In today’s modern era, the elusive ‘work/life balance’ is a prize that many of us are fighting for. Aside from those people who are lucky enough to make money through their favourite hobbies and passions, the majority of us are striving to find a way of working to live rather than living to work.
Digital nomads are pioneers who are following a new path in a bid to win this coveted prize. But the question remains as to whether digital nomads can ever have a good work/life balance.
Firstly, what is a digital nomad? These ‘location independent’ travellers are generally highly skilled individuals who are working all over the world. They have no ties to a particular place and are usually freelancers or entrepreneurs, although some are remote workers for established companies. Generally, these members of the gig economy are working in the digital world and invariably see their laptop as their office and a stable internet connection as their sustenance.
The allure of the digital nomad life
To most people, the digital nomadic lifestyle seems like an unattainable and somewhat fairy-tale way to live. These digital nomads get to travel wherever they want, socialise with people from all cultures and backgrounds, have the flexibility of working for themselves and they don’t allow societal norms to determine their futures.
It is undeniable that the rewards of a digital nomad career are huge. Why would you choose to be stuck in a 9–5 job in a grey office when you could be tap-tapping on your computer on a beach in Bali? Just ask German entrepreneur Nik who runs his global business as an e-resident of Estonia while spending most of his time enjoying the weather and food in South East Asia.
The #nomadlife photos on Instagram show people casually moving from the snowy hills of South Lake Tahoe to the cobbled streets of Prague, the picturesque beaches of Phuket and the bustling city of Seoul. What a life!
However, as everybody knows, social media only shows one aspect of people’s lives and the digital nomad life is no exception. If these travelling workers don’t get the work/life balance right, then the mental and physical toll can be enormous.
At the end of the day, digital nomads aren’t backpackers and they still have financial responsibilities, worries over the next paycheque and client deadlines to meet. Generating a stable digital nomad salary is crucial to ensure that they can continue living their chosen life.
Juggling the work/life balancing act
One of the biggest advantages of a digital nomad career is the freedom that comes with it. The freedom of where you live, the work you do and the hours you keep.
However, that freedom can also be a freelancer’s greatest nemesis. The allure of the beach, the slopes or even that latest series on Netflix could all prove too much and suddenly several days will have gone by and you’ve accidentally missed an important deadline and are seriously behind on your work schedule. This is the true problem of juggling the ideal work/life balance.
There will always be digital nomads at both ends of the spectrum: Some forget that they’re supposed to be working at all and spend all their time exploring, while work becomes an afterthought. They are determined to travel to a new place every few days but then spend more time feeding their wanderlust than actually working.
More commonly, others feel they have to prove that they can still be successful in the traditional sense, even if their lifestyle is anything but traditional. This means they never look up from their laptops to enjoy the new place they are in. This inability to shut down and shut off can invariably lead to burnout.
Setting boundaries means being disciplined with clients as well as yourselves. When clients know that you work for yourself, they can often expect you to reply to their emails at any time of the day or night. You have to remember that when you’re working for yourself you are essentially the boss as well. Don’t be afraid to manage your clients’ expectations and set boundaries so that they know when to expect an answer and you don’t find yourself working around the clock.
Setting boundaries is the key to success. Fully-fledged digital nomad Asad uses Xolo and has some hot tips to give on avoiding burnout, being disciplined and having a tight control on your finances.
Talking of online services, they are often a lifeline for digital nomads. And those travellers who are getting the work/life balance right are probably doing so because of these platforms. Nomad List for instance is an incredible example of crowd-sourced data. It helps people find the right location for them based on all sorts of factors like how bountiful the free Wi-Fi is, safety, freedom of speech and even air quality.
Another helpful digital service is Xolo which supports people in their essential business admin and financial tasks so they can focus on their clients. James and Danielle from the UK have taken full advantage of this and now successfully run a global business while travelling the world.
Loneliness is another challenge that digital nomads face. Making new friends as an adult can be extremely challenging and when you add in the factor of moving places every few weeks, the challenge becomes greater. At the end of the day, you need friends to achieve a good work/life balance.
For some travellers, making sure that they stay in friendly and collaborative hostels is the key. For others, it is about developing a digital nomad family online. Location-independent freelancers work remotely so it makes sense that they socialise remotely as well. Digital spaces like Digital Nomads Forum and Digital Nomad Girls make it easier to meet like-minded people online. Websites like Meetup and InterNations are geared up to encourage those face-to-face meets to happen as well. Discovering a local coworking space is another great way to combat the loneliness and find a productive and inspiring place to work.
Is a work/life balance ever achievable?
The question that we really need to ask ourselves is can anyone achieve a work/life balance? Most people who are sat working the traditional office or retail job are also striving to find the balance — just ask the mother who misses bath time for the 3rd time in a week or the father who finds himself answering work emails and calls on a Saturday afternoon.
At least digital nomads are being innovative in the way they work and live. They are breaking social norms and casting aside traditional boundaries for a freer way to earn their living and find happiness.