The “Real” Sacrifices of Being a Digital Nomad on a Boat

solo urchin sacrifice of being a digital nomad on a boat
A lone urchin, disconnected from the sea

The Allure of the Nomadic Lifestyle

The nomadic lifestyle, characterized by constantly being on the move, exploring new places, and meeting new people, has captivated the hearts and minds of many. Whether you’re a remote worker, a business owner, or a freelancer, the allure of breaking free from a traditional nine-to-five office job and embracing location independence is undeniable. However, there are “real” sacrifices with being a digital nomad on a boat. 

One of the biggest advantages of this lifestyle is the ability to work remotely. With the advent of Starlink Internet and digital technology, many professionals now have the option to work a remote job from anywhere in the world. This has given rise to remote workers who explore new destinations while maintaining their careers. Even though I am fortunate to fall into this category, it is not–as sailors like to say–all sunshine and rainbows.

Freedom Begins: The Nomadic Sailboat Life

For some digital nomads, the nomadic lifestyle isn’t just about hopping from one hotel to another or renting Airbnb accommodations in different countries. Instead, it’s about setting sail on the open waters and embracing the challenges and rewards of a life on the sea. 

The first thing that comes to mind when picturing a digital nomad on a sailboat is freedom. The freedom to choose your next destination, to wake up to a different view every day, and to live by your own rules. But with this freedom come 5 “real” sacrifices that must be carefully considered.

Sacrifices at Sea

1. Home Base vs. Constant Movement

One of the most significant sacrifices for a digital nomad on a sailboat is the absence of a traditional home base. For some cruisers, like us, we decided after two seasons of trying to live in a truck camper half-time and our Amel Super Maramu the other half of the year that we could not juggle the constant chaos.

Picture this: the average person has to stop to remember where she put her keys and reading glasses when she leaves the room. Imagine misplacing your keys, reading glasses, passport, boat documents, tourist visa, and vaccination card. Not to mention, required medications, laptops, and cell phones.

Going from one setting in one time zone to a new place, whether that’s in a new country or a home base like the United States, means that keeping track of your belongings to stay organized is the difference between a mild panic attack and an elevated adrenaline rush. Keeping track of everything can be incredibly stressful.

After our truck camper broke down not once, not twice, but three times in the middle of the summer in Lake Havasu (have you been to this hell on earth? The devil breathes fire 24/7 in this dusty, barren desert where the billboard temperature recorded 127 degrees outside), Kevin and I decided to simplify life by selling the camper.

Sacrifice of being a digital nomad on a boat means no home base
Sacrificing a homebase meant splitting our time between our boat and the camper.

2. The Challenges of Staying Connected

Internet connection is crucial for remote work opportunities and staying in touch with loved ones. However, when you’re sailing in remote areas or foreign countries, a stable and reliable internet connection can be a luxury (especially if you don’t have Starlink). The struggle to find a strong cell signal or Wifi can be a constant source of stress and frustration.

Of course, Starlink Internet has helped tremendously. One sailing friend of mine described how happy her 80-year-old mom is every time they Facetime from the boat, while the sails balloon in the background. 

But prior to Starlink, I remember my son getting fed up with the continuous dropped calls while we were trying to catch up one weekend. I could feel his frustration–and desire to hang up until we could talk another time. 

As a mom, I want my children to feel like I am there for them–no matter what. If a lack of a clear phone call (or any connection) makes it impossible to get updates from family, then the lifestyle will falter. I’m not sure if all cruisers share this sentiment. Most people I have met in the boating community seem okay with their arrangements of keeping in touch with loved ones.

However, sensitivity towards this sacrifice is based on who you are when you leave land life. We have met retired couples and young couples without children (or couples who have their family with them) who have more freedom in terms of staying connected. If you don’t have kids to worry about back home—or your aging parents have already passed—then your passage into sailing life has fewer obstacles.

staying connected is a sacrifice of being a digital nomad on a boat
Staying connected with family on the ocean

3. Social Life: What You Give Up & What You Gain

While the allure of sailing to new destinations is enticing, it often means leaving behind the social life you once knew. Meeting new people and making new friends is a constant in the life of a digital nomad. But maintaining these connections over long periods can be challenging, especially when you’re sailing across time zones and visiting foreign countries.

Leaving behind old friends is something every digital nomad I know writes about. Work colleagues and old neighbors you have had for 10-, 20-, or 30 years slowly lose touch with you. And I believe this phenomenon with cruising life isn’t just about life’s normal transitions.

Cruising and sailing, in particular, comprise a language that can be as remote as the work. Nautical terms, weather patterns, and planning for new destinations every week—all represent foreign territory for a land-locked friend. I have tried to stay connected through social media. But in the past year or so, my old friends feel even more far away now that Kevin and I live part-time in the mountains. Truly, I miss my friendships—even though the cruising lifestyle invites a very active social life.

sacrifices of being a digital nomad means your friends change
One of my best friends from high school, Kim, at the helm.

4. Cultural Differences & Lack of Familiarity

Digital nomads often find themselves in foreign countries with different languages, cultures, and customs. While this can be an enriching experience, it also presents challenges such as navigating language barriers and adapting to different ways of life. The simple act of ordering food or asking for directions can become an adventure in itself.

And can we talk about food? Like every cruiser, we often cannot wait to return to the boat. Our sailboat waits for us in a Mexican boatyard, where we long for street tacos and mouth-watering moles and fresh papaya. But when we’ve been cruising for several months, the lack of choices in the tiendas have us craving peach ice cream or rice crackers or Yerba Mates. 

In other words, you will sacrifice the abundance of foods you’re accustomed to getting in the United States or your hometown. (A very small price to pay, of course😉.)

sacrifice of being a digtial nomad on a boat farmer's market
Always an abundance of papaya. Farmer's market in Barra de Navidad.

5. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Living on a sailboat and navigating the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle can lead to significant personal growth. From learning how to handle the boat to adapting to new environments and cultures, digital nomads on sailboats develop a diverse set of skills that can be invaluable both personally and professionally.

However, the sacrifice of working remotely may mean short-circuiting professional relationships. How so? Well, even if you Zoom every day with colleagues, your co-workers still know you are somewhere on a boat.

They know you can jump into the ocean after your meeting and snorkel for an hour. One of my friend’s husbands once said to me, “Oh, you teach online remotely? Of course…you’re semi-retired.” Despite his perception of me as a vacationing worker, I know I’m lucky to work from a boat. But the number of hours I spend working remain invisible.

The cloak of invisibility is often a positive thing for digital nomads like me. But this is only because I am unconcerned with upward mobility in the workplace. I’m not trying to advance in my career–heck, after 27 years of teaching, I’m beyond trying to impress anyone at work.

My duty–as I see it–is to be the best instructor I can. Fortunately, college students have elected to take my online courses; therefore, how I live and where I live is irrelevant to our interaction and their learning.

But for young digital nomads or remote workers at the mercy of a boss’s perception of their time away from the office, I would imagine this sacrifice to be most prominent of all.

The Rewards Outshine the Sacrifices

Despite the real sacrifices of being a digital nomad on a boat, the rewards are abundant. The freedom to explore new places, the opportunity to meet fascinating people from different backgrounds, and the chance to live a life of adventure are all part of the package.

As the world continues to change, digital nomadism in all its forms will likely become more common. It offers a unique way to break free from the comfort zone of traditional living. And for those willing to embrace the challenges, it can be a profoundly rewarding lifestyle.

So, whether you’re dreaming of sailing through the crystal-clear waters of Southeast Asia, exploring the charming villages of Western Europe, or charting a course to the next exotic destination, remember that the sacrifices of being a sailing nomad are the building blocks of an extraordinary life of freedom, adventure, and personal growth. The journey may be challenging, but the experiences and memories you’ll collect along the way are worth every sacrifice.

La Picazon, one of our favorite restaurants in the Sea of Cortez
A family altar at La Picazon, an amazing restaurant across from Isla Coronados in the Sea of Cortez.

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