Whenever I get asked about what I do for a living and how long I’ve been traveling, my response to the question inevitably illicit a sort of awe that somehow convey that I’m living the dream. Most people have this idea that working while traveling is an eternal vacation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Traveling while working has detached me from the joys of travel. Turned me into a crazy and irritable hermit. Gave me a whole different kind of stress I didn’t have to face working full time back home.
As a digital nomad (web developer) who has a part-time to a full-time schedule, I don’t always know when I will be working for 15 hours straight or 2 hours on any given day. I don’t always get to go when I want to. I have to travel slow so I can get work done in big chunks at a time. Obviously, when working I’m not traveling. I don’t get to enjoy the sights because I’m stuck in a hostel basement past 2am having a meeting with one my clients who’s at 1pm their time on the Pacific Coast.
You can’t travel 100 percent and work 100 percent at the same time. It’s just impossible. One has to give more than the other. Work suffers while you travel, especially when traveling fast and this is just fact. In a traditional 8-5 job, you spend 5 days working and you get your weekends off to do as you please. On a digital nomad’s schedule like mine, this doesn’t change, only the hours get jumbled. My clients still work the 8-5 in California so if there’s a meeting I have to work on their time not where I’m at. If they decide to meet at 1pm Pacific Standard, I’m working at 2am in Budapest.
On the upside (the selling point) you can be based anywhere there is good internet and on your days off you can travel to exotic locations outside of reach in America for a weekend. That’s it. This is something that excites me so I do it. I’m not doing it for money. I don’t make nearly as much as I would if I worked back home doing the traditional full-time job, in fact just a fraction. But I can continue indefinite travel even just making a fraction of my full-time salary as long as I’m traveling in cheap countries.
Here’s a fact. The average salary for workers in the Balkans is 10 Euros a day. Let that sink in for a minute. People living in San Francisco, California make more in less than hour than folks make in the Balkans in a day! You don’t need to make a lot of money to travel slowly in Eastern Europe. And since I wanted to live a life of travel, I didn’t mind making a few sacrifices on my salary as long as I get what I want out of life.
I can’t travel as fast as I would like and cram as much stuff into my itinerary because I’m working. Sometimes I spend months in one location when I find a quality working environment. I spent 3 months in Romania and 2 months total in Budapest to get the bulk of my work done. But whenever I do a quick jaunt into remote locations I would sometimes get work emails needing me to fix something, it’s a pain in the ass. I like traveling to far-flung locations but I mostly can’t because a quality work environment with quality internet always takes precedence while I’m working. I can’t count the number of times my clients thought I was in a dance club working because my only option of getting a decent internet connection is a loud public café.
Jumping from hostel to hostel is just not ideal. Working in a shared dormitory with a bunch of other travelers is worse than working in a cubicle. When you travel fast, your work suffers. You have to be a meticulous planner for travel and work to have perfect synergy. I’m just not gifted in the planning department. I do things impromptu and out of spontaneity and figure it out as I go. That’s what I love about travel. The random discoveries and adventures that come up from the spontaneity. But with work, there is no spontaneity. Gone. You have to plan shit in advance and this takes away from the fun of travel.
Fucking deadlines looming over your head. Hours and hours of research. There’s a bug in the code I might have to rewrite. A bug in the application. Clients changing their minds. All kinds of stuff that could creep up that will suddenly require you look into it. These are things you have to account for and consider when you travel and work. There’s been days or weeks where I don’t go outside my flat or hostel due to work. I don’t get to socialize as much being stuck working and when you’re working remote, you work alone. It’s different than working in an office environment where you can at least have social contact regardless of how stupid or pointless the gossip or conversation is.
Working overseas means being away from friends and family for very long periods of time. Digital nomads are, for the most part, introverts. You have to be if you can endure being socially isolated that long from friends and families. I’m no exception but I do get homesick from time to time and miss hanging out with my friends back home.
Do you want to work online and travel full-time?
Ask yourself these questions. Are you a good planner? Can you handle working remotely alone? Working at home or remotely takes some serious discipline. There’s social isolation factor that you have to take into account. You’ll be away from friends or family for long periods of time. How will you handle it? Being location independent doesn’t mean you can pick any place like Timbuktu or other remote locations. Digital nomads go to places like Berlin, Budapest, Chiang-Mai, or Columbia and stay there for long periods. Some places are cheaper than others with equally good infrastructure (internet) for working remotely. There’s also the logistics of debt or crap you own back home. How much is storage gonna cost you? This kind of lifestyle favors people who don’t have a lot of baggage and stuff holding them back.
Should you work and travel full-time? Final thoughts.
Having worked for over a year while traveling, I can honestly say, I prefer to work full-time and then travel full-time. Work takes the fun out of travel. I’ve missed out on so many things because of work getting in the way of my travels. My plan is to end my travels in Europe in a few months and then go back to work the traditional full-time job, likely a 6-9 months’ contract. Even if it means going back to the 4 cubicle walls that often dread. I would also use that time to cover (on my blog) my home, California, which I often take so much for granted. When the contract ends I will travel full-time focusing on adventures and photography.
Living a life of travel doesn’t mean living in a suitcase for the rest of your life. It just means you prioritize travel over working and making money. However, working while traveling challenges these priorities. Your travel planning is predicated on work. You can’t just be spontaneous and go to remote places if you wanted to.
Should you work while traveling? To be honest, I can’t recommend it. I think it’s overrated. Things you’ve read on the web it doesn’t properly convey what really goes on with working while traveling full-time. The Facebook posts and Instagram selfie in front of the Eifel tower or the Leaning tower of Pisa don’t show the dark side of traveling full-time. Even more so while working ton top of it. Work simply takes away some of the joys of travel. Creates unnecessary stress and affects your work. No matter how it’s portrayed in blogs and magazines I don’t envy people who work and travel full-time. I personally think you should focus on travel when traveling and focus on work when working.