How to Become a Digital Nomad (and Travel the World)

Young woman working on laptop at the beach with coconut cocktail

For some people, the idea of spending the rest of their working life in the same cubicle of the same office can be suffocating. Encountering the same boss, the same colleagues and the same stale routine every single day is enough to make anyone consider jumping ship, yet few ever actually take the plunge and find out if the grass elsewhere really is greener.

Those that do, however, lead a totally different kind of life. Known as digital nomads, they travel the world free of burden, funding their wanderlust through the accumulation of revenue earned online. While this kind of independent, carefree lifestyle might initially sound like a pipe dream, it’s actually more viable than you may think.

Indeed, if you have an itch to constantly be on the move, and you possess the requisite skills to support yourself, becoming a digital nomad is more than just an excuse to get out of the office – it could be the defining career move that you’ve been waiting for. So, why not throw off the shackles, and give this unique and desirable life a try?

If you’re ready, this is how to become a digital nomad…

Firstly, What Exactly IS a Digital Nomad?

As mentioned, digital nomads travel the world, living for varying amounts of time in different locations, while supporting themselves financially online. It’s different to being a backpacker or an expat, where you would try to find casual work or even a full-time position in your new country. Instead, every cent that you earn is made over the internet, with the idea being that you can do the same thing wherever you are.

This could entail being a digital marketer, for example, running Google ads, affiliate campaigns or PPC campaigns. In fact, due to the passive nature of the income, online marketing is a particularly popular choice of profession among digital nomads. It could also mean freelancing, too, utilising popular job ad platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork to undertake projects on the move.

Alternatively, if you prefer a more ‘stable’ income source, you don’t necessarily need to be self-employed. Indeed, if your company allows remote working, then you could exchange that cubicle for a sandy beach somewhere, reaping all the benefits of the lifestyle without compromising on your career advancement prospects.


Who Can Be a Digital Nomad?

In theory, anybody can be a digital nomad; all you need is a laptop and a reliable internet connection, after all. In practice, though, you need to be proficient in a skill or profession where you will be able to reliably make money.

The good news is that there are a whole host of digital nomad jobs that are compatible with the freelance market, including but not limited to:

  • programming
  • software and app development
  • web design
  • data analysis
  • graphic design and illustration
  • copywriting and content writing
  • proofreading and editing
  • virtual assistance
  • translation
  • digital marketing
  • social media marketing and strategy
  • SEO
  • accounting.

If you’re trained, certified or experienced in any of the above, then you already have one foot firmly in the digital nomad door. If you’re looking to do things entirely on your own terms, though, then you could consider other means of collecting those digital dollars.

If you possess an entrepreneurial streak, then starting a business is one way to fund your exciting new lifestyle; you might want to establish yourself first, but once you have created a steady stream of income, there’s nothing to stop you from jumping on the next plane out. It’s also been proven in recent years that it’s possible to make a full-time living from blogging or even positioning yourself as a social media influencer. In short, if you don’t need a bricks-and-mortar building in which to do your thing, then there’s no reason why you can’t be a digital nomad.


What Should You Consider?

Of course, there are still things to consider; if it was as easy as heading to the Bahamas and simply plugging into the hotel WiFi, then everybody would be doing it.

Often, these issues are unforeseen, but they can still represent a potential spanner in the works. If you’re asked by a client to audit their financial statements, for instance, then there could be cross-border taxation issues depending on the territory you’re based in at the time. Alternatively, if you’re analysing a particularly sensitive data set, you could accidentally fall afoul of strict international hosting laws.

There could be political issues that interfere with your work, too. If you’re based in China, for example, you will find that your internet access is severely curtailed – not an ideal situation when your entire livelihood depends upon being online. You would need to use a reliable and credible VPN, which, although solving the problem, could still result in additional expenditure costs.

As long as you understand that there may be hiccups, though, then you should be fine. Indeed, the risks that you take are a key part of the digital nomad lifestyle and adapting and responding to the unique circumstances of your surroundings is all part of the adventure.

So, How Do You Get Started?

If your mind is made up, you’re fully committed to making such a drastic change and, most importantly, you’ve got a definitive plan for keeping your funds topped up, then you need to start preparing your departure. Before that, though, there are a few key items of business that you should deal with before you leave.

1. Settle Any Debts

If you’re straddled with debt, then it’s not a good idea to give up the security of a guaranteed monthly salary. After all, just because you’re on the other side of the world, it doesn’t mean that your existing financial obligations are going to disappear. In fact, falling behind on payments will make everything 10 times worse, so either find a way to settle your debts or put your digital nomad dream on hold until your financial landscape is looking a little brighter.

2. Make a Decision on Your Property

If you’re renting, then this isn’t such a big deal, but if you own your own property, you need to decide what you’re going to do with it. If you’re fully dedicated to upping sticks, you could sell your property, using the funds as a secure safety net. However, if you find the lifestyle isn’t for you, or you want to return home after a few years of travelling, then you need to consider if this is a wise decision in the long term.

Alternatively, you could rent your home while you’re away, which will provide you with extra monthly revenue. You will need to hire the services of a property management representative to deal with any tenant issues while you’re away, though.

3. Get Rid of Your Possessions

It’s not just your living space that you need to sort out, but everything that’s in it, too. You can’t take all your stuff with you across the world, so you should consider selling it all online or in a garage sale – the money you make can even fund your initial travelling and living costs until you get into the groove of things.

Inevitably, there will be a few possessions that you don’t want to part with, whether for sentimental or financial reasons. Therefore, you may need to pay in advance for a storage unit, which becomes an extra added cost. If possible, ask a friend or family member to look after your more valuable things while you’re away, giving you peace of mind and minimising your outgoings.

4. Make Sure You’re Reachable

While you’re away, people are going to need to know how to get hold of you – and not just for personal reasons, but for business, too. This means that you’ll need to buy an unlocked mobile phone (ie: one that isn’t tied to a particular network) which, although costing more, has the benefit of being compatible with any SIM card in any country.

5. Get Flexible Health Insurance

Nobody likes paying for health insurance when they’re abroad, but it’s far more preferable to the costs you’ll incur if disaster strikes and you’re not covered. Let’s face it: if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time, odds are you will require medical assistance at some point, so find a flexible policy that’s valid in all the countries you intend to visit.

6. Bring the Right Kind of Credit Card

One of the downsides of international travel is having to pay extra fees in order to access your own cash. Luckily, some credit card providers, such as American Express, waive these fees.


Where Should You Stay?

Once you’re debt, possession and property-free, your digital nomad odyssey can begin in earnest. In keeping with the spirit of the lifestyle, where you choose to go and what you choose to do is, of course, completely up to you. It’s a good idea to know where you’ll be staying when you get there, though, and you should be aware of the various options available to you.

Of course, staying in a hotel or private apartment is one option but, unless you’re making the big bucks, you may find that most of your earnings will disappear fairly quickly. Utilising more cost-friendly mediums such as Airbnb or CouchSurfing will not just save you money but also help you to get a unique flavour of the local culture while you’re away (the whole reason, presumably, that you’re travelling in the first place).

Essentially, that’s all there is to it – proof, as you can see, that becoming a digital nomad is far less daunting than it sounds. Whether you’re a freelancer, an entrepreneur or a digital marketing wizard, there’s an entirely sustainable and dynamic lifestyle out there waiting for you, with your location, your hours and, most importantly, your happiness dependent on just one thing: you.

If this sounds like the perfect way of living, then why not give it a try; what, after all, have you got to lose?

Do you live the digital nomad life? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!