Do you want to become a digital nomad — and travel the world while making a living online? Well, it’s simple.
- Have work you can do from anywhere.
- And then… start traveling.
Ta-da! Two simple steps! All done!
Okay, I’m being silly. But in a sense, becoming a digital nomad really is that simple.
There are no special tricks to becoming a nomad. The secret is that there is no secret. You certainly don’t need to buy expensive courses to learn how to become a digital nomad.
But even if the steps are simple, that doesn’t mean they are easy.
You’ll need to build up an income stream online, potentially make a career change or acquire new skills, not to mention manage the personal challenges of traveling long-term.
Luckily, there are loads of different ways to become a digital nomad. In this post, I want to give you a few pointers. Along the way, I can hopefully expand your notion of what a digital nomad can be.
It’s actually not just software developers who can go nomadic — far from it!
How to make a living online
The nomad lifestyle can be absolutely amazing. One month you’re co-living on tropical Bali, the next you’re working from cute local cafes in Lisbon, then the next you’re hanging out at the best surf spots in Costa Rica.
But… to do this, you’ll need some work that you can do anywhere. In most cases, that means a job you can do online.
Broadly speaking, there are 3 ways to become a digital nomad:
- Become a remote employee. This means you’ll be a salaried employee for a company that allows you to work remotely. Some forward-thinking companies are cool with this these days. If there’s one silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic, more companies have become open-minded about working remotely.
- Become a freelancer. If you have your own client base, then it may not matter to them from where you are actually doing the work. Many nomads take their freelance career on the road.
- 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.
It’s a bit of a stereotype that all nomads are programmers or online marketers, though it’s still true that many of them are — and having coding or digital marketing skills will make it much easier to go remote.
Sites like Side Hustle School and Indie Hackers, or job boards like RemoteOK, can inspire some leads or ideas. The Fizzle community is also a great place to learn about online entrepreneurship, blogging, and e-commerce.
Not all nomads are programmers or marketers though.
Other online jobs include translation work, motion graphics design, UI design, PR, coaching, social media management, consulting, accounting, and stock trading — just to name a few.
You have even think a little bit outside of the box.
Unconventional digital nomad jobs
As the digital nomad scene grows and evolves, I’m often surprised by the interesting ways in which people make a living online.
I mean, would you have guessed that you can be a traveling architect? Well, I met one. She travels to places like Bali and Tulum, designing buildings that will be built in completely different countries from where she’s drawing up the blueprints.
If you thought you could never be a fitness coach online… well, turns out you can. Recently, I learned of a nomad who trains athletes for Ironman triathlons over video chat — and yes, I was as surprised to hear about this as you are.
I’ve met nomads who sell t-shirts online, provide psychotherapy to expats, teach English to kids in China over Skype, or teach dancing on YouTube.
Becoming a blogger, vlogger, or podcaster can also lead you to a nomadic lifestyle.
I myself became fully location independent by starting a travel blog. Although the topic of travel is a bit saturated these days, there are thousands of topics you could blog about that can be monetized.
It’s all about being creative and finding something you can do in a location-independent way.
Having an interesting niche can help you a lot. A while ago, I bumped into a couple who travel the world while embroidering scenes from their travels. They make money selling their embroidery and instructional products via Instagram. Pretty cool!
I’m just sharing these examples simply to show that digital nomads can start from wildly different places. One thing I’ve learned after meeting thousands of digital nomads is that none of their paths are exactly the same. So think about the skills you have and the skills you could develop — and remember there are a million ways to skin a banana.
Becoming an analog nomad
With all the focus on laptop-wielding nomads, you’d almost forget there are ways to be nomadic without working online.
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. These are all great ways to combine travel with work.
Could this seem less glamorous than working online? Yeah, I guess so.
But the barrier to entry is often much lower. You also get to travel in a different way, outside of the WiFi bubble. There is good money to be made, too. An English teacher in Korea will surely be earning a lot more than the average drop-shipper in Bali.
Among some of the more interesting nomads I’ve met are ones who do things that are both analog and digital.
For example, I know nomads who organize road trip retreats for small groups. Simultaneously, they’re also video production company, shooting marketing videos for hotels and tourism companies along the way.
My sister and her husband regularly 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. They are absolutely loving their lifestyle. (They can’t quite travel to Fiji with this, but it lets them be totally nomadic within Europe.)
Recently, I met a guy who travels the world as a stand-up comedian and artist. He paints murals, does comedy, and has gigs hosting digital marketing conferences in Chiang Mai and other places. He’s clearly a super interesting guy — and not following the usual nomad path at all.
What I’m saying is: if you approach it creatively, you may be able to go nomadic without needing to go digital.
Need more inspiration? Then check out this list of 125 ways to make money while traveling.
Taking it one step at a time
To become a successful digital nomad, I recommend figuring out the remote work part of it first — before you start traveling.
You see, building up your income as a nomad can be difficult. Simultaneously adapting to a totally different way of living will make things twice as challenging. Don’t underestimate this; a lot of newbie nomads become overwhelmed trying to jumpstart their business while also learning to travel long-term.
As a nomad, you essentially have to create a new mini-life from scratch in each location you go to. That takes some practice to learn. Finding cool stuff to do, maintaining a healthy social life, and having positive travel experiences outside of your work requires a certain mindset and certain techniques.
If at all possible, build up your online work or business before you set off.
At least, I know this would have helped me out a ton. I launched my online business literally the day I left home without a return date. In hindsight, this wasn’t very smart.
I had no warm-up at all, didn’t know what I was doing, and was still making zero money. It would have been much better to have started my blog a good 6 to 12 months earlier. I would’ve had time to properly set up my WordPress, learn about SEO, flex my writing muscles, and put some proper workflows in place — and then travel.
So when people ask me how they can become a digital nomad, I always tell them to just start today. You can lay the groundwork while you’re still at home. Follow relevant courses, build up your portfolio and clients, or test your business ideas without having all the distractions of travel. That way you can really hit the ground running when you’re ready.
Consider also having some savings before you go travel. Some nomads set off totally broke but this can put a lot pressure on your work. Having some cushion is very helpful in case you lose a client or your online business doesn’t work out so well.
That said, through the magic of cost arbitrage, it’s possible to spend less money traveling than you spend at home. For example, an annual income of about $12000 or €11000 can be enough to travel and/or live comfortably in countries like Thailand or Indonesia. If you need some extra runway for your business to take off, nomading is a great way to do it.
Another thing you can do to prepare is to attend digital nomad meetups or conferences in your area. Speak with people who’ve already done it, so you know what to expect of the lifestyle.
Is nomading the best way to travel?
Even though it’s amazing to be able to generate an income while seeing the world, it’s not the best way to see the world. At least, not in my opinion.
As a digital nomad, you’re always going to be restricted by where there is WiFi or where there is a good environment to work. That often excludes locations in the countryside or adventurous travel destinations away from major hubs or airports.
If you want to travel the world without compromise, I think it’s always better to build up some savings and go on a career sabbatical, such as a long-term backpacking or round-the-world trip. That way, you can be 100% focused on having travel experiences every day, instead of just in the evenings and on weekends.
I’ve written posts about how much it costs to travel a whole year and how to travel cheaply. Many people are surprised to learn that all they need to save up is about $6,000 in order to travel for 6 months in, say, Southeast Asia.
I also wrote a book that will help and inspire you to put your life on hold and go on a great adventure.
Of course, combining travel and work will give you income security that you will lose during a sabbatical.
When you become a digital nomad, keep in mind you can travel as fast or as slow as you’d like. You don’t have to change locations every few weeks to be a digital nomad. In fact, that can get incredibly tiring! You can stay in places for several months, or eventually settle in a place you love while still traveling throughout the winter, or really make use of your flexibility in any way you like.
The whole point of digital nomading is that you’ll have amazing freedoms few other people will have!
How to become a digital nomad
- Find a job you can do online — or start an online business. If you already have a job you do online, see if you can do it remotely. More companies are open to remote working arrangements these days, so 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.
- Join digital nomad communities in your country or area. This is an excellent way of gaining inspiration, meeting like-minded people, and learning about the challenges involved. Look on 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 you’d like to travel to. Consider cheaper countries to lower financial pressure. You could even save money or pay off your debts by traveling in low-cost countries. Resources like Nomad List can help you choose where to go.
- Jump in! It’s easy to get addicted to the idea of doing something without ever doing it. If you’re on your 5th inspirational nomad conference or your 93rd podcast on the topic, you probably just need to make a decision to go.
- Or try a retreat. If going full-nomad seems too scary, you could go on an organized nomad trip, like the Nomad Cruise, The Nomad Escape, or Borderless Retreat. Then use what you’ve learned to become a digital nomad.
Some links (such as to booking sites) may be affiliate links, meaning I may earn commission from products or services I recommend. You can read about my site policies.