendly to me are Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I lived for five months and Hanoi, Vietnam!

  16. Well you have certainly given me a lot to think about I am soon to embark on my own solo adventure, and will be lugging my laptop and camera trying to make a go of my new blog and hopefully get good enough at writing to get a few freelance gigs to fund my travels. I was only thinking about the excitement and adventure of it all and not really thinking about how lonely I might be. Will I be trading in one burden (office life) for another (having constant writing deadlines and not being able to truly enjoy travel) of course I’m getting ahead of myself as I have never published a thing lol I may not even get hired.

    Still I wonder if I will feel extra lonely hanging out in hostels with younguns who still get off on drunken escapades and random hook ups, at 34 inebriated make out sessions with strangers don’t really sound appealing.

    I guess only time will tell, but great article, I love how you open up about personal feelings.

    • That’s a big leap, Nicki! From personal experience I wouldn’t recommend freelance writing as the sole way to generate income on the road but there are lots of other online avenues for revenue. Best of luck and happy travels!

  17. Props for the honest post, Ashley. It’s very hard for people to admit these types of things to themselves, much less put it on display in a public forum.

    I secretly share a fear that I may be in the same boat as you. I’ve built it up in my mind for several years now that all I want is to be a digital nomad. However, now that I have traveled a bit I’m starting to see that maybe it’s not what I truly want. Instead, I think I enjoy living in a new place for an extended period (a year, for example) before moving on to a new place.

    With a year or so, you get to experience everything that a cultural offers while still being able to form the relationships that can be difficult to sustain when you are hopping around from place to place. So, I think this may be the lifestyle that I enjoy more than the traditional digital nomad variety. Thanks for sharing!

    • I’m glad to hear you related to this Matt. And honestly I think the only way to see if you enjoy working as a digital nomad is to try it out. And maybe it will work best to be an expat abroad- that’s my favorite setup, honestly!

  18. I understand your point Ashley. Not all the time travelling is fun, sometimes there are boring part and not that perfect.

  19. Good for you Ashley and cheers all way. This post is the very reason why I like you and your blog: your honesty – plain and true.
    I did the nomad thing for a few years and it was fun but after I went to India I just felt so tired. And it was lovely to find a home as an expat in Berlin. And I’m still here, married, settled and travelling a different way around!

  20. I’m definitely with you on this one – trying to work and travel at the same time for me usually ends with not doing either of them very well. Some people are better at keeping the balance but when I try to do the two, whichever I’m doing I always feel I should be doing the other. Everyone works in a different way but for me shorter periods of travel mixed in with periods at home working seem to be the best way.

  21. I’ve never tried the “digital nomad” lifestyle, but I think I would dislike it for the reasons you mentioned. I feel like I’ve been reading about a lot of people who are finding this to not be the healthiest way to live – thank you for sharing and reminding readers that it’s not all fun and games as a travel writer.

  22. Loved your honesty in this. I have to agree on most points (though I have no experience being a digital nomad). Although I’ve always moved abroad solo, I do need the relationships in my life to be happy. Most trips I take are with friends & I’m happy that way. Even now, being in Ireland for 4 months I’m starting to miss the friendships I have back home, even though I’ve made new ones here. I think as I get older the importance of the people in my life is sticking more. Who knows! Lovely post. xxx

  23. This is a great perspective. I just started out my blog, mainly to keep my family and friends at home updated on what I’m doing with my life. I’ve thought about how cool it would be to begin making money off my blog, but I feel like it might take the pleasure out of traveling. I have a 3 week solo trip coming up and I’m debating if I should blog during it or after it, let’s see what happens!

  24. Balancing digital work is no picnic, I did it on a bit of a varied basis while on a RtW trip and while the money was nice and very much needed, finding balance was hard. Definitely days cooped up in my hotel room and losing track of time. I can understand why people might want to do this permanently, location independence is sexy, but it isn’t for me either.

  25. I also don’t think I could be a digital nomad, well definitely not in the long term. Other than the isolation, the main thing that would worry me is the uncertainty of funds. You can’t really budget when you don’t know what you will make one month to the next and I am a planner! That would definitely stress me out. My goal is to make some money off my blog but the main reason I do it is as a gateway to other opportunities in the travel world as well as connecting to other travellers and travel bloggers. I love being an expat and I will definitely continue living in different places around the world :)

  26. Interesting Perspective.

    I have been a digital nomad on and off for 8 years and I’d say your main issue was being over worked and not finding the right balance. For instance I will only work part-time hours Monday thru Friday and keep a strict routine but will also take weeks off.

    My work is not linked to deadlines or other people’s expectations. I work as much as I want or little.

    Being a solo traveller opens me up to meeting far more people and I love it.

    I think you might find being a digital nomad is not so bad after all. Sure beats working in an office 9-5!

  27. I know that feeling. And I know what it feels like to be in one place for 5 years+. Don’t like either.

    I think the ultimate solution is travelling as a couple (for the bond), both DN’s, and spending 3-6 months a year at a ‘home’ base. That’s what I’m working towards.

  28. For me, I like to live abroad as an expat and work in one place for a while (at least a year). And then when I go traveling, I just want to travel – not work. Having money saved up can be nice, but even better is to create a few streams of passive income. Being entirely dependent on freelancing isn’t fun for me. It’s much easier to be somewhere in the middle of Southeast Asia when you know that Apple, Amazon, and Google are going to deposit money into your bank account at the end of the month.

  29. I totally know what you mean about the lack of community. I’m not a digital nomad, but have been moving around a LOT in the past three years… and it’s definitely taking its toll. I’m super excited to move to London and stay put for a year now!

  30. I agree its not for everyone and there are many distractions with working on the road. However, I quite like it – actually I love it :)

  31. Thanks for this insight. As someone who just resigned from an overseas job and has no idea what’s next, I have been flirting with the idea of being a digital nomad. My doubts stemmed from just what you so eloquently said in this post. Well said. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

  32. Great post! For a few years, I thought I lost my wanderlust, until I recently realized I just like travelling with friends more than I like travelling solo.

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