6 Mistakes I Made As A Digital Nomad

** I’m busy crunching all of the numbers for my spending breakdown of 2021, so I have a guest post for you from Darren Hazan. I miiight be considering a future in digital nomadism, so I was particularly thrilled to have him on the blog to talk specifically about his experience! – FM**

The History Behind Why I Became A Digital Nomad

After nearly a decade of working in finance in London, I started to become a bit disillusioned with life. Every morning I walked to the train station in the dark and every day I came home in the dark. I was getting on the train with people who looked so tired and discontent that the only thing that seemed to sustain them was scrolling mindlessly through their phones for a hit of escapism before their day started. You could barely catch someone’s eye, let alone strike up a conversation.
As I climbed the career ladder I could see my path laid out in front of me and it scared me. The thought of working all day and only getting to spend time with my family for 2 out of 7 days left me with an empty sinking feeling.
My partner had been running a KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) business selling books on Amazon for a couple of years and it had really started to pick up. Whenever I came home tired and stressed from the day, we would talk about just packing up and moving somewhere new and exciting (and ideally a lot cheaper!). We had both been to Thailand and had always dreamed of living in Asia, not to mention her sister was already living in Pai. It was clear where we wanted to be, we just needed to check that we wouldn’t be back in a year without a penny.
I had managed to save quite a bit of money by this point in my life, so we did some back of napkin maths. We worked out that between my partner’s income from her publishing business and my savings, we had an easy 3 year runway, which included living, flights and the costs of running a business.
It was by far the best decision I have ever made, but the road to success is never a straight line.

What Does It Mean To Be A Digital Nomad

A digital nomad is someone that can work remotely whether for their company or themselves. The joy behind it is not being tied down to one location. Whether close to home or the other side of the world, the most important aspect is to be geographically liberated.
The journey as a digital nomad can often be filled with extreme highs and extreme lows. Especially when you are starting your own business. Sometimes you feel on top of the world, and sometimes you feel like you’re being buried 6 feet under it. You are surrounded by so many friends that you feel like part of a community and family. You create unbreakable bonds and share an experience that not many get to live. That being said, the nomadic lifestyle means that community is impermanent.
Running a business by yourself can be very lonely, especially when you work abroad. All decisions fall on you and your freedom and success rely on you. Even if you have a partner to share the journey with you, it can still feel like being thrown in the deep end.
It will be no surprise then, that whilst I have experienced success, it has been littered with failures and mistakes. Whilst there are more (a lot more!) than 6 mistakes I have made as a digital nomad, hopefully you can take something from my Big 6, without having to learn them the hard way.
man working at computer with view of trees
View from one of my ‘offices’ in Chiang Mai

The Big 6 Mistakes To Avoid:

1. Saying 'Yes' to Everything

As digital nomads, our working life and social lives are busy. We are solely responsible for the success of our businesses and are constantly surrounded by new people, new adventures and experiences. Juggling both of these can be tough unless you learn to say no.
When I first started out my journey, I was saying yes to everything. In my first business as an online publisher, I would try to personally do everything (spoiler – the color of your site’s head banner has very little impact) and socially I would say yes to everything. It’s exciting but what I found was that my business wasn’t progressing and socially I felt a bit burnt out.
I’m not saying that you should become a hermit and turn down every social invitation, nor should you abandon your work and just live free. A balance is important, but finding it can be hard.

The 80/20 Rule

You might already have heard of the ‘80/20 Rule’. This states that when working, 20% of what we put in will produce 80% of the outcome. As such, we should focus on the 20% for the most value. This is easy to evaluate and measure when it comes to our business, but how do you quantify social interactions? It seems a bit robotic and borderline psychotic to evaluate an interaction based on a measurable outcome!

If It's Not A 'Hell Yeah!' It's A No

The way I started to approach it was by asking myself the question – do I want to do it? If the answer was either no, yes, sure why not or sounds good then I would pass, but if my first thought was ‘Hell Yeah!’ then I would do it.
If it gets two thumbs up from you... do it!
Once I adopted this attitude of only involving myself in social activities that I was excited about, I started being able to throw myself fully into each interaction and in turn found myself meeting the right people and having better conversations.

Saying no is a skill like any other and it does take practice if it is not something that comes naturally to you.

2. Not Having Enough Tech Equipment

I started as a digital nomad in Pai, Northern Thailand. It was absolutely breathtaking and there was a great community nomad-ing there. But after spending 9 hours a day with my neck craned and swearing at the laptop every 30 minutes when the internet dropped, I stopped caring so much about the scenery and started checking the next flight out. That’s when I realized my hard drive was broken and I couldn’t buy a decent laptop stand anywhere. Basically, I was screwed.

Being held back and deterred by your own short-sightedness, and being reminded of it every time the internet drops, really hurts. As digital nomads, our energy and focus should be on our businesses, not dealing with unnecessary tech issues.

You will spend a large chunk of your waking-life working. Be prepared. Make sure your laptop screen is big enough (don’t get stuck staring at a 13” screen for 10 hours a day).

Nomad Tech Recs:

Take a sturdy laptop stand, a backup compact keyboard and mouse, 2 hard drives, memory sticks and any other tech you may need. Tech items are expensive abroad, especially if you want something decent. I bought a memory card in Bangkok in desperation – it didn’t work and it wasn’t cheap. For the same price, I could have bought an incomparably better one at home that would have actually turned on.

If there is one thing you can’t overdo it on, it is tech. So stock up!

Another important consideration is to make sure wherever you go there is steady wifi. As digital nomads, we sometimes end up in… interesting places. My advice would be before committing to a property, talk to other people in the building/nearby and find out what the internet is like. Make sure that there are coffee shops and workspaces with strong reliable connections.

3. Poor Budgeting

It sounds so obvious but I can almost guarantee that every one of us has underestimated the amount of money we need. We sit at home doing some ‘back of napkin’ math and almost invariably get out there and realize we have sold ourselves short. Budgeting for a big move is harder than it sounds!

When I first got to Thailand, I assumed I had enough money for an easy 1-year runway. I had done my calculations and I was pretty confident. I was wrong.

Here are some things you may not have budgeted for:

  1. Higher than expected rental costs, bills and deposits
  2. Cost of a workspace
  3. Visa costs
  4. Costs of travel and transport
  5. Cost of going out
  6. Activities
  7. Emergency fund (for flying home, moving country or moving apartments)
  8. Business running costs
  9. Hiring freelancers and account managers

This last one really bit me. I needed to hire freelancers to deal with parts of the business that I didn’t need or want to spend time on, but that still needed to be done. Your time is important and part of that is outsourcing. You don’t want to spend all your time in paradise chained to a keyboard. With a growing business comes growing costs. Either you pay with your time or your money. If possible, we will pay someone to carry out work that we don’t need to.

4. Shiny Object Syndrome

I had just got to Thailand with a plan for my business. It was still in its infancy and I had only been working on it for a few months, so of course I had not seen any results at this point. I was in a workspace with so many people doing so many different things. I started chatting to one person who told me about the speed and exponential growth in dropshipping and I was hooked in like a magpie to a shiny object. 

I dropped everything and had my first store open the next day. Seriously. 

I look back now and just want to shake myself and say ‘FOCUS!’. It’s easy to get distracted, especially when you don’t see results straight away and something bigger and better is being waved in front of you. Don’t do it, this is the biggest mistake you can make. If you have a plan, stick to it. Don’t get distracted and flit from one business to another. That’s the quickest way to ensure you never commit to anything.

There are hundreds of ways to make money online these days, but we have to have belief in our own business and once suitably established and growing without you, then we can look at new ventures

5. Traveling With A ‘Travelers Backpack’

This one still haunts me. I can still feel my exasperation every time I had to pack up and pick up my backpack. It becomes an iron lung.

Trust me when I say this, do NOT take a backpack. We are not trekkers, we are locationally independent business people! We have a lot of stuff and packing that bloody thing will slowly suck the life out of you. Use a suitcase. A solid suitcase. That’s it. Just do it.

There is an ongoing debate amongst travelers, isn’t a nomad backpack easier than a suitcase? With all the uneven roads and lots of walking, isn’t it just simpler to have something on your back? I have travelled over the world and as time went on, I always wished I was wheeling along a suitcase as opposed to carrying it on my back. Unless you are going somewhere completely off the beaten track, a suitcase will be absolutely fine. It is also so much easier to pack and unpack than a backpack, which I ended up stuffing random items into different sections. I would recommend a hard suitcase like a Samsonite.

If you are not convinced I hope the picture below sells you on this idea. I was travelling around India when my bag split open. Until I could get a new one, I ended up carrying my 20kg backpack around like a baby for a couple of weeks.

woman with multiple backpacks one wrapped in saran wrap

6. Not Sharing My Business With Other Digital Nomads

When I first got to Thailand, I was paranoid that if anyone got a whiff of what I was doing, they would steal my ideas and outright copy my business. Hell, I almost wanted people to sign an NDA just for me to tell them what I was doing!

Not only is this not true, but it actually holds you back.

Firstly, people don’t care what your business is and they are certainly not going to copy it. They are doing their own thing. They aren’t just going to drop everything just to try and intimate you on a whim. Even if they do, it is unlikely they will be able to execute it given that it has taken you time and experience to build.

The other big mistake in not sharing your business is that you will miss out on a whole lot of advice. The people you will be talking to will have been there and done it. They will have a well’s worth of information and tips to offer. If you are reading this article then you are looking for tips to living like a digital nomad and the same goes for running your business. All it takes is one piece of advice from one person to catapult your business.

BONUS: Just enjoy it!

I don’t want to sound patronising with this, but I definitely made this mistake a few times. Sometimes you get so caught up in the business that you forget to take a step back a just enjoy every day and every moment. Self-care and nurturing is important! It sounds cheesy but we are living in the most exciting and breathtaking places.

Live as if it would all be gone tomorrow. Not in a negative, pessimistic way, but take the approach that encourages you to walk and take in the sounds and sites. It is easy for things to become commonplace, even in these astounding places we live. Just enjoy it!

Final Thoughts

Whilst I have made a lot more mistakes since I started as a digital nomad, these are 6 mistakes that have haunted me in one way or another. Whilst there are some practical tips such as the backpack and the tech, the less tangible tips are the ones that will truly affect your journey.

We get one life and one chance to experience everything. Enjoy it whilst you’re in that moment and don’t wait until it’s finished to look back. I hope by reading these you can avoid these pitfalls and ultimately save yourself a lot of time, money and energy. Enjoy your journey, because it is a really special one.

Darren Hazan left the financial world after over a decade and now helps fellow millennials with investing, crypto and all things personal finance.

What About You?

Did any of these mistakes surprise you?

Would you consider becoming a digital nomad?

What’s your biggest travel mis-adventure?

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