Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Digital Nomad In 2018Written by Irakli on October 22, 2018
Have you ever wanted to work from the comforts of a sunny beach? All while sunbathing and sipping on a margarita? Then you might be one of the many people who have dreams of being a “digital nomad”. To travel and make money at the same is living the dream for most people – who could blame them.
Well, I hate to break it to you but if you think that’s what being a digital nomad is like – you’ve succumbed to the hype.
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The digital nomad lifestyle isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. However, you can still forgo the shackles of the desk and enjoy the mobility that comes with the lifestyle.
If anything, the future of work is very likely to be remote.
In reality, the chances of working from sunny beaches and traveling to a new country every day are slim, real slim.
Yes, running your own business while on the road is possible.
But that is hard to do on its own. Fully embracing the digital nomad lifestyle is a lot more complicated than it seems.
There are many misconceptions regarding the nomadic lifestyle and even more things you need to take into consideration before stepping a foot outside your comfort zone.
Of course, I don’t want to discourage you if that’s your dream. Just know that it’s going to be hard, and sometimes you may even feel like giving up.
If you truly want to go down this road though, be sure to read on.
The following are some of the many things you must know about being a digital nomad that we’ll cover below:
- Digital nomadism 101: misconceptions, myths and what you’re getting yourself into.
- Your skills, goals, and plans as a freelancer.
- How to turn your side-hustle into a success and transform it into your main source of income.
- Preparing for the lifestyle: some prerequisites and how to kickstart your sustainable remote career.
- The use of networking groups and communities to help you get started and find like-minded people.
- Finding accommodation: common digital countries, how to plan ahead and travel light.
- Maintaining a productive schedule once you get there.
- Some of the tools you’ll need along the way.
- Much, much more.
It’s important to note that your mileage may vary.
Even if you plan everything down to a T, you’re very likely to come across unexpected problems and/or things you have no control over – improvising may be necessary. Having travel experience under your belt and some savings in your sock drawer will definitely help.
Again, I’m not trying to discourage you here, but it’s important to know that your journey ahead will be full of challenges.
There is really a lot to cover about how to transform your side-hustle into a success story. Even if you read all the resources on growing your side gig, you still might not be prepared for the real thing. (Pro tip: experience is the best teacher. Even if you’re not sure how to proceed, you’ll learn more from mistakes than reading all the guides available).
But at the end of the day, being an entrepreneur and a digital nomad is all about taking risks.
So, if you feel you’re up to the challenge, make sure you’re prepared before diving into the digital nomad lifestyle.
Like I said, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about the lifestyle so you know what you’re getting into.
0. Digital Nomadism 101
The term “digital nomad” started gaining traction in 2014 when websites began ranking countries by their cost of living, weather, internet speed and more.
This, combined with the rise of the freelancer working opportunities, gave birth to a whole new lifestyle. One which granted individuals a chance to generate income while exploring the globe.
However, only recently has it become somewhat of an actual lifestyle. And if done well, it can really be a dream come true. But there are a lot of pitfalls in the pursuit of becoming a digital nomad that stop a lot of people in their tracks.
Before we discuss how to become one, let’s clear up some myths about what being a digital nomad is like.
Myth: Digital nomads are happy-go-lucky rich freelancers staying in luxurious 5-star hotels.
Reality: This is one of the biggest myths surrounding the lifestyles of digital nomads. But this is not the case, as most nomads stay in AirBnB or apartments in cheap countries.
If you want to move around effectively as a digital nomad, you should instead travel to a relatively cheaper country with a lower cost of living index.
This way, nomads can take advantage of the fact that they’re getting paid in a superior currency (often USD, or EUR) and then exchange it to the currency of the country they’re in. Depending on the country and the currency, nomads end up coming up on top due to the currency exchange.
For example, Bangkok is a particularly popular destination for many digital nomads. And 1 USD is 32.80 Thai Baht (Thai currency).
And in terms of travel, buying travel tickets early – plane, train, bus – can save you a considerable amount of money.
Myth: Digital nomads work from the beach while relaxing in a hammock
Reality: this is another popular myth but the reality is much more simple.
There is no wifi at the beach, and the lighting makes it considerably hard to work from a laptop. (Obviously, right?)
As good as it may sound to work from the beach, this is just not the case.
Though, on the bright side, the hotels many digital nomads stay in are often close to the main attraction (beach, nature, etc.). So, once the work is done, there are a lot of ways to unwind.
Myth: They only work for a few hours and spend the rest of the week enjoying the outdoors.
Reality: again, unfortunately, that’s not the case.
If anything, digital nomads and freelancers work more than office workers. Not to mention being productive can sometimes be a struggle when you’re living next to the mountains or the sunny beach in a foreign country.
As great of a book the 4-Hour Workweek is, that is rarely the case for most freelancers. Finding clients also takes a lot of time and so does retaining them.
Depending on your skills though, it can be possible to work just under 20 hours a week and make enough money to get by
Myth: You cannot make a successful career out of it.
Reality: it all depends on the specific career, skills and the job you undertake. Many remote workers and freelancers can enjoy just about the same career as a “local” employee. In addition to having the luxury of travel.
Again, it depends entirely on your skillset and experience.
The freelancing industry has been growing for some time now and based on the way things are going, it’s not stopping any time soon.
All in all, digital nomadism is a lifestyle that is shrouded by a lot of myths and mystery.
It’s important to get one thing clear: traveling remote workers are not just “lucky”.
They work just as much – if not more hours than your average local employee and have to worry about many other things as well.
So, in a way, the digital nomad lifestyle can be very taxing but if done well – the payoff can also be extremely rewarding.
1. Building your skills as a digital nomad
As mentioned above, your skills can make or break your digital nomad career.
One other popular myth about digital nomads is that they’re all techies or programmers.
Although there are many nomads out there who are indeed coders, there are many other positions that you can do remotely. From working as a virtual assistant to starting your own marketing agency – the choices are vast.
Your skills as a freelancer define your eligibility. You can only go as far as your skills will take you.
So, what does this mean for you as an aspiring digital nomad?
Well, before you take one step out of your house, you should get a big piece of paper and fill as much of it as you can with income-generating ideas, skills and abilities you may possess.
Let’s face it, if you want to get out there and start working from the comfort of your slippers – you need to be confident in the skills that you can do.
In the beginning, you should be thinking about your skills and see where things go from there.
There are two types of skills that are vital to your success as a digital nomad: career skills and personal lifestyle soft skills (self-discipline, time management, etc.).
1.1 Starting out as a freelancer
Before you even think about transitioning to a full-blown digital nomad, you should first focus on a side hustle.
At this point, you should more or less know what you’re capable of and what niche you’re thinking of getting into.
If this is indeed the case, you should have a semi-stable side hustle providing you with an extra revenue source. This step is just as important to determine if you’re on the right track within your niche.
Here’s how you do that:
It’s essential you find something that you love doing.
Otherwise, you’ll get burned out and get bored of your travel destination as well. Finding a niche and calling it your own can seem complicated at first, so, be sure to pick something you’re passionate about.
If you’re still unsure about your direction, you may want to look into Simon Sinek’s golden circle to find out where your true calling lies.
Here’s how that works:
It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, whether if you’re a corporation or a single person. It just depends on your goals and your ‘why’ question.
It may get a little philosophical, but here’s what you do:
- Why do I do the things I do? Hopefully, it’s not just to make profit. The ‘why’ answers why you exist, what drives you and what makes you tick. It could be helping other people, making other people happy, and so on. The goal is to self-reflect and to assess your calling. From there on, decide on a strategy that will help you accomplish the very thing you set out to do.
- How will you accomplish your why purpose? This is where your strengths, interests and passion lies. It’s essential you find a set of skills and beliefs that help you create the value as an answer to the ‘why’ question.
- Finally, the “what” question is “what do you do?” Hopefully, if you managed to answer the above two questions, this one should be easy. What service or products do you provide that help your cause?
The great thing about the golden circle is that it’s applicable to any business and yourself.
Take time when doing your self-reflection and build your career and skills from the ground up based your ‘why’ purpose.
All this to say: it’s important to know your niche. If you don’t have one yet – get to searching. Think about your experience, your previous jobs, and then put together a portfolio.
2. Turning your side-hustle into your main-hustle
You have to learn to walk before you run.
You don’t need specific skills to be a certified digital nomad, you just need to be really good at what you do.
For that prerequisite, you need 3 main things:
1. An income stream (or two).
2. A strong sense of self-management and finances skills.
3. A laptop and good wi-fi connection.
Sounds simple, right?
Well, it might be on paper. So, let’s dive into each of the prerequisites.
2.1 An income stream
Being a remote worker is all about having a secondary income stream (aka your side-hustle) that you can eventually turn into your main income source.
This is how most digital nomads start out.
Find or create a job you can do online. Make sure you’re earning more than you’re spending. Buy a plane ticket, find an accommodation and voila! You’ve made it.
As long as you have a job that allows you to work remotely, regardless of your location – then you’re already halfway there.
So, back on the topic of having a separate income stream.
Most digital nomads start out as freelancers in their niche and go from there.
Of course, the said niche depends entirely on you and what you want to do (see: above about finding your passion). In a way, there is no wrong answer here. As long as you love doing it and it provides enough money – you’re good to go.
It’s important to mention that being a freelancer can be risky at times, because it may not be stable.
The more income streams you have – the better.
What most digital nomads do is start a travel blog (makes sense since you’d be traveling anyway) and try to monetize it in the future. And though it takes a lot of investment (time, money, etc.) to pull this off – it’s still possible.
The most common ways of monetizing a travel blog include doing sponsored content, starting your own podcast, social media promotion, and more.
Other common niches include starting your own business, being a virtual assistant, graphic design, digital marketing, etc.
Ideally, it would be great if you had multiple income streams or a whole different passive income stream (think: affiliate marketing, online courses, eCommerce, and so on).
2.2 The art of self-discipline
As a digital nomad, your self-discipline and focus are all you’ve got.
Just working remotely from home alone takes a lot of self-discipline and motivation. Now, imagine that being tenfold while you’re in a foreign country and have to convince yourself to work. It’s not as easy, right?
You need to have a lot of focus as a digital nomad and it’s essential for you to know how to eliminate distractions (of which there will be a lot of).
Making money can be very hard sometimes while working remotely.
So, remote and unstable work schedule isn’t for everyone.
Some of the challenges you might face include:
- The many distractions that come with being in a foreign country (places to see, food, culture, etc.).
- Having to deal with an unstable lifestyle. Imagine having to move around in a different city every 2-3 months or so. You’d have to find a different workstation everywhere, because the wi-fi in the hotel or at cafes might not be the best. Pro tip: coworking spaces are great for this.
- Being lonely.
- Managing your finances and staying productive.
Becoming a digital nomad isn’t for everyone.
You will face many obstacles, and if you’re not the type of person that likes overcoming challenges – then this lifestyle may not be for you.
Even if you make it as a digital nomad and work while traveling – this doesn’t mean you’ll be happy with your decision.
So, take a step back and think about your priorities and what you want in life before you start packing.
2.3 Staying productive as a digital nomad
You might be thinking: how are you even supposed to stay focused and productive while on a holiday?
Staying productive as a digital nomad is one of the most important things you can do.
Even if you’re going to hate yourself for doing it, you just have to force yourself to sit down in front of your laptop and get to work. There’s no other way around it.
If you want to make that type of lifestyle sustainable, you have to get to work.
And even though it might be hard at first, you can condition yourself to change your schedule around and coax yourself into a work-ready mindset.
2.4 Daily routines and habits
Time is money.
And also one the single most important resource available.
How you manage your time during the day can significantly affect your work, sanity and your levels of success.
So, if you really want to conquer the day, consider getting up early.
It has a ton of proven health benefits, saves you time (which can be spent more productively), and allows you to create an outstanding agenda for the day.
I’m not saying you should start waking up every day at 5 AM (even though you’ll be saving a lot of time this way). Regardless of whether you’re a night owl or a morning person, you should really consider how you schedule your day.
Consider getting up early, if that’s what it takes.
The idea is to get the most done as possible throughout the day, stay healthy and keep your sanity.
Exercise and meditating help with the latter but you can’t neglect sleep as well.
If you’re ever unsure where to begin once you get up at 5 AM – start with making your bed. Once the bed is made, create a schedule for the day – just remember to stick to it. Make a habit out of the schedule creation process. It’s a well thought out plan of attack – rather than thinking of each step that needs to be taken as the day progresses, you just look at the schedule and get to work.
2.5 Time management & you
Now, when it comes to time management, there are a lot of approaches you can incorporate in your immediate life.
From simply mapping out your calendar on paper to the many widgets available – just know you’ll have plenty of options.
Here are a number of different ways you can save time:
- Quality over quantity. Ideally, you should always be doing things the most efficient way possible. Know your tricks of the trade for your profession. Use shortcuts while working and try to automate as many things as possible.
- Plan ahead. You can’t always know what you’ll be getting into in a foreign country in the middle of nowhere but it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan or two. Where will you go if your wi-fi doesn’t work at your home? What about to eat? Accommodation? This way you’ll spend less time Googling when you could be working.
- Consider outsourcing. If your workload becomes too big, you can try sharing the weight with someone else (with a virtual assistant, for example).
- Track your time. Toggl and TimeDoctor are both great ways to make sure you’re on the right track when working and eliminate distractions.
- Stay on top of your finances. As a freelancer, you sometimes might have difficulties in balancing your checkbook. So, make sure you don’t stay up late at night trying to figure out your invoices when you can save time.
3. Preparing for launch
So, first things first, before you even decide on a country and buy a ticket – you need to sort out your situation back home.
If, for some reason, so far you haven’t been tracking and cutting expenses – start there.
Start keeping track of where the money goes, prioritizing your expenses and so on – save some emergency money as well.
Sell what you don’t need, end your dependencies and get ready to say goodbye to your old lifestyle.
This can be hard.
Especially if you have an emotional attachment to your hometown.
Though, decide what you’re going to do with your home and make sure you do have something to come back home to – just in case.
If you own a house, consider renting it instead of selling. This way you’ll have a separate passive income source and have something to come back home to. If you’re renting though, make sure to check with your tenant for a period of notice while you’re gone.
It can be hard to say goodbye though. So, take your time and make sure you’re prepared. Both, emotionally and financially.
Resolve any outstanding financial oblications (everything from debt to gym memberships), you can finally start planning your next and the most important step –
3.1 Picking a spot
Finally, if you’ve made it this far, you must be really excited to pick a travel destination.
The only question you must have on your mind at this point is: Where to go first?
When picking a country, there are a number of things you need to take into consideration:
- Visa. Before you go anywhere, you have to ask yourself “Can I even go there in the first place?” For how long? Sometimes you’ll need a visa and sometimes you won’t. A lot also depends on where you’re from. For example, if you’re a U.S. citizen, you can travel to 166 countries visa-free! So, pick your spot wisely and double check everything you need to know in advance.
- Cost of living. This is an essential index when figuring out where you should go. If you’re just starting out, try to look for places that are a bit more budget friendly (Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe are popular destinations for many nomads). You can use Numbeo to figure out a country’s cost of living, the approximate prices and how big your monthly budget should be.
- The culture, the climate, and the country details. Unlike the others, this depends on your personal preferences. Make sure you like the culture of the country, what the people and the weather are like, what is there to see once you get there and more. After all, you have to make sure you won’t get bored of the country you’re in. Though you can always move around (between countries/cities), you should still know what you’re getting yourself into.
- All the other tiny details. Things like what the internet there is like, if there are any co-working spaces or cafes you want to explore and just how you think you’re going to fit in in general.
Just know that if you ever have doubts, that’s natural.
Another important thing you should look out for is the digital nomad culture and community in the country of your choice.
If you’re just starting out – you may want to be surrounded by like-minded people.
3.2 Networking and digital nomad groups
One of the best things about the internet is the fact that you can find people with similar interest literally everywhere.
Even if you don’t end up meeting them, it’s a good idea to be in a few digital nomad community groups so you can have someplace to ask questions and look for advice.
The digital nomad culture is really widespread and there are a lot of places where you can look up information about the specific country.
A good way of checking how “digital nomad friendly” a country is through Nomad List – a website which has a lot of data on the many countries nomads visit. You can use it alongside Numbeo to approximate how much you’ll need per month, the average costs and more.
In addition to that, there are many Facebook groups for digital nomads all over the world. Be sure to join some of them to get a sense of what the lifestyle is really like. And don’t be afraid to ask questions too!
The groups are a great way of networking, sharing job opportunities and meeting up fellow digital nomads around the world.
They provide a ton of resources as well, from files to job opportunities – you’ll definitely find something helpful there. The Digital Nomads Around the World group, for example, has just over 90,000 members.
So, be sure to get involved if you ever think you need help or advice.
Finally, all that there’s left is to buy a ticket a get and ready for your flight.
Every experienced traveler has their own tips and tricks to secure the cheapest possible flight.
So, when looking for the best possible flight ticket, what you should do first is find your starting price.
There are many sites that compare every flight destinations, all you have to do is pick a location and the dates. Skyscanner and Google’s Flight Finder are both great ways of looking at approximately how much you’ll be spending.
Pro tip: sign up for their newsletters so you know when there’s a sale.
In general though, the sooner you buy flight tickets, the cheaper they are. So, be sure to plan ahead.
Beating the system might seem hard but it takes a lot of experience and patience to pull it off.
Of course, buying flight tickets is only the tip of the iceberg. The real challenge arises when the suitcases need to be packed.
Fortunately, luck is on your side when it comes to this step.
As a digital nomad, you’ll be traveling light most of the time and save a lot of money and expenses with luggage.
In fact, most nomads only ever travel with just a carry-on. Of course, there is no right or wrong way of packing since you’re packing what you’ll need. Just know that there are a lot of things you can do without – focus on packing only the essentials.
If you check in luggage, you’ll end up paying extra most of the time but this might even be worth it, depending on what you’re bringing.
Consider creating (or downloading) a checklist of the essential travel gear. You may want to opt in for the minimalistic packing too. You really don’t need a lot of the things you think you do.
Make sure you don’t overpack though. If you’re packing something “just in case”, chances are you don’t really need it that much.
5. What’s next?
So, assuming you’ve already managed to turn your side-hustle into your main source of income. You did your research; You’ve ironed out the essential self-discipline and have moved to a foreign country of your choice. The question on your mind might be – What now?
Well, there is no right or wrong answer here. But there are two different choices: you either continue traveling or go back home.
This depends entirely on you, as there is no “wrong” answer.
It also depends on the stage of life you are at. If you are still young and have no definite timeframe set – try taking it slow. Get to know the place you’re in, the locals, and just try to have fun. Moving around too frequently can cause you to burnout.
Most nomads move around every three months or so (depending on the visa) but if you feel like you’ve truly adopted the specific culture – you can also think about settling down there.
Though, on the other hand, if you do feel like you’ve experienced burnout or are just tired – you can just go back home.
There is no shame in that and this can happen for a lot of reasons. The digital nomad lifestyle can be taxing and exhausting at times.
Especially if you’re doing it alone. You may even get homesick. This is a real phenomenon that digital nomads are subject to encountering.
Just when you think you’ve adopted their culture and get used to the city, you have to pack and move all over again. It gets tiring and sometimes even repetitive.
So, in short, you just have to go with your gut sometimes.
No one can tell you which lifestyle is best for you. It’s all about finding the right balance – something you decide on your own.
All in all, being a digital nomad is more than a trend – it’s a lifestyle.
And before you surround yourself in a lifestyle, you should think twice about completely changing how you live.
It sounds like a lot of work but if you prepare thoroughly to transition into a digital nomad lifestyle, you’ll minimize the risk of failing.
Of course, there are a lot of other things you need to take into consideration too. But sometimes there are just some things you can’t prepare for.
If you think this type of lifestyle is right for you then and welcome the unexpected, then go for it – there’s not much standing between you and becoming a digital nomad.
The world is full of exciting places to explore and every digital nomad is different.
So, the next time you feel like breaking away from your mundane nine-to-five, make sure your next trip is special and keep chasing your dreams.