Digital Nomad vs. Freelancer: 8 Differences in These Remote Work Styles

digital nomad

Yasmin Purnell, content creator and marketing assistant for Freelancermap, outlines differences between two popular remote work styles—that of the digital nomad and the freelancer.

The digital nomad lifestyle has become extremely trendy over the past few years, with more and more people getting the itch to set up their laptops away from the office and in front of a beautiful tropical beach instead—and who can blame them?

For freelancers, making the jump into digital nomad life isn’t such a huge leap, as many of you will already have the ability to work remotely from wherever you choose.

Digital Nomad vs. Freelancer: Key Differences

However, if you are considering being a digital nomad, you should know that there are key differences to freelancing —some good, some bad. In this article, we’ve outlined the biggest changes you’ll experience between freelancing and being a digital nomad.

1. Home Comforts

Freelancers working from home often have their own home office, their own computer with a big screen to work from, and instant access to bathrooms, tea, coffee, and any other home comforts that get you through the day.

Being a digital nomad? A little different. You’ll have days where there’s nowhere to work from but a dark hotel room on your bed, or perhaps an old internet cafe filled with computers dating back to the 90s. Working on the road means you have to adjust to the environment around you—sometimes that’s a beach lined with beautiful cafes with free WiFi, and sometimes it’s definitely not.

2. WiFi

Perhaps the biggest difference between freelancing and working remotely while you travel is having to deal with huge variances in WiFi accessibility and reliability. All digital nomads will know the dread of arriving at a more remote location with snail-slow WiFi speed and no other options.

Freelancers who rely on the internet almost exclusively to get your work done may have to do extra research on the locations you’ll visit before becoming a digital nomad.

Related: Telecommuter Gadgets: 6 Tech Must-Haves for Remote Workers

3. Limited Tools/Gadgets

When you’re travelling with nothing but a backpack, weight is at a premium. Therefore, the amount of tools and gadgets you can bring with you is a lot more limited to when you freelance at home with as much storage space as you need.

This doesn’t matter so much for freelancers who only need a laptop, but if you’re a freelance photographer, film-maker or artist, you may find it tough to fit all your professional equipment, as well as your clothes, into the strict baggage requirements many airlines demand.

4. Time Zone Difficulties

Being in different time zones to your clients can lead to some interesting working hours. As a remote worker, the pressure is often on you to make meetings and deadlines within your client’s time zone, Depending on where you are, this can mean some serious late nights and early mornings to fit into their working hours.

The upside of the digital nomad life is that having to work at night or early in the morning means you’ll have most of your day to explore the amazing new countries you’ll visit.

5. Communication

There’s a big difference between communicating with clients as a freelancer working from home, and as a digital nomad. With extortionate foreign phone fees, calling a client from another country isn’t so simple—not to mention you could urgently need to reach a client back home where it’s the middle of the night. 

Being a digital nomad means relying on online tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts for consistent communication with your clients and colleagues. While a slight inconvenience at times, being unable to take calls throughout the day tends to make you much more efficient at getting work done.

Related: Remote Collaboration: Methods for Effective Virtual Communication

6. Loneliness

If you’re a freelancer in your home country, you’re more likely to have clients, colleagues, friends and family nearby at times of loneliness or boredom. As a digital nomad, this support system is suddenly a lot further away, which can be a struggle for many people.

Although freelancers must get accustomed to working alone rather than in the hubbub of an office, sometimes working as a digital nomad can be even more lonely. Travelling in a country with a foreign language can make it tough to make new friends, especially if you’re shut behind your laptop most of the day. If you’re new to the digital nomad lifestyle, one of our biggest tips would be to stay in hostels and find out where there are co-working spaces. This can be a great opportunity to make new friends and even network in your freelancing niche.

7. Meeting Deadlines

We’re not going to lie: digital nomad life has a lot of distractions! You need to be extremely motivated to make yourself work when you would rather be out exploring new cities and discovering new adventures.

Freelancers need the same drive to focus and get work done independently, and travelling just makes the need for will-power so much more important. If you’re going to be a digital nomad, you’ll need to practice some serious discipline to make sure you meet your deadlines consistently and keep your clients happy.

8. Client Acquisition

If you’re already a freelancer with regular clients, you’re a step ahead. Acquiring clients as a digital nomad can be tricky at times, with some companies put off by a lack of consistency in your work locale. 

Being out of the country may mean you need to work twice as hard to win pitches and land clients to make sure you’re earning enough to fuel your travels. 

Related: Telecommuting Work-Life Balance: 15 Problems and Solutions

Are you a freelancer turned digital nomad? Or just thinking about it? Making the transition from working remotely from home to remotely from anywhere in the world can be a big adjustment, but as long as you’re ready for the changes it’s nothing you can’t handle!


About the Author

Yaz is the content creator and marketing assistant for Freelancermap. Freelancermap connects IT professionals with remote jobs around the world, and shares weekly tips, advice and interviews for other freelancers. Check out their blog for more freelancing tips!

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