What is a Digital Nomad vs a Remote Worker? Pros, Cons, and Choosing What’s Right for You

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What is a Digital Nomad vs a Remote Worker? Pros, Cons, and Choosing What's Right for You - Rachel Off Duty

While the last two years have thrown the entire planet a major curveball, there has been one silver lining: 

More people than ever before have the option to ditch a traditional desk and swap it for living out a suitcase or working from home. 

By 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be remote. If you aren’t office-free already, you might be asking yourself whether it’s the right decision for you. And if you were to take the plunge, would you pursue a remote job, or try your hand at being a digital nomad?

For many, this is a tough question. And while the answer might depend on what career you’re in, it will depend just as much on your lifestyle. Specifically, what you’re prepared to give up and gain.

If you’re unsure if remote work or digital nomadism is the right choice, keep reading. I’m breaking down the differences and the pros and cons to help you make your best career and lifestyle decision.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

Rachel Off Duty: A Group of Women on a Boat in Belize

What is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad is a remote worker that often travels from location to location, or stays in one location away from their home country for extended periods of time. Digital nomads do not typically have a home or home base, often giving it up for the thrill of being on the road.

Instead of paying rent for an apartment in the same city, digital nomads might move around every couple of weeks or months, traveling to new destinations.

It’s the ultimate lifestyle choice for people who value freedom of movement, want to see as much of the world as possible, and feel comfortable living out of a suitcase.

What is a Remote Worker?

Remote workers are employees who don’t need to commute to the office every day (or, at all).

Instead, these people can work from home (or sometimes, from anywhere) as long as there is a stable internet connection.

So, what is the main difference between digital nomads and remote workers? Remote workers still traditionally have a permanent residence, and aren’t traveling the world full-time.

While all digital nomads are technically remote workers, not all remote workers are digital nomads.

What are the Pros and Cons of Becoming a Digital Nomad?

Not sure if the digital nomad lifestyle is the right fit for you? Let’s jump into the highs and lows of what you can expect if you were to become a full-time digital nomad.

Pro: Work Wherever and Whenever You Want

The biggest benefit of becoming a digital nomad? The location independence.

You can work from anywhere in the world.

Sick of the chilly winter weather in New York? Book a ticket to South Africa and spend three months working and exploring Cape Town.

Are you the most productive after 6 pm? Throw those 9-to-5 work hours out the window and create a schedule that works best for you.

With a digital nomad lifestyle, you can plan your work around your life instead of the other way around.

Pro: The Ability to Travel Full-Time

197 countries.

372,000 miles of coastline worldwide.

10,000+ cities to explore.

And only 24 hours a day.

If you’re itching to see as much of the world as possible, becoming a digital nomad is the best way to fill up your passport without quitting your job or hacking your PTO.

Pro: The Freedom

I mentioned earlier that digital nomadism gives you location freedom, but that’s not all it offers.

When you aren’t tied to one place, you have the freedom to create the life of your dreams:

  • Freedom to pick the best work environment for you.
  • Freedom of choice to structure your day.
  • Freedom to buy plane tickets whenever you feel like it.
  • Freedom to explore without using your PTO.

Pro: Your Money Goes Further

If you’re from a big city, you’ll know the sting of the high cost of living.

Switching to a digital nomad lifestyle gives you the freedom to move to a location where your money goes further.

Instead of forking out $2k (or more) on rent each month, you can relocate somewhere more affordable and cut your expenses in half (or more).

Con: Loneliness

The biggest con of becoming a digital nomad?

The possibility of loneliness.

Even if you’re traveling full-time with a partner or friend, you’re leaving your entire life behind.

Your best friend can no longer swing by your place after work, and you’re going to miss life milestones like birthdays, weddings, and engagements.

Then there is the new challenge of making new friends on the road.

When you’re moving around every couple of weeks or months, it’s easy to fall into the trap of surface-level relationships.

Plus, goodbyes suck.

While there are ways to manage loneliness as a digital nomad, you’ll need to make an active effort to:

  • attend events at your co-working space
  • talk to strangers
  • push yourself out of your comfort zone
  • nurture relationships from surface-level to deep, meaningful connections

Con: Managing Your Work and Life Balance

There’s a catch when you have complete freedom over your time and location.

It’s up to you to manage your workload responsibly.

No boss is hovering over your shoulder, making sure you’re doing your work instead of exploring the beaches of Maui.

…And it’s super tempting not to throw your to-do list out the window when you’re in a new destination with so many exciting things to see.

Or you might find yourself on the other side of the pendulum – working non-stop and ending up with a one-way ticket to burnout.

So if you want to master the art of a digital nomad lifestyle, you need to learn how to prioritize your time and create a healthy work-life balance.

Con: You Need to Follow the WiFi Signal

Despite the claim that digital nomads can work from anywhere – that claim comes with a big but

Digital nomads can work from everywhere, but you’ll need to always be on the hunt for a good WiFi signal.

Without one, you can’t work, and if you can’t work, you’re not getting paid.

As tempting as that cabin in the woods looks, if there is no WiFi signal, you will have to use your PTO to go there.

Plus, not all countries have the infrastructure to support a digital nomad lifestyle.

Before buying a one-way ticket to Panama, use a site like Nomad List to check internet speeds and other factors that will impact your ability to work and quality of life.

Con: Full-Time Travel Can Be Mentally Draining 

Let’s face it.

Travel is exhausting.

You have to figure out:

  • where to stay and work
  • how to use public transportation
  • where to eat
  • what to do
  • how to ask for something in a foreign language

And the most important thing for a digital nomad?

A productive work routine.

When you’re constantly moving (catching flights, missing flights, riding night buses, etc.), a reliable work routine is difficult to maintain, and it can be easier to get distracted.

Plus, you’re constantly problem-solving as you adapt to a new country.

RELATED: 9 Tips for Working While Traveling and Staying Productive

Rachel Off Duty: A Laptop and a Beer on the Beach

What are the Pros and Cons of Becoming a Remote Worker?

Are you leaning towards keeping your job, and simply taking it on the road with you from time to time?

Here are the things you should consider before saying bon voyage to your desk.

Pro: No More Morning & Evening Commute

The morning and evening commute is probably one of the worst things about having a job.

You have to wake up at the crack of dawn, get ready, and sit in traffic (sometimes for hours) before making it to the office.

By the time you get to work, your energy levels are waning. Before you know it, it’s time to make the mission back home.

Remote work lets you cut out the worst part of the day, saving you time and giving you the ability to start your morning with things that fill up your cup, like yoga, reading, or simply saving money on gas.

Pro: You Can Save Money

Speaking of, when you cut out your daily commute, you instantly put more money back into your bank account.

Your gas, bus fare, or train ticket budget? It shrinks! 

Use your extra money to pay off your credit card, invest in your wealth-building, or simply save up for your next trip.

Besides transport costs, working remotely means you have the freedom to choose where you want to live. You no longer need to base your housing choices around the office.

The result?

You can finally decide to base yourself in a location where the rent may be lower.

Pro: More Flexible Schedule

You know what’s a drag?

Having to ask for a half-day at work when you need to run an errand or go to the doctor’s office.

With remote work, you have the flexibility to adjust your work schedule around your life.

If you need to quickly go to the dry cleaners or pick someone up from the airport, you can do that without all the office admin.

Depending on if you have set working hours, you might have the option to choose when you’re online, giving you the freedom to embrace your inner night owl or early worm.

Pro: More Control Over Your Work Environment

One of the biggest drawcards for remote work is the control.

When you’re working from home, in a coffee shop, or in a co-working space, you get to choose your set-up for the day.

  • Feel like answering emails from your bed? No problem.
  • Craving a Starbucks? Take your laptop and catch up with admin tasks while sipping on your Frappuccino.
  • Isolation getting to you? Hot desk from a co-working space for the day and get your social fix.

Another bonus that comes with controlling your work environment is higher productivity levels.

Don’t believe me?

77 percent of remote workers show increased productivity, with 30 percent doing more work in less time.

The root cause?

While there are distractions at home (I’m looking at you, Netflix), you no longer have excessive interruptions from co-workers, time-wasting watercooler chats, and excessive coffee breaks.

Con: It Can Get Lonely

Even if you’re a hardcore introvert, we all need a dose of human interaction and connection.

Going into the office every day, chatting in the elevator or grabbing lunch with a colleague is an easy way to fill that need.

But, when you’re at home with only your laptop, it can feel lonely and isolating – even with regular Zoom calls.

Isolation can lead to depression, frustration, burnout, and low productivity if you ignore it. Before you go remote, think about how you can combat loneliness. Some fun ways include signing up for workout classes, trying new hobbies abroad, and going out of your way to spend time with coworkers and friends whenever you’re back home.

RELATED: 6 Tips for Embracing The Work From Home Lifestyle

Con: You Need to Manage Your Schedule

Sure, remote work sounds fun, but there’s a major catch.

You have to manage everything.

  • Internet down? It’s up to you to fix it.
  • Couch calling your name? You need to resist the temptation.
  • Are family members driving you nuts? Keeping your workspace sane is on your shoulders.

Staying productive with no boss looming over your shoulder will affect your remote work success. It can be a good or bad thing depending on how autonomous and self-sufficient you are.

If you’re struggling, there are tools to help you become better at managing your schedule.

You could experiment with time management techniques like Pomodoro, getting rid of distractions like turning on airplane mode, or setting up an at-home workplace that increases your productivity.

Rachel Off Duty: A Woman Working From the Lake of the Ozarks, MO

Digital Nomad vs. Remote Work: What is the Best Option for Your Situation?

Still feeling stuck between moving towards a life on the road or taking a swing at remote work?

Think about the lifestyle you want to live.  

  • Do you want to travel full-time, or would you thrive with a home base and mini adventures on the side?
  • Are you someone who loves short trips, or do you prefer slow travel and having the time to get to know a place like a local?
  • Are you okay with missing major life milestones to pursue your wanderlust? Or is being away from friends and family not worth it?
  • What is your job like? Do you need to be online at the same time every day for meetings, or do you have the flexibility to work whenever you want?

Take your time answering these questions and thinking about what will make you happy. For me personally, I am currently doing a hybrid approach where I work remotely from LA, but travel at least 3 times a year on multi-week work-cations to dip my toe into the digital nomad lifestyle! I find this works best for my career (which involves some in-person meetings), while still giving me the flexibility to explore new places whenever I crave to.

What sounds like a better gig for you? Are you currently a remote worker or digital nomad? Tell me below!

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Digital Nomad or Remote Worker? How to Know Which is Right for You - Rachel Off Duty
Digital Nomad or Remote Worker? How to Know Which is Right for You - Rachel Off Duty

Hey there! I’m Rachel, a travel writer and a full-time advertising / marketing expert. In 2019, I traveled more than 25 times while working 9 to 5, and since then I’ve committed myself to living a more adventurous life, even if it means bringing my laptop along for the ride.

Are you hungry to travel more, but overwhelmed with how to juggle work and play? You’ve come to the right place!

Recent Adventures:
Let's Go Places!

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