Traditionally, working means going to your place of employment, putting in your hours and going home again. Now some people work wherever they can find an internet connection, aren’t bound by regular hours and sometimes don’t even have an employer. These people are known as digital nomads.
Digital nomads are often seen as living a relaxed, carefree life.
If you search ‘digital nomad’ on any search engine, you’ll see images of people relaxing at a beach or pool with a laptop and sipping a cocktail.
The stairway to heaven has 9 steps
Thousands of people have spent anywhere from a few weeks to years as nomads. Here are the basic steps involved.
- Change your thinking.
- Work out how you’ll support yourself.
- Lighten up.
- Start budgeting.
- Sell or store your stuff.
- Buy your equipment.
- Get a good backpack.
- Start packing.
- Look for work.
Before we list the steps to becoming a word traveler, let’s get real for just a minute.
Sounds delightful. Is it as glorious as it sounds?
The quick answer is no. As a digital nomad, you’ll face all kinds of challenges. Some include:
You’ve moved away from family and friends and can’t instantly contact them for help when things don’t go to plan. It’s even harder in a different time zone. And the loneliness can be magnified if you get sick.
Lack of a good internet connection
An internet connection is your digital lifeline. Working and staying in touch with clients, colleagues and family is impossible if your connection is spotty or non-existent.
As a first-time nomad, you can do all the research you want, but nothing compares to being on the ground. Food, transport and cultural etiquette varies from country to country and it takes time to adjust. Missing the familiarity of home can weigh heavily in the early days.
I was keen, but you’re talking me out of this
It gets better. A FlexJobs survey of 500 digital nomads found that 88% felt “that being a digital nomad has had a huge improvement or positive impact on their lives.”
There are thousands living a digital nomad existence. They turn to online communities to stay connected, share stories and get advice. For example:
- Digital Nomad Community has more than 100,000 members and courses to help you on your way.
- Nomad List offers a forum and at-a-glance graphs that tell you what you need to know about various locations.
There are also Facebook groups for working travelers:
So you while you may be far away from your family and friends, you’re always only a click away from your new tribe.
Which careers suit a digital nomad lifestyle?
Any job that can be performed by one person is a good possibility. People who do these jobs can work and meet with clients entirely over the internet. They don’t need an office, just somewhere with an internet connection to use their laptop.
So if you can do any of the following then congratulations, the digital nomad lifestyle awaits:
- Online business owner
- Graphic design
- Bookkeeping and accounting
- Digital marketing
- Web design and development
- Virtual assistant
I can do one of those!
Great, you're partway there. Here are some steps to get started.
1. Change your thinking
Start thinking ‘mobile’ because a digital nomad doesn’t let anything tie them to a location. Those dumbbells you love? Gift them to a friend. That flat iron you can’t live without? You might want to find a more low-maintenance hairstyle.
2. Work out how you’ll support yourself
If you work as a full-time employee, ask your manager if working remotely is an option. If not, then think about freelancing outside work hours in order to build a portfolio to show prospective clients once you’re on your way.
You can start building an online portfolio with GoDaddy’s free Website Builder. An impressive portfolio is especially important for nomads, as new clients can’t meet you face-to-face.
3. Lighten up
Make a note of all the things tying you down and start purging. Housing leases and vehicles are the obvious ones. Don't forget your gym membership if you have one. Putting it on hold will be cheaper than cancelling your membership.
4. Start budgeting
Subscriptions can eat into your income, so end any subscriptions that you won’t need on your nomad travels. Use the money you save to help pay off debts like credit cards and loans.
5. Sell or store your stuff
You may start your nomad life in a place where the cost of living is low, but you’ll still need money for housing, visas and airfares.
Start saving for your nomad life as soon as you can.
You might decide to jump right in and go for months. If so, decide if you want to sell your belongings or put them in storage. Selling will give you cash for your travels, while storage may cost precious money per month.
6. Buy equipment
You’ll need reliable equipment because your livelihood will depend on it. A few tips:
- Get the best laptop you can afford.
- Learn the voltages of the countries you’ll visit and make sure the power adapter can handle them.
- Apply any major updates to the Operating System and other applications before you leave.
This is one area where you shouldn’t take any chances; make sure your gear is good to go.
7. Get a good backpack
Invest in a quality backpack, one with padding to ensure inevitable bumps won’t damage your goods. Tortuga backpacks are worth a look.
8. Start packing
You’ll want to travel light as part of your nomad lifestyle. Try to avoid check-in luggage and go with carry-on instead. You’ll find you can get by with very little and buy what else you need at your destination.
Check out Tortuga’s carry-on packing list for what to take.
9. Look for work
There are plenty of job sites, but one of the better ones is FlexJobs. This site caters to remote workers and is rated one of the best sites for remote job hunting.
Other remote job sites are:
- We Work Remotely
- Remote OK
In addition to putting you in touch with people willing to pay for your services, these sites also provide information and tips on making the nomad lifestyle more enjoyable.
And a few more details
You may be wondering if there’s an easy way to locate wired work spaces around the world. There is, and it’s better than hiking through town asking for the nearest public Wi-Fi.
Here are two good sources to start with:
- Workfrom, a comprehensive list of workspaces with apps for iOS and Android
- Coworker, which includes more than 12,000 coworking spaces in 165 countries
You may find others you like better once you’ve joined one of the digital nomad communities.
Where can I stay?
Hotels and hostels were the main options in the past, but Airbnb and a host of other online options can be more agile when it comes to long-term stays.
Have a look at Digital Nomad Soul’s post on nomad living for a list of five options.
What if I get sick?
Don’t. But if you must, then you’ll be glad you invested in travel insurance. Travel insurance can cover more than lost luggage; there are providers who offer coverage for multiple trips in the same year.
Check the Smart Traveller website for more information. You can find reviews of most major providers on the Choice website.
I wish I could try it out without making a long-term commitment
You can! A company called Be Unsettled runs “coworking & lifestyle experiences” ranging from two weeks to a month where you can taste the lifestyle of a digital nomad. Locations include:
- Buenos Aires
- Cape Town
- Nicaragua and more
Visit their website for more details.
The world is your oyster
The life of a digital nomad has its rewards:
- Flexibility over where and how long you stay
- The days and hours you work
- The view from your desk
You also have the option of using coworking spaces and meeting new people, or working alone in a library or a café.
Sure, you can do that at home, but the freedom to travel and experience other cultures is what makes this lifestyle so appealing to so many.
And with an abundance of online resources and thousands of people ready with advice, now could be the best time to start.
So why not give it a go?