The recent hype surrounding the digital nomad lifestyle is enough to give anyone with a travel bug pause. It may seem like the perfect lifestyle: the freedom to travel wherever you want, with the freedom to work at whatever time of day you choose. But that freedom comes at a cost – and it’s important to seriously consider the drawbacks that might come with those perks if you’re thinking about trying it out for yourself. If you’re still convinced this is the life for you, here’s our ultimate guide to becoming a digital nomad.
What the Digital Nomad Lifestyle is Like
Amid all the Instagram pictures of beaches and sunny cafe windows, you might be wondering what the digital nomad lifestyle is really like. Think of the times you’ve been travelling before: not just the highlight reel, but what it was like in the airport, the time it takes to orient yourself, and all of the other effort that goes into finding whatever you came there for. Add deadlines on top of that, and it can be very intense for a person who doesn’t love travelling and a bit of risk. However, if you’re the type of person that loves an adventure, and enjoys figuring things out on the fly, then the risk and work of figuring out a new place and how to work there can be its own reward.
If you’ve ever asked yourself if the digital nomad lifestyle is a worthwhile pursuit or just a trend, it’s both: digital nomads are notorious for their colourful Instagram updates, but there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved in getting them. People who say it’s “just a trend” say so because they assume that those interested in it don’t really know what it takes. But working holidays have been around for a long time; the only thing that makes digital nomads different is that their work is done primarily online rather than being tied to the country they’re staying in.
How do I Become a Digital Nomad?
How you become a digital nomad depends on what type of work you do online, how much money you make from it, and what type of travel you want to do. Here are the top three important decisions that will determine what being a digital nomad will look like for you.
How will I Make a Living?
It’s a good idea to first make sure you have a fairly stable way of making money online. Chances are, if you’re considering being a digital nomad, you already have acheived this step – but even if you haven’t, there are often ways to monetize more traditional jobs by doing them online as a freelancer or consultant. For example, if you’re an accountant but want to find more work digitally, it’s possible to offer your services online, either as an accountant or as a consultant offering advice to businesses. However, if you choose to make money, it’s important to first do your research and test the waters with part-time work before diving in headfirst. Once you have some job stability online, it’s time for the next step.
Where will I Travel?
Where you’ll travel to depends on how much money you earn, and how much savings you have and are willing to spend on travelling. In cities like Chiang Mai in Thailand (a known digital nomad hub) and Santiago, Chile, you’ll be able to live comfortably for a lot cheaper than you would in cities like London or San Francisco. Since digital nomads depend on having internet access, you’ll also need to do some research to make sure that your destination has WiFi. Even if your destination does have internet access, its speed in different countries can vary greatly – so know what you’re up against before you head there. Once you’ve decided on a location, you can search for resources like coworking spaces in the area, and any other things you need to do your job.
How much Savings will I Need?
It’s advisable to save up so that you’re able to support yourself and, if necessary, buy a ticket home if it’s not working out. How much you need will depend on where you want to work from, how long you want to stay, and what types of sightseeing you want to do. If you’re travelling to a low-cost city in Thailand or Singapore, you won’t need to be making nearly as much as you would to support yourself in a city like New York or San Francisco. Make a budget based on your current earnings and future destination, with a contingency plan for what happens if you aren’t able to make as much as you’d hoped.
Mistakes to Avoid
Treating your digital nomad trip as a vacation
Although you might want to tick off every sightseeing adventure in your target destination, you’ll have to be committed to treating your work weeks like work weeks, and not vacation days. That may mean making some tough choices about what to see and what you can leave behind. Remember that making enough time for work will help you enjoy the time you have off much more!
Not planning in advance
Even if you’re a spontaneous person, it’s a good idea to at least plan where you’ll stay for the most part, how much money you’ll need to take with you, and how you’ll work when you’re there. You may find that planning a working vacation takes a lot more time and energy than a regular one, since finding a place to work isn’t on most travellers’ itineraries.
Not thinking about how your new lifestyle will affect your clients
It’s great for you if you’re off to Bali for a month, but if you have a client who depends on you being available at a particular time, it’s important to think about how being another time zone might affect them. Additionally, while you’re travelling, you may need some extra time to prepare projects that may have taken you less time before – so make sure you let your regular clients know that your turnaround times may change.
If you love to travel and aren’t tied down anywhere, the digital nomad lifestyle might be for you. In addition to broadening your personal horizons, it might broaden your career horizons too – and as long as you plan carefully, it’s well within your reach!