How to Become a Digital Nomad
You’ve probably heard the term “digital nomad” tossed around in conversation, but what does it mean, exactly? A digital nomad is someone who embraces technology and location independence, traveling to other cities—and even other countries—to both work remotely and explore new surroundings. Some people travel for years while others go for just a few weeks or months at a time.
There are more people who fall into this category than you might think. New research that MBO Partners conducted found that 7.3 million Americans describe themselves as digital nomads. They tend to skew young and male, with 59% being Millennials and 61% being men. The majority (56%) are full-time or part-time independent contractors, more than one-third of them say they earn $75,000 or more, and nearly four out of five report being “highly satisfied” with their work and lifestyle.
And why wouldn’t they be highly satisfied? After all, there are lots of perks. Digital nomads get to visit exotic places, escape intense weather seasons (like harsh winters or rainy summers), learn and practice new languages, meet new people, and create enviable Instagram feeds (check out the hashtags #vanlife and #vandwelling).
Are you feeling inspired to give it a try? There are a lot of online tools cropping up these days that can help. These tips, below, will help you think through the logistics and avoid making rookie mistakes.
Consider a Crash Course
There are educational training sessions you can try to learn more about digital nomadism to make sure it’s a good fit before you take the leap. For instance, the company General Assembly offers classes on the topic and there’s an annual digital nomad conference called Nomad Summit.
Figure Out Where to Go and Work
Consider destinations where the cost of living is low, so you can stretch your dollars further. For instance, Southeast Asia is a more popular location for digital nomads than, say, London, Munich, San Francisco, or New York.
Not sure which areas are most affordable? Use The Earth Awaits, an online tool that lets you plug in your budget, your family size, the size of the apartment you’re looking for, and what continent(s) you’re interested in and it’ll provide options. Another site called Nomad List can give you ideas by ranking cities all over the world on criteria like safety, walkability, Internet speed, and more.
To save the most money, plan your entire trip by yourself. You can rent a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb room in each destination and work from either there or a place that offers Wi-Fi like a co-working space, coffee shop, restaurant, or library. Some people choose to drive from city to city in a van or RV, set up a desk inside the vehicle, and use a hotspot to connect to the Internet.
But if the idea of planning everything on your own sounds intimidating, consider outsourcing that to a company like Remote Year. You pick a program and pay them a monthly fee and they’ll arrange your travel, your workspace, and cultural activities so all you have to do is pack a suitcase and enjoy the journey. For example, you could choose among programs like: 4 months in Asia; 6 months in Europe, Africa, and Latin America; or 12 months around the world.
Alternatively, you could travel to Bali, Miami, or Tokyo and stay in one of the Roam locations that offers traveling professionals a space to both co-live and co-work. There’s even something called Nomad Cruise that’s designed specifically for digital nomads who want to work at sea.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Will my health insurance cover me out of state and/or internationally? If not, consider buying travel medical insurance through a company like Safety Wing.
- How will becoming a digital nomad affect my taxes? A company like Nomad Tax may be useful.
- Do I have all the tech I’ll need to work remotely, possibly in a noisy space? You may need: a smartphone with an international phone plan, a laptop and case, a hotspot, earbuds with a mic, noise-canceling headphones, and apps like Skype, Slack, Zoom, and Trello.
- Will I be able to communicate effectively? The site Every Time Zone may help you sort through time differences quickly when making calls and Google Translate will be your friend whenever you’re struggling to interact with locals.
- Will I maintain a permanent mailing address? If not, you can rent a physical mailing address through Traveling Mailbox. The company will scan each envelope and then you advise whether to scan the contents, forward it, shred it, return it, or hold it.
- Have I joined online marketplaces so work projects will find me wherever I’m located?
- Will I incur any fees by using my credit card internationally?
- Do I need to renew my passport or apply for a visa?
- Will I bring along a pet? If so, do I need a vaccination record or health certificate from the vet?
How to Succeed
- Pay off debt. Get rid of as much debt as possible, whether it’s student loan debt, credit card debt, or another kind. On top of that, try to save a cushion of money in case of an emergency.
- Travel slowly. Think of it as a new lifestyle, rather than a vacation. Take your time so you can feel settled in one place and fully explore your new environment before hopping to the next destination. If you’re constantly moving, you might feel stressed and overwhelmed.
- Establish work hours. Working during the same regular hours creates a routine that may help you stay disciplined and also helps others know when they can reach you. These boundaries between your work life and personal life may prevent you from tipping toward one extreme or the other.
- Connect with other digital nomads. Especially if you’ll be traveling alone, look for opportunities to hang out with other digital nomads and interact with them online. Life away from home can be lonely, so it helps to socialize with companions—especially ones who completely understand your lifestyle. In fact, they may share insider tips that will help you navigate your journey even more.