Becoming a Digital Nomad

How to become a digital nomad

8 min read
Dan Scalco

This article was originally published on Nov. 17, 2017, and updated on Aug. 3, 2021.

For most of us, at some point in our lives, we’ve thought about packing up and leaving our current job behind to become a digital nomad. Maybe traveling to some exotic, faraway island and working off of a computer on the beach.

Sometimes, we dream these things because the stress of modern life starts getting to us. Other times, it’s because of a deep yearning to explore the world. Whatever your reason, becoming a digital nomad might be the answer you’re looking for.

What’s a digital nomad?

The term “digital nomad” is relatively new. If you haven’t heard it before, it describes people who are location independent and work from (quite literally) anywhere in the world. However, more than giving you the ability to travel, becoming a digital nomad gives you freedom.

Think about this for a second. Why do we work 40-plus hours every week? For the vast majority of us, it’s to accumulate enough money so that we can one day retire and have the freedom to do what we want — explore, meet new people, dive into our hobbies, etc.

Thanks to the technologically fueled world we live in today, you don’t have to retire to have the freedom to do what you want and go wherever you please. Traveling the world while you work may seem like a dream but becoming a digital nomad is much more achievable than you might think.

Working remotely

Digital Nomad Beach

Taking the leap from working behind a desk to working on a beach can seem scary. Where do you start? The first thing you’ll want to do is analyze your skill set so you can find remote jobs that fit you best. Here’s how:

  • List everything you’re good at professionally and personally. This can include everything from creative writing to working with Excel.
  • List industries that you have experience in or are looking to break into. This will help narrow down the search for a remote position.
  • Use each of these lists to explore remote job listings based on your expertise, experience and interest.

The sites We Work Remotely and Remote OK are great places to start. There are a wide variety of jobs that can be remote — programmers, consultants, writers and marketers are just the tip of the iceberg.

Remember this: if the job requires you to work with a computer, it can be performed remotely. That includes your current position. You can go as far as negotiating your current job into a remote one. Here are a few great tips on how to do it effectively.

Market yourself appropriately

Digital Nomad Portfolio Website

Should you leave your current job to find a remote one, you’ll need to increase your exposure in the job marketplace. The best way to do this is by creating an online portfolio of your work via a personal website. Even if you don’t have web design/development knowledge, building your portfolio is relatively simple. GoDaddy has developed an easy, swipe-to-style website builder you can use to create a portfolio-based website. The best part is, you can get started for free.

The key to digital nomad success

Once you’ve secured a remote position, it might seem enticing to book your first flight to an island, kick up your feet, and start sipping on margaritas. I’m sorry to break it to you, but that’s a surefire way to fail.

Becoming a digital nomad might be easy, but staying a digital nomad takes work.

The key is to have discipline. Unlike working at an office, you won’t have your manager looking over your shoulder and telling you what you need to be doing every moment. Whether you are a freelancer or have a full-time remote position, you technically work for yourself as a digital nomad. This is both a blessing and a curse. You have freedom to do what you want, but at the same time you also have less structure in your day-to-day life.

This lack of structure is what leads to the downfall of many digital nomads. They procrastinate or enjoy their time traveling in a leisurely way rather than fitting in time to work.

It can be hard to motivate yourself and manage your time effectively when working remotely. So how do you do it? By setting boundaries. Here are some tips:

  • Set clear and rigid boundaries on when your work time is versus your play time.
  • If you’re not used to working on your own without procrastinating, use an app like StayFocusd, which will block time-wasting websites like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Use the Pomodoro Technique to give yourself short breaks without wasting time.

Don’t let lack of structure threaten your dream of becoming a digital nomad. Stay on top of your tasks, and manage your workflow accordingly.

Pack efficiently and effectively

Digital Nomad Luggage

Choosing the right luggage is incredibly important. You’re going to be bouncing from place to place, so you’ll likely want to go with a carry-on to avoid wasting time waiting to pick up your checked bags (or worse, risk losing it while flying). You’ll also want to consider the fact that you’re going to be exclusively working off your phone and computer, both of which might end up running out of battery at the worst possible moment.

There are a variety of smart luggage options that not only charge your devices, but also have built-in GPS (just in case they do get lost or stolen).

When it comes to packing as a digital nomad, less is more. You might be inclined to take as much with you as possible, but the reality is you only want to take what you need — the essentials. For many, this can be a little off-putting, but it will save you tons of headaches in the long-run. Traveling while lugging around heavy bags isn’t fun.

Digital nomad Q&A

One of the main things holding people back from becoming a digital nomad are the multitude of “what ifs.” Because of this, I’m going to answer the top questions you might be asking yourself:

What if I lose my job while I’m traveling?

It’s possible to lose your source of income regardless of whether you’re a digital nomad or not. This is a risk that can be mitigated by ensuring you have at least three to six month’s worth of expenses set aside in liquid cash. Yes, it will take some saving to start, but it will also give you the ability to sleep soundly knowing you have a Plan B in place.

I already have a house or apartment. What do I do with it?

This is a personal preference. Some people choose to take on the digital nomad lifestyle full time by selling their house and living out of their suitcase. Others dabble in it by taking long trips, but come back to their home or apartment. There is no right or wrong answer. In both cases, you can use AirBnb as a way to recoup rent money or even make money by letting others stay at your home or apartment.

Where do I stay while traveling?

If hotels are too expensive and hostels don’t suit your needs, AirBnb is, again, a viable option. There’s tons of variety in the housing arrangements available, and you’ll have the ability to choose short or long-term stays.

What if there’s a medical emergency while I’m in another country?

Get travel insurance. It might seem like an unnecessary big expense at the time, but it will give you peace of mind should a worst-case scenario occur.

What do I do if my phone doesn’t work abroad?

Purchase an unlocked phone that allows you to swap out the SIM card. That way, you won’t have to worry about roaming charges or getting billed for anything of the like.

Final thoughts on becoming a digital nomad

If you’ve made it this far, you might have realized that becoming a digital nomad isn’t exactly easy. Many of the Instagram stars, travel vloggers and bloggers glorifying the digital nomad lifestyle only show the highlights, but rarely show the true work that goes into maintaining it.

While it does take a lot of work and perseverance, the benefits can be life changing. The biggest of which is that you have the freedom to explore the world. So what are you waiting for? Use the details outlined above to take your first step to work/life freedom by becoming a digital nomad!

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