It’s a lifestyle that many of us dream of. To escape the rat race and enjoy a life on your own terms. Free to travel the world and earn a living while doing it. There are countless attractions of being a digital nomad – or ‘location independent’ as many prefer to call it. It’s quite literally in our DNA to roam – humans have always been a nomadic species. So it’s no wonder that so many of us feel the pull of a nomadic lifestyle.
The good news is that becoming a digital nomad is easier than ever before (minus the global pandemic of course…). In an increasingly digital world, working online and staying connected is accessible to everyone. Despite the global pandemic acting as somewhat of a party pooper in the travel world, it has only highlighted the ease of remote work.
The possibilities for working online and being location independent are endless. That’s why there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to becoming a digital nomad. It depends on your own personal circumstances, skills, and goals. That being said, there are a number of steps to take and tips to bear in mind for anyone looking to live the nomad lifestyle.
What is a digital nomad?
First up, let’s be clear on what a digital nomad actually is. A digital nomad is someone who is location independent and spends a considerable amount of time on the move. Most of the year is spent abroad and a digital nomad generally makes an income online.
It’s worth noting that being a digital nomad isn’t strictly the same as being location independent. Almost anyone who works online and spends a lot of time abroad could be considered a digital nomad. But to be truly location independent, you need a very healthy income. For example, it’s far more achievable to work and live in South East Asia where the living cost is low. Not as many people would be able to do the same from the likes of London, Paris, or New York – as just some examples.
Absolute location independence is the real dream here. To be able to spend a month in Bali and then a month in Paris – from beaches to baguettes!
The benefits of being a digital nomad
There are numerous benefits of being a digital nomad. Firstly, you can enjoy a life outside of the traditional office. No more dreary commutes, staring at the same wall every day, or stressful office politics. You can travel the world and find your inner adventurer.
The freedom of moving around as and when it suits you affords you the opportunity to live in amazing places and discover new cultures. Gain new skills, broaden your mind, and learn a language. The possibilities are endless and enticing.
There is an amazing community of digital nomads out there. Living the nomadic lifestyle enables you to meet other like-minded people. Make friends from all over the world and form new connections.
Plus, in the right country you can enjoy a higher quality of life for far less money. Lower living costs and less material belongings make this possible. Work on your own terms without the pressure of an angry boss or annual leave restrictions. The best part? Anyone can do it.
A reality check on the digital nomad lifestyle
It’s easy to laud the benefits of being a digital nomad. But it’s important to have a reality check too, as it’s not all rainbows and roses. You need to be sure that the digital nomad lifestyle is for you.
It can be a lonely lifestyle. Sure, you’ll meet loads of amazing people and make tonnes of new friends. But the very nature of the nomadic lifestyle is that these friends move on and around, as will you. Many miss the familiarity of a home base and having friends and family nearby that you can rely on.
The constant moving around with all the logistics it entails can also be pretty exhausting and stressful. There are steps you can take to minimise the stress, but it’s not always smooth-sailing. Some people struggle with the lack of stability – whether it’s not having a home, or the unpredictability of freelance work.
How to become a digital nomad
There is no clear blueprint on how to become a digital nomad. It’s a personal journey and should be tailored to your own circumstances and objectives. But here are the key steps to consider and points to bear in mind.
1. Identify your skills and expertise
To earn an income online, you need to be able to offer a skill. So the first place to start is consider the skills you already have which you can leverage. Do you have a knack for writing? Are you a trained graphic designer? Do you have expert business skills which you could offer as consultancy or coaching? Are you super organised with good PA skills? Do you know how to code?
The list goes on but you need to consider whether these skills can be used to make an income online. It’s easier than you think, because the vast majority of industries now operate digitally. Ideally you should also enjoy applying these skills. Although it’s your work, it helps if you enjoy what you do. You’ll have more motivation to get your work done when you have the enticing pull of a warm sandy beach in front of you.
No skills? No problem! Firstly, it’s likely that you do have skills – but perhaps you’re just not sure where your talents lie. Either way, there are numerous ways of learning new skills, from ebooks to online courses. Bear in mind that it does take time to learn new skills. Being ‘half’ good at something won’t really cut it. To really succeed you need to be able to offer genuine expertise.
2. Take time to learn the necessary skills
As a continuation of the above point, take time to learn the necessary skills. It’s not recommended to jump into the digital nomad life fresh out of school / college / university. As tempting as it may be.
It pays to start your career with a more secure job for a few years. This will enable you to learn vital business skills and hone a level of expertise in whatever niche you choose. It will also allow you to build up a network of useful business contacts for you to leverage when finally go off gallivanting around the globe.
3. Go freelance before becoming a digital nomad
Moving from a full-time job to the digital nomad lifestyle is a huge change and can be a bit of a shock to the system. It’s better to make a gradual transition by taking on freelance work in your spare time. It’s a safer and more secure way of transitioning.
Going freelance will also give you a taste for the digital nomad lifestyle. You’ll be able to confirm whether you are able to make an income online with your skills. It will also help you learn whether you can be productive and stay motivated when working for yourself. Because it will be even harder when you’re next to a beach to stay focused!
There are lots of freelance job sites where many freelancers find work. Personally, I wouldn’t actually recommend these as they don’t generally pay that well. A more successful approach is to rely on your contacts and network, or carry out some traditional cold outreach.
4. Decide whether to work for yourself or work remotely
Often when people think of the digital nomad lifestyle, they assume it means working for yourself. But that’s not always the case. If being your own boss doesn’t feel right just yet then you can find employment that allows for flexible, remote working.
This would have been difficult 10 years ago, but there are countless options now. With the increase in remote working, there are many companies who no longer require you to be in the office. You could also try speaking to your current boss about opportunities to work abroad.
Of course, having your own business or working for yourself does afford you more flexibility. You can work or your own terms, which is very appealing to many people. But it isn’t’t always as stable and does require a lot more self-motivation. It’s about deciding which option is right for you.
5. Keep in mind time differences
If you decide to work from the other side of the world then you need to keep in mind the time difference. Especially if your clients and/or colleagues are based in your home country.
If face-to-face time with your clients is important then you will need to adjust your working schedule accordingly. This could mean working in the evenings, so it’s worth being prepared for this.
6. Reduce location & expenses ties
Once you’re serious about pursuing the digital nomad lifestyle, you need to begin reducing unnecessary ties. Start by clearing any debt and addressing any long-term leases, such as for your home or vehicle. Remove memberships or subscriptions you no longer need.
Get rid of excess material belongings where possible. You won’t be able to take everything with you and you’ll need to learn how to travel light! Aim to have some savings in place as a backup and peace of mind.
7. Join a digital nomad community
One of the best parts of being a digital nomad is meeting and connecting with new people. You don’t have to wait until you’re on the road to make friends. Connect with fellow digital nomads and create your own support network. There are plenty of great resources out there, from travel blogs to Facebook groups.
It can be lonely if you don’t make the effort to form new connections. Start building your support network before you start travelling. Friendship and support aside, networking with other digital nomads can also bring in new business prospects.
8. Try to earn passive income
The ultimate dream of all digital nomads: passive income. If you can find a way of making money with little effort or input, life as a digital nomad will be significantly more enjoyable. It may sound impossible – it’s not, but it does require a lot of work to get to the point of earning passive income.
The most common way of doing this is through advertising on a blog or website. If your site gets a lot of monthly pageviews then you can earn some serious income from your website visitors through display advertising and affiliate schemes.
Don’t get sucked into a pyramid scheme. You know those DMs you get all about a sounds-too-good-to-be-true online business opportunity where you can’t actually figure out what the business is? Almost definitely a pyramid scheme, so just don’t reply.
9. Get the right project management tools in place
Staying organised when you’re on the move is significantly harder, especially when it comes to your work. Get a good project management tool in place to help you stay on top of your tasks. My personal favourite is Asana, and Slack is useful for liaising with clients. Finding the most effective ways of communicating with clients and partners will make your life easier when travelling around.
10. Choose a destination
Choosing your first destination is an important step. Before settling on a location, take some time to figure out what lifestyle you want and estimate your earnings. This will help you assess whether your chosen destination will fulfil your personal needs and goals.
You’ll also need to ensure that your destination is conducive to a good working environment with communities and workspaces. Don’t forget to check for good wifi too! You’ll also need to consider where you are going to live – in a hostel, Airbnb, hotel, homestay, or rent a place? This will depend on how long you plan to stay in a given place and how often you intend to travel to a new place. Finally, always have a backup plan in place in case your first choice doesn’t work out.
The boring but important stuff:
I couldn’t let you leave this post without sharing some of the boring but important stuff. They may not be fun but the following points are all very important considerations:
- Find a good banking solution
- Research your country’s situation in terms of paying tax when working / living abroad
- Get good insurance that covers all aspects of your digital nomad life
- Check what visas you may need
- Use a VPN for better online security when using shared wifi
- Set up a virtual mail service
- Consider getting an international driver’s licence
- Have emergency funds in place so you can get home urgently should you need to
- Organise any medical prescriptions that you need to cover your time away
So there you have it, my guide to becoming a digital nomad! If you have any questions, then please get in touch in the comments or on social media.