Before we get started I want to first make something very clear, there is no magic formula to becoming a nomad that will help you transition from 9-5 cubical dweller to become a digital nomad. Anyone on the internet telling you there is, is blowing smoke up your ass. But, I can share some of my personal experience to help guide you to help you figure out how you can make that transition yourself.
Okay, now that’s cleared up we can get on with a little advice on becoming a nomad and how you can join the digital nomad community.
Start where you are
For the majority of people, the first step in finding digital nomad jobs is simply to look at what you are doing right now, and find a way to do it remotely. This could be pretty straightforward if you are a programmer, graphic designer, or doing literally anything else involving spending 8 hours a day on a computer.
Because the chances are if you moved that computer to a poolside in Thailand you could still do the exact same thing. What you are going to need to figure out is if you want to go it alone and set up your own business, or if you can persuade your company to let you work remotely.
If however, you are a yoga teacher or the artistic director of a dance company like I was, then you are going to have to get creative. What I had to do was look at all of the pieces of my job and figure out if there was a way of me continuing to do them while not being physically present in the office. It was pretty straight forward for me actually, I realized there was a lot I could do remotely so I made a list and then I pitched the idea to the people I worked with that I would step down as director but I would continue working for the company just doing social media, fundraising, and tour booking. They agreed to a 6-month trial and it really was as simple as that.
So start by asking yourself what do I do now? And how can I possibly make it work remotely?
If this isn’t an option for you and you are starting from scratch then you are going to have a longer road to walk, as you will likely need to retrain in a profession that is suited to the nomadic lifestyle. But never fear there are so many digital nomad jobs, it’s just finding the right one for you.
Here are a few ideas of some typical digital nomad careers:
- Digital Marketing
- Graphic Designer
- Virtual Assistant
- Social Media Manager
- Web Designer/ Developer
- Writer (author, copywriter, blogger, etc)
- Online language teacher
This is a very short list of digital nomad careers but hopefully, it might give you a few ideas.
Be careful of the snake oil peddlers…
One thing I would say is to be careful if you are planning on signing up for online courses.
These days it seems EVERYONE has an online course promising to teach you how to become a nomad or travel the world living a lavish lifestyle and just work 4 hours a week bla bla bla. It can be hard to resist and stay focused when everyone around you is peddling snake oil. But that’s what it is. Anyone telling you they can teach you how to be a Digital Nomad in 10 easy steps is a lier. There are a million and one ways to become a Digital Nomad, it’s about working out the right path for you.
I feel like it’s important to say here that there is no rush. If you are sure you want this to be a long term lifestyle then it’s important that you play the long game which means making sure you have a reliable source of income before you start to travel. Full disclosure, I didn’t have this. My first 2 years my finances were a mess and some months I barely scraped by. I wouldn’t advocate the risks I took, but if you are determined then you can do it, it’s just not the best way.
Once you have worked out what you will do for work as a digital nomad the next step is to make a loose plan of where you are going to go. I say lose because the likelihood is that your plan will change, and it should.
When I first left for Guatemala I planned to stay there for 6 weeks… I ended up there for 9 months. I went and came back several times in that time, but it was a steep learning curve. What I realized quickly was that when you are traveling and working it’s better to go slower or you will get burn out. Instead, I made Guatemala my base and I would pull long work weeks and then take time off to explore without having to worry about work. Everyone is different, but most nomads stay in one place between 1 and 3 months.
But on the flip side, listen to your gut, and if you don’t like somewhere leave early. I did that once and I have never regretted it as the next place I arrived in was magical.
Of course, there are a million other steps to becoming a digital nomad, to consider like saving money so you always have something to fall back on, making sure you have great digital nomad insurance, and then knowing what to pack to make sure you have everything you need to do your job efficiently. This one is pretty important as electrical stuff can be expensive to buy on the road in many countries as it has to be imported.
I don’t have 10 steps for you to become a digital nomad, but I do have these tips I can share with you that will hopefully help you on your journey.
Embrace the unknown
You are going to have to get really good at dealing with stressful situations and never really knowing what’s around the corner if you enter this nomadic lifestyle. It’s one of the biggest things that holds people back. You need to ask yourself some tough questions and decide where your limits are. You are going to have to learn to live with very little material possessions and always plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Get solid digital nomad insurance
Don’t even consider leaving home without insurance unless you have a huge savings account that could easily cover medical bills if something happens to you. As Nomadic Matt says, ‘if you can’t afford insurance, then you can’t afford to travel.’ and he is so right!
I used to use World Nomads and I still think they are great, but they are aimed more at backpackers and it can get very expensive. Last year I made the switch to Safety Wind Digital Nomad insurance and so far I’ve had a great experience with them. It renews each month and I can cancel anytime. It’s only $36 a month and it’s 100% worth it for having peace of mind! I wrote a post on insurance you can read here.
Invest in a VPN
If you don’t know what a VPN is, it’s a Virtual Private Network. This is a MUST for all digital nomads, and not just so you can watch Hulu (although that is a bonus!). The main reason you need a VPN as a digital nomad is because it will enable you to use the internet securely, no matter where you are in the world. This is very important if you are using public networks which arent always as secure as you would hope they are.
Get a wifi hotspot as a back-up
If there is one thing that is going to screw you over as a digital nomad, it’s not being able to get wifi. So it’s important to always have a backup. That might be getting a decent data package with your sim card so you can turn your phone into a hotspot. Or it may mean investing in something like the TEP wireless device. I personally have a TEP and although I don’t use it all the time, having it there as a backup has saved my ass on many occasions. I own my device and can top up through the app. You only pay for what you use so you aren’t tied into any long term contracts. I wrote a review on it that you can read here.
Join some Facebook groups
If you want to find the digital nomad community then you need to get joining some Facebook groups. That is where you are going to find the people who are out there living this lifestyle and will be happy to help you out offering guidance and support if you need it.
Here are 2 groups you can join right now, you may notice they are women-only groups. That’s because there is way too much Bromad energy and mansplaining in the mixed nomad groups so I exited those many years ago! Girls stick to these groups for asking questions. Feel free to join the mixed groups, but be warned it can get pretty nasty in there, especially if you ask the group anything… there is always someone with a chip on his shoulder just waiting to make a snarky comment!
Remember everyone is different
Please always remember this. Don’t compare yourself to others. It can be really hard when you read things online especially when you see all those snake oil peddling Facebook ads. But it’s important to stay true to yourself and remember this is your journey and it’s not going to look the same as anyone else.
I know nomads who stay in the cheapest hostel dorms they can find. I know nomads who travel in RV’s or book expensive Airbnb’s with pools overlooking the beach. Everyone is going to have different budgets and most importantly different priorities. Work out what’s right for you and try not to compare yourself to others, especially if they are further along than you.
I was a MESS my first year traveling. 3 years in an I’m earning much more money and my needs are very different. I only got to where I am now by figuring out what works for me.
There is no rush and you don’t need to go far
Firstly it’s a good idea before booking a one-way ticket to the other side of the world that you do a few trial runs. There is no rush to leave.
Go when you are ready and not before. I know people who worked from home for 4 years before ever leaving to travel somewhere new. If you are nervous then try booking some short trips. Maybe try out a new city in your country. Then a neighboring country. You can just do a few month-long trips to see how it feels.
There is no shame in deciding it’s not for you
This follows on from my last tip, there is nothing wrong with deciding this isn’t the lifestyle for you and going back to your old life. Being a digital nomad can be seriously tough on your mental and physical health. Becoming a digital nomad isn’t going to magically solve all your problems, it could make them worse. I had a friend who returned home after 4 months because her anxiety went through the roof. But on the flip side becoming a digital noman is the best thing to ever happen to my anxiety. So you just never know!
I have an auto-immune disease which can be very difficult to manage on the road. From making sure I have enough medication, through to dealing with the physical effects when I’m alone in a new country. It’s not easy but for me, it’s worth it.
If you become a digital nomad and things don’t work out the way you hoped they would then there is no shame at all in going home. It’s a brave thing you did in the first place, so remember that.
Visas – Know the rules and stick to them
The longer you are nomading the more anxiety you are going to feel when crossing borders. Well, that’s been my experience anyway, and I know many other nomads feel the same. Some countries are relaxed and others aren’t. So before you travel to a new country find out what the situation on the ground is like:
- Do you need proof of onward travel (some countries won’t let you enter without this)
- How long can you stay?
- Do you need a pre-approved visa
- Can you extend your stay? And if so how can you do it?
There are many countries that are nomad friendly and some that aren’t. Do a bit of research online and ask in some Facebook groups if you have any concerns.
Your work environment is important
Finding accommodation can be tricky, especially if you want somewhere to work from. Personally, I have a few different ways of doing things that work for me, depending on how long I’m staying somewhere. Staying motivated when working online can take a lot of discipline.
Book a hostel so I can be around other travelers and easily make friends. This isn’t ideal for work though so you will either need to invest in a coworking space or find a good coffee shop you can sit in for 6 hours a day.
Book an Airbnb with a workspace. I don’t like this so much and only do this for short trips because I feel isolated and it’s hard to meet people, plus I just end up sitting in there working all day.
Book a few nights in a hostel, or Airbnb then find a room in a shared house. This is what I do if I’m planning on staying somewhere for longer than a month. I prefer to live with other people and if the rent is cheap enough I can normally afford to pay for a coworking space too.
There are of course other ways of finding accommodation, you will find a way that works for you through trial and error. I found out living and working in hostels is bad for my productivity the hard way…
Book your trip now
Are you ready to book your trip? To help you get the best deals and service here are the companies that I personally use to book all of my travel online. I always shop around before booking anything, but these are my tried and tested starting places.
- Skyscanner – I’m a bit fan of Skyscanner, it is who I use to book all of my flights. I often will check other like Google Flights or Momodo, but I always go here first and it is who I book 99% of my flights with.
- Booking.com – I LOVE booking.com especially when I can book and cancel free up until a certain point, mostly because my plans are forever changing. It’s easy to use and has one of the widest selections.
- Airbnb – I’m not a huge user of Airbnb, but sometimes I do like to use it, and I ALWAYS check it before I book anything else. You can get some really cool places to stay here, and it is especially good in places like Cuba. If you don’t have an account and you click on this link then you will get $36 off your first booking.
- Hostelworld – If you are looking for hostels then this is a great place to check first. They often have additional places that you won’t find on Bookin.com.
- Agoda – Although I don’t use it as much as booking.com, Agonda is especially good if you are traveling in Asia as they really do dominate there.
- Worldpackers – If you want to travel on the cheap and save money on accommodation then you need Worldpackers in your life. You can read more about it here. If you click this link to sign up and use the code CLAIRESITCHYFEET then you can get a 40% discount on your membership!
- Book a Way – If you are traveling in Asia and want to pre-book your transportation then bookaway.com is a fantastic site to do so. They have buses, trains, and cars.
- RentalCars – Looking to rent a. car while you are away? I always book through Rental Cars as they do a search of all of the big sites and find the best deals.
- Welcome Pickups – Very occasionally getting from the airport to my accommodation is a total pain in the butt, or I’m traveling in a group and it makes sense to arrange a pickup. When I do I use Welcome pickups.
- World Nomads – If you are looking for flexible travel insurance then it’s World Nomads all the way. I wrote all about insurance here if you want a more thorough review.
- SafetyWing – AsI’m a Digital Nomad and not moving around quite so much anymore I personally use SafetyWing now for my health insurance. I wrote a full review here.
- Viatour – Sometimes it can be a little expensive, but I like Viatour for somethings, especially if you can get a discount code! It’s also great for inspiration.
- Klook – If you are traveling in Asia, then Klook is great! You can book all kinds of tours, activities, and train tickets, plus they even have sim cards and WiFi.