How to Become a Digital Nomad And Start Living the Nomadic Lifestyle

become digital nomad

Digital nomad, expat, telecommuter, whatever you want to call it, the popularity of remotely working has grown. Digital nomads pack up their office and trade it in for the tropical beaches of The Caribbean or the balconies of Italy. By monetizing and mobilizing their trade, digital nomads can work almost anywhere in the world.

These are people who have mobilized their trade and travel from country to country exploring the world while working remotely.

Sounds fun, right?

While the term “digital nomad” has gained a bit of a reputation for being a free-spirited, easygoing lifestyle, in actuality, it is anything but. Becoming a digital nomad puts all of the responsibility in your own hands and puts you halfway across the globe to a country you very well know nothing about.

Successful digital nomads are self-driven, highly organized, and have the ability to mobilize their trade.

I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.
– Steve Jobs

Some businesses allow their employees to work remotely, some digital nomads have to leave the corporate world and become their own boss to do so.

Living in paradise may sound like a dream, but the planning, motivation, and self-discipline involved make this lifestyle anything but a walk in the park (or along the beach).

The increase in popularity of this modern lifestyle has led to a surge of “get rich quick” guides and courses. Facebook ads for information on how to live the nomadic way of life (only accessible after paying a hefty fee) appear more and more. The nomadic life is not easy. There is no fast track, no little-known secret.

Steps to Become a Digital Nomad and Start Living a Sustainable Nomadic Lifestyle:

Monetize and Mobilize Your Profession

Although the name implies a digital occupation, you don’t have to develop software or write code to become a digital nomad. Think about how you can mobilize your profession or hobby. Can you teach courses through Skype, or write how-tos on a subject? If your profession is difficult to digitalize, consider monetizing a hobby. Etsy is a great resource for selling handmade items.

Think outside the box on what you can offer. If you are well written or have a knack for copywriting, freelance websites such as UpWork, Freelancer, and even Craigslist offer long and short-term jobs in your area of expertise. Teaching English as a second language is another outlet to consider (not all programs require you to speak two languages).

If you are really serious about becoming a digital nomad but don’t feel like you have the right skill set, learn one. Websites like Lynda and YouTube have plenty of resources available to learn a new or more profitable trade.

Practice Sustainability

Once you have determined your mobilized profession, practice its sustainability. Before you pack your bags and fly across the globe, work from home for 6-12 months to set your realistic expectations and save money. Freelancing has a ramp-up period; you have to please quite a few clients before you gain the respect of the big boys.

If you already have a solid customer base or plan on working remotely through your current employer, give yourself enough time to adjust. These few months at home will allow you to work out some kinks and road bumps before moving halfway across the globe. Keep detailed records of your spending habits and earnings; you need to set a realistic expectation for your future lifestyle adjustment.

In addition to setting your financial capabilities, this time at home will determine your ability to work as your own boss. Digital nomads are self-driven. The temptation to slack off will be exponential in a new country. If you have difficulties staying on task, use this time at home to practice before the shiny bright lights of the new city drag you in.

Determine Your Monthly Income

Before you even consider the destination you want to live in, you must determine your accurate monthly income. Don’t assume anything, what you’ve made these past 6-12 months is likely the most you will be making abroad, at least for the first few months.

Don’t assume a big project will come your way, play it safe and assume you will lose a client on your first day in paradise. It may seem extreme, but it’s better to plan for the worse and hope for the best than over guess your budget. Once you have an accurate number of your net monthly earnings, you can begin to consider your options.

Explore Your Options

If you haven’t already, this is a great time to start reading up on the digital nomad forums and groups, such as r/digital nomads on Groups and resources that provide information about the best places to consider are invaluable.

You’ll hear from ex-expats, current residents, and skeptics of your potential new home. Do as much research as you can in this area, this will become your new place, a decision not to be taken lightly.

digital nomad life

A Few Things to Consider Before You Decide to Become a Digital Nomad:

  • Are you willing to learn a new language?
  • Do you have family or friends that are dependent on you?
  • How far from home are you willing to travel?
  • Can you afford to become a digital nomad?

Here Are Some Resources for You if You Want to Get Started on Becoming a Digital Nomad:

  • Reddit’s Subreddit – Digital Nomads; This subreddit is a guidebook and continual community resource for those interested and those already in the digital nomad lifestyle. Users share everything from the best cell phone companies in a foreign country to the most durable laptop cases for when you’re on the road. The right sidebar features pages for the best remote job websites, how to obtain a visa, and other travel hacks. This subreddit is an incredibly tight community. Do your research before posting; self-reliance is an admired quality not only for this group but as a digital nomad as well.
  • Learn a language with Duolingo; It would be highly irresponsible to move to a foreign country without a general grasp of the language. Duolingo is a “freemium” service that can help you get started on learning the lay of the land. With access to most major languages, you can begin to learn the basics of your new home language and perfect your skills once you’ve moved. Duolingo has some in-app upgrades, but the majority of the app is free. Unlike other language learning services on the market that cost a fortune, Duolingo can help you save a few bucks while learning a vital skill to your survival.
  • Develop a new skill with Lynda; Don’t think you have a skill that can be mobilized? Learn one! Lynda is an online “school” that has thousands of courses for a variety of trades. This isn’t your typical YouTube tutorial; these are in-depth classes designed to help you master a trade. Photography, software development, design, and business are just some of the hundreds of skills you can sharpen. Sign up for a free trial and see if there is something that interests you, chances are, there is. While a monthly price of $19.99 may seem a bit high, it is much more affordable than going back to school and is a worthy investment in your future. The best part about Lynda? The classes are engaging, not strictly informative, and many times the classes are taught by industry leaders.
  • Put your skills to use on Upwork; There are many freelance websites out there, but Upwork is arguably the largest platform. It is a great starting point for your freelance career. Companies and individuals post job listings that include the skill level they are looking for, timeframe, and sometimes the budget. You create a profile that showcases your skills, portfolio, and previous work. Don’t worry if you don’t have a hefty portfolio to show, many jobs are looking for entry-level work. Upwork is a “free” service, meaning you won’t pay upfront for anything. Instead, they take 20% of the job payment. While this can initially be quite a jarring cut, it is still a useful service for getting your feet wet in the freelance arena and building your portfolio. Plus, after a client spends $500 on you, the fee goes down to 10%. Upwork also has payment protection in place, so if a client doesn’t want to pay for work you’ve already done, Upwork’s got your back.
  • Track your time with Toggl; Not every client makes you track your hours, but for the ones that do, this website is a simple way to do so. Upwork has a built-in time tracking system that some clients prefer you use, but if you have a choice (or are working outside of Upwork) go with Toggl. It is not only one of the simplest tools for you to use, but the weekly reports are also clear and concise to the client and can be edited in a variety of presentations. It is simply the clearest and concise time tracker. My clients have always complimented me on my weekly reports for being so easy to read. If your client requires screenshots throughout your process (never a fun requirement, but it’s bound to happen at some point) you can enable Timeline on the desktop app, and it will record your computer activity, and display 15-minute chunks of your work. Oh, and did we mention Toggl is free?
  • Stay connected with Asana; Once you begin to acquire multiple clients, all the emails, phone calls and Skype sessions begin to blend together. For a lot of digital nomads, Asana is the perfect resource for keeping track of everything. While the success of Asana is dependent on the participation of the client, many of my clients have reached out to me to use it, as it a popular team tracking tool for both freelance and office work as well. Asana is a simple way to view your tasks and inform your team members when they are done. Asana also has a built-in inbox, so you can separate your projects by the client with ease. Asana is also insanely user-friendly and beautiful, there’s nothing like checking “complete” on a project in Asana.

Finally, and probably the most important factor, Check out books about your potential place from the library, read all the stories from expats in the area you can find (even the bad stories, especially the bad stories). Don’t get discouraged if your dream location turns out to be more expensive or less of a dream than you planned.

The world is infinite; you can find a place that meets your requirements, it will just take a bit more time.

The Final Steps

Once you have found a sustainable career and location to move to, downsize and downsize again. Selling your belongings will provide a nice boost before your trip (or potentially cover the flight). Chances are you won’t be shipping much of anything, opting for an extra checked back and overstuffed carry-on instead. Again, the forums come in handy here.

There are plenty of packing guides and resources out there for starting a new life in a foreign country. Obsessively read them all. (If you aren’t obsessively reading all the material you can get your hands on already – this may not be the best lifestyle for you.)

Plan on the lifespan of your electronics dramatically decreasing. Have an emergency fund for a multitude of reasons – most importantly – to cover the full costs of a new laptop if yours happens to break (it’s only a matter of time).

I hope that this guide has introduced you to the digital nomad lifestyle and inspired you to learn more about this adventurous gig. Live the digital nomad lifestyle? Let us know your tips and tricks below!

Ellie Herring is a creative writer who lives in Denver, Colorado. She graduated from Texas Tech University with a B.A. in Advertising. When she's not writing about her latest travel adventures, you can find her at Red Rocks Amphitheatre dancing in the mountains.

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