Always dreamed of leaving your office job and traveling the world?
Ever fantasized about looking up from your laptop to see a gorgeous view of sun, sea and sand?
Sound too good to be true? Well, think again! In the past few years, there’s been a surge of people packing in their nine-to-five jobs in search of something better. Welcome to the world of the digital nomad.
What’s a digital nomad?
Put simply, a digital nomad is someone who works remotely and travels around the world.
Working from their laptop, they’re free to hop from place to place and explore different locations while making a living. They might stay in one place for a few weeks, several months or a year before heading to their next destination.
But this isn’t just an option for a lucky few. Almost anybody can become a digital nomad if they’re willing to leave their day job and take the plunge. This simple guide will explain how to find work, choose the right locations and make sure you’re ready before you start your life on the road.
Take It on the Road: How to Become a Digital Nomad
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1. Pick your destinations wisely
While being a digital nomad comes with tons of freedom and independence, it doesn’t often come with a great salary. At least at the beginning.
Many earn much less than they did back home but offset this by staying in cheap locations. Your new income will play a big factor in your chosen base, but in the early stages, you’ll likely be looking for somewhere cheap.
The website Nomad List tells you the of the cost of living and other essential information about international destinations. You’ll be able to check out rent prices, along with the cost of groceries, a beer or a soda.
You’ll also find some great information on the country’s internet speed (crucial when you’re working online), safety, nightlife and much more. Of course, it helps if you can do your own research, too.
Popular nomad locations with a low cost of living include countries in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America.
When choosing a location, consider options popular with other nomads so you can make friends. You’ll likely meet people from all over the world, so it’s a great opportunity to find a partner to brush up your language skills with!
You can supplement your language exchange with self-study through FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos and news broadcasts—and turns them into language learning experiences. This way, you can talk to your language buddy about more than just their likes and dislikes. You can talk about movies in theaters and their favorite singers!
2. Find your dream digital nomad job
As a digital nomad, you’ll need to earn your living online. Common choices include teaching, writing, designing, coding and virtual assistant work… but the list certainly doesn’t end there. Whatever your circumstances right now, there are plenty of ways to get started.
Go freelance with your existing skills
When I started working online, I started by looking at my existing skills. Could my current job be done remotely? (Luckily, as a writer, the answer was yes!) Some jobs, particularly ones in the digital space, can easily be adapted to the nomad lifestyle.
If your job can’t, take a look at your other skills. Can you play guitar? Try offering online lessons. Spend all day on Snapchat? Consider social media management. There are plenty of opportunities if you think outside the box.
Or develop new skills!
If none of your skills fit the bill, try learning something new via an online course. Short courses in the likes of graphic design, writing or coding will help you develop a new online career in no time.
Find your first clients
Now the scary part.
In the first few months, you’ll need to find your clients (AKA money). I started by getting my name out there wherever I could.
I made my own website with Wix, promoted myself on freelance job boards like Upwork and emailed pretty much everyone in my contact lists. I also networked with people at remote working hubs who sent work my way when their hands were full.
It can take a lot of hard work in the first few months, but don’t give up! The hard work you put in now will reap great rewards a few weeks or months down the line. Do your best to impress your early clients and one day you’ll be able to make your living from repeat work and word of mouth referrals.
Earn passive income
Want to earn money literally doing nothing? It’s possible. Well, kind of.
Passive income requires some work upfront that will generate income long after you’ve stopped working on it. Options include writing an e-book, creating and selling an online course through Teachable or running a successful blog.
Work for a company remotely
These days, more and more companies are open to hiring staff remotely. Unlike the volatility of freelance work, this option will give you stability and security while still allowing you to roam the world!
Keep an eye on remote working job boards, or contact tech and start-up companies that might be open to the possibility.
3. Get organized before you go
Even a free-spirited, nomadic life requires some admin and organization. Sigh!
Sort out your finances
Most nomads will sell or rent their home through Airbnb to avoid paying for it while they’re on the road. You’ll want to clear any debts or financial commitments, too. Trust me, there’s nothing more annoying that covering bills from back home when you’re thousands of miles away.
Before you move abroad, save enough money to cover your expenses for the first couple months in your new country. Especially if you’ll be freelancing. It can take a while to find new clients… and even longer for invoices to be paid!
Finally, make a point of getting insured with dedicated nomad insurance and figure out how you can stay on the right side of the tax man while you’re away. Some countries tax regulations aren’t exactly nomad friendly, and laws haven’t really caught up with this kind of lifestyle yet.
Plan your communication
You might be leaving home, but you’ll want to keep family and friends close. Make sure you have good video calling software like Skype so you can easily stay in touch.
Don’t forget to do some research on the best cell phone plans for global travel. I found it impossible to find one, so instead I just limited myself to using Wi-Fi and sticking to internet-based text and calling services. So if you find a great plan, let me know!
You’ll want to make new friends as well as stay in touch with old ones. Try to become conversational in the language of your next destination. You’ll find it much easier to get around, make friends and truly experience the local culture.
4. Change your mindset
One of the biggest barriers to the nomad lifestyle is having the wrong mindset, so it’s important to shift yours into gear before you go.
Remember that your life will need to fit in a suitcase, and this lifestyle leaves very little room for home comforts. It’s time to think like a minimalist. This limited space is also a great incentive to get into the thrifty mindset you’ll need to make your money go as far as possible.
The nomadic lifestyle can also be a lonely one sometimes. You’ll be far from loved ones and often in a different time zone. And while you’ll make new friends on the road, depending on how long you stay in the country, these relationships might only be short-term.
Be sure to come up with strategies for when you feel lonely, whether it’s heading to a local bar or embracing some me-time.
The digital nomad lifestyle is a dream job for many people—and for good reason! You’ll work for yourself while opening your mind to new people, place and ideas. Pretty awesome, right?
It might seem scary to take the plunge, but with some hard work and great planning, there’s nothing to be afraid of. My perspective? If you want to do it, you can!
Plus, just imagine how good it’ll feel turning on that Out of Office auto-reply forever.
Emma Brooke is a travel writer and serial expat currently living in Paris.
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