Do you want to become a digital nomad — and travel the world while making a living online?
Well, it’s easy!
Needless to say, you must first buy an extensive 12-part online course to learn how to become a nomad (make sure it costs at least $1000 or it won’t be any good). Then, attend at least several expensive digital nomad conferences so that you maybe hopefully can get inspired by a nomad guru, who will teach you how to truly “crush it” and get rich quick while living in Chiang Mai in Thailand. This is the way.
Okay, I’m joking.
You don’t have to do any of those things, of course. While some gurus may claim otherwise, there are actually no real ‘secrets’ to becoming a digital nomad. It may not necessarily be easy for everyone to get into the lifestyle, but “working remotely from anywhere” is ultimately all it is.
If you really boil it down, becoming a digital nomad takes two steps:
- Find work you can do from anywhere
- Start traveling!
Okay, simple steps. Putting them into practice can be easier said than done. Since I’ve been lucky to have a location-independent lifestyle for eight years now, I thought I might share a few tips.
How to make a living online
The easiest way to become a nomad — able to travel and work from anywhere — is to have work you can do online. If that sounds a little obvious, well, offline work can also often do the trick (but I’ll address that point in a minute).
Perhaps you already have work you can do remotely and online. If so, great! If not, there are basically three ways of getting there:
- Become a remote employee. This means you’ll be a salaried employee for a company that allows you to work remotely. If there’s one silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that more companies are now a lot more open-minded about offering such possibilities.
- Become a freelancer. If you have your own client base, then it might not matter to them from where you are actually doing the work.
- Start your own business. By becoming an (online) entrepreneur and being your own boss, you can gain full control over when and where you do your work. I think this is the type of digital nomading that can potentially give you the greatest freedom, as you fully control your own hours and don’t have to justify anything to a boss or clients.
So… what kind of work do digital nomads do? It used to be that digital nomads were almost exclusively programmers and online marketers, but that is definitely no longer the case. Other digital nomad jobs include translation work, graphic design, PR, coaching, social media management, consulting, e-commerce, accounting, or even stock trading — just to name a few.
Sites like Side Hustle School and Indie Hackers, or job boards like RemoteOK, can inspire some leads or ideas for work you can do remotely. I think the Fizzle community is also a great place to learn about online entrepreneurship, blogging, and e-commerce.
Since the pandemic hit, jobs that used to be in-person only (such as fitness coaching) are also now much more easily done online.
As the digital nomad scene grows and evolves, I’m often surprised by the interesting ways in which people make a living online. For example, I’ve met online English teachers, online therapists, people who sell crafts on Etsy, and even an online dancing instructor and a traveling architect.
I’m just sharing these examples to say that there might be quite creative ways in which you can make a nomad lifestyle work for you.
Becoming a blogger, vlogger, or podcaster can also be a way in. I’m actually a living example as I became fully location independent through starting a travel blog. Although the topic of travel is very saturated these days, there are thousands of topics you could blog or vlog about and that can be monetized.
That said, I don’t think the blogger or influencer route is a common or easy one. Unless, I dunno, you’re a genius TikTok creator, it can literally take years to build up a large enough audience to live off. For me, it took two years just so my blog could be my only source of income, and it wasn’t really much at all until year three or four. Now that it’s all up and running, it is an amazing (and largely passive) income source, though.
More realistically, having a blog as a side-hustle can create a good supplemental income stream, and I know many digital nomads who have a YouTube channel or blog while also freelancing part-time.
Becoming an analog nomad
While it’s the type of laptop-wielding nomads that are getting all the hype, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention ways of traveling the world without needing to work online.
If you just want to take a career break while traveling around the world, you might not need to build up an online career!
For example, you could work on a cruise ship, work in hostels, teach English as a second language, or become a scuba diving instructor. Some people travel the world while volunteering on organic farms, such as with the organization WWOOF or Workaway.
I know this might not be quite as glamorous as being, say, some well-paid digital nomad web developer, but the barrier to entry to these types of travel jobs is also often a lot lower. If you’re broke but want to see the world, then such travel jobs can get results much more easily than trying, say, to get an e-commerce site off the ground.
Sometimes there’s real good money to be made with ‘travel jobs’. An English teacher in Korea will certainly be earning much more (and more reliably) than the average nomad trying to strike it rich with dropshipping on Bali. Quite a few famous travel bloggers got their start as nomads by teaching English in different countries around the world.
I think the analog nomading ways are sometimes a bit overlooked and underrated, which is why I’m trying to highlight them here at least briefly.
As an example, my sister and brother-in-law constantly travel all over Europe in their van, usually staying in places for free in house-sitting assignments. Their business is to buy vintage or second-hand furniture which they then sell on Etsy.com for a good profit. (Sure, they can’t quite travel to Fiji with this, but they are totally nomadic within Europe.)
That maybe doesn’t conform to the stereotypical digital nomad image, but it still accomplishes the same goal of achieving location-independence.
I’ve met a nomad stand-up comedian and artist, nomads who do video production for local hotels as they travel, and other creative approaches that don’t necessarily rely on being online.
How not to overwhelm yourself
Once you’ve found a job you can take on the road, it’s time to get out there and travel the world! While this is the most exciting part, this is also where I think quite a few beginning digital nomads struggle.
The biggest initial pitfall is to easily become overwhelmed and exhausted from juggling your work responsibilities with the demands of travel.
Of course, traveling the world is exciting. It’s thrilling to be co-living on tropical Bali one day, then soon after you’re working from cute local cafes in Lisbon, and then you’re hanging at the best surf spots in Costa Rica. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to do this?
But traveling is also, well, a bit of a job in itself. Consider that you constantly have to figure out your accommodation, transport, where to work from, and all the rest of it. While travel gives you a ton of energy, it also takes a lot of energy. This is something I also had to learn the hard way myself.
When I first became a nomad, I quickly felt overwhelmed. I’d launched my blog literally the day before my departure to Mexico. This was definitely a bad idea; I was still figuring everything out, didn’t have any proper workflows, and (most importantly) wasn’t yet making any money.
So, I was still just cracking this huge nut of what it is to be a blogger. And then… I had all this travel stuff to deal with on top of it too. Where do I stay? Where do I eat? How do I meet people? In every place you go, you have to figure out a whole new mini-life. It’s… a lot. After several months of this, I was 100% spent. It also didn’t feel great to be spending money every day while I wasn’t yet generating much of an income.
For this reason, I recommend laying some of the groundwork for your work stuff while you’re still at home. It can be better to work things out before you travel, in an undistracted setting (like building up your portfolio or testing your online business ideas). This is all stuff you can start doing today, at home, or from anywhere.
If you’re still in the scary startup phase with your work and you’re also adapting to a totally different lifestyle, it can be a bit overwhelming. I think that’s why it makes sense to have one of these two things covered already, e.g. either build up your work to a level you’re comfortable with, or at least have some long-term travel experience under your belt, so that you can ease into the lifestyle.
Taking some shorter remote work trips can also give you a better feel for it, making it less stressful when you dive into the deep end of travel.
Once you hit the road, remember there’s no shame in going slow. Stay in each place at least a month at a time and it’ll be easier to stay on top of things. Most digital nomads don’t actually move around that much! Many stay in one country for at least 2-3 months.
Is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Clearly, nomading is an amazing way to earn a living while enjoying a huge degree of freedom. You can have an exciting and varied life, constantly break from routine, and live all kinds of mini-lives in places all over the world.
That said, there can be some issues. Firstly, some nomads struggle with their untethered lifestyle and find it hard to find a community. There are many solutions to this and there are plenty of veteran nomads who’ve made it work (even for years on end), but it takes a while to get a hang of it.
Also, if you ask me, being a digital nomad isn’t necessarily the best way to “see the world”. If that’s your one and only goal, it could be better to save some money in the job you hate, then quit and travel the world as a backpacker or to go on a round-the-world trip. If you have the choice, I think it will always be better to travel the world with a bag on a stick and a bongo under your arm than with a laptop clamoring for a WiFi signal. Only when you don’t have to work, you can see the world in the most intense and rewarding ways.
Consider that it takes ‘only’ about $7000 to travel in Southeast Asia for 6 months as a budget traveler. You’ll experience much more as a backpacker or adventure traveler who has complete freedom, compared to the digital nomad who has to work all the time and may be limited to only the more developed hubs that have good internet.
If you’re interested in purely traveling (for example, as part of a career break or gap year), I wrote a book that will help and inspire you to go on a big adventure.
All that said, if you can make it work, digital nomading is a fantastic experience. It’s not just the traveling lifestyle, but also the benefit of cost arbitrage. It’s actually possible to spend much less money while traveling than you spend at home. You can rent some insane villas or beach houses in, say, Bali or the Yucatan for what just a small room costs in a major Western city.
Despite a few challenges, it’s amazing to be able to live and work where you want, rather than where a fixed-location job forces you to.
The whole point of being a digital nomad is to have more freedom. That could mean traveling year-round, but it could also mean having a second base during the winter, or being a slowmad and changing location only once every few years, or even going back home if you’re feeling homesick. It’s all up to you.
Steps to becoming a digital nomad
Finally, a few practical steps towards achieving a location-independent lifestyle. Note that most steps you can begin without yet having to give up your normal life or job.
Find a job you can do online
Or start an online business. If you already have a job you do online, then see if you can switch to doing it remotely. More companies are open to remote working arrangements these days, so I think you never lose by asking.
Build it before you need it
It’s easier to figure out the income side of things before you set off abroad, or at least try to make a start so you can hit the ground running. If you want to be a digital nomad, you can get started on this today.
It’s much easier to be nomadic if you already have, say, a semi-successful YouTube channel, or a freelance business, or some other promising income source.
Join digital nomad communities
At the start of this article, I was making a bit of fun of overhyped wannabe digital nomad conferences, but meeting like-minded people and learning from other digital nomads is genuinely a great way to get started.
Check Meetup.com for nomad meetups, go to coworking spaces with an international crowd, or chat with nomads in your area on Nomad List.
Research places to travel to
Timezones, climate, and other factors can influence where you can or want to go. Resources like Nomad List can help you choose. For some on-the-ground info, try searching Facebook Groups for ‘digital nomad’ plus the city or country you’re thinking of going to.
Don’t get too addicted to “motivation porn” such as digital nomad books, courses, and so on. If you’re on your 5th inspirational conference or your 93rd podcast on the topic, you probably just need to make a decision to go.
If it seems scary to let go of everything and travel year-round, try some shorter working holidays to locations nearby.
Or try a nomad retreat
An organized nomad trip can also be a great introduction to the concept. The Nomad Escape and Borderless Retreat are two examples in Spain/Portugal where I’m based, though there are nomad retreats like this in places all over the world.
Taking a Nomad Cruise, once it gets going again post-pandemic, is another great idea. Many nomads started their travel careers on a Nomad Cruise and made most of their nomad friends on one of their trips.
Need more inspiration? Then check out this list of 125 ways to make money while traveling.
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