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How to Become a Digital Nomad

So you want to become a digital nomad?

The perks of the being a digital nomad are obvious; creating an income online allows you to pretty much live and travel to anywhere you want in the world. You will be able to set your own schedule and make your own rules. You can follow your dream of traveling to far off lands while still earning money and building up a great career.

While the digital nomad lifestyle is pretty sweet, it takes quite a bit of effort and planning to set your wheels into motion. You will need to build up your online income, get rid of the possessions that are holding you down and get yourself on the road.

It took me just over a year to go from a 9-5 job in one place to being a full time freelancer and jetting off around the world. I learned a lot during that time, so here is my advice for preparing to be a digital nomad.

How to Prepare for the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

Do Your Research

The first step is to read, read, read and then read some more. You want to gather as much information as possible about this lifestyle and making a living online. Read about which destinations you want to travel in, what visas you need, how to get around and what the cost of living is. Read about how digital nomads make money, tips for getting these jobs and advice for managing your time.

There are so many great digital nomad lifestyle blogs (besides this one) out there which can give you great information, so start Googling!

digital nomad working on the beach
My favorite “office” so far, on the island of Koh Lanta, Thailand

Build Up Your Online Income

The next thing you will need to do is to find something that you can do on your laptop which will make you money. Yeah I know, easier said than done.

However, there are definitely legitimate ways to make a decent amount of money online which are not just scams. I started out on Odesk.com looking for Freelance writing jobs, but you could also do web design, programming, photography, translation, voice overs or even start your own online company.

Your online income should be enough to comfortably support yourself in the countries that you will be traveling and then some extra just to be safe. Your income will go farther in some countries ($2 meals and $10 hotel rooms in Southeast Asia) and not so far in other countries ($17.99 for a six pack of beer in Saskatchewan, Canada?)

The sky is the limit when it comes to earning an income online. (photo taken in Virginia, USA)
The sky is the limit when it comes to earning an income online. (photo taken in Virginia, USA)

Don’t Quit Your Day Job Right Away

Once you start making a little bit of money from your online venture, you will be tempted to quit your boring 9-5 job right away and get going. But don’t burn your bridges just yet.

In the summer of 2010 I was living in England and working 45 hours per week at a daycare facility. I was also working 4 hours per week on Saturdays at the local football club as well as working an average of 10-15 hours per week on my freelance writing. Do the math and that adds up to a lot of hours! I was tempted to quit my job so that I could spend more time building up my writing portfolio and obtaining new clients. However, if I had done so I would have drastically reduced the amount of money I had coming in and made a serious gamble.

Instead, when autumn came around I negotiated with my boss to go part time at my job at the daycare. I began to work 20 hours per week instead of 45, which freed up 20 more hours per week that I could spend writing. This allowed me to focus on increasing my freelance income while still having the peace of mind of a steady paycheck.

Don't make the leap until you know you will be secure! (The Ledge Bungy Jump in Queenstown, New Zealand)
Don’t make the leap until you know you will be secure! (The Ledge Bungy Jump in Queenstown, New Zealand)

Lee encouraged me to wait until it made sense financially to fully quit my day job, when I was making enough money from my writing that I could safely make the leap. When I finally quit and started writing full time, I actually started making more money than ever because the writing had such strong momentum by that point.

Let your day job be your training wheels while you experiment with earning money online and don’t quit until you are fully ready to take off on your own.

Save As Much as You Can

Needless to say, while Lee and I were working like crazy and living cheaply in Northern England, we saved a ton of money. We kept our expenses low, made as much money as we could and put huge chunks of our paychecks straight into our savings account. Now as we are traveling the world we have an decent cushion of savings which we could use to bail ourselves out if something terrible were to happen.

Before you pull up the anchor and drift off into a digital nomad lifestyle, make sure that you have a solid emergency fund created so that you will not find yourself broke in Bangkok or penniless in Peru.

Taking photos on the beach, just a typical day in the digital nomad lifestyle
Taking photos on the beach, just a typical day in the digital nomad lifestyle

Tell Everyone Your Plans

When you have a dream to do something in your own head, it’s easy to get discouraged and to give up. When you tell your friends and family about your aspirations to assume the digital nomad lifestyle they will get behind you and give you the sort of motivation you need.

Talking about your plans out loud will make them more real to you and you will be much less likely to chicken out.

Downsize Your Belongings

I hate to break it to you, but if you want all of the amazing perks of living the digital nomad lifestyle your DVD collection, sofa and 20 pairs of shoes all have to go.

Ideally, you will want to be able to run for a train while carrying everything you own.

Donate it, give it away or sell it. You might have a place to store your stuff, but is it really worth it if you don’t know when you are coming back? Store only a small box of sentimental items and get rid of everything else.

The Digital Nomad Lifestyle: This is everything we own.
The Digital Nomad Lifestyle: This is everything we own.

Instead, embrace the freedom that minimalism brings and get rid of everything except for a reliable backpack, a few versatile pieces of clothing, your toiletries, a couple accessories and the technology you need to do your job.

Get Rid of Your House

If you have made it to this point you have already established a reliable online income, condensed all of your belongings to fit into a backpack and convinced all of your friends and family that the digital nomad lifestyle is a real thing.

Now it’s time to become homeless.

Sell your house or give up your apartment.

While you are doing that, cancel all permanent ties to the place you live such as your Netflix subscription, your gym membership, or your mobile phone plan. You don’t have an address anymore, man.

Uh oh… where the hell are you going to live?

Anywhere you want, that’s where.

Why not rent an apartment in the Algarve region of Portugal for three weeks? Or perhaps you could stay for $15 per night in a bungalow by the beach on one of the islands in Southern Thailand?

Portugal was where we began our digital nomad lifestyle
Portugal was where we began our digital nomad lifestyle

Of course, living in hotels all the time in regions such as North America and Europe will be expensive so in these destinations you can look to rent apartments, house sit, couch surf or stay in hostels. In other regions such as Southeast Asia and South America, hotels and guesthouses will be much cheaper and so will your living expenses.

Lee and I have stayed in everything from bed and breakfasts to hotels to guesthouses to ant-infested grass huts. We don’t really care, as long as it has WiFi. ๐Ÿ™‚

Optional Step: Create a Blog

Now that you are living on the road, if you want to, you can create a blog about your digital nomad lifestyle. It can be a great way to record the adventure that you are on, as well as a means for you to connection with other people who are living this lifestyle all over the world. Use Facebook and Twitter to tap into the online community of digital nomads and other bloggers in your niche and you will never be alone no matter where in the world you are!

There you have it, my step by step guide for achieving the digital nomad lifestyle. It’s hard work, but the freedom to travel and the adventures you will have are so worth it. If this is your dream don’t hold yourself back, get started right now and work towards making it your reality.

Further Reading

The Digital Nomad Experiment – We began our digital nomad lifestyle a year ago in Portugal, this is what we learned during that firstย trip.

Want to Be a Digital Nomad? Five Careers That Let You Work From Anywhere

A Year in Our Lives as Digital Nomads

Tips for Working on the Road – A guide to getting stuff done in libraries, coffee shops, buses, trains and planes.

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About Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

7 comments

  1. This is some very good advice for those who desire a nomadic lifestyle. The same advice still works if you don’t want to be a digital nomad, but would like to travel more. That’s where I’m at – I could never get rid of my house and be a complete nomad, but I want to be able to travel and explore other areas of the world without worrying about cashflow.

  2. What an adventurous life! Its like taking life into the next level. Traveling is a way for me to release my stress but your idea is something out of the ordinary. I can’t imagine myself being a digital nomad anytime soon but it is not impossible to become one in the future. The perks of enjoying life to the fullest is yours with being a nomad. Hopefully you can drop by in Asia soon.

  3. Hey,

    Thats a great summary on getting started with the Digital Nomad lifestyle! I think the biggest problem though is that people have problems to focous on just one simple idea to secure the income and never really stop reading to take action.

    Enjoy your travels!

    Cheers,

    Johannes

  4. First hats off to you and well done for reaching your goals to achieve a adventurous lifestyle. I’m so jealous! Your life must be amazing. I do have some practical questions for you, just for my own curiosity. Not being a world traveler, they are probably silly, but no less I need to ask. If you get sick, do all countries take your health insurance(if you have it), or do you just pay upfront? Are passports the only document needed for entering all countries? If you take routine medicines are they available globally or can you have them shipped?

  5. Good article. If someone is looking for more in-depth informations about how to travel as a web designer or web developer I can help you out.

  6. The article makes it sounds easy but I’m really wondering about how to organise the practical stuff. How do you get paid for your freelance work? In which country is your bank account? Is it really possible to not have an address?

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