Have you ever wondered how life on the road really looks like? It’s a complex form of living and then again it’s the simplest way you’ve ever dreamed of. It includes living out of a suitcase, travelling to anywhere you want (and where there’s WIFI) and so much more. But it also means that you have to take care of a few things that common life doesn’t require. Want to know which are these things? Here is your ultimate guide to a digital nomad’s life!
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Life on the Road: All You Need to Know About How to Become a Digital Nomad
The Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal. What does each of these spectacular world landmarks have in common? Well, for some of us, each of these locations could be an office with a million dollar view. Remote work offers the best of both worlds to the tech-savvy and adventurous among us. Sightseeing while you work can be a dream, and you don’t need much to get started. Oftentimes all you need is a functional computer, a good internet connection, and an entrepreneurial spirit to become a modern-day digital nomad!
For today’s digital nomads, the possibilities are just emerging as increasingly more companies offer remote contracts or the ability to work from home. With a bit of planning and determination, you can join the ranks of other global nomads making a living on the road.
1. Establish Your Goals
For digital nomads, the end goal is generally to travel while working and create some kind of sustainable income. Although the popular image may be one of whipping out your laptop poolside, enjoying a cocktail — it’s not that simple (or practical!) to do.
The digital nomad is often envisioned as a 20 or 30-something Millennial having the right profession to combine travel and work, but you can hit the road at any age.
The life of a nomad is a balance between working on-the-go and enjoying new culture and sightseeing. It doesn’t always mean you have to leave the country — plenty of nomads spend their time exploring the diversity of culture in their own backyard without ever setting foot on the tarmac. A simple camper van and a sense of adventure can easily satisfy your urge to get out of town for a while.
2. Identify Your Skill Set and Income Sources
The most common question asked by nomadic wannabes is how they can get started. It’s not that hard if you already have the right skill set. If you aren’t lucky enough to have that perfect work-abroad job offer, develop your talent and create a situation where you can work digitally. Create sources of passive and active income as you embark on your journey.
- Have a journalism degree? Establish a freelance practice before you set out.
- Are you an educator? Many tutoring programs have moved online.
- Have some other tech-savvy skill? Try blogging, web design, or creating a podcast.
- Rent your permanent home while you travel.
- Create an online store to generate income.
- Write and promote a book and publish it online.
Whatever your talent, you can move it abroad under the right conditions. Develop your income before you set off. Have a plan in place and create a timeline. It’s not a bad idea to have more than one source of income just in case.
3. Expect Hurdles to Your Nomadic Life
Many a global nomad enjoys the good life for several years, only to find that things get… complicated. Marriage, changes in health, babies, ageing parents, long-term plans and retirement plans all begin to emerge as potential hurdles. You may miss the boat on buying your first home or begin to see cracks in your social circle as you travel. Just like in any job, being a digital nomad means accepting that:
- Loneliness is to be expected.
- One day, you can return home, wherever that may be.
- It’s never too early to plan for retirement.
Just as in the typical “day-to-day” grind, you will find yourself with items to take care of on your personal agenda. Health insurance, paying the bills, and taking care of family do not disappear when you venture on the path of global nomadism.
4. Complete a Trial Run
If you find yourself questioning whether or not life on the road is for you, it’s not a bad idea to complete a trial run before you throw in the towel on your 9 to 5. Take a break or a holiday first, and see if you can make it work.
Before putting in your notice, book a ticket to your location of choice with the intention to work as you go. Your aim here is work/life integration, not a vacation. This will allow you to work out the kinks before the real departure.
5. Choose Your Location … Wisely
The global nomad can live anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they should. Choosing your locale to suit a budget is not only smart but it saves you the headache of relocating when things go south. Choose your location based on your income and don’t overstretch your budget. The same rules apply anywhere. Here are some tips:
- Try affordable locations first. Southeast Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe are all great budget starting points. It’s like finding a starter home — once you know you can make it there, move on to pricier areas if you feel ready!
- Stay long-term first. It takes several months to establish yourself in a location. Before bouncing off to the next country or city, plan to stay in each location for several months or a couple of years at a stretch. This helps you get to know the ins and outs before moving on.
- Save before you go. Never start your nomadic experience in debt or without a financial plan. It’s a recipe for Couchsurfing disaster! Pay your debts before you go or at least know that you have enough saved to pay the bills for the next six months before setting off.
Remember, if you have financial or personal problems, they won’t go away just because you did. Whatever baggage you travel with (be it emotional or financial) will follow you wherever you go. Deal with your reality before departure to make sure you plan is successful.
6. Say Goodbye to Tradition
As a digital nomad, your life may diverge quite drastically from others in your social circle. This adventure comes with a trade-off. There will be no white-picket fence in your nomadic future, and you may find yourself cutting ties more frequently.
- Be prepared for a moment when you question your decisions and be prepared to adjust accordingly.
- Check in with yourself from time to time. Are you okay missing out on milestones and trading that for the travel experience?
- Surround yourself with other nomads who “get it.” Don’t be afraid to let go of friendships temporarily as you experience this new lifestyle.
The quiet life, working at the same place for your entire life and settling down just don’t always work well when you’re spending more of your time on the road. Be prepared to hunker down wherever it works in the moment and move on when opportunities have been exhausted.
7. Don’t Brush Off Visas or Taxes
If there’s one piece of smart advice we can offer, it’s this: taxes and visas are a given. Neglecting these two areas can leave you in some pretty serious trouble. Many an adventurer sets out without obtaining appropriate financial advice regarding taxes. Or perhaps, it seems adventurous to “just go” and “see what happens.” We strongly advise against doing this. You still need to have a plan!
- Depending on your country of residence, not filing taxes can come with swift penalties.
- As a global nomad, you are likely self-employed. Seek out advice on filing taxes before you go.
- Never enter a country without the appropriate visa or travel document and always register at the embassy if you go abroad.
In the case of a natural disaster or other unforeseen event (it happens more often than you think), be prepared to have an escape plan. Make sure you copy all your documents and have a close friend or family member guard them back home just in case. Or, keep copies of important financial information including taxes close to you at all times.
8. Protect Your Most Important Companion
Speaking of cutting corners, this is one you don’t want to mess with! We’ve heard it all. Journalists who go abroad only to lose entire interviews and data on the road. Designers left with no editing equipment. Videographers with no tape.
- Protect your gear and guard it with your life! Insure it, hide it when not in use, and back it up.
- It’s likely most of your work while on-the-go is done via your laptop or even your phone or iPad, so don’t leave your gadgets unprotected. Invest in cases or other protective gear that functions as a barrier against drops and damage.
- Invest in luggage and gear that doesn’t impede transit through customs. Keep things moving along with a suitcase that is versatile and modern.
Get your travel and tec gear before you start your digital nomad life:
Pick a few simple tricks of the trade if you plan to venture abroad on your nomadic journey. Take it from us, time saved equals money earned while you wait for your flight!
Get Started Today
Being a digital nomad does involve a lot of forethought and work, but the payoff is worth it. With the right attitude and willingness to plan, your business could be up and running within a few short months. In search of more advice? Many digital communities are thriving on social media, so do a quick search and connect with other nomads in your area of choice. Happy travels!
About the Author:
Katie Tejada (McDaniel) is a writer, editor, and travel enthusiast. With a love for adventure and the great outdoors, she spends much of her time writing outside.