Should I Opt for a Career as a Digital Nomad?

Digital nomad

Living and working as a digital nomad is growing in popularity as internet capabilities expand globally. If you have incurable wanderlust you are in for a treat with such a career move. Working as a digital nomad or virtual expat gives you the opportunity to quench your travel thirst in dynamic and exciting ways.

Now before I dive too deep into this topic let me clarify what I mean by a digital nomad. For definitive purposes, a digital nomad is an individual who utilizes technology as their primary means of maintaining a location independent lifestyle. This could be through employment, entrepreneurship, residual income, or retirement.

For the purpose of clarity, I use the term digital nomad and virtual expat interchangeably throughout this post. However, keep in mind that a digital nomad does not necessarily have to live outside of their passport country. Though, living abroad is generally accepted as a major part of this lifestyle.

Digital Nomad Pathways

In general there are two main pathways to becoming a digital nomad. The first option involves being a virtual employee or entrepreneur while living outside of your passport country. In such a scenario, an expat can work for an organization within or outside of their host country.

For instance, you may move from America to the UK and work as a virtual graphic designer while working for a UK based company. Conversely, you may work as a virtual graphic designer in the U.S. for a U.S. based company and decide to move to Thailand while continuing your employment.

The second option for digital nomads is to work remotely for an international company as a expatriate employee while living in your passport country. Remote or virtual work still gives a person the chance to travel domestically or internationally at their leisure. Though I know that some may not deem this as a “true” expat or digital nomad experience.

However, such an individual may be considered an expat based on their employment classification. This has become more common in light of recent travel bans. This is primarily due to the need for countries that depend on expat labor to find innovative ways to attract and retain such employees. Also, this situation still qualifies one as a digital nomad based on the definition.

There are many pros and cons to both of these options. Deciding to embark on a digital nomad journey is simply a matter of which option is most beneficial for your particular needs.

Pros of Being a digital nomad

Cost of Living

One of the most common reasons that people choose to work as a virtual expat is to enjoy a better standard of living. The average income of a worker or retiree from a developed country can typically go a long way in an underdeveloped or developing country.

This is why many remote employees and entrepreneurs choose to live in foreign countries with a lower cost of living. They can enjoy a higher standard of living while being able save, pay off bills, or otherwise accumulate cash reserves.

Location Independence

Another benefit of being a digital nomad is the ability to be location independent. You can travel to and/or live almost anywhere as a digital nomad. So this option is perfect for someone interested in exploring multiple locations without being tied to a specific geographical region.

More Opportunities

Being a virtual expat opens the door to more employment opportunities. The virtual work space in general has literally changed our definition of when, why, and how we work. So digital nomads are often able to find or create unique and innovative career paths.

Freedom

Being a digital nomad is all about freedom. In many instances you have the opportunity to choose when, where, and how long you stay in a given destination. Depending on your work situation, you may also be able to choose your own schedule. This could mean spending early mornings relaxing at the beach. Or it could mean taking long drives up the coast in the middle of the workweek.

Unique Experiences

Being an expat in general often comes with its share of unique and exciting experiences. Expats tend to spend a good portion of their time exploring and learning about new places and meeting new people.

Working as a virtual expat has the propensity to expand your ability to explore and learn to a much higher degree. Since you are not bound to a traditional office setting you can have the freedom to move around more frequently. This ultimately means more time for adventures and exploration.

Cons of Being a digital nomad

Infrastructure Issues

The digital nomad space can also present its share of challenges. In particular for those who rely on steady and fast internet capabilities to perform their duties, infrastructure issues can present major problems.

This is especially the case for expats who live in areas that consistently have issues with the electricity and/or internet grid. Unfortunately, such issues are very common in underdeveloped and developing regions of the world. These issues can make the digital nomad life extremely difficult or outright impossible in some cases.

Loneliness and Isolation

Being an expat already comes with its own share of issues related to loneliness and isolation. Engaging on a digital nomad adventure can easily amplify such issues. When you work remotely you typically work in a bubble even if you communicate with your colleagues on a regular basis.

If you spend the majority of your day online while living in a foreign country it is easy to feel isolated. Undoubtedly this contributes to loneliness. When loneliness lingers one can easily begin to experience mental health issues. So this is definitely something to consider especially if you tend to be the loner type.

Visa Complications

Another issue for digital nomads is securing visas for long term stays. Digital nomads who work for organizations outside of their expat country usually have issues securing work or other long term visas. This is because they don’t actually work for an organization within the country.

Therefore, they either have to make visa runs, apply for a business visa, or secure a long-term visa through other means. In most instances, such situations can prove cumbersome and daunting over the long haul. This can easily fatigue even the most adventurous person.

Dating and Romance

Loneliness and isolation can also bring trouble in the romance department. Not being around other people on a regular basis obviously diminishes your chances of meeting someone special. Couple this with language and cultural barriers and you have a recipe for dating disasters.

Though all is not lost for virtual expats, it can be challenging for them to find suitable mates. Dating can be even more challenging for digital nomads who move around frequently. It is very difficult to maintain long distance relationships over the long haul.

Being Misunderstood

When someone chooses not to live a traditional lifestyle, they are often misunderstood by society. While being non-traditional is more fashionable than ever before it is still taboo to break away from some societal norms. Living as digital nomad is one of them.

Your family and friends will probably often question your desire to roam the world. Many of them won’t understand why you don’t want to settle down. So you may often feel like the black-sheep of the family if you choose this lifestyle.

The Best Pathway

As always, my advise for choosing any option is what’s best for your situation. The digital nomad life is the only way to live for some. For others, not so much. You need to do some deep digging to determine if the above-mentioned and other pros outweigh the cons for you.

Tips for Planning a Successful Gap Year

I absolutely love the concept of a gap year. Though I didn’t take a gap year between high school and my undergraduate studies, I did have the opportunity to take a gap year before I started my doctoral studies. And, I am very grateful that I did. Taking time off provided me with the opportunity to think about and discover my true passion.

After I graduated from high school I went straight to university and then I started graduate school for my master’s degree once I completed my undergraduate studies. I changed my major several times throughout the course of my undergraduate and graduate career. I was a very focused student so I always got good grades, but I didn’t fully enjoy my studies because I was simply doing what I needed to do in order to pass my courses.

After completing my master’s degree my plan was to start my doctoral studies in the upcoming fall semester. However, I experienced some family issues that delayed my plans to start my doctorate degree at the conclusion of that summer. So, I decided to take a year off so that I could focus on my personal situation.

And I am very grateful that I did. After taking time off I had more time to self reflect and truly examine my career goals. Though I was working as a professor at the time I had never really thought about what direction I wanted my career to go in or how to achieve my long term career goals.

After taking a brief hiatus from my studies, I started my doctoral studies full force. I ended up changing my major after having the opportunity to travel to and live in Africa at the beginning of my gap year. I changed my major from information technology to public health and ended up completing my degree in four years.

When I re-started my studies I was truly focused on what I was learning. I no longer went through the motions just to get a good grade. I was wholeheartedly engaged in my educational experiences. I went over and above on almost every assignment because I wanted to know more about the subject that I was engaged in.

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year(s) is when a student takes a period of time away from his or her studies with the intention to continue studies at a later time. Gap years are usually intentional and are often taken between the transition from high school to college. However, a student may end up taking a gap year for a number of reasons including health concerns, personal/family emergencies, funding issues, mandatory military service, etc. Likewise, a student can take a gap year(s) in between undergraduate and graduate studies or during any other interval of their educational journey.

What is a Successful Gap Year

I define a successful gap year(s) as time spent defining and refining one’s career goals and objectives for maximum effectiveness. This means that when an individual enters or re-enters college or university they are focused and are able to efficiently achieve their career goals. Efficient goal achievement ultimately means that the individual is able to finish college in a timely manner and acquire effective career skills without taking too many twists and turns along the way.

What You Should Do During a Gap Year?

In order to have a successful gap year it is important to plan and execute your plan of action properly. An intentional gap year should be about exploration and adventure on many levels. It should not be an afterthought or just another year of doing mundane things. So in order for your gap year to be successful you should do the following:

Set Goals

If you have already made up in your mind to take a gap year then you should set solid and realistic goals about what you wish to accomplish during this time. Don’t let life just happen. Determine your purpose for taking a gap year and build your goals around that mission.

For instance, if you plan to discover your true career passion, make plans to explore different career paths that interest you. This could be in the form of doing internships or apprenticeships, interviewing professionals working in fields that interest you, or simply reading books and articles and watching videos about the career field. If you have a list of 2-3 more potential careers make a plan for exploring each career field over a given period of time.

Even if your purpose is simply to take a break from the educational environment for a while, make plans for that as well. Loafing around on the sofa for a year is probably not going to be helpful for you when you return to your studies. In fact, being apathetic during this time will probably cause you to change your mind about your studies altogether. So your break can and should be filled with exploration even if you don’t want to focus on your career during your gap year.

Travel

Traveling has traditionally been at the cornerstone of gap year experiences. In fact, this is what the average person thinks of when they hear the phrase gap year experience. While travel is not a mandatory part of a gap year, it is probably one of the effective ways to have a successful gap year experience.

Travel is an educator in and of itself. There is something about exploring new cultures and meeting people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds that has the ability to change you at your core. Travel experiences help you grow at a much faster pace than you normally would in your day-to-day life.

Gap year travel experiences don’t have to involve extensive international trips to Africa, Asia, or Europe but such destinations can certainly help broaden your perspective in tremendous ways. You can have a successful gap year experience by traveling within your state or throughout the U.S. as there are plenty of culturally diverse experiences to be had right here in the U.S. So whatever size your budget or your courage, you should make plans to travel at some point during your gap year.

Journal

Take time to journal your gap year experiences throughout the year. You can maintain a written or video journal in which you catalog your experiences and check in with yourself. A year can go by quickly and if you are not careful you can easily forget about some of the more transformative parts of your journey.

You can set a journaling schedule to make this process easier and more intuitive. You can also strategically plan journal categories to help you keep your thoughts more organized. You can even mix and match the type of journaling that you engage in. For instance, writing tends to be a more intimate process that allows you think deeply. But it can also be tedious and time consuming especially when you have a lot of thoughts to catalog.

So you can also create vlogs of your journey. This may be done to record your private innermost thoughts about something or it could be done to capture integral parts of your career exploration or travel experiences. There is no need to publish your vlogs to an online video sharing platform like YouTube, you can simply keep them stored away for your own personal use.

Journaling helps you self-reflect. You will obviously be self reflecting in the moment that you record your thoughts or experiences, but journaling is also a vital part of long-term self reflection processes. For instance, you can read your journal or watch your vlogs at the conclusion of your gap year experience to get a better sense of how you have changed and who you have become. This information will be instrumental to you as you continue your academic studies.

Need more career guidance? Contact us so we can help you.