Is the digital nomad lifestyle sustainable? Here’s the dark side of the insta-perfect life trend

You probably know me as a “professional traveller”. The girl who goes paragliding off the coast of Bali, or who goes on crazy motorbike adventures in Indian deserts, or someone who dives more per year than watches TV. Yes, that has been my life for a while, especially since 2012 when I officially left my office job and went to travel the world.

Anya Andreeva world digital nomad motorbike Gujarat India

And you know what, I wouldn’t change that decision for anything. If you are inspired by the idea of exploring new cultures and experiencing everything that life has to offer, then I’m super excited for you! This blog is just for you to have the full picture of what you may face. None of these things stop us from travelling, it’s just good to be aware of them. Being a world nomad is not all like the pretty pictures you see people posting on Instagram. We always post the best side of our lives on social media, and that can create illusions and jealousy from people who wish they had a similar lifestyle.

So after watching a friends Snapstory about his amazing hike in a foreign country, and later opening his personal Snaps to me about how he got food poisoning and seeing him sitting in the hospital, I decided to write this blog. Here are just a few things that may not be insta-perfect about a travellers life.

You can get sick

mosquito get sick bite ill

Food poisoning, Dengue fever, malaria, you name it! If you’re travelling in exotic countries, eventually you may fall off your horse. I’ve stood under waterfalls in Bali, where the sheer pressure of Mother Nature made me go into ecstasy… followed by 10 days in bed with fever and diarrhoea. I’ve eaten every street food imaginable and drank water from the Ganga River in India (yes, really) and was completely fine, only to get food poisoning at a posh hotel a week later. In China I got some crazy-ass cold the day before my flight and my ears hurt so much on the plane that I thought I would actually lose my hearing. The only time I ever went to a clinic was when I was allergic to the sun and had to get some cream, the rest of the times I just slept it off.

It happens to the best of us, no matter how strong you are. It sucks, but just keep a first aid kit with you and you’ll be fine. I never go anywhere without tea tree oil (which can be used for anything from toothache to getting rid of toenail fungus) and Himalaya antiseptic cream, they’re amazing!

You can get robbed or scammed

stealing camera out of backpack

I’ve personally never been robbed, thankfully, but the occasional small scam does happen. People try to fool you at markets to get you to buy stuff for 50x the price. Taxis take you all around town or have an “obligatory” stop at some jewellery shop. You learn from it though and then you know what to expect and how to avoid it.

Keeping a stable relationship is not that easy

This is a big one, and it’s actually one of the main reasons why this year I’ve decided to settle down for a while. I gave up my prince charming once to explore the world, and now my heart wants love over adventure. I’m somewhat of an expert at long-distance relationships, I’ve ever written a blog about it here, but it’s not something I wish for people.

When you’re constantly on the road, you either need to go with your stable partner together, or expect that you will fall crazy in love with amazing people… who live halfway across the world. I’ve done it all, I’ve had a guy quit his stable life and go travel with me (we made it work for 2 years), I’ve also been the one to fly somewhere for love. I’ve even toyed with polyamory for a while – you have several beloveds all around the globe and always feel like you’ve got someone, but that’s not the life that I want.

You don’t always live or sleep in comfortable places

Anya Andreeva world digital nomad sleeping at festival Delhi India

Do you think we all stay in 5 star hotels and drink champagne every evening by the pool? Well unless you’re a luxury travel blogger who gets paid to do that, the likelihood of that is minimal. Of course we treat ourselves every now and then, but more often than not we stay with friends, or rent a little place to ourselves.

I’ve done it all, from renting a beautiful villa on my own in Bali for a year, to sleeping on the floor in Mumbai at some person’s house who I had just met the night before. I’ve also slept in cars at petrol stations when I was too exhausted to keep driving, or I’ve stopped in the middle of nowhere, crashed a local’s home where they have never had guests before (that was an experience to remember – see the video here!).

Last year I’d slept in 37 different beds. You learn to become flexible. You also, every now and then, begin to dream about your own bed, with soft, ironed bedsheets and fluffy pillows. Whenever I come home, I literally have a bed-gasm from rolling around in my duvet!

Here are my pro tips:

1) Take a silk sleeping bag with you – they are amazing for sleeping in dodgy places.
2) Take a sarong with you – this can double up as a scarf, a towel, a bed sheet and privacy curtain.
3) Take a small face towel with you – for obvious reasons.
4) Always have napkins/toilet paper and wet wipes with you! For peeing outdoors, or if you stay with locals who don’t use toilet paper.

You can get bored easily when you come home

When your daily life is filled with surfing or volcano hiking, “normal” life may cause boredom and for some, even depression. When you’re travelling, you are on a constant high, so when you come home and don’t have access to anything but books and a TV, you don’t know what to do with yourself. Then you try to escape that life by booking another flight, and the vicious circle begins again.

Also, after a while even travelling can become less exciting. You’ve seen so much of the world that you think nothing can surprise you anymore. I remember that rush I used to get as a teenager when waking up to go to the airport, now, getting on a plane is just like getting on a bus.

But don’t let that discourage you, no matter where you go, something new will always happen to keep you longing for more. And every once in a while, something WILL take your breath away, when you just stop and stare at something amazing, unable to even pick up your phone to take a photo, because you are just mesmerised. It’s THOSE moments that most of us live for.

You don’t know how to talk to people who don’t travel

talking people

When I was in Uni, I started seeing this guy. Back then, I used to fly home from Brighton to Spain every 2-3 weeks, just for the weekend. He asked if he could take me to the airport and I said sure, thinking he was just a gentleman. Turns out, the guy has NEVER been to an airport in his life, and he just wanted to see what the inside of one looked like. We broke up after 2 weeks because we simply ran out of things to talk about, he couldn’t resonate with anything I was saying, and I couldn’t be with someone who’s only hobby was playing with his pets.

Sad but true. The vast majority of the world doesn’t live this way, so occasionally it’s good to turn it down a notch. People also have a tendency to get jealous or think you must be mega rich to be able to travel this much, so they can send a bit of hate your way.

Sometimes you run out of money, or do jobs you don’t like

man working on laptop bored tired unhappy

There are, of course, world nomads who have successfully built an online business and earn a steady income whilst travelling full-time. That’s great! But at the start, you may not get an overnight-successful online business. It may take some time to build up and in the meantime, you will do whatever it takes to keep going.

For my first 2 months in Bali, I taught English to pay rent. I got $500 a month for working 6 hours a week, and that was enough to rent a villa all to myself, a moped, buy food and go rafting (yes, ALL of that for $500/month!). There were also times when I stayed with my mum for a couple of weeks at a time, just to work steadily for a bit, save up some money and go off on the next adventure.

Sure enough, after a while I built up my businesses, but even then it was more challenging because I couldn’t stick to doing one thing, and having 6 job titles (raw food chef, photographer, videographer, web designer, graphic designer and social media expert) was getting a bit tiring. You are just constantly taking work with you. I once built a website at the back of a motorbike!

Other’s don’t see it that way though. People just imagine that you’re either out kitesurfing or sitting at home in your yoga pants all day, therefore you must not be doing anything. But in reality, you’re always working, even at 3am on a Saturday!

Working from the sofa or at the beach isn’t as cool as it sounds…

girl working on laptop on a rock at the beach

You always see photos of people working from the beach. HAHA! Don’t make me laugh! It’s the most ridiculous place in the world to work – sand gets everywhere, your laptop heats up to silly degrees, you can’t see your screen properly because of the sun and there’s a very good chance some kid will run by with a bucket of sea water and trip up next to you. Oh joy.

Now working from your sofa doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Well, I’ve worked like that for 5 years and I’ve got awful pain in my right wrist because of it. Using your laptop without a mouse at an uncomfortable angle is really bad for your hands. It’s also not that great for your back. And because you’re so relaxed, you can often find yourself being less productive. Sitting at an office sets you into work-mode. Sitting on your sofa does not.

Most of the time I would find a veggie cafe to sit in to work, which is great for a while, until you see some friends and get distracted. On the plus side though, meeting other people like you can be great for marketing!

Staying healthy can be more challenging

I’ve been a raw vegan since 2012 and 90% of the time I’ve managed to stay raw whilst travelling. Until one day I had a crazy day in Delhi and couldn’t stop eating for a month, putting on 15kgs in the process.

Nothing beats cooking for yourself at home, and if you’re constantly on the road, you rely on places around you for your daily meals. If you have a particular diet, some places in the world may be challenging. For me, the most difficult place was Nepal. I went hiking in the Himalayas and ate nothing but dried rice and instant noodles for days… you won’t believe how much my body was craving fresh fruit!

Same goes for exercise. If you’re a gym freak who needs to work out 5 times a week – good luck to you! Sure you go skiing, hiking and swimming, but your daily fitness regime will be quite different when you’re always on the road.

It’s just plain exhausting

Anya Andreeva world digital nomad train Gwalior Delhi India

Some nomads out there like to move on every 1-2 weeks, or even less. No matter how strong you are, that’s pretty damn exhausting! Getting used to a new place and maybe a new language, carrying all that luggage, flying, going through airport security, making new friends all the time…

That’s why I chose to stay in places for longer, for example, for the first year I had Bali as my “base”, from which I would occasionally go somewhere for a couple of weeks, but it was easier as I didn’t have to take all my stuff. Then I switched to living in places for about 1-2 months at a time. It gave me enough time to adjust, make friends and actually have time for fun and work.

Is the digital nomad lifestyle just a phase?

Anya Andreeva and friends at White Sands beach party Bali

Now I know that this post is all about the “dark side” of this lifestyle, but that’s just because this stuff doesn’t get talked about as much. I’ve written about some great things about this lifestyle too, like my post about Bali or the one where I don’t regret leaving a guy to go travelling. Having said all of this, being a digital nomad is and always will be a part of me and it’s something that I would recommend anyone to do if you are called to it. If it’s in you, it’s not something you can escape. It’s not like a gap-year. It doesn’t end even if you settle down for a while.

I truly believe that it is totally possible to have a location-independent life and business, but it needs to be sustainable.

For example, in the future I can see myself having a couple of bases around the world, maybe one in Europe, one in Asia and one in the US, and I would alternate between them and then see that part of the world when I’m there. Maybe I’d stay in one place for 6 months, maybe a year, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be like I have been living for the last 5 years. One thing that really did annoy me is not having a place to keep my things, I want to have a house that I can decorate with all the beautiful things that I collect during my travels!

Or maybe not, I have no idea what plans life has for me! Right now I’ve just moved back to London (yes, shocking I know!) because I am craving some stability in life. I want to have a proper stable income, a proper stable boyfriend and a proper stable house where I can actually iron my bedsheets and not have an open suitcase on the floor all the time.

I think the longest I’ve been in one place was about a month… so far it’s been 2 weeks, let’s see how long I can make it! ????

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