With the rise of freelancers and an increasing number of companies offering telecommuting options, it’s no wonder many people are choosing to work from beautiful and adventurous locations around the world.
Photos of digital nomads working on their laptops by the beach or tropical places are enough to create wanderlust and have others scheming of their plans to do the same. Are you looking to ditch your cubicle and become a digital nomad? This article is all about the resources—online and IRL—that will show you how to become a digital nomad and help you build your dream life and career.
What Does it Mean to Be a Digital Nomad?
What is a digital nomad? Essentially, it’s anyone who works remotely while traveling from place to place. Many digital nomads are freelancers, others work for remote-friendly companies, and some make money by blogging about or photographing their travels.
It may look like the dream gig—and many say it is—but it also takes quite a bit of planning and coordination, especially if you’re doing this long-term.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Digital Nomad?
First and foremost, you’ll need job skills you can take on the road. These days, the possibilities are truly endless: Digital nomads are writers, graphic designers, translators, video producers, SEO strategists, tutors, web developers, and pretty much any other career path you can imagine. Already have a remote-friendly job? Great! If not, it might be time to consider a career pivot and work to gain the skills you need. (Hint: Skillshare probably has a class for that.)
In addition to your job-related know-how, you’ll also need to understand how to manage your work or business. If you’ve never worked for yourself before, you’ll want to get a crash course in marketing yourself, landing clients, marketing yourself, and business fundamentals like bookkeeping and accounting.
Beyond these basics, there are a few additional skills every digital nomad needs to stay happy and productive on the road—a big one being the ability to be self-directed. Without a boss or co-workers nearby—and with unlimited things to do in each destination—it can be difficult to keep your mind on work. Successful digital nomads know how to balance travel-related fun with the work that’s required to fund it.
Finally, digital nomads need to get comfortable with things not going according to plan. Travel delays, connectivity hiccups, language barriers, and even global pandemics are all common disruptions to even the best-laid plans. Staying flexible and optimistic is a must.
Pros and Cons of the Nomad Life
Anyone who has ever thought about the digital nomad life has probably dreamed about all the benefits. And there are a lot! Trading in a 9-to-5 corporate job, working on your own schedule, exploring new destinations at your whim, and meeting people from all over the world are fantastic perks. What’s more, many international destinations have a much lower cost of living than US cities, making nomad life a budget-friendly move for professionals.
But there are also struggles of being a digital nomad, which can be a reality check if you haven’t considered them yet. Constant travel requires a lot of planning, willingness to operate outside of your comfort zone, and quickly getting up to speed on the languages, currencies, and cultural norms of each place you spend time in. Many nomads also report missing home and the sense of community they had with friends and colleagues.
That said, most digital nomads know that the challenges are just part of the lifestyle and learn how to manage them over time. Knowing what you’re getting yourself into, and some proper planning, can help mitigate them.
Steps to Becoming a Digital Nomad
Whether you’re looking to trade tips and tricks with other digital nomads, want to find a co-working space, or are keen to set up alerts for cheap flights, this guide will set you up with all resources you need.
1. Secure a Digital Nomad-Friendly Job
If you’re wondering about how to become a digital nomad, going freelance is one way to do it. When you’re starting out and don’t have an existing roster of clients, you can use websites like Fiverr or Upwork to get started and build up a portfolio.
You can also try searching on LinkedIn and other job boards for remote jobs. Popular job aggregator sites that specialize in remote work include: Remote OK, Who Is Hiring and Ditch the Office. If you work in tech, check out Stack Overflow Jobs, GitHub Jobs, and AngelList, and look for companies that are remote-friendly.
Some digital nomads make ends meet by teaching languages while traveling. Companies like VIPKid, SayABC and Qkids are always looking for native English speakers and hire year-round. If you’re fluent in multiple languages, you can set your own rates and provide private classes using services like italki.
2. Join an Online Community for Digital Nomads
Connect with other remote travelers to chat about life on the road, exchange tips, and meet in person when you’re in the same locale. Often, these communities are packed with helpful information that can provide insight into the digital nomad lifestyle and specifics on popular destinations.
Popular communities on Facebook include: Digital Nomad Entrepreneurs, Digital Nomads Around the World, Global Digital Nomad Network, Female Digital Nomads. If you’re traveling to a city well-known for its digital nomad community, like Bali, Indonesia, or Medellin, Colombia, you can look up regional groups. You can also use the name of the country or city you’re traveling to along with the keywords “expat” or “freelancer” to search for groups.
On reddit, the Digital Nomad subreddit provides a mix of helpful information, beautiful photos and occasional snarky responses to questions like, “What is the best digital nomad laptop?”
Nomad List is one of the most popular resources for digital nomads around the world—and for good reason. It has a database of cities across the globe that lists important information for travelers who have to focus on work, including every day safety, Internet speeds, the costs of living, and other facts to help you decide where to travel next.
3. Take Care of Administrative Tasks
There are all kinds of little to-dos you’ll need to plan for before you leave.
First, you’ll want to research and purchase travel insurance. With packages that cover travel disruption, health issues, and mishaps like theft, World Nomads is a popular choice for many digital nomads. You’ll also need to research the visas and vaccinations required for each destination you’re planning on visiting. And if you’re planning to drive while abroad, obtain an international driver’s license before you leave your home country.
Additionally, make plans for forwarding your phone calls and mail. If you’re nomadic but still retain an address in your home country to receive mail, you can use a mail forwarding service like Post Scan Mail or Anytime Mailbox to receive scanned copies of physical mail.
To retain your phone number while traveling, use a service like Global Call Forwarding or Fongo. If you’re from the U.S., you can also port your number to Google Voice for free and use this from anywhere in the world.
4. Start Planning Your Travel
While many nomads plan their travels along the way, it’s a good idea to have an overall sense of some of the locations you plan to visit so you can keep an eye out for lodging and airfare deals.
On that note, one of the perks of being a digital nomad is taking advantage of cheap flight deals. If you have a sense of where you’d like to travel next, use websites like Google Flights and Skyscanner to set up alerts and notify you about price changes to your ideal travel destination. Nearly every flight website has this feature. You can also use an app like Hopper to inform you of average flight costs and help you predict the best time to book your flight.
It’s always good to comparison shop. Once you’ve found a flight you’d like to take, use a professional service like Flystein to make sure you found the best deal. If the travel pros here can’t find you a cheaper flight, they’ll refund their service fee.
More of a spontaneous traveller? Subscribe to websites that share error fares. Note that you’ll often have to book a flight on the spot as the rates for these deals don’t last long. Popular error fare websites include: Secret Flying, The Flight Deal, and Airfare Watchdog.
There are also paid subscriptions to error fare/ flight deal websites, such as Scott’s Cheap Flights. If you’re willing to pay a few bucks per month for these services and you take advantage of their deals, the membership will likely pay for itself.
When you arrive at your destination, some countries require proof that you have an onward ticket. If you’re winging your travel plans, use a service like Best Onward Ticket to legally obtain an onward ticket, without having to actually confirm your travel plans.
5. Find a Place to Work
Once you arrive in a destination, you can scope out co-working spaces in person. You’ll usually find several options once you start asking around and meeting other digital nomads or local freelancers, but to get a head start on this before you land, check out coworker or the Global Coworking Map.
If you prefer to travel and work alongside a group of other digital nomads, check out programs like Remote Year, Unsettled, and Nomad Cruise. They typically arrange all logistics when it comes to travel, accomodations, and coworking, so you can focus on doing your work while enjoying the destinations.
If you’re ready to take co-working to the next level, consider co-living. Companies like Roam and WeLive offer the flexibility of short-term housing alongside other nomads. For other accommodation options, check out local housing groups on Facebook, posts on Craigslist, and message hosts on Airbnb to negotiate a deal for a longer-term stay.
Resources for Digital Nomads
Finally, immerse yourself in learning resources in order to gain expert insight into your new lifestyle—and get even more excited about your upcoming nomad lifestyle. Here are a few of our favorites.
Whether you’re freelancing, working remotely, or running your own business, there is no shortage of resources to support you and connect you with others in a similar lifestyle. And while you’re focusing on work, remember to enjoy the journey, too!
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