If anything positive comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be the greater acceptance of remote work and independent employment.
To avoid spreading the virus, most businesses have instituted work-from-home policies. While not all jobs are conducive to these arrangements, many companies plan to continue allowing typical office workers to work from home indefinitely.
This may entice many people to join a movement that began years before: the life of a digital nomad.
Digital nomads are people who do not have a personal residence. Instead, they travel from place to place while making money as freelance professionals or performing temporary gig work.
Like the transients and explorers of past generations, digital nomads are drawn to the exhilaration of discovering new places and experiences every day. They eschew routine. They’re free to go just about anywhere.
What makes digital nomads different from their predecessors is that technology has made it possible to earn a decent living without a permanent home or an office to commute to each day.
Here are some of the pros and cons of becoming a digital nomad.
The pros of becoming a digital nomad
It’s the ultimate freedom
As long as you can pay your expenses, you can do just about anything and go just about anywhere. You don’t have the responsibility of homeownership holding you back. You don’t have to limit where you live based on where the best career opportunities are located. You can set your own hours and determine (at least to some degree) what you’ll work on.
You will be more inspired
The digital nomad lifestyle appeals largely to those in creative vocations, such as writing, art, and web design. Often, these individuals have their creativity stifled by the same routine: the same drive to work, the same cubicle in the same building, and the same projects. No amount of ping pong tables at work can help. But if you’re working from an RV in a mountainside resort for a few weeks before setting off toward the ocean, or if you decide to live on a houseboat for a while, the variety is sure to spur your creativity.
You don’t have to deal with bad neighbors
Whether you rent or own, most people have neighbors. Sometimes those neighbors are a nuisance, whether it’s noise or unkempt property. As a digital nomad, you can live far away from the nearest neighbors. Or if you do live in proximity to uncivilized people, you can just move somewhere else.
There are plenty of resources
You can find all kinds of information on how to live this lifestyle, from where to travel to dealing with work visas if going overseas. There’s also no shortage of information on where to find gig work, how to file taxes as a digital nomad, and expert advice for balancing work and life on-the-go.
You can always come home
Nothing says being a digital nomad has to be permanent. With a little extra money, you can return to the “real world” of work, a home, and stability any time you feel the need to get off the road.
It can be a great way to escape the chaos of 2020
Few people will argue that 2020 has been one of the most depressing years in recent history. COVID-19 has had most of us in lockdown for much of the year, isolated from friends and large social gatherings. Since you’re already forced to work from home for the foreseeable future, why not take home on the road? This way, you can have an adventure while still getting your work done. And just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you can’t social distance and keep yourself safe from contracting the virus.
The cons of becoming a digital nomad
Not having a permanent address has its complications
A number of insurance and financial activities are more challenging without a physical address. For example, paying state and federal income taxes when you earn income in multiple states and/or countries requires a lot more detailed record keeping. In addition, rates for health insurance, life insurance, and disability insurance are usually tied to your permanent residence.
It’s tough to make a budget
Not only is your income inconsistent, but so are your expenses. You don’t have the same mortgage or rent payment each month. Constant travel means irregular expenses such as gas, airfare, and other transportation, as well as lodging and eating out. Plus, the cost of living varies widely by location. What you pay for gas for in Kansas City will be much different than what it costs you in Napa Valley, California. Living in other countries means navigating differences in currency value.
Great internet isn’t a given on the road
The “digital” part of being a digital nomad requires a robust internet connection. Even in the year 2020, with the promise of 5G, this isn’t always available away from a permanent home. Internet dead spots still exist. Also, it’s not advisable to use public wi-fi, especially if your work is of a proprietary nature.
It’s easy to be distracted
Being a digital nomad is kind of like being on a permanent vacation. But to maintain your lifestyle, you have to earn money, which means doing some work. Concentrating on work, however, can be challenging when you constantly find yourself distracted by new places and new experiences. It’s not impossible to get work done as a nomad, but it will take extra effort and discipline to do so.
Where do you receive medical care?
Not having a permanent home means not having a dedicated physician. Anytime you need to see a doctor, you’re likely seeing a different professional each time at an urgent care or a walk-in clinic. This can be especially problematic for people with chronic conditions who need regular checkups. Not being treated by the same doctor means you could receive different treatment suggestions with each checkup.
Is becoming a digital nomad worth it?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a digital nomad in 2020. However, this list should reveal that there is much to consider whether you’re hesitant to take that step or even a little too eager to do so.
Whether or not this lifestyle is right for you ultimately comes down to your current responsibilities and what you envision for your future — as well as the risks associated with each.
Joel Palmer is a freelance writer and personal finance expert who focuses on the mortgage, insurance, financial services, and technology industries. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a business and financial reporter.
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