The Dark Side Of Digital Nomad Life


A cautionary tale for those who are dreaming of an untethered life.

Katey sits alone and pours another glass of wine. The price she paid for a really lousy bottle of California wine was obscene, but this is not a time to consider the budget. This is a time cling to the familiar, and enjoy another glass of chardonnay.

One digital nomad’s tale

She closes her eyes and remembers how she and her husband aimlessly walked through the neighborhood market with their young daughter, and bravely tasted local fare from food carts and ‘hole-in-the-wall” restaurants. All those magical moments of the past few years, captured in dreamy Instagram shots, magazine articles, and blog posts, for their many followers to jealously enjoy. But now that she and her husband are estranged, those memories suddenly hold no value. She feels like an actor whose long-running show has closed.

Katey’s a successful travel writer/photographer who’s written a well-received book, developed numerous courses about how to get a life like hers, and also offers pricey one-on-one mentorship and workshops in exciting locales around the world.

Her livelihood depends on her ability to maintain the carefully constructed facade of a carefree, exciting, and perfect, location independent life. A life she’s spent years creating. Katey can’t possibly divulge what she’s actually going through, with the other digital nomads she’s been spending ‘happy hours’ and beach days with.

Desperate for a real friend, she now realizes that the time she spent together with her new friends, was more self-congratulatory socializing than relationship building.

Competition among digital nomads, especially those who are travel focused, is cutthroat. News of her real-life struggles would spread like wildfire, and other globe-trotting ‘gurus’ would happily trample her virtual body to replace her in the ‘expert’ hierarchy.

If her life was exposed as fiction, she’d be ruined.

“Sign me up. I want to earn six figures as a travel blogger too!”

Thousands of wanna-be digital nomads copiously follow the adventures of people like Katey and her husband. In Facebook comments, dreamers commiserate with them about their frustrations with crappy wifi.  They fawn in agreement with Katey about how adorable and amazing her children are, when in reality, Katey’s kids are just like other kids, only in exotic locations. They’re considered celebrity adventurers, living an enviable dream life abroad with their children. Sadly, our celebrities have also been swept up in this grand charade.

For years, they’ve been showered with comment section adulation, the false praise that drives sales, but speaks little about truth. As a result, Katey is consumed with self-importance, and relentlessly brags about her unique skills, past successes, incredible day-to-day, and devoted following. Their reality is a confusing jumble of the life others believe they lead, the life she writes about, and real life. Their livelihood is intrinsically tied to a myth of epic proportions.

“You’re blowing it, man!”

Whether you’re a well-known travel blogger or an online English teacher, everyone who has ‘left home’ to become a digital nomad, will tell you of the inevitable loneliness that accompanies this lifestyle. Bouncing around from continent to continent, and town to town is exciting, but only for a while.

A constant stream of new experiences provide engaging material for travel writers, but never putting down roots makes true relationship building impossible. Long term expats and locals, in desirable locales, will keep their distance, having seen dozens of toe-dipping travelers come and go through the years. This means, that most digital nomads will simply cultivate networking acquaintances, beneficial only for future projects and travels.

I’m out of here!

Digital nomads leave more than friends, family, and jobs behind when they depart for far off lands, they leave people with whom they’ve built life-long relationships. The people you can ‘run thing by,’ whose opinion you value, and the ones who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth. They serve as an invaluable compass, pointing you in the right direction when you lose your way. You’ll listen to them, when they call you out on your bad behavior, lapses of character, or shirking your responsibilities.

Without regular interaction with this type of confidant, digital nomads may end up making bad decisions, the ramifications of which, they will have to suffer through alone.

The travel-focused digital nomad’s added nightmare

Travel blogging/writing digital nomads have very publicly boasted about their amazing lives for so long, that honestly sharing about those lives, becomes virtually impossible. By the time they get into some type of trouble, and without a compass, travelers always do, their pride and belief in their personal mythology, leaves them adrift. 

Rather than face the tsunami of “I told you so’s!” from those whose concerns they’ve repeatedly dismissed throughout the years, they either suffer in silence or go completely off the rails!


Two glasses of wine and almost a decade of self-imposed isolation, are now driving Katey to seek solace from those she believes are her friends. She furiously begins typing into her Facebook feed and lets it all come tumbling out. She’s confident that her honesty is what her friends (who are actually followers) are drawn to, when in reality, she’s never been honest with them…ever.

Her followers are buying courses, books, workshops, and counsel from someone who they believe is successfully living the dream. A celebrity living a celebrity’s life. A life they desperately want for themselves. They would quickly shove their credit cards back into their wallets, if they discovered they were seeking advice from a real girl, with real insecurities and problems, sitting alone in all too real isolation.

Katey is going to take a hit

Initially, her followers will virtually rally around her in support, parsing out advice for someone they don’t know at all. But when the truth comes out, those who’ve invested with her, will have a hard time cutting her slack. Why? Because unbeknownst to our heroine, she’s been playing a very real and dangerous game with people’s lives.

Digital nomads ‘gurus,’ promise “six-figure” dream lives to people who want that life so badly, they’ll often spend far more than they are able, just to learn how to get it. Then, many of these dreamers, inspired by fiction (and with a new passport in hand) confidently walk away from their lives, believing they’re prepared to live a life, they’ve been told by gurus like Katey, is within everyone’s grasp.

Don’t look behind the curtain!

This is a cyclical problem for travel bloggers and writers. They learn to make a living by selling a fantasy to trusting dreamers who’ve never met them. Selling the fantasy to more and more people, they make more and more money. They must keep up the deception to survive, and the lines between reality and fantasy continue to become so blurred, they end up simply surviving, not thriving.

Katey’s is a cautionary tale

Digital nomad’s lives, especially those who write about travel and living abroad, often become a fantasy construct of day-to-day monotony, reimagined with braggadocious spin and ‘money shots.’ They’re constantly distorting their reality, to satisfy an audience.

This practice is unsustainable, and often leaves supposed carefree travelers, feeling empty. They can no longer find joy in the simple, mundane, or ordinary moments of their lives. With no one to share their true reality with, and facing numbing isolation, digital nomads can become overwhelmed, depressed and desperate enough to make bad choices, like Katey.

How to do it right

How can you avoid Katey’s plight? Before you become a digital nomad, talk to lots people who’ve done what you want to do. Ask the hard questions and push for honest answers. Remember, happily ever after is never always happy.

Once you move overseas, make a commitment to meeting new friends, and then be a good friend to them. Listen, be empathetic, treat them like you want to be treated, and don’t always make it about you. When the dark days come, you’ll need true friends to go through them with you, so be sure you have some.

The life of the digital nomad can be exciting and rewarding, if you are aware of the challenges going in.

Pura vida, Penny

10 comments on The Dark Side Of Digital Nomad Life

  • Rachel

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Everything you said is so important. This digital nomad life can get pretty lonely. It can be so hard to make friends abroad especially if you’re not studying or working somewhere. Find networking events or just strike up a conversation with the other digital nomad at the cafe alone with their computer. Then really nourish those relationships you make. Once I finally figured that out, my life on the road was so much better. I’m so happy you put this out in the world. It’s something everyone should consider when thinking about taking the plunge.

    • Penny (author)

      Thank you Rachel for your kind words and great suggestions.

      Pura vida, Penny

  • Melanie Murrish

    Very well said Penny. I’m seeing this more and more and really admire those that come clean and speak the truth. It’s taken me a long time not to put people who I admire on a pedestal. There are many lessons to be learned from those that have gone before, so thanks for the tips.

  • Kelly (Kitchen Gone Rogue)

    Great article and good points. It’s easy to paint a false “happiest life” online. I often ask myself? Who do I admire most? The answer is always the same: those who are authentic and honest and quite possible swear a lot. 😉 So that’s who I strive to be (without too much swearing). Thank you!

  • Bradley Thompson

    I love this post, very well written! Being a blogger myself, I can totally relate to the loneliness of blogging. I find the late nights blogging alone, promoting and growing my social media profiles a very lonely process because no one can help. Especially, since this occupation is all about individual production, it all depends on your output, not the output of others.

  • kasiawrites

    Probably one of the best posts I’ve seen about this. It drives me nuts how many people build that ‘look at my fabulous life’ persona that makes it look like their lives are flawless. I alway try to write about the good and the bad of traveling. All the points you mentioned are spot on!

    • Penny (author)

      Thank you for your kind and supportive comment Kasia. Do your due diligence and keep the faith. Not everyone is like Christina 😉

      Pura vida, Penny

      • kasiawrites

        Good point! Again, thank you for sharing your story. It will help others ?

  • loreli

    THank you for sharing this very informative article.

  • J Eliot

    I want you to know that from all the blog posts I’ve stumble upon today, this is by far my favorite. I love your writing a lot. Great post! (It made me somewhat emotional haha)

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