How to Become a Digital Nomad
You’ve seen photos (like our featured image!) of people running their business from the beach, cool refreshing drink in hand. Naturally, you’re interested in learning their secrets. While it does take some effort, it’s easier than you might think. So, read on to discover how to become a digital nomad and travel the world.
Step 1: Do You Really Want to Become a Digital Nomad?
The very first thing you need to do is work out if this really is the kind of lifestyle you want to adopt.
While social media paints the life of a digital nomad as a life of luxury, there’s far more to it. It is true that you can travel the world while working remotely to fund your adventures. However, it’s important to understand that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
In fact, it requires a lot of hard work, determination, and risk taking. You can’t always be sure that it’s going to pan out the way you plan. Plus, you’ll lose some of the support networks that you’d typically have when working 9-5.
Let’s take a brief look at some pros and cons of the digital nomad lifestyle:
Take your time to weigh out the pros and cons and make a well-informed decision. If you decide that this is the life for you, let’s get started.
Step 2: Find Your Field & Hone Your Skills
With your mind made up, it’s time to work out how you will go about becoming a digital nomad.
You’ll need to find your field of expertise first. Depending on your previous training and experience, you might already have the skill set required to work remotely. Your current job might even allow you to ease into working remotely if you ask nicely. But don’t worry if not, there are plenty of ways to get your foot in the virtual door.
Finding the Right Job for You
If you’re already working in a role that could be done remotely, such as a programmer, graphic designer, or digital marketing manager, you’re halfway there.
But, don’t worry if you don’t have any real experience yet. There are plenty of digital nomad jobs that a beginner can do. Some might come naturally to you — if you’re bilingual for example. Translation work, interpretation, or even teaching a foreign language can all be done remotely.
Other jobs, such as transcribing, data entry, and virtual assistant are good entry level jobs that don’t normally require much experience. These may not pay all that well at first. But if you choose to live in a part of the world where your dollar will stretch further, you can earn enough to survive, while learning new skills.
However, if there’s something you’d like to do professionally, and think you could make a living out of it on the road, do it! From blog writing to consultancy, there are plenty of ways to earn a living from the comfort of wherever you feel most comfortable!
Mastering Your Skills
Once you know what kind of work you’d like to do, it’s worth investing time in honing the skills you already have. By really getting to grips with your chosen field, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
Try looking for online courses, as well as digital and practical training sessions that you can take advantage of. It’s also worth pursuing certifications, which you can find for all manner of different professions. For example, if you’re considering teaching English as a foreign language, seek out TEFL or CELTA certifications.
Another way to improve your skills is to reach out to other people who are working in your field and ask for advice. There’s a plethora of online forums and social media groups that you can join and seek wisdom from. As an example, if you plan to work as a writer, start up your own blog or write short stories. Then, put it out there to be criticized by people who know more than you. This way you can learn from both their experience and your mistakes.
Finally, consider getting a regular job in your chosen field. This way, you get paid to learn, and will be able to dedicate a lot more time to learning the relevant skills. You might even be able to do this job remotely one day.
Step 3: Gather the Tools of Your Trade
With an idea of the kind of work you want to do, you’ll need to start getting your hands on the equipment you need to do it remotely.
A good travel laptop will normally be pretty high up on the list, as this will allow you to work anywhere in the world. Be sure to buy the hardware that is relevant to your needs.
Look into the software that you’ll need as well. For jobs such as graphic design, it’s likely that you’ll require a whole host of programs and apps in order to work efficiently.
Besides technical tools think about what else you’ll need as a digital nomad. From portable exercise equipment to comfy shoes, start preparing for a life on the move.
Be sure to prioritize the things that are vital for your first projects. Also, rather than spending thousands of dollars all at once, try to spread the spending across a number of months or so.
Step 4: Start Slowly & Build Your Portfolio or Business
This is a good point to decide what kind of digital nomad you’d like to be.
Will you survive on freelance work, or would you rather start your own digital business? Either way, now is the time to take the next step forward and start earning some cash on the side.
It’s worth doing this before you think about traveling, as you’ll gain experience and see how viable your choice is, while enjoying the security of having a regular job and place to stay.
Becoming a Freelance Digital Nomad
Many digital nomads choose the freelance option, and for good reason.
Nowadays, there are plenty of tools available that make it easier than ever to start out as a freelancer. Websites such as Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr are worth checking out. Simply sign up, create a profile, upload some samples of your work, and then seek out the jobs that meet your needs.
By working on new contracts, you can gain extra cash and improve the self-discipline that you’ll need on the road. Overtime, you’ll also build up a healthy portfolio, and ideally garner a base of clients for when you’re ready to go your own way.
Becoming an Entrepreneurial Digital Nomad
While freelancing is perhaps more common, a great many extremely successful digital nomads run their own businesses.
This is a more popular choice for those looking to become location independent, while continuing to work in a field they have gained expertise in. Consultancy is a good choice if you have a thorough understanding of your niche. For example, I myself run a brewing consultancy. I know, brewing doesn’t sound like a trade you can take on the road. But, if you have experience and good training, people will be happy to pay for your knowledge.
By starting up a side business, you can slowly begin to work with clients and build your reputation. In time, if all goes well, you’ll be able to take on more and more work, until it’s something you could do full time and live comfortably.
Step 5: Go on a Workation (Trial Period)
By now you should have done some work remotely in your spare time and have a good idea about what you’re capable of. So, time to put it to the test.
Plan a workation, a week or two somewhere that appeals to you as the kind of place you’d live and work if you could. As a challenge, make it your goal to earn enough while you’re away to pay for the entire trip.
You can use this workation to take on a few more projects and get a taste of life as a full-time digital nomad. You should learn about balancing work and play, as well as finding suitable accommodation and places to work. Ultimately, you’ll see how you might feel about doing this full time.
Step 6: Choose a Place to Start & Do Your Homework
By now, you have semi-regular work, you’ve done the trial version, and are slowly but surely becoming a digital nomad. You probably already have ideas for where you’d like to go first. But, before you set your heart on one particular location, it’s well worth doing your homework.
Create a Shortlist
Whether you have a specific location in mind, or don’t know where to begin, the best advice is to draw up a list of 10 countries or cities. Try to make a varied list, and incorporate places you don’t necessarily know much about, then research each location.
During your research, rate your top 10 list based on the following key criteria:
- Cost of living (average rent, utilities, food, etc.)
- Internet access/speed
- Local digital nomad community
- Location (for excursions, trips to neighboring countries)
- Availability of co-working spaces
- Visa requirements (how long can you stay in the country?)
Look up various cities across the globe and narrow your list down to 3.
Thoroughly Research Your Top 3
Once you’ve shortlisted 3 places, it’s worth doing some deeper research.
There are several tools you can use to help you get a good idea of a place, but nothing beats speaking to the people who are already on the ground doing what you want to do. Reach out to local digital nomad communities in the places you’re interested in and try to get a fuller picture of life where they are.
From negotiating banking, taxes, and insurance, to figuring out the social life, forums and Facebook groups run by digital nomads are the best places to find up to date information. Ask for the good, the bad, and the ugly to be sure that you have a full picture and can make a well-informed decision.
Step 7: Create a Budget & Save Up
With a location in mind, you can really start moving up a gear. Now is the time to start working out a budget, based on where you want to travel to first.
Create a Budget
When crunching the numbers, there are several things to consider:
- Cost of travel to your destination
- Cost of rent for at least 2 months, plus security deposit
- Additional living costs such as food, utilities, and coworking spaces
- Spending money for excursions, socializing, and other activities
- Emergency fund
It’s a good idea to set a budget that will keep you afloat for at least the first 2 months on the road. This gives you peace of mind and allows you to find your feet without worrying about paying the rent.
Also, be sure to keep an emergency fund that can be used if you need to get home urgently for any reason.
With the budget figured out, add 15% for additional security and start saving.
You can try to put all of your freelance/side business earnings into a savings account especially for this purpose. Now is also a good time to start cutting down on your current living costs. Maybe move to a smaller apartment, rent out the spare room, or move back home for a few months. Doing this also helps you slowly deconstruct your current life, preparing you for the life of a digital nomad.
Step 8: Book Your Travels
As your savings begin to stack up, it’s finally time to start making this dream a reality. Book your tickets for travel and arrange your initial accommodation.
Don’t rush this process, rather, give yourself plenty of time to sort out your affairs. It takes a while to move out of your apartment and prepare for the first leg of your journey.
Book your tickets
First you need to book the tickets that will take you to your destination. Whichever way you choose to arrive, there are tons of resources out there to help you catch some great deals. For example, Kayak is a handy tool that can alert you when cheap flights come up. Another good option is Hopper which is available for iOS and Android.
If you’re planning to move around a lot at first, be sure to check the best options to do so. In Europe, for example, both Interrail and Eurail offer excellent travel options across the continent for a fantastic price.
Find Somewhere to Stay
If you plan to seek an apartment when you arrive in your chosen city, now is also a good time to book your initial accommodation. You can keep costs down by reaching out to the CouchSurfing community, or even volunteering for accommodation and food — check out websites like Workaway. Alternatively, many Airbnb listings offer discounts for long-term stays, saving you time, effort, and cash.
Step 9: Quit the Day Job
When you quit the day job, be sure to provide ample notice. Not only is this fair on your employer, but it also gives you plenty of time to wrap things up properly. It’s always a bonus to leave on good terms as well. As a digital nomad, it’s best to leave doors open rather than slamming them shut. I’ve had quite a few additional freelance projects from previous employers in the past.
Take Your Time
It’s also a good idea to leave plenty of time between leaving your job and heading out into the wide world. This gives you a bit of breathing space and allows you to sort everything out before you depart. But, before you get too relaxed, now is also a good time to bulk up your freelancing or side business work. Take on more projects to further build up your portfolio and gain experience that’ll be useful on the road.
As an entrepreneurial digital nomad, step your game up by improving your website and ensuring that your services can be readily found. As a freelancer, update your profile to reflect your availability and any new skills you’ve learnt, and upload more up to date samples.
Step 10: Squeeze Your Life Into a Backpack
The day you’ve been waiting for is fast approaching! It’s time to start learning how to travel light.
As a digital nomad, lugging 3 suitcases around with you isn’t a great option, so it’s a good idea to sort through your belongings and decide on the essentials. It is worth investing in a decent backpack and a quality suitcase, and making sure you can fit all you need in them. This will help you make tough choices as to what is essential and what doesn’t make the cut.
A good tip is to make 3-piles of your belongings:
- Things to take with you
- Things to donate or sell
- Things to leave in storage for later
If you could use a little extra cash, try selling some of your unnecessary gear online, or even at a yard sale.
In addition to packing away your physical possessions, remember to pack up digital things as well; cancel your utilities, take down your Airbnb listing if you’re no longer able to manage it, and cancel any direct debits you no longer need.
Bonus Tip: Hit the Road With a Plan
Your bags are packed, your tickets booked, and it’s almost time to make it all real.
The romantic adventurer in you might be thinking you don’t need a plan, and that things will work themselves out one way or another. However, you’re not simply a traveler hitting the long and dusty road. You’re a digital nomad, and not having a plan in place can lead to an extremely anti-climactic end to all your hard work.
Before you leave, make sure you’ve arranged some kind of initial accommodation, that you have enough work lined up to get started, and that you have somewhere you can get work done when you arrive. It’s also a good idea to get in touch with the local digital nomad community in advance and see if there are any networking events you can attend.
Discovering how to become a digital nomad and travel the world can be daunting when you first see how many steps you need to take. However, with dedication and determination, it’s more than possible, and the rewards are certainly worth the effort.
So, if you’re up for it, shoulder your backpack, and get ready to enjoy the life of a digital nomad.