Although originally the digital nomad lifestyle was an answer to (corporate) burnout, now digital nomads themselves are experiencing lifestyle burnout. Read on for some trends in the location independent industry these days.
I’m having digital nomad lifestyle burnout! I’ve been on the road with my business for the last year and I can’t keep going like this. I constantly feel like I’m either not doing enough with my business, or not enjoying travel like I should. Most of the time I feel like I’m doing both badly. At the moment I don’t want to do anything. This lifestyle is hard! How have you done it all these years? – Mike
This topic is near to my heart, as I’ve suffered various incantations of burnout in the last 10 years. In 2010 I travelled way too fast, which led to serious travel fatigue and a near comatose existence for the first half of 2011. And more than once, I’ve immersed myself in so much work that things got way out of balance and my enjoyment of it faded.
Each time something like this has happened, I’ve had to reevaluate what I was doing and how I could change it. I’ve altered my pace of travel many times. I’ve even had a few home bases along the way so I could focus on work. At other times I’ve scaled back business commitments to make way for travel and other pursuits.
The beauty of the digital nomad lifestyle, is that you can design it to work best for you. Which is good, because it’s not as easy a lifestyle to live as people may think.
Whether it’s a matter of ditching the business for travel, or ditching the travel for business, there’s a trend in the digital nomad industry away from the idyllic (but unsustainable) work-on-any-beach lifestyle, and towards a more balanced approach to travel and work.
Ditching the Travel for Business
After spending a decade in corporate life spanning South Africa, London, and Hong Kong, Diane Mayor took to the road as a digital nomad for two years. But the nomadic lifestyle took a toll, and now she uses Ireland as a home base for her location independent business (helping people with established corporate careers design and implement a more fulfilling lifestyle).
Diane felt a conflict between the nomadic lifestyle and building a business, like she was either failing at one or the other and unable to do both to her satisfaction. “When I was immersed in a travel experience I was feeling guilty about not working, and when I was working in an exotic location I felt guilty for not giving it my full attention.” Eventually it was the little things that chipped away at her enjoyment of the travel lifestyle; “trying to book an appointment while doing the mental gymnastics of working out where I would be, what timezone that was, and if there was a place with wifi,” were among things that became tiresome.
Diane believes the mystique of the lifestyle is part of the reason people become digital nomads, but eventually burn out as well. “I think a lot of nomads feel pressure to keep up this facade of how blissful the process is by posting perfect photos of their laptop on the beach or coffee in an exotic location when the reality can be very different. We showcase the perks but rarely talk about the loneliness, frustration and complications of trying to make it all work online.”
It was a difficult transition for Diane to let go of the “nomadic” part of her identity, but with her location independent business she can still pack a suitcase at a moment’s notice, she enjoys having a home base to return to, and she draws on her nomadic experience to help her clients.
Diane had a curious theory on future generations of digital nomads: “I am interested in seeing how younger nomads deal with the balance in years to come. My age group picked careers that would bring them the lifestyle of the nice house, nice holidays and nice security without much regard for passion or purpose. But they got to their thirties or forties and realized the career is not fulfilling. Some young people coming out of college are picking careers to support a digital nomad lifestyle but again without much regard for passion or purpose so it will be interesting to see if their rebellion is the white picket fence dream. Fortunately, I think the nomad lifestyle will have set them up to transition much more often and with greater ease than we have as the need arises.”
Seattle Dredge is a 29 year old travel blogger and photographer, who fell into the full-time travel lifestyle. “My blog (Seattle’s Travels) was my main source of income when I graduated University, so I just kept going with that, and wanted to keep travelling. It was generally less expensive to spend time living/working in other countries than back home in Canada.” She spent four years travelling full-time and blogging as a digital nomad, before setting up a home base in Southampton, Canada.
After four years on the road, Seattle said travel lost its lustre for her; “I still love travelling, but when you’re constantly seeing and experiencing new things your senses almost dull to it, and I started to lose the excitement that I used to feel for it.”
So when she met “a boy”, she used it as an opportunity to change her lifestyle. “I now live with my boyfriend, Wade, and would rather spend my time with him than on the road alone,” although Seattle is also quick to add that they travel together a few times per year.
Her career is still location independent, but she has changed the scope of what she does to take advantage of her home base. “I started a new local business (called 44N Media) that offers all of my previously acquired skills (photography, video production, web and graphic design, social media management, and content creation) to travel and tourism related businesses in Bruce & Grey Counties (the area around Southampton). It’s very much the same as what I was doing on the road, but it focuses on a physical location around my home base.”
Seattle thinks getting started as a digital nomad now is a double-edged sword: “I think the main challenge now is that there are almost more digital nomads than “regular people”, and it seems like hundreds of new blogs are popping up each day, so it’s becoming a bit saturated. Although, I suppose I’d still encourage a young person to consider the digital nomad life before an office job.”
Shifting Gears (in Travel and Business)
Dariece and Nick are the Canadian couple behind GoatsOnTheRoad, a website designed to show you how to turn your travels into a lifestyle. They’re masters at making money abroad and have been on the road since 2008, exploring some of the least visited places on earth.
Although they had a travel blog in the early days of their travel adventures, it wasn’t until they read an article in 2013 about somebody who was earning over $3,000/month from their travel blog that they started to take it seriously, and they’ve been full-time travel bloggers ever since. (Click here for their tips on how to start a travel blog).
Dariece and Nick love the freedom of their digital nomad lifestyle, and for them, there’s no end in sight. But they have had to shift gears and adjust their lives and lifestyles a few times along the way. “Since becoming digital nomads, our travels have definitely changed. Before the blog, during our first couple of big trips, we moved around at a faster pace. We were packing up our backpacks and hopping on a bus / boat / train / plane every 3-5 days. We didn’t care if we were offline for weeks at a time! These days, however, we now travel much slower due to the fact that it’s impossible to stay on top of work when we’re moving around really fast. And, unless we’re prepared for it, we can’t go offline for a week or so.”
Their ideal pace of travel has them staying put for a month or two in any given place. “Apart from not being able to be as spontaneous as we would like, we feel like travelling slower is great for both the business, and for our travel experiences.”
For the last few years, Dariece and Nick have specialized in house-sitting; something I’ve long been a proponent of myself since it affords you a slice of homey comfort, while allowing the time to get work done and leisurely exploring the world at your doorstep.
However, recently their house-sitting commitments have gotten in the way of both their business and travel lifestyle desires, and they’ve decided to stop house-sitting for 2017. “We want to travel more on our own steam (where we want, when we want) and with housesitting we’re tied down with responsibilities.”. In fact, their house-sitting commitments recently cost them a big opportunity: “We were invited on a paid trip to Kyrgyzstan with other bloggers that we are friends with and ones that we look up to, but were in Grenada and couldn’t go.” So for 2017, they’re free from commitments and available for trips and partnerships that interest them.
They’ve also shifted some of their lifestyle/business priorities to create a more fulfilling work/life/travel balance – something they still struggle with.
Related: Work-Life Balance on the Road
They didn’t want to fall into the trap of resenting their businesses because it takes them away from their travel experiences. But they also weren’t travelling how they really wanted to; “We were spending too much time on the computers, or behind our devices when out for the day, trying to capture every moment and share it with the world.”
So, they sold most of their camera gear (including a drone), and just have a point-and-shoot camera and an iPhone. “Our videos are now more basic, but we don’t have any of the stress that came along with the excessive amount of camera equipment.”
To round out their shifting of gears, Dariece and Nick have embraced outsourcing and passive income by hiring a team of writers and assistants so they have more free time to focus on what they truly love: travel.
You can learn more about Dariece and Nick’s business and how it runs in this Financial Case Study.
Ditching the Business to Travel
Six years ago, Natalie Sisson took to the road and built a multiple six-figure business from her laptop while living out of her suitcase and travelling to 69 countries. She’s a #1 bestselling author (Suitcase Entrepreneur), podcaster, and speaker, and she teaches people how to build a profitable online business that supports their ideal lifestyle.
For Natalie, being location independent and travelling the world wasn’t the end goal but rather a pleasant outcome in her entrepreneurial search for freedom. “I just knew the minute I was making some money in my business that I didn’t have to be bound by one location, so I set off to run my business from anywhere so I could travel to and live in different places.”
Like many aspiring digital nomads, Natalie had a certain picture of what the digital nomad lifestyle would look like. “I definitely had visions of sipping cocktails or working from cafes and then going off touring a new destination. Of setting up a great apartment in a cool city or near a beach and just doing what I wanted when I wanted. Of connecting with others doing the same and having a blast co-working together and then doing fun stuff,” she says. “And for the first four years I adored packing up my suitcase and moving on constantly and travelling like a mofo. Everything felt like an adventure and challenge – business was growing but by no means always profitable and I had lots of countries I was keen to explore.”
Eventually however, Natalie’s business started taking centre stage, thus affecting her passion for the travel part of the lifestyle. “I never really thought about how much I’d be working on my business while travelling. Around 2015 it started to feel less fun and novel. I had become quite a blase traveller – I didn’t necessarily want to look around each time I was in a new destination and I started feeling more guilty for not being a true tourist as my business took over. I also didn’t love packing up and moving on and having no base. I got tired. I got less inspired, and looking back, that’s perfectly natural as no-one can carry on at that pace!” And where Natalie used to enjoy seeking out people to travel or co-live with, she started doing the opposite. “These days I value my time and anonymity. Probably that has come after years of travel and always being connected.”
Now, it’s not the travel Natalie is feeling blase about, but rather, the business. “After close to seven years of running my business I realized I had fallen out of love with it,” she says. She still enjoys many aspects of it, but her desire and passion for it has waned. “I noticed things weren’t energizing me that used to, and I simply didn’t have the energy to give to others like I had. I also felt my own personal growth had lessened and my world had become somewhat small and I wanted to expand my knowledge, learning and interests.”
So, Natalie hired a team to run her business and she’s taking a sabbatical for the next year, to focus on personal projects and travel. Beyond her sabbatical Natalie isn’t making any commitments; rather she’s using this year off to redefine what freedom means to her and to make whatever lifestyle changes are necessary to achieve it.
Natalie echoed the challenges of incorporating work into the travel lifestyle, and how it leads many people to stop travelling. “It’s just too hard to constantly move around especially during launches or if you have a business where you have physical products, hubs or offices or a dedicated team in one country.”
She also thinks it’s completely natural for digital nomads to want a home base, ironically seeking aspects of familiarity that they miss from when they lived in one place. But with various innovations in the industry, it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too. “Trends show more people are mobile working, working from home or living in different countries. As a result there are more and more services popping up to cater to digital nomads. And co-working and co-living is making it easier than ever – wish I had that when I started out!”
Regardless of whether people want to ditch their businesses to travel, or ditch travel to work on their businesses, Natalie has some great advice for us all: “It all comes down to mindset and being clear on your version of the perfect day – if you know that, then you can structure your work vs play in a way that suits you.”
This is the ultimate freedom that so many people aspire to when they get started with a digital nomad lifestyle, but sometimes lose sight of when they’re in the thick of it.