Digital Nomads — The What, The How, The Where
Becoming a digital nomad can be an exciting way to travel the world and get paid doing it.
Digital nomads and the nomadic lifestyle have really taken off in recent years. So much so that entire communities, health insurance plans, and even jobs are created with these adventurous souls in mind.
It’s definitely an enticing way to live. Most digital nomads have very little responsibility outside of their travel and work arrangements. Many people say they want to travel and living the nomadic lifestyle certainly allows that without having to save up tens of thousands of dollars beforehand.
What is a digital nomad? Put plainly, a digital nomad is an individual who chooses to travel and work remotely. When people usually think of digital nomads, they imagine drinking endless cocktails on a sandy white beach with not a care in the world as the waves splash lazily a few yards from their bare, tanned feet.
While this is definitely possible, it’s also fairly misleading.
Would you be able to concentrate on your work if you were sloshed on a beach in some foreign country? I know I wouldn’t. I also wouldn’t want sand getting into my laptop. Many people are able to work out of internet cafes or something similar, but the constant noise and traffic can be extremely distracting. Actually, you’ll probably be doing most of your work in your hotel room.
Being a digital nomad doesn’t necessarily equate to exotic places and out-of-this-world experiences. Some nomads keep it fairly local, hauling a small trailer around the country or couch surfing their way from one coast to the other.
However, there are those digital nomads that choose to spend their time in far-off places and enjoy the experience of staying (for weeks, months, or years at a time) at more exotic locations than what they would be used to.
Now, it’s important to distinguish the difference between a digital nomad and someone that is location independent.
Being a nomad does not make you location independent. Where the two differ has to do mainly with their budget — or capabilities of living anywhere in the world. Digital nomads are usually found either traveling locally (within their own country) or in more inexpensive parts of the world, like South East Asia, South Africa, or Mexico.
Being location independent means that you can basically go anywhere to set up shop, even in the more expensive destinations like Honolulu, New York, Singapore, or Paris. The truth is, very few digital nomads get to experience that level of financial success — until much later in their careers (if they choose to maintain the nomadic lifestyle).
If being location independent is your actual goal, then you’re going to need to become financially independent and bring in a lot of cash. Don’t worry, it can be done, it just takes some time.
Now that you know what a digital nomad is, let’s explore how you get there.
The most obvious thing you need is a source of income. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. Let’s go over some of the more popular and accessible nomad jobs today.
Let’s break this down into categories:
This is a very prominent and lucrative way of making a living from anywhere. Individuals offering professional services are usually involved in some sort of digital marketing or IT. This type of work usually involves working for clients and can either be paid by the hour, project or be paid a monthly retainer to maintain social profiles or provide website maintenance. These could be one-off projects, or you may own a small agency and hire virtual assistants as needed. Here are some examples of professional services:
Social Media Marketing
IT and Security Services
The gig economy is a freelancer’s best friend — especially in a pinch. Websites like UpWork and Fiverr have made it really easy for freelancers to find work and get paid in a short amount of time. Some digital nomads live on these websites, finding projects to take on to keep the cash flow coming without having any serious commitments like what you’d have if you owned your own agency. Here are some gig examples:
Landing Page Design
Business or Marketing Plan Writing
SEO, Social Media, or Business Consulting
If you can manage to get a couple of sources of passive income — do it! Passive income helps alleviate the financial burden and stress of traveling so far from home. Things can go wrong at any point. Your laptop can be stolen, preventing you from working. Maybe there’s a medical emergency and you’re out of work for a week recovering. Or maybe you just want to be able to actually enjoy the place you’re at and not be so focused on how you’re going to make it work. All of these scenarios are very real for any digital nomad traveling abroad. Here are some passive income stream examples:
An Actual Nomad Job
Many employers in this day and age are okay with remote work. Your boss may take some convincing to let you run amok in Thailand and trust that you’ll do your work, but it can be done. That is if your job can be done remotely. I would suggest starting small and building trust first. Work from home a day or two a week to start off with and gradually work your way up to being 100% remote. This will do two things: it will convince your boss that it can be done, and it will get you into the habit of working remotely. Trust me — remote work isn’t for everyone.
Once you do that, skip town for a couple of months. Take a trip to Mexico or Argentina. If you go too far outside your workplace’s usual time zone, make sure you are available for meetings and whatnot. Living the nomadic lifestyle takes a lot of planning and working a nomad job can oftentimes require more effort than you may think. You need to be able to consider different angles and take things into consideration you might take for granted otherwise.
Now let’s talk preparation.
The first thing you’re going to want to do is to get your finances in order. This means paying down your debts and reducing your outgoing expenses. If you live in an apartment, have a car payment, insurance, credit cards, Netflix (or any of the other 200 streaming services), your World of Warcraft subscription, Amazon Prime, and that subscription box for your cat, you probably won’t be able to go nomad any time soon.
The first thing you might want to consider is getting rid of the cat — some places you go might try to serve it to you as a meal (kidding not kidding). The truth is, if you have responsibilities at home like children and pets… the nomadic lifestyle might have to wait.
Sell your car, see if your apartment can be rented out, and cancel your cat box subscription. Digital nomads travel light — not just their own physical belongings, but their whole lifestyle is minimalistic by nature.
You’re also going to make sure you have enough saved up for an emergency. A good rule of thumb is having at least three months of expenses saved up just in case. If you have a passive income stream then this could be done with little effort. There are lots that can go wrong when you travel to new and exciting countries and the last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere completely alien to you with no means of getting back home.
What happens if you get hurt or develop a disease while abroad? Consider outfits like Remote Health Solutions or something similar before setting off. Remote health insurance is a fairly new concept that is being made popular (and possible) by the thousands that are choosing to live the nomadic lifestyle.
You’re also going to want to make sure that you get any necessary immunizations or vaccinations before visiting your desired location. In essence, do your research and make sure your medical is covered where you’re going.
While you’re planning and preparing for your transition to digital nomad, be sure to join some communities dedicated to the nomadic lifestyle. Sites like Couchsurfing and Nomadlist can help you navigate the nuances of travel and preparation. You can also use these sites to network and connect with people who are already living in your destination, making it easy to get set up once you get there.
Nomadlist is a must-have resource for digital nomads. Through this website, you can check popular destinations, get access to the digital nomad community, and even possibly get hired. Heck, they even have a dating section.
There are hundreds of cities listed on the site that go into detail about the conditions themselves and how it relates to the nomadic lifestyle. Things like safety, internet speed/reliability, and average monthly price to live.
Here are some of the cheaper and popular destinations:
Buenos Aires, Argentina. It has one of the highest nomad scores and you can live there for under $1000 a month.
Canggu, Bali, Indonesia. Another top pick, but it’s a little pricier than Buenos Airies at around $1300 a month.
Da Nang, Vietnam. Cheaper to live and a little safer than Buenos Aires.
Ko Samui, Thailand. Safe, fun, decent internet, and only about $1400 a month.
Constanta, Romania. Another great choice that scores high on fun, safety, and internet. The average monthly price to live here is only about $1100 a month.
Izmir, Turkey. The internet is meh, but you can’t complain that much when you’re only spending $750 a month to live there.
No matter where you go to pursue your digital nomad dream, make sure to do your due diligence and research where you’re going first. World events and conditions change constantly. Have a plan to get out quick if necessary and keep in constant communication with someone who understands where you are and what you’re doing in case something happens.
Also, be sure you have the means to communicate. Yes, English is spoken in most countries, but it’s extremely arrogant to assume (at your own expense) that everywhere you go will speak the same language as you do. Many locals won’t even talk to you in English until you make an effort to communicate in their native language first.
Whether you choose to travel to the next state over or an exotic country several thousand miles away, being a digital nomad can be a rewarding and fulfilling way of traveling the world, meeting interesting people, and expanding your culture — all while you collect a paycheck. Have fun and be safe!