Imagine commuting only to a beach cafe. Or a mountain top retreat. Or a riverside campsite with decent WiFi.
Becoming a digital nomad. Living the dream.
How many people are honestly staring out of rainy office windows in a city of millions of souls contemplating such a life?
Perhaps one of those people is you? In which case – read on.
- What are Digital Nomads and Why do They Exist?
- The Advantages of Being a Digital Nomad
- The Disadvantages of Being a Digital Nomad
- How to Actually Become a Digital Nomad
But is it really all it’s cracked up to be? Is it actually worth it? Is it as good as the seemingly incessant travel blog community will lead you to believe?
Before you throw in the towel with your current job and buy a laptop and a plane ticket, read this guide to being a digital nomad. What it is, what it entails, how to do it and all the advantages and disadvantages thrown in for good measure.
Don’t leave home without it.
What are Digital Nomads and Why do They Exist?
For those new to the term or anyone who has been living under a rock for several years, a digital nomad is someone who has made a lifestyle choice.
Essentially, to be location independent when it comes to their work.
This means that, so long as you have a decent Wifi connection and a regular source of online income, you can effectively work from anywhere in the world.
Remote employment. Freedom. Living the dream.
Why Do People Choose this Lifestyle?
There are many reasons why certain people have decided to kick their 9-to-5 job to the curb and hit out as a digital nomad.
Perhaps the most attractive and important one is the freedom that it can give you.
You’re not confined to an office, you don’t have to care what you wear, you can more-or-less set your own hours, and you can go where you want.
You’ve got four, super solid reasons for ditching your desk right there – explored a little further below.
But for many people, the catalyst for change can simply be that they’ve had enough of the rat-race.
We get one kick at the ball in this short, short life of ours. Why would you possibly want to spend it in a cubicle?
Or rowing with the other slaves?
Or doing the same thing, day-in, day-out for 65-odd-years (if you’re lucky) before being given a nice handshake and a commemorative plaque, only to shuffle off and die having seen nothing or done anything with your existence?
That’s just not for me. And THAT is why people choose to be digital nomads.
The Advantages of Being a Digital Nomad
There’s a list as long as your arm detailing all the plus points for choosing this way of life. Some are obvious, some are not so obvious.
I’ve outlined a few of the main advantages below, but this is by no means exhaustive.
As previously mentioned, the freedom to go where you want, when you want is perhaps the biggest draw of the digital nomadic lifestyle.
You essentially have your own, flexible office space. You can choose your own surroundings for when you are working.
That can be a serene and beautiful waterfront if that’s your preference.
Perhaps the courtyard of a medieval town. How about in a city park or green space? Or it could even be in your own home.
The world, as they say, is your oyster.
I think if you were to ask most people doing a “regular” job with “regular” hours what the most stressful thing about their day would be – they would probably mention the commute.
Whether it’s being shoehorned into a tube train for two hours. Being stuck on the freeway nose to tail. Or jostling through hundreds of people in the streets – all in a big hurry.
Being a digital nomad means all of that is gone. Just like that. No more. Never again.
Ahhhh, perfect bliss.
Choosing Your Own Hours
You work when you want to. Simple.
Yes, you might have deadlines to deal with, but so long as you’re keeping your head above water (which I will return to soon) you can more-or-less decide the length of your own hours.
If you’re not a morning person – you can wake up mid-afternoon.
Likewise, if you get your best productivity in the small hours, you can choose to start early and finish early.
I don’t know about you, but I like a long lunch break. That isn’t a problem for a digital nomad.
Setting my own routine is a godsend.
Choosing Your Workload
As much as you can choose when you want to work, you can also choose how much. Depending on what it is you’re doing, of course.
But with the vast majority of remote work positions and freelance roles, you can take on as much or as little as you like.
So long as you’re managing to keep your head above water, if you don’t fancy accepting a new project because you’re going skydiving in the Costa Brava – you don’t have to.
And you don’t need to bite off more than you can chew. Know your limits, choose your workload wisely and manage deadlines – and you’ll soon be enjoying a very desirable work/life balance indeed.
Wear What You Want
No more dress code. Just take a moment to think about that.
For many people, having their wardrobe geared towards work is a time consuming, stressful and very expensive practice.
Wearing something new each day – the washing alone can be a nightmare – both with time and money.
Even if you wear a uniform for work, you’ve still got to make sure you have one clean and ready.
But being a digital nomad, if you want to wear pajamas – you can damn well wear pajamas. You don’t have to do your hair, put on makeup or shave if you don’t feel like it.
And again, that freedom of choice can be priceless.
Which naturally leads me on to the next point. Digital nomads will all experience reduced stress levels as a result of the aforementioned advantages. Which is obviously a huge advantage in itself!
There’s absolutely no need to labor the point further. You get it.
In this day and age, it seems we’re constantly bombarded with adverts and promotions to buy stuff.
Most of it is garbage.
As a digital nomad, you can learn to live with less clutter in your life and you’ll find that you don’t need much to enjoy a fulfilling existence.
This makes for a healthier body, mind, and soul.
Leave all the crap behind.
The Ability to Travel
When you think of a digital nomad, the very name conjures up images of an intrepid traveler, trotting the globe, occasionally tinkering on a laptop.
And personally, that’s what it has become for me. Perhaps my favorite advantage of choosing this lifestyle is that it empowers my ability and desire to travel.
The truly top advantage to becoming a digital nomad.
Because travel = life.
The Disadvantages of Being a Digital Nomad
It’s not all sweetness and light, people.
Being a digital nomad can sometimes – for want of a better word – suck.
But there are many digital nomads out there who won’t tell you this. They’ll keep the dark side firmly to themselves.
And of this crime, it is the travel bloggers that are particularly guilty.
They desperately want you to believe in the fairytale. That this way of life is better than anything else you could possibly imagine.
Because it simply isn’t for everyone. To those people who can handle it – it IS the best way of life you could possibly imagine.
For everyone else – it can be hell on earth.
Take a look at just some of the disadvantages of being a digital nomad below. If you see anything there that might trigger you, perhaps you should look elsewhere in your search for living the dream.
It’s Hard Work
Alright, so I mentioned you can work your own hours – which is more or less true – particularly when your business is up and running.
But that’s the trick – you’ve got to GET IT up and running.
And this can be a long, brutal, tiring and emotionally draining slog.
12 hour days (or longer) are not uncommon.
Busting a gut to adhere to deadlines, make contacts, respond to emails, network, write content AND keep everything top quality can really, really take it out of you.
Later, when things settle down and you’re keeping yourself afloat, you can seriously reap the benefits.
But if you really want to become a digital nomad, you’ll need the stamina and the work ethic before you even think about handing in your notice at your current position.
Lack of Routine
While some people might thrive off flying-by-the-seat-of their pants when it comes to working random hours, a great many people still need a routine.
And it can be particularly hard to keep to one when you’re a digital nomad, especially when you surround yourself with travel temptations.
Many digital nomads travel on a strict budget (more on that soon), and that means staying in budget accommodation.
Trying to write your next project by a certain deadline can be a nightmare while everyone else is having fun in a hostel.
Seeing the sights in a new place can often take priority over what you actually should be doing.
And in the worst cases, having a slapdash structure can often upset your health and psyche.
You need to learn how to balance things – and that can be tricky – especially if you’re not used to creating and sticking rigidly to your own routine.
Or, you’re easily tempted like the proverbial donkey and carrot.
Sticking to a Budget
Your money management skills will need to be top drawer if you want to be a digital nomad.
Because if you overspend even for a moment, or get your calculations a fraction wrong – you might find yourself with nowhere to sleep and/or nothing to eat.
Private rooms can be expensive, dorm rooms might not afford you any privacy.
You’ll need to ensure you crunch the numbers and crunch them well.
Because being a digital nomad has…
No Guaranteed Income
Unless you’re already earning a ridiculous amount of money from your online wizardry (which can be entirely possible either now or in the future) you’re going to have to tread carefully.
Hopefully, over time, you build up a solid client base – so that even in the dark times of limited work, you’ve got plenty of back-ups to see you through and keep the wolves from the door.
Ideally, before embarking on this great venture, you should be in a decent position financially speaking. Make sure you’ve got emergency funds just in case the shit hits the fan.
And don’t even think about setting off to become a digital nomad without some kind of financial exit strategy. Ending up on the streets in a foreign or unknown country isn’t a clever idea.
Loneliness and Homesickness
There’s a very real possibility that your interaction with other people will be limited and temporary.
Sure you can make the best friends you’ll ever make in your life on the road, but not everyone will be able to stick around. Not everyone will be going long-term. In fact, the opposite is true.
You will likely find yourself on your own more often than not.
Now, while many people can handle this – and indeed prefer it – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Romantic relationships will potentially have to take a back seat – as they are likely to be a real struggle or virtually non-existent.
You might miss a more serious connection with friends and family. You might miss being around people who really get and understand you.
In short – you might miss home.
Dealing with loneliness and homesickness can be a big challenge for the digital nomad. If you can meet it, you’re potentially putting yourself in a position to travel the world until you physically can’t anymore.
And then you can die happy overlooking a beach in paradise with zero regrets.
The bureaucratic systems of the world. Aren’t they just a delight?!
Borders and checkpoints are the bane of any traveler – long term or otherwise – and dealing with passports and visa issues can be a logistical nightmare.
You must always make sure you’re legally allowed to work in the country you’re looking to visit – especially if you’re planning on spending any length of time there.
Don’t play fast and loose with this – it could easily lead to a whole lot of trouble for you and your fledgling online business – not to mention any future travel plans you might have.
Healthcare, Insurance and Taxes
Breathes a heavy sigh.* Making sure you have the correct healthcare when traveling for long periods is going to be something of a headache.
Likewise, tax and insurance considerations.
Are you covered for any eventuality in the country you happen to be in? If you suddenly had an accident crossing a road in Thailand – would you be able to afford health care? Are you prepared to take the risks of no cover and foot the bill if you fall ill in Mexico?
And what of the actual quality and standards of a country’s medical practices? In certain situations, peace of mind might be hard to find.
Make sure you do extensive research to see what you need for where you’re going and for how long – which in itself can be challenging, especially if you’re just craving to get up and go.
And check with your local tax office in your home country to ensure you’re going to toe the line for earning a living while abroad. Don’t mess around with this – your very ability to travel might be at stake.
Addiction to Wifi
You need it. You’ll crave it. It is your lifeline.
As such, you’ll find it tough venturing somewhere that has limited connectivity.And you’ll constantly need to be in touching distance of civilization.
While it might be possible to unplug for some period of time, more often than not you’ll be chained to a different kind of desk.
The Wifi hotspot.
Which means spending any time in places like Yemen might be out of the question. Wifi dead zones.
It Can Be Exhausting
If you’ve ever spent any length of time in foreign countries, you’ll know that it can often be a challenge just to exist from day to day.
Not knowing the language and customs, human interaction, struggling with etiquette and manners, figuring out general life logistics…
It’s certainly much harder than living in your home country where you know the way everything works inside out.
Believe me, even something as mundane and ordinary as buying the right shampoo or understanding the ingredients of a chocolate bar might leave you tired, jaded and frustrated after a while on the road.
You might feel you want to pack it all in and go where life is easy. And if you did – you won’t be alone. Many would-be remote workers give it all up even in the honeymoon stages of digital nomadery.
It’s certainly not for everyone. I recommend physical and mental cardio.
All is not Lost…
Whenever anyone compiles an advantages and disadvantages list, it might be tempting to just look at which side wins out and make your decision based on that. I’ve been guilty of it many times.
But it isn’t that black and white.
As mentioned, the above list is not exhaustive. There are more things to include on both sides.
However, while there might first appear to be more disadvantages, it’s certainly possible to overcome them – some with ease.
And for most digital nomads who are leading that successful lifestyle choice – the vast majority of the “disadvantages” mentioned barely register concern on their scale at all.
So, all is not lost if you’re still considering a career as a digital nomad. Let’s assume you’re perfectly capable of rolling with all the negative punches and take a look at what you’re going to need to get started.
How to Actually Become a Digital Nomad
Now that you’ve negotiated the potential pitfalls of digital nomadery, you should be in a position to make a decision if it’s right for you.
If it is, welcome to the club! It’s a wonderful place to be.
But you might still need some ideas and inspiration as to what you’re actually going to do.
And – most importantly – how you go about getting it.
Don’t Believe the Hype
First of all, you might need to change your perspective about what it is to be a digital nomad and what you’re going to get out of it.
You might well have been bombarded on social media about all these DN’s bathing in infinity pools working less than two hours a day, nursing a coconut with a straw sticking out of it.
Most of that is a load of bullshit.
Don’t get caught up in that hype and allow it to ruin your dreams, passions, and goals. This stuff isn’t easy and it takes time, so put things in perspective, take a deep breath and move forward slowly but with sure steps.
Assessing Your Skills
Your first port of call is to examine your skill set and identify what it is you can actually do on the road?
Maybe you’re an awesome writer who could transition easily into getting paid for your words? Travel bloggers and writers are a huge part of the digital nomad universe.
Are you a computer wizz? Programmers are by far the most prevalent permanent planet trotters when it comes to working remotely.
Maybe you can teach a language? Using online messenger apps to interact with students is all the rage in taking your office anywhere you want to go.
Do your research and figure out where you could turn your hand to set you on the path of achieving your digital nomadic dream.
Ask for Advice
There are hundreds of forums and websites out there dedicated to the art of being a digital nomad.
From Reddit threads to Facebook groups and everything in between, there’s no shortage of knowledgeable souls on the planet, the vast majority of whom will be more than happy to share their experiences with you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from any number of sources (including this one)!
But a word of caution – be wary of ever paying for digital nomad advice or information. There are plenty of people out there ready to take advantage of inexperienced but eager wannabe nomads and will give you poor quality content in exchange for your cold hard cash.
Most of us are perfectly friendly though!
If you’re not naturally blessed with the skills to take your life on the road – why not go back to school?
This is particularly sage advice for those who have tried and hated a “normal” or “traditional” job.
Research all the possible digital nomad jobs anyone could ever do – and if one piques your interest, enroll in a course and learn it! Some courses – such as learning how to teach a language – are available online – so you can study and travel at the same time!
If ever you feel like there are shortcomings in your life – education and experience are the keys to overcoming them.
Get Into Freelancer Websites
For those who don’t already have an existing client base when they take their work on the road, freelancer websites are arguably the best place to build your portfolio.
You can pretty much find any digital or remote job doing a simple search. There are too many options to list here, but just typing in ‘Freelancer Websites,’ in a search engine will bring up a selection of the very best ones.
Create a profile, list your skills, upload a resume, write an eye-catching opening gambit and you’re off.
Even if you feel like you’ve got nothing to show yet, we’ve all gotta start somewhere and eventually people will come knocking.
Offer lower rates than others to get you started.
Keep your hours super flexible.
Complete tests and quizzes on the site to show you’ve got the skills to pay the bills.
Maintain your presence online and as soon as you’ve done your first jobs with aplomb – clients will start knocking at your door with more regularity.
Patience, my young padawan.
So, you’re slowly getting to the point where you could quite easily pack your stuff, buy a ticket and be working on a beach in 48 hours.
Then you realize you already have a life!
You need to figure out how to detach from your existing world.
Pay off bills or debts, sell things you don’t need, discuss everything with your friends and family.
Simply disappearing isn’t an option – these things take a lot of time and a lot of planning.
Make sure you have no loose ends when you’re ready to make the switch.
Decide on a Destination
Ahhhh, the exciting bit! Choosing your first destination as a digital nomad is a lot of fun.
But not all destinations are suitable for digital nomads.
There are some great resources out there to help you decide where you want to go and where you want a home base to be for a while.
The Nomad List is an outstanding database listing a plethora of major cities and destinations around the world – all with their advantages and disadvantages for working there remotely.
A city with a great Wifi network might not be that cheap to live in.
A city that is cheap to live in might have a high crime rate.
A city with a low crime rate might be boring. (Not to say that crime is exciting, of course).
Once again, it’s all about finding the right balance for you.
And if you want even more help, try using companies that are specifically geared towards helping digital nomads get set up abroad.
Work Work Work
I’ve already mentioned how hard it is to get yourself established, and even when the ball is rolling you still need to put in the hours to maintain it.
But initially, you’re going to be doing some serious grafting to get people to notice you and build that client base.
Looking for a job is a full-time job.
Sending out applications, writing cover letters, searching for opportunities – it will take up seemingly endless amounts of time.
You need to make sure you have the chance to do all that, and you might need to postpone the fun and frolics until a later date.
Remember, 12 + hour days are not uncommon in the digital nomad world – especially early on in your career.
You’re going to fall flat on your face if you think you can party for 12 hours in a hostel in Colombia and then finish that proposal you’ve been promising will make the deadline.
The best digital nomads have discipline. They make a schedule and they stick to it.
There’s a time for everything. Learn how to work hard and play hard.
Have a Long Term Goal and/or Exit Strategy
Realistically speaking, for how long do you think you could physically work as a digital nomad?
None of us are getting any younger and traveling long term can really take it out of you.
It’s a good idea to have a rough plan for how long you’re actually going to be out there on the road for.
It doesn’t have to be set in stone or anything – just a rough through-line with an end goal.
Five years living in China, two in India, three in Thailand and then home? That’s a pretty decent trip if you ask me!
Or, if you’re entirely set on doing it until you drop – you’re more than welcome!
But as previously mentioned, have a backup or exit strategy in place – just in case it doesn’t turn out to be all your dreams come true.
What You Need to Become a Digital Nomad
There’s a wealth of information to consider if you’re thinking about taking a step towards becoming a digital nomad. I hope this article has provided you with plenty of food for thought.
If you would like any further information, or even to share your own experiences or observations, leave me a message in the comments below.
Good luck and safe travels. See you somewhere on the road!
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