What are the most common digital nomad challenges and problems?

Published by Stefan Nordström on

10 common digital nomad challenges and problems

What are some digital nomad challenges and problems that hide behind the shiny surfare? It can’t be as good as it looks on Instagram, right? It really isn’t – only sometimes.

There are many upsides to leaving the 9-5 and becoming a digital nomad, but it also presents a whole new set of problems. Here are 10 common digital nomad challenges, and what I as a nomad have done to overcome them. Don’t let the downsides stop you, but be aware of them.

By Stefan Nordström

Stefan Nordström - frilansande konsult inom digital marknadsföring som copywriting och SEO

  • Freelancing digital marketing consultant
  • 8 years of in-house and freelance experience
  • Expertise: SEO, copywriting, newsletters, conversion optimization, digital strategy
  • LinkedIn | Mail | Instagram

10 common digital nomad challenges

1. Loneliness
2. Missing out on the stuff going on at home
3. Working and struggling surrounded by people on vacation
4. Life-balance and experiences
5. A lack of healthy routines
6. Work environment and ergonomy
7. Managing your travels
8. Spending way too much money
9. You’re unable to pursue some interests
10. Never feeling content and always looking for the next fix

1. Loneliness – the biggest digital nomad challenge for many

Loneliness is included in all of these lists, and it’s 100% correct. It’s also one my biggest personal digital nomad challenges. For me, it comes in two ways. Sometimes it’s just about being alone in place where you don’t know anyone and/or suffering from travel burnout. Other times it’s about the freelancing part of the nomad lifestyle. It can feel like no-one understands you when it comes to the lifestyle and what you’re trying to accomplish by freelancing. Both parts can be very hard to handle at times.

The nomad life opens up many doors when it comes to meeting new people, but many of the experiences are also on a shallow level. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad, not by any means, but it can’t replace connecting with family or close friends. For me, a solution has been getting friends to visit me, which has always been a really energy-booster.

2. Missing out on stuff going on at home

Video calls and chat can keep some connection to the people at home, but it’s unavoidable to lose touch with what’s going on there, at least a little bit. And it can really hurt, especially if travel isn’t doing it for you in the way you expected it to. Big things will keep happening in people’s lives, and you’re going to miss out on some of it.

My personal experience is that everything goes back to normal very fast, once I’m back home. None the less, you will miss out on valuable time. Don’t let it come as a surprise.

3. Working and struggling surrounded by people on vacation

“No one understands my situation”. Indeed! But it’s not so strange when you’re working 24/7 on your laptop in a paradise location where other people go on their honeymoon? This is a feeling that keeps appearing for me. Burying my eyes in the computer doesn’t feel like a waste in Sweden in December (everyone is doing it), but it’s not the same in Bali.

There are also opposite versions of this. Digital nomad life is privileged, and there so many who simply don’t have the opportunity to travel around in that way. And of course it’s natural that local people in travel destinations don’t understand digital nomad challenges, because how can such a privileged person not be happy with the situation? It can be a good reminder of how lucky you are as a nomad, though!

4. Life-balance and experiences

An unknown destination means that there is so much to see and experience. But freelancing usually means that you have a packed work schedule as well. Chances are, combining the experiences and the workload will limit the time to recuperation. It probably works fine for some people, but for me, it’s caused a lot of exhaustion and life-balance issues.

My Portugal countryside routine was amazing on paper; work between breakfast and lunch, go an amazing hike in the afternoon, and come back and work again in the evening. But how does that leave space for any form of recuperation between the activities? As good as it may sound, it just didn’t work for me over time.

My solution has been to book as many days as possible in each destination. And having the audacity to binge-watch a TV show or sleep in, instead of going on another massive hiking tour.

5. A lack of healthy routines

Running, lifting weights and being active is a big part of my life, and intense traveling definitely makes it harder to keep the routines going. A couple of weeks off are fine, but after that I need to get back into a healthy lifestyle to feel good. I need it, mentally and physically.

The running is usually fixable, depending on which place I’m staying (all I need is a pair of shoes). But getting to a gym and eating healthy is a different game. I do my best combat this – but despite my efforts it’s definitely one of my biggest digital nomad challenges.

6. Work environment and ergonomy

I created a perfect home office in my apartment, and then I left. “Working anywhere” means working in dorm beds, on buses, in coffee shops and in stations. It usually doesn’t take long before your neck, back arms or hands start protesting.

This is one of those things where I really don’t have any magical solutions. Sometimes, you just have to do it. For me, I try to pay my body back through physical activity and as much of a healthy lifestyle as possible.

7. Managing your travels

Traveling with a high freelance workload unveiled a whole new set of problems for me. When you travel around, it does require a lot of time and energy to keep going. This time and energy might be there when you work a little, but if it’s near full-time, it’s damned to become a problem.

Some examples are:

  • Finding/booking transport
  • Finding/booking accommodation
  • Packing and re-packing
  • Shopping (it can be a bigger hassle than it sounds like)
  • Laundry (it can definitely be a bigger hassle than it sounds like)
  • Keeping the financial side under control

8. Spending way too much money

One of the most common digital nomad challenges (and traveling challenges overall) is that the money disappears way too fast. And my feeling about it is that it really doesn’t help all that much to travel in affordable countries. There are still experiences to have and challenges to overcome that will wind up costing more than expected.

Short-term solutions like expensive private rooms can be fine during a limited period, but over time, the expenses start to pile up. Being a digital nomad usually also means a lot more eating, snacking and drinks out. My solution has been to make a very, very high budget. Because it sucks to travel on a tight budget, even for me that usually goes for the cheap options anyway.

9. You’re unable to pursue some interests

Living your life out of a bag in a foreign country means that you won’t have all your stuff. Sure, you can bring a tennis racket or a pair of running shoes, but what about the rest? For me as a musician it really is a problem, and it becomes one pretty fast.

You can’t exactly bring the full home studio, guitars, microphones, when you can barely fit your clothes in the first place. If you’re not a packing genius that can bring your entire life, the solution is to simply accept it, and sacrifice it for the positives of nomad life.

10. Never feeling content and always looking for the next fix

Freelancers and digital nomads are some of the most entrepreneurial and development-focused people out there. That means life often becomes a chess-board, where you’re always working towards the next big goal, several steps ahead. This can apply to work, but also traveling and experiences.

In general this is a great trait that leads to brave decisions and development. But it’s also something that can make it hard to enjoy the moment.

Everything can easily become about the next destination, the next big project and the next milestone. Personally, this is one my biggest digital nomad challenges, and I constantly struggle with it. But the amazing things I get to experience usually help me find the now, even when I’m spending way too much time on the laptop.

My overall take on digital nomad challenges and problems

Leaving home to travel full-time opens up a whole new set of strong, positive experiences. But at the same time, the negative times can get harsher. When things go wrong, you are often in an unfamiliar place where you lack the contacts and comforts of home. That’s why it’s good to be prepared for it, by managing your expectations regarding digital nomad life.

Challenges aside, I think nomad life has a lot to offer, especially in my own case when I can return to Sweden to freelance at home during periods. In the end, it comes down to what you want out of life as an individual. I enjoy a free and open life style, and that’s why the digital nomad thing really works for me.

Do you have questions or thoughts about digital nomad life, or do you want to connect with other freelancers? Do you need someone to help you with digital marketing? Get in touch with my by adding me on LinkedIn or e-mailing nordstromstefan86@gmail.com.

Stefan Nordström

Digital marketing freelancer and consultant originally from Stockholm, Sweden.


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