Why People Think the Digital Nomad Lifestyle Is Unsustainable

Nicole Cooper
5 min readSep 12, 2017

And my rebuttal for those points…

As the so called digital nomad movement becomes more and more popular on social media, I’ve noticed an increased number of thought pieces of naysayers warning people to not go into the lifestyle because it’s not sustainable. While there are definitely cons in the lifestyle (as well as any other type of lifestyle), I disagree that it is only meant to be short term. Let’s dissect some of the common points people use to discourage others.

Digital Nomads are individuals that leverage technology in order to work remotely and live an independent and nomadic lifestyle.

“The Lifestyle Is NOT Perfect.”

Of course it’s not, and neither is the traditional career route of working 40–50 years for a company while living in 2-story house in the suburbs raising 2 to 3 children. Both lifestyles come with A LOT of ups and downs. I have no problem admitting that the travel/digital nomad/entrepreneurship lifestyle is overly glamourized on social media. At the same time, when we go back in time before social media consumed our lives, almost everyone had a glamourized idea of the traditional career path that our parents/guardians, teachers, peers, and society have taught us. Both paths have been overhyped, the only difference is that the other one is being more vocalized on internet.

“You’re going to work long hours.”

Working long hours as a digital nomad on the road is no different than being a freelancer or entrepreneur in your hometown. You have to put your heart and soul into it because you’re building a customized career from scratch. Once you become profitable, your life can become more balanced between work and play. In the case of digital nomads who station themselves in their definition of paradise (e.g. Bali or Chiang Mai), it may be a little easier to engage in play because you’re surrounded by foreign territory that hasn’t been explored yet (plus it’s typically more affordable).

If anyone thought that they didn’t have to sacrifice time or live in a 4-hr work week within a month (FYI Tim Ferriss doesn’t even work 4 hours a week), then consider yourself gullible because that’s not how any of this works.

“You’re going to exhaust yourself from traveling so much.”

One week you see someone posting pictures in Thailand and the next week they’re posting pictures in the Philippines, the following week you see him/her in Malaysia and then a couple days later, they’re in Costa Rica. Many people on social media make it seem like they’re always traveling, but in reality they’ve been in one country that whole time. They’re just posting old photos until they do something interesting again. People tend to gravitate towards the so called social influencers who post consistently, so they’re addressing that demand by pumping out content on their Instagram. The digital nomads that [usually] travel rapidly are travel bloggers and YouTubers (not all of course). But hey, some people see thrill in living life on the road, so I don’t see the need to rain on their parade.

Most digital nomads are staying in a country for at least a month since that’s usually the maximum number of days you can stay in a country on a tourist visa. After that, people will either extend their visa, do a visa run, or station themselves in a nearby country and then come back once that visa expires. Some people have managed to find ways to obtain semi/permanent residency or even citizenship in another country. Andrew Henderson, of Nomad Capitalist talks a lot about planting flags in different countries on his blog and podcast.

“They move to cheap countries because they can’t afford to live in a western one.”

There is truth in this claim, but everything isn’t an absolute. A digital nomad describes someone who works from their laptop from anyplace that has internet connection. While there are many freelancers and entrepreneurs who are very profitable (I don’t know why people get the idea that every freelancer and entrepreneur is making pennies), being a digital nomad also includes full time remote employees of a company in their home country. One could assume they’ll earn enough money to live in their respective western country, so money will go very far if they were to relocate to a country with a weaker currency. Remote employees are often overlooked because they do not make the loudest noise (nor does it sound as “cool”) compared digital freelancers/entrepreneurs, who generally have the largest following on social media.

“It’s harder to find relationships.”

Living a life where you’re always traveling can be harder when you enter it as a single person as oppose to someone entering it with a partner (that’s down for the lifestyle). Many people have addressed this concern and have (or are currently) working on dating apps and communities for nomad singles and there are many communities of nomads in the countries with large amounts of DNs (e.g. Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Colombia, Mexico). Creating long last relationships, whether friendships or a lifelong partner can be harder compared to planting roots in one city, but the finding love and friends while living out of a suitcase is not a farfetched concept.

“It’s harder to raise children. They need stability.”

I personally can’t speak on this topic with first-hand experience because I don’t have any children, but in my opinion, planting roots for the sake of children will not necessarily make their lives better. There are things nomadic children will miss out on, and on the flip side, there are things stationary children miss out on when they’re not exposed to an international environment. A “dysfunctional” upbringing isn’t anything new under the sun when you think about it. Military and diplomat kids have to deal with moving and making new friends every time their parents get stationed in a new location. I have cousins who’ve lived in nearly every region of the United States because their parents bounced around from one military base to another. Tayo Rockson, host of the As Told By Nomads Podcast, has lived on 4 continents within the first 18 years of his life because he is the child of a diplomat. There is a growing community of third culture kids (people who have spent most of their childhood living outside of their country of citizenship), and in the age of the internet, children today have it easier because there’s so many mediums for them to stay in touch with their friends from all over the world.

Everything in Life Comes With Sacrifices

Everything isn’t for everybody. One should assess their OWN values, wants and needs and what they’re willing to sacrifice in order to achieve them. This doesn’t only apply to being a digital freelancer or entrepreneur, but ANY lifestyle.

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Nicole Cooper

Self-reflections, sports, fitness, health, travel, living abroad and social commentary that may come with a splash of contrarianism. Twitter & IG @_nicolecoop