Becoming a Digital Nomad – What to Expect and How to Make the Leap

As job descriptions go, ‘digital nomad’ has to be one of the coolest sounding there is. And indeed, being a digital nomad certainly is very cool and has a ton of amazing advantages when compared to ‘normal’ jobs.

To be more accurate though, the term isn’t so much a job title as it is a lifestyle choice that refers specifically to the way in which someone works. A digital nomad can in fact do any job as long as it’s online and as long as it’s ‘remote’. A digital nomad is someone who doesn’t need an office then and who is ‘untethered’ from any one physical location. As long as they have a laptop and an internet connection, they can work from pretty much anywhere in the world.

These then are people who upload photos to Facebook of themselves sitting on a deckchair with a beer alongside the caption “another busy day in the office!”. In other words, they’re the people who everyone else loathes… and definitely envies.

Why Become a Digital Nomad?

These days, an increasing number of jobs don’t require any physical presence. If you work mostly on a computer, then chances are that you can do your job just as well from the Maldives as you can from your office. These jobs include writers, accountants, consultants, lawyers, proofreaders, editors – even managers in some circumstances. Being self-employed makes this even easier but you don’t have to be self-employed by any means as long as the organization you work for is forward thinking and happy to have a ‘decentralized’ approach. WordPress is a famous example of a company with an entirely decentralized employment, with team members in almost every country.

Often, becoming a digital nomad will require you to make a few changes to your routine and your workflow. Once you’ve done that though, it’s surprisingly easy to adapt and the rewards are huge.

The most obvious reward of course is the simple fact that you don’t have to work in an office. This means no suit/uniform, no boss breathing over your shoulder, no grey cubicles and no commute. Commuting to work can sometimes take up 1-2 hours of your day. Hours where you’re certainly not relaxing or having fun but you’re not being paid either! The same goes for your lunch break.

Simply by working from home you would save yourself 2-3 hours a day which you could use to pursue hobbies, go to the gym and generally be happier and freer. But the fact that you can be anywhere you want to while you’re working means that you can be much more ambitious than that. You can work when you want and where you want, so why not work in the New York bar in Tokyo while watching the locals come and go? Why not sit on a beach in Croatia and watch the turtles pass you by? Then, in the evening, you can go and sample amazing food, explore the surroundings and generally live a life of adventure.

Being a digital nomad is essentially a lifestyle choice that brings you as close as possible to being completely free. This then lets you see the world and meet amazing people and generally means an escape from the rat race.

The Challenges

That isn’t to say that being a digital nomad is easy however. And neither is it for everyone – not by a long shot. In fact, being a digital nomad can be incredibly hard at times and you will definitely get out of it what you put in.

To help prepare you for the potential rigors of this lifestyle, let’s take a look at some of the challenges that come from being a digital nomad. We’ll split these into ‘work challenges’ and ‘lifestyle challenges’.

Work Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for digital nomads is the struggle of balancing their work life and their free time. If you’re travelling then you will have high outgoings, so to afford that you need to make sure you’re generating a big profit.

In some cases, this can result in a situation where you’re sitting in a café at 12am still typing while the night life is thriving all around you. Being in a foreign country is only an amazing experience if you can actually spend some time looking around. The other scenario is that you spend too much time exploring and struggle to make enough profit. This can result in being stuck in a foreign country sans funding. As you can imagine, this is also less than ideal. If you are going to succeed as a digital nomad then, you need to make sure you have a working business model first that is reliably generating income without taking up all of your free time. Passive income is preferable, though not necessarily required.

Another reason that passive income is preferable when possible, is the time difference. This is another challenge you’ll face as a digital nomad and especially if you are working for an employer. Time differences when travelling abroad mean that you can struggle to arrange online meetings with your clients and business partners and they can mean you end up working late hours. If part of your job is taking calls, then you can have your work number forwarded to your mobile phone but this can still mean answering business calls at 3am.

Of course one of the biggest challenges with working online while travelling though is the quest for WiFi. And not just WiFi but power sockets as well. It’s not unusual as a digital nomad to find yourself desperately searching around for a place to plug in your laptop or for a café that offers free WiFi. Some areas are great for this but others are less so. And sometimes it’s the places without the WiFi that you would really rather be…

Lifestyle Challenges

The other kinds of challenges you’ll face as a digital nomad are the lifestyle challenges. These are all the things you would normally face when on holiday only much worse because you’ll be out there for months or even years. These include things like loneliness – which is a real problem when travelling all on your own – missing your creature comforts, fitting your whole life into a single bag, trying to find places to wash your clothes, being unable to save any money and being trapped in a foreign country unable to speak the language when you get ill or have your bag stolen.

This isn’t to put you off of the idea of being a digital nomad – rather it’s just to make sure that you are completely aware of the challenges going in. Bloggers will often post pictures of them typing on their computers with huge waterfalls behind them. Rarely do they post pictures of themselves lugging huge backpacks around rough neighborhoods in the middle of the night trying to find a coffee and some WiFi…

Is it For You?

So is being a digital nomad for you? That all depends on your general disposition. If you’re someone who is happy spending time on their own, who wants to see the world and who is okay being away from their creature comforts, then this is one of the most rewarding experiences you can possibly have. And now is the only time in the history of mankind that it’s possible. That’s pretty amazing.

What also helps is to already have a successful online business model and to generally be a disciplined ‘self-starter’ who can work without a rigid structure to guide them.

You might also choose to be a digital nomad if you consider yourself someone who is ‘psychologically unemployable’. In other words, if the idea of coming to the same office every single day for the rest of your life is enough to drive you completely mad, then you should definitely think about breaking free and travelling the world.

Remember though: if you do try being a digital nomad and you find that it’s too much of a challenge, then you can always just come home. That’s the great thing about this, you’re free to do whatever you want!

How to Become a Digital Nomad

If you’ve made it this far and you’re still excited at the prospect of working online while travelling the world, then it sounds like you’ve got what it takes. The next question is: how do you become a digital nomad?

The first step is to decide how you’re going to keep earning. You can ask your current boss whether it’s possible for you to work entirely remotely if you like where you’re working currently and if that doesn’t work then you can always try applying to more flexible jobs. If you find that your employers are resistant at first, then you can try gradually warming them up to the idea by taking longer and longer breaks and working while you’re away.

More often though, being a digital nomad means working for yourself and ‘unjobbing’. This means having money without having a job. Sounds good doesn’t it?

So what are your unjobbing options? Here are some ways you can earn money entirely online that are suitable for remote working:

  • Being a copywriter for websites and online businesses
  • Being a digital marketer
  • Being an affiliate marketer
  • Running a monetized blog
  • Monetizing a YouTube account
  • Selling a digital product such as an eBook or an app
  • Offering consultation
  • Day trading
  • Professional online gambling
  • Web design
  • Graphic design
  • Photography

There are many more besides these but of course you don’t have to limit yourself to just one. Often it’s possible to combine multiple revenue streams and thus to become far more resilient to losing clients etc.

The best forms of income for the digital nomad are passive forms. These are the kinds that generate money while you’re asleep – such as selling digital products or running a website. While you still need to put time in, these are great because they don’t involve ‘trading’ your time for money. You can find plenty of information on all these topics by just browsing the web. Decide which business model appeals to you most and then start reading up.

If you’re currently employed and you want to gain your financial independence, then you can start out by earning money in the evenings or at the weekends. You only need to leave your job once you start making enough money to support yourself. By using this process to wean yourself off, you remove the risk and fear of simply handing in your notice and praying you figure out a way to earn money.

What You’ll Need

If you do decide to embrace the digital nomad lifestyle and you successfully ditch your day job, there are a few things that can help to make your transition that much easier. Here are just a few:

  • A microfiber towel – These are towels that fold flat and dry almost instantly. They’re perfect for travelling and are an absolute must.
  • A small laptop – Great options include Windows 8.1 tablets (with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse) or perhaps a MacBook Air or ChromeBook.
  • A dongle – Various dongles can help you to get online from any remote location. Often they’re free but with the caveat that you have to watch ads etc.
  • The 4 Hour Workweek – This is the book that practically invented lifestyle design and it’s an absolute must-read if you’re at all interested in this subject. You should also read Vagabonding.
  • Skype – And Vonage for making international calls.
  • Google Docs – The cloud becomes a serious asset for remote workers and Google Docs is one of the best implementations of that.
  • Google Drive/OneDrive/DropBox – Likewise, some kind of cloud storage is also a must.
  • iTranslate – Rarely will a translation app ever be so vital to your lifestyle.
  • Eyemask and earbuds – Just trust me on this one!

The Third Way

If you don’t feel ready to commit to the digital nomad lifestyle but still want your freedom, if you love hot baths too much but can’t stand another day in the office, then there is a third option.

Being a digital nomad is only one example of ‘lifestyle design’. Lifestyle design simply means using modern tools and resources in order to create the lifestyle you want. For some people that means a life of travel and adventure – for others it means staying in bed and eating pop-tarts. The point is that it’s up to you. You are not beholden to anyone and life was meant to be lived.

If you don’t feel like spending weeks abroad then why not work from a local coffee shop instead? Or why not work from different scenic spots in your home town? You could meet your friends on their lunch breaks and when you felt like it you could visit other countries for a few days or a few weeks without having to ask anyone for permission. Or maybe you’d just choose to stay at home with your kids a little more? You could wear what you want, work out as much as you need and generally live whatever kind of life you want.

Being a digital nomad is certainly not for everyone. But lifestyle design truly is and when you discover it, everything changes.

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