The Hidden Downside of Being a Digital Nomad


If you’re the adventurous type and love to travel, being a digital nomad may sound like a dream come true. You wouldn’t be the only one who feels this way. For an idea of just how many people are interested in it, the digital nomad subreddit currently has over 2 million members.

Instead of only being able to travel a couple of weeks per year, you can make it your life. You get to see more places, meet more people, and have all the new experiences you want. And since lots of areas have a lower cost of living than the United States, a digital nomad lifestyle could help you boost your savings account, too.

I’ve been a digital nomad for years. During that time, I’ve worked in dozens of cities across nine countries. In many ways, this lifestyle lives up to the hype. It is exciting, you get to see a lot more of the world, and you could spend much less on bills, depending on where you live.

There are frustrating parts of any lifestyle, though, even when it seems like you’re living the dream. Some of the cons of being a digital nomad get talked about a lot. It can be lonely, and there’s always an adjustment period to new places. But there’s also a big downside that often gets overlooked.

A good home is hard to find

The part I dislike the most about being a digital nomad, by far, is finding places to live. You’re going to need to do that every time you travel somewhere new, and it’s a lot more challenging than it appears.

If you’ve browsed Airbnb or any other short-term rental sites, it might seem easy enough. In many cities, there are ample homes available to rent by day, week, or month, so finding a place to stay isn’t hard. But finding a quality home without any issues is. Because as I’ve learned, there’s just about always some sort of issue with rental homes.

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Here are examples of the kinds of issues you could encounter.

  • Slow internet (this one’s especially frustrating when you’re a digital nomad and need fast internet for work)
  • Excessive noise from neighbors, nearby bars, or streets right by the window
  • Homes that were a whole lot cleaner and newer in the pictures
  • Hardly any cutlery or appliances in the kitchen
  • Clogged pipes
  • Electrical or gas issues

I’ve had all of these problems at one point or another. Sometimes they’re just mild inconveniences. But certain issues can cost you money, like poor internet that affects how much you can work.

There are even issues that can be flat-out dangerous. My wife and I spent much of last month trying to get a gas pressure issue fixed at the brand-new apartment we’re renting. The building‘s engineer repeatedly told us the fact that our stove behaved like a flamethrower was completely normal. The people from the gas company told us that it was anything but normal, and actually, it could make the water heater explode. It’s fixed now, no thanks to Mr. Engineer.

Even when you do your due diligence, it’s tough to suss out every possible problem. An apartment that looked perfect may have some unwelcome surprises. If so, you’ll hopefully be able to get those fixed. But sometimes you have to grin and bear it — or move.

How to make it work as a digital nomad

To a certain extent, home issues come with the territory as a digital nomad. When you have your own place, you can set it up exactly how you like. When you’re bouncing from place to place, you’re reliant on the homeowner and property manager.

But there are ways to find higher quality homes, and to protect yourself if issues do arise. Here are the best methods I’ve found over the years.

  • Research the location. Read about neighborhoods in the city you’re planning to visit to learn what they’re like and how safe they are. When you’re considering a rental, search for the location online. Check it out on Google Street View and see what’s nearby. This can give you an idea of how nice the area is and if there’s anything that could cause a lot of noise at night, such as a bar next door.
  • Look for listings with local rental agencies instead of Airbnb. In many cities, there are property management companies that offer short-term, furnished rentals. I’ve found that these often have much better prices and service than Airbnb.
  • Read the reviews — and know what to look for. I pay the most attention to highly positive, detailed reviews and critical reviews. A brief positive review is too inconclusive. The guest may have liked the place, or they may just be the type of person who almost always leaves a positive review.
  • Don’t be shy about bringing up issues. If there’s something wrong with your rental, mention it to the owner or manager immediately. You deserve to get what you’re paying for.
  • Pay by credit card whenever possible. Credit cards give you an extra line of defense since you can dispute the rental payment if there’s a valid issue. For example, if a rental is nothing like the pictures, and the rental platform won’t help you, you could file a dispute with your credit card issuer. As an added benefit, many travel credit cards earn bonus points on travel purchases like short-term rentals.

If you decide to be a digital nomad, you’re probably going to run into occasional issues with the homes you rent. That’s the tradeoff for the flexibility you’ll have, and one of the reasons why digital nomads often eventually settle down. Even with those frustrations, it can be an incredible experience, as long as you’re ready for the good and the bad.

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