Why Being a Digital Nomad Sucks (And Why You Should Avoid It)

by Alexander Heyne · 38 comments


Will You Really Be Happier Living on an Island in Thailand?

The past few years I’ve done the digital nomad thing that seems to be pretty popular these days.

I had a remote work assignment, I traveled whenever I wanted (about 3 months of the year).

A year or two ago I spent a month in the Philippines with my girlfriend, and then another month and a half traveling around Taiwan seeing an old friend and meeting new ones.

I would work a couple hours in the morning, and then spend my day doing whatever the hell I wanted hoping that this was the “dream lifestyle” I had always hoped for.

I always seemed to meet two kinds of people though:

I would meet the typical 9-5 folks who were on vacation and wished they could have my life (it really wasn’t that great, they often just wanted to travel more).

And then I would meet people who told reality to piss off, and just did the stereotypical “rasta living on the beach and smoking weed” type lifestyle. Aka people that never really wanted to work a real job.

In other words, it was VERY polarized.

Working a typical life + vacation.


Totally shunning the traditional life path, not getting married, not getting a real job, just focusing on life enjoyment.

And it got me thinking…

If I had to polarize myself and pick just one of these, which one would I be happier doing?

Would I be happier with either of them?

The Real Truth About Life Satisfaction

It’s funny, when I’m sitting on beaches in Thailand, or when I’m on an extended vacation, I get the same feeling after a few weeks:

What the hell am I doing with my life?”

Maybe you’ve felt it too.

If you’re unemployed and have WAY too much free time, you might be craving purpose and meaning even more.

In other words, you’re looking for “that thing/job/activity/person” that will make you happier and feel like you’re living a meaningful life.

Once you’ve found that thing, it’ll allow you to finally relax and take a deep breath.

Here’s the thing: when I speak with people about this, it leads to the same revelation over and over:

You and I are often happiest when we’re WORKING on things we enjoy and find highly meaningful.

(Aka, not sipping cocktails on the beach).

We’re often happier out building a tree fort, a sand castle, a photo collage or a piece of art, than we are passively watching tv or consuming media.

You follow?

I know it can be tempting to just say “fuck it, I’m moving to Thailand” because you’re working 60 hours a week at a desk job that’s killing you.

But understand that you are only craving that because it’s the exact opposite of what you have.

Most of us are actually way happier when we’re working. In other words, actively engaged, in flow, in pursuit and investing time into activities or relationships we enjoy.

Picasso said:

“It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction.”

He didn’t say:

“Sitting on a beach in life is the ultimate seduction.”

And that’s because work leads to two things critical for happiness: flow and contribution.

The very act of creation leads to discovering meaning in life: it’s powerful knowing that something would NEVER have existed if you weren’t born.

All I’m trying to say is this: besides the obvious financial situation, stop thinking not having a job and “ski bumming it” will make you happier.

… Research also shows that it won’t.

Even Doc C., in his book Flow mentioned that in the thousands of data points he collected, he found that people are almost always happier at work when their mind is occupied. When they’re in flow.

“A [Wo]man Without a Job is a [Wo]man Without a Purpose”

There’s an old saying, “A man without a job is a man without a purpose.”

You often see it in retirees, too.

I know many older men and women that were successful when they were young – they loved work, they worked a lot, and then they were “told to retire.”

Shortly after their retirement (because that’s just what you do, right?), they fell into a deep depression that no one could rouse them from.

I literally observed one man who was incredibly happy, friendly and bubbly before retirement go off his rocker once he was forced into retirement.

On my way to work one day, I saw him walking around the street over and over and over – and I called a neighbor because I assumed he had Alzheimer’s and wandered out of his house.

And you know what the neighbor told me?

“Nope, he’s just retired, and has no idea what to do now. He’s literally losing his mind.”

So What Now?

Sometimes I feel bad when I write articles.

I want to give you concrete steps for fixing many things, and although I have before, most of my articles have one purpose only:

To draw awareness to some of these key issues in life.

You can’t take action to improve your life until you know what needs improving. You need awareness first. That’s half the battle.

My suggestion today is this: make finding a career you’re interested in, that pays you enough, your life priority. If you’re young, and aren’t in a relationship or married, put this as your #1 priority, above relationships, above hobbies, above anything else.

Go take those Thailand vacations, go sit on the beach, and if you don’t believe me, quit your job and do the nomad thing to see for yourself if what I say is true.

I think you’ll find what I found: people are often happier working, but only when we’re working on things that matter.

Remember: the right work leads to Flow, Growth and Contribution.  They’re critical to happiness and fulfillment. And they are things you won’t find on a beach in Thailand.


Thoughts? Tell me below.

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