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Digital Nomad Guide

How to Become a Digital Nomad

Who Can Become a Digital Nomad?

Anyone can become a digital nomad. There is no official certification, qualification, or other formal process for becoming a digital nomad.

Technology has already given us the freedom to be able to work from anywhere in the world, with only a laptop and a WiFi connection. But how many people actually take advantage of that freedom? Do you?

I do.

I checked out of the rat race and never looked back. Now I live life on my own terms. I’ve visited, lived in, and worked from hundreds of cities across more than 50 countries around the world.

I’ve taken the lessons that I learned living as a digital nomad since 2012, and helping others on their journeys, and put them together into this guide for you.

What is a digital nomad?

Digital Nomad is another way of saying, “a person who works online while traveling.” It’s a lifestyle choice made possible by the existence of the internet.

The digital in digital nomad refers to the idea that many jobs, especially knowledge work like programming, graphic design, and online marketing, are performed on a computer. Unlike in traditional jobs, the people performing these jobs often do not need to be physically present in one specific location. Instead, they are able to work from anywhere, so long as they have access to a reliable internet connection.

A nomad is someone who moves from place to place, instead of settling permanently in one location. In the case of a digital nomad, the nomad part refers to taking advantage of the freedom of being able to work from anywhere. So, instead of only working from their office, home, or a coffee shop in their home town, a digital nomad thinks, “If I can work from here, why can’t I work from Bangkok? Barcelona? Or a beach in Brazil?”

How Do Digital Nomads Make Money?

If you want to become a digital nomad with the freedom to travel whenever and wherever you want, then you are going to need a way to make money that doesn’t tie you to one specific location.

By definition, digital nomads make money by working online, usually from a laptop computer. But just because digital nomads work online doesn’t mean that they are all doing the same thing. 

There is a common stereotype that all digital nomads are computer programmers. In reality, there are many different ways to make money online and types of jobs that you can do as a digital nomad…

Entrepreneur

One way to make money as a digital nomad is to by running your own business. I have started a few businesses myself and also worked with many business owners over the years. In fact, I’ve spent most of my career so far working with startups and small businesses to grow their businesses, and I encourage anyone who wants to start a business to go for it… 

But I also caution them (and you) that starting a business is a lot of work and it comes with certain risks. It’s rare for a business to make money in the beginning. Most businesses take time and money to get going. Make sure you factor that in, especially if your goal is to find a way to become a digital nomad as soon as possible.

Freelancer

Another way to make money as a digital nomad is by doing freelance work for clients. Many of the digital nomads that I have met are freelancers. They do things like software and mobile app development, UX / design, social media marketing and management, online advertising, copywriting, search engine optimization, accounting, and writing. In fact, for just about any type of job that can be done from a computer, you can find digital nomads that are doing it as freelancers. 

Freelancers have more freedom than employees. They can set their own rates and usually their own hours too. But that freedom comes with more responsibility — freelancers have to find work. Some digital nomad freelancers act more like employees, doing all of their work for one or two main clients. Others sell their services to many clients, often on freelance marketplaces online. 

Employee

The third option, and one that I think is often overlooked by people who want to become digital nomads, is to find a job that lets you work remotely as an employee. More and more companies are embracing remote work and allowing their employees to work from wherever they want to. Some companies are fully remote and have no office at all. 

There are definite advantages that come with being an employee. Once you have the job, you usually don’t have to “sell yourself” over and over again. As an employee, you get to wake up in the morning knowing who you work for, what kind of work you need to do, and how much money you will make for doing it. The same cannot always be said for freelancers and entrepreneurs. Depending on the job, you may get additional benefits like health insurance, paid time off, and parental leave too.

If this sounds like a good fit for you, then check out my free guide: How to Find a Remote Job.

How do digital nomads afford to travel constantly?

It’s a common misconception that travel has to be expensive. The reasoning usually goes something like this: “Last year I went on vacation to Las Vegas (or London, Disney World, etc) for a week and spent $5,000! There’s no way I could afford to live like that full-time!”

The truth is that traveling full-time probably costs less than you think, and it may even cost less than your current lifestyle at home.

There are a few “secrets” that digital nomads and other experienced travelers know and use to minimize their costs while maximizing the amount of time that they are able to travel.

Live Like a Temporary Local

Live like a temporary local, not like a tourist. Living like a temporary local allows you to maximize your connection to the place you’re visiting and minimize your costs.

Tourists stay in hotels. Locals live in apartments or houses in real neighborhoods.

Tourists eat in convenient restaurants, close to the main attractions. Locals buy groceries and cook at home, eat street food, or venture to an out-of-the-way restaurant that specializes in one particular dish or cuisine.

Tourists rent cars and take taxis. Locals walk, bike, or take the subway.

Living like a temporary local is the single most important tip to remember when traveling. You will save money, have a more interesting experience, and be less likely to burn out from travel.

Eliminate expenses back home

Unlike digital nomads, most people with traditional jobs and lifestyles are only able to travel for a few days or weeks at a time. That makes travel more expensive, because all of the costs are in addition to your regular cost of living. One common example is paying for a night in a hotel, when you’ve already paid rent for the same night for your apartment back home.

One of the many advantages of long-term travel is being able to eliminate your expenses back home. How? Terminate your lease, or if you own your home, rent it to someone else. Sell your car. Look through your credit card and bank statements to identify recurring charges.  Then cancel any insurance, subscriptions, and other services that you won’t need while traveling. Be ruthless about it.

Once you eliminate your expenses back home, you can actually save money by traveling to a place with a lower cost of living than your home.

Don’t buy stuff you don’t need

If you spend time around digital nomads and perpetual travelers, you’ll soon notice that there is a big overlap between people who travel full-time and people who practice minimalism.  That makes sense — it’s easier to travel when you have less stuff to carry around.

But it goes deeper than purely practical concerns. The common thread between minimalism and nomadism is an understanding that buying stuff doesn’t make you happy. In fact, buying stuff might actually make you less happy. Sure, there is an initial glee period that accompanies every new purchase, but that almost always fades away after a couple of months, weeks, or even days. It is then replaced by a feeling of ambivalence, or occasionally, regret.

Trade having lots of stuff for having lots of experiences instead.