Imagine this: you’re writing about your trip to the tropical paradise that is Bali while sitting by the beach having a cold one. You hit submit on that article and you’re set. This isn’t just a vacation. This isn’t just a dream. It’s your life.
Being a digital nomad and working from anywhere is possible but it does require some good groundwork to establish stable income streams. Unless you’ve got a pretty hefty trust fund, you can’t exactly quit your job to travel the world and be able to support the lifestyle right away.
So, first things first, let’s define what it means to be a digital nomad. There are two terms here that we need to understand -- the digital part and the nomad part. For digital, it basically means you generate income using online sources. This then leads you to a lifestyle that allows you to be a nomad -- or simply said, location independent.
Being able to achieve the digital nomad lifestyle means you can get paid on-the-go, you get to travel the world, work remotely, and enjoy a variety of tropical or exotic places. The good news is, it’s now easier to get closer to this dream than ever. In the later part of this decade, employers have started to realize the benefit of letting employees work remotely. Cutting the cost of office rental can massively decrease their overhead and capital expense cost. Then came the advent of virtual offices and co-working spaces. Startups and small to medium-sized businesses have been moving towards this setup over the last few years to give them a competitive edge over bigger companies in the same industry.
When the global pandemic started, most of the working world shifted to remote work. While we don’t know how long all this will last -- more companies and more employees are realizing the benefits (and the downside) of working outside the strictly corporate setup. So, at this point, you may already have an idea of whether or not the digital nomad lifestyle is for you.
Deciphering Digital Nomads Numbers
FlexJobs surveyed over 500 digital nomads about key topics related to their digital nomad career, lifestyle, and work style in October 2018, and the findings include:
- Main reasons why people choose the digital nomad life include work-life balance (73%); enjoy the freedom (68%); love to travel (55%); avoid office politics and distractions of a traditional work environment (43%); want to explore other cultures (37%); high cost of living in home country (30%); poor local job market in hometown (24%).
- The top benefits of being a digital nomad are flexible schedule (85%); no commuting (65%); freedom to live and work where I choose (65%), work-life balance (63%); no office politics (52%); no dressing up for work (51%).
- It does come with challenges such as finding reliable Wi-Fi (52%); finding a good place to work (42%); networking (35%); time zones (29%); work communications (20%).
- 88% report that being a digital nomad has had a huge improvement or positive impact on their lives.
When it comes to earnings, 18% of digital nomads report making six figures or more and 22% make between $50,000 and $99,999. This is a pretty good figure when compared to what the average U.S worker earns ( $46,641 a year according to the Social Security Administration) combine that with living in a place with a lower cost of living, and you’d easily figure out why the digital nomad lifestyle works well for a lot of people.
How to Get Started as a Digital Nomad
1. Assess your ability to become location independent - There are many factors that play into this decision. Are you paying a mortgage on your own house? Do you own a car? Do you have pets? Do you have children that still go to school? All these are probably tying you down to one location, which can make constant travelling or moving to another country much harder. It isn’t just the big things either. Your ownership of material things can also make that decision difficult. If you’re preparing to jump into the digital nomad lifestyle, you need to get rid of the things you can’t bring with you on the road. Prepare to travel light.
2. Consider other people when making the decision - If you’re single, the people you would most likely discuss the decision with would be your parents and close circle of friends. According to the FlexJob survey, 61% of digital nomads are married, 31% of them travel with their partner full time and 26% have children under 18. The constant traveling will affect other members of your family, so make that decision together and find out what would work best for you as a couple and as a family.
3. Identify your skills - Not all jobs would allow you to become a digital nomad. You could start with freelance gigs to start earning a small income. Skills that would allow you to do that include writing, digital marketing, web design, teaching English online, administrative skills, IT skills, data entry, project management and art & creative skills.
4. Scale your income stream - Most digital nomads transition into full-time remote work to earn enough to fully support their lifestyle and travel needs. Others spin out what they know into business that earn automatically while they travel. For instance, successful bloggers could offer advertising space on their website. Some put together courses on how to make money online. Others sell downloadable material such as e-books. Having that source of repeat income without exerting any extra effort is what makes the digital nomad life sustainable.
5. Decide on your destination - The possibilities of where you can stay for your first destination are endless. Think about what you need in terms of connectivity. While the island life is always going to be a dream, you need to check if the logistics of living in one would still allow you to support your tech needs to keep your main source of income. You can join global digital nomad communities such as Nomad List, to help you research on destinations based on internet speed, safety and cost of living.
6. Prepare the essentials - There are a few things you need to have before you go on your first trip as a digital nomad. To start off you will need:
- Travel essentials: You need your passport, visas to the countries you plan to travel to, driver's license, international travel insurance, and international currencies.
- Financials: Set up bank accounts and global payment methods (PayPal, Transferwise, Western Union, Payoneer, Tipali, Xoom and Stripe are some that come to mind). You should also consider having an emergency fund set up before you go on your first trip.
- Communication: This means having access to the internet wherever you go, having accounts with Skype, Google Meet and Zoom. It may also be ideal to still have a postal address which could be a physical address in your home country or at least a P.O. box.
- Health: Don’t forget to have all your doctor’s notes and prescriptions with you before you travel. If you wear glasses, get lenses changed to the correct grade before you go. Take care of any dental needs as well. Depending on where you are, dental, medical and vision plans can be quite expensive and will eat into your budget if you don’t plan ahead.
- Technology and Tools: You will need a laptop, mobile phone, battery charger, hot spot and wall power adapters.
7. Put your game plan together - Create a timeline of when you will be leaving, what you need to do before you leave, emergency contacts you need to establish, groups you need to join to keep you sane during the transition and any other to-do list that needs to be done before you fully dive into your new life. Put it in writing so you don’t forget things.
So, if you’re serious about making that shift to a digital nomad lifestyle, start working towards your goal then dive in with some hard work, a little luck, and a lot of courage.