DIGITAL NOMAD: THERE’S SOMETHING ROMANTIC and freeing about just the phrase itself. But for those who really live the life, the impacts go far beyond simple daydreaming. Flexibility, travel, new horizons, adventure… Who wouldn’t want to work from a tropical island or a cobbled street in the heart of old Europe?
The trick for the rest of us is to understand how on earth they do it. We talked to a few digital nomads to put together these six easy steps to get you to the digital nomad lifestyle of your dreams.
It’s time to admit a hard truth. If you’re, say, a dentist, the life of a digital nomad isn’t really going to be possible for you. Licensing requirements make it a bit tricky to pull off freelance dentistry around the world. So to start, you’ve got to find the right kind of job.
That means a job that can be done remotely, preferably from a wide variety of timezones (trust us, you don’t want to try to pull off a New York 9-5 in Thailand). Obviously digital jobs like professional blogging or marketing work well, but even lawyers can pull it off with the right grit.
One of the best techniques is to set up passive income channels. That could mean spending a few weeks or months creating a marketing website or piece of content and then traveling while it earns you money. Or it might mean selling ads on your blog or podcast while you travel and create it. Really, there are an incredible number of ways to make money while you travel, so get creative!
One of the biggest lessons you learn after becoming a seasoned traveler is that you have to plan extremely well. Think hard about where you want to go, what you’ll do when you get there, where you’ll want to stay, and what you’ll tell your family.
Learn as much as you can about your planned destination: follow local news sites, join online groups for expats and travelers, and investigate your housing options before you go – whether or not you’re comfortable taking a room or apartment before you arrive in town. Stock up on any necessary medications and if you have special dietary needs, research your local options or connect with online groups for advice.
Make sure you have affordable temporary accommodations covered for your first few days. Otherwise, you might find yourself arriving in town, jet-lagged and suitcase in tow, frantically searching for a free hostel bed and wifi.
But is planning all you need? If you want to be a digital nomad, you also need to accept a bit of chaos.
If you plan everything to a T, the irony is that you’ll also be losing out on one of the best parts of being a digital nomad: the potential for spontaneity.
Find an amazingly cheap flight to Bali? Take it!
Someone offers to take you hiking up a volcano? Go for it!
Traveling often comes down to mastering the art of making a detailed plan and then being willing to throw it out the window the moment you need to.
This one is really critical. We’ve known plenty of people who have gotten in trouble by either not paying attention to these rules or believing any random friend who insisted it worked a certain way. Being a digital nomad often means coming close to visa limits, so make sure you know where they are and how they work.
The US State Department website has great information you can rely on. Then, you can always call an embassy to double-check anything that’s unclear.
Suitcases may be getting smarter, but airline luggage requirements are also getting more restrictive. That means it’s more important than ever for frequent travelers like digital nomads to learn how to pack like a professional. Besides the basics (i.e., you should really be rolling your clothes), invest in some great luggage and learn which airlines have more generous policies.
If you’re a packrat by nature, it’s time to say goodbye to a few items. Pack a few key items of clothing and get used to doing laundry regularly; that cool jacket you wear twice a year probably looks better in your friend’s closet anyway. And we understand the lure of flea markets abroad, but no matter long you’ve been searching for that record, do you really want to spend a year hauling it around while your record player gathers dust in your dad’s garage in Iowa?
Buy everything travel-sized or pick it up when you get there; we promise they have toothpaste abroad. Pack light, pack right, and never look back.
This is one of those steps that gets left out far too often. Some of us have been moving to various cities around the world for years, but if you’re not used to a nomadic lifestyle, it can be quite a shock. Learning about your destination helps, but don’t expect to know everything just because you’ve spent a month reading the local English-language news site.
Be prepared to be open to new viewpoints and new ways to do things – whether it’s riding the bus, washing the dishes, or a different perspective on a current or historical event you think you know all about. Just because things happen one way at home doesn’t mean it’s better (and even if it is better, you won’t single-handedly change a whole country’s habits).
Everyone will have something different that they find it difficult to adjust to: whether it’s a nine-hour time difference from friends and family at home, confusing product labels at the grocery store, rude subway passengers or just not being able to get your favorite coffee. But don’t forget to consider all the amazing new experiences you’ll have. Ask any frequent traveler: experiencing different cultures and environments teaches you things no university ever could.
In the end, if you can’t stop dreaming about a digital nomad lifestyle, buy your tickets and go for it! This kind of working and living has only recently become possible, so why not take advantage and live your dreams?
Problems can and do arise while you're traveling, so be sure that you have good travel insurance. This should be valid the entire time you're away and should help to cover any emergencies or health-related incidents that will arise. Remember, healthcare is a primary concern and not every country is going to have the same type of healthcare system you're used to, so get good insurance that works in the places you intend to go to.
If you’re absolutely serious about becoming a digital nomad, then you should sell or rent your home. You don't want it sitting empty while you're gone. If you get tenants, hire someone they can call locally to deal with issues that might arise and handle the rental payments. Property managers are another option if you decide to do it professionally.
Betsy Ball offers insight into how she became a digital nomad and details on what it is like to live and work a nomadic life.
Yes and no. My husband and I always wanted to travel more. I feel like what we are doing is something we should have done in our 20s, but we didn’t — so we’re doing it now. It was easy for us to decide to become digital nomads, but making it work was challenging. We did a lot of research before we began this lifestyle. We retired from our jobs and sold our home and most of our stuff. What remains is in a storage unit in the town where we grew up, where my husband’s family still lives. That was the first step. Then we jumped out believing we could do it. Our plan was to participate in Workaway, WWOOF and Trusted Housesitters in order to extend our travel budget. These are organizations that allow you to volunteer in exchange for room and board or watch people's houses and pets in exchange for lodging. We found that this gave us a better feel for what it’s like to live in the local area and we love that. We also became certified to teach English as a Second Language so that we could teach online if we needed extra income.
Our income is from our business, Euro Travel Coach. We started this business as soon as we knew we would become digital nomads, which was about nine months before we retired (we started traveling full time in September 2017). I also taught online for the university where we were faculty during the 2017-2018 school year.
Have a permanent address you can use in the States for your bank account and credit card address. We use a family member’s address. I’ve heard good things about Traveling Mailbox, which also seems to works well.
Understand the visa rules for the area where you are traveling. For example, we are traveling in Europe. Most of Europe is in the Schengen zone. As Americans, we are only allowed to stay in the Schengen for 90 out of 180 days. When we reach the limit of our days, we have to leave the Schengen. The UK, Ireland, Croatia, Romania, and some other European countries are not part of the Schengen, so when we get close to running out of days, we travel there for several months until we have accumulated more days so that we can go back to the Schengen. Every region has different rules. Make sure you know what they are and follow them.
Figure out the most economical phone plan. We changed from AT&T to Sprint before we left and it was a good decision because we pay no extra charges for our international service. When we were with AT&T, the international charges were much higher. Doing some good research on this before we traveled was very helpful.
Pack light. We travel with a backpack and a suitcase, each. Last year we traveled nine months from September to May before returning to the States. This year we started again in September and will go to May, but we came home for Christmas. We go to a family cottage in Canada in the summer. Packing light makes us nimble as we bounce from country to country.
Make sure to stay connected to your friends and family back home. This is easy with technology these days, but staying connected is important for your mental health. Your support system is still there — you simply have to make more of an effort to stay connected to it.
We love Italy so much and keep returning and going to different parts of the country. It’s wonderful. Our favorite part is Piedmont. We love wine and always wanted to work a harvest. The last two harvest seasons, we did WWOOFing on the same winery near Dogliani.
No, nothing is as glamorous as it looks on social media! It’s pretty great — but it is challenging! If you have an online business, as we do, you really have to stay on top of it and spend significant time growing your business and servicing your clients. That takes away a bit from the travel and exploring you want to be doing. Also, sometimes, the work that we do to extend our travel budget is definitely not glamorous. We were just in Ireland where I spent hours in a messy, dirty shop with no windows sorting screws because that’s what our host wanted me to do. But it is pretty awesome overall! In the evenings we went to pubs and listened to traditional Irish music sessions, which was fantastic. It made sorting screws completely worth it!
Being away when things happen at home. We had two former students die in a car accident a few months ago and it was awful not being there to grieve with the family, friends, and former colleagues who loved them so much. Life happens and it can be tough to be away when you want to help or just be around those you love.
If you have a web-based business, make sure you learn as much as possible about building websites and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) early on. Get help for what you don’t know. Pay for it if you must to in order to receive a professional service for exactly what you need, it’s worth it. This will help you spend more time on what you want to be doing (in our case, we want to be building more itineraries, leading more trips and helping more people travel) rather than spending your time on technical issues that bring traffic to your site.
Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.
Work wherever and whenever you want since you are independent and mobile, you can live anywhere in the world. Have you always wanted to see Bali? You just have to settle there for a few weeks or months and explore the country while earning money online. Want to escape the cold of the Scandinavian winter? Go to Southeast Asia for a while. Many digital nomads are freelancers or entrepreneurs and can manage their time. Aren't you a morning person? Start your day later. Or would you rather take a day trip to the island on a lazy Monday instead of working? Go ahead and do your work later this week or the weekend. You decide when and where you work and no one really cares.
So, how do you actually become a digital nomad? While the idea of buying a one-way ticket and “figuring it out when you get there” is appealing, it will likely set you up for a chaotic, stressful experience, which is the opposite of what digital nomad-ing is about.
It’s important to do a lot of pre-planning before embarking on this life change. We’ve broken down how to become a digital nomad into multiple steps in terms of logistics, work and finance, preparation and planning, getting the right gear, picking your destination, and getting into the right mindset for this change.
Seeing the world while holding down a full-time job might sound too good to be true, but with the right planning and support, it can be done.
Before we dive in, let’s get started with the obvious — what exactly is a digital nomad? It’s a descriptor for different types of location independent working professionals. The goal of a digital nomad? To see and experience the world and all that it has to offer.
Sound like you? Or someone you would like to become? Perfect. You’ve landed in the right spot. We’re going to take you through all the essential details you need to become a digital nomad and start living a lifestyle YOU design. Let’s start with Step 1: