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It’s been three months today that I made the decision to leave the UK, work for myself full-time and try the digital nomad lifestyle. Oh, and I started a YouTube channel to document it all, too.
My YouTube channel focuses a lot on becoming a digital nomad and living the digital nomad lifestyle, and there are two questions that I’ve been asked over and over again. The first is “what is a digital nomad?” (which I answered in this video) and the second is “how can I become a digital nomad”? And we’re going going to focus on the latter question today.
The short answer simple. To become a digital nomad you only need two things: a way to make an income online and the ability to travel.
What that means is you can support yourself solely from money you make on your laptop (or using your laptop to some degree) and have nothing tying you to any one location.
What that doesn’t mean is that you can’t have a mortgage – it just means you’ll need the means to pay it while not always living in the property. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a ‘normal’ full-time job – it just means you’ll need a boss who’s happy to let you work remotely. And that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship, social life, children or pets, or any other commitment – it just means you’ll need to find a way to make those commitments work with your nomadic lifestyle.
Becoming a digital nomad is a fairly simple process, but not necessarily easy. It would be impossible to give you a step-by-step guide of how to become a digital nomad because every person’s journey will look a little (or a lot!) different, but I’ve outlined the basic steps below. I’ve also included some of my favourites resources and communities for anyone looking to become a digital nomad.
Step 1: Find your ‘WHY’
I know, I know. You want to just skip straight to part where we talk about making money. But stay with me – this will affect every other step in the process.
Before you can start making plans to become a digital nomad, I really think it’s important to know why you want to do it.
For some people, it’s a matter of circumstances. Maybe your partner has a job that requires you to move around a lot. Perhaps you can’t get a permanent job or long-term visa for the country you’d love to live in. Or maybe you’re setting up your own business and your home country has an expensive cost of living, so it’s simply easier to do it abroad.
For others, it’s a lifestyle choice. You want to travel for longer than your savings will allow you to, experience countries and cultures for an extended period of time or you want to travel but don’t want to miss out on building your dream career.
There’s no right or wrong reason for wanting to become a digital nomad, but it’s important you know yours. Whatever path you take, the journey to becoming isn’t always going to be easy and it’s important to know your ‘why’ before the doubts begin to creep in (because they totally will at some point).
Step 2: Make an income online
Once you’ve thought about why you want to become a digital nomad and what you hope to gain from it, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to make a living while travelling.
Careers don’t look like they used to any more and there are now loads of ways to make money online. Anything digital (marketing, content, PR) is an obvious choice but, to be a digital nomad and travel full-time, you don’t even have to do a job that’s entirely online. Careers such as photography, product design and even fitness instruction can be adapted to fit the digital nomad lifestyle, and won’t require you to be glued to a laptop all day.
And of course there are also some jobs, like travel blogging, that will pay you to travel, rather than just allowing you to travel and work from wherever you like. If you’re interested in that, here’s a really good breakdown of how travel bloggers can get paid to travel.
There are three main ways to make an income online, so let’s look at each of them.
You used to have to take a break from your career – or delay starting it – to enjoy an extended period of travel. That’s no longer the case and is one of the main reasons people want to become digital nomads. Why give up a career or the chance to travel when you can have both, after all?
If you want to start working remotely, you have two options: ask your current employer if you can work remotely or find a new, remote job.
The former is probably the harder of the two, but you might be surprised how open your boss is to letting you work remotely. It will likely be a gradual process where you begin by working from home and build up to full-time remote work, and I recommend picking up a copy of Tim Ferris’s “The Four Hour Week” for an in-depth guide to doing so. Remember: the worst that can happen is they say no, and then you’ve lost nothing.
The second option is to find a job with a company that already employs remote workers. There are more and more remote job websites popping up every day as more employers realise the benefits of employing remotely (such as not being limited to the local talent pool!). The websites below specialise in remote jobs, but don’t be afraid to contact a company you know already hires remote employees.
Websites for finding remote work and digital nomad jobs:
RemoteOK: Mostly for tech and IT jobs.
Working Nomads: Full-time and part-time jobs in all fields.
FlexJobs: Part-time, temporary and telecommuting jobs in all professions.
Remote Work Hub: Job board of remote jobs.
Online Writing Jobs: Content and copywriting jobs.
Remote Co: Remote jobs in more traditional professions.
Skip The Drive: Browse remote jobs in any industry.
We Work Remotely: Mostly design/web development jobs.
If you’re happy to give up the 9-5 and want to branch out on your own, freelancing is perfectly suited to digital nomad life.
If you’re just getting started as a freelancer, the sites below can be a useful place to build up your portfolio. It’s hard to find high-paying gigs, but you never know who you might meet – and who might be become a bigger client. Either way, you’ll be building up the much-need experience and credibility you’ll need to success long-term.
Popular freelance jobs site:
Upwork: The most popular freelancing site.
Fiverr: Sell and upsell services, starting from £5.
Freelancer: Bid on freelancing jobs.
Starting an online business
The final option for making money online is to start an online business, such as an online store. You can do this through websites such as Amazon, which has its own Fulfilled By Amazon dropshipping service, or any other site like Shopify.
If you want to be entirely nomadic, it’s best to sell through dropshipping so you don’t have to work with any inventory, but it’s not impossible to run a business that holds its own inventory while travelling – you’ll just have to be super organised and a lot more creative!
Step 3: Becoming a digital nomad
When to become a digital nomad
There’s no right or wrong time to become a digital nomad, but there’s a good chance you’ll have to just go for it before you feel ready (because, let’s face it, are you ever going to feel entirely ready?).
I’d say it’s always best to set some sort of deadline. The simplest way to set a deadline is to choose a date, book a flight or hand in your notice at work.
The other way to do it, is to set some kind of goal-based deadline. This could be an income goal, the amount you want to have set aside in savings or the number of clients you want to have on retainer.
Where to go first
Now we get to the fun part! Deciding where to live as a digital nomad is one of the exciting parts, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy either.
The joy of being is a digital nomad is that you can live and work pretty much anywhere, as long as there’s a good WiFi connection. South East Asia and South America are both popular digital nomad destinations, but you tend to find digital nomads anywhere with an affordable cost of living and good quality of life. Chiang Mai and Medellin are the original digital nomad cities, but countries like Portugal, Mexico and Bulgaria are becoming more and more popular.
I’d recommend beginning your digital nomad journey in a city that already has an established digital nomad population. Not only can you be sure that the city is well-suited to digital nomad life and working online, but you’ll meet lots of other new digital nomads and long-terms nomads. That’s an invaluable experience to have and you’ll probably stay in touch with many of the other nomads you meet long after you leave.
NomadList is a great resource for checking the lifestyle in different cities and searching for a destination based on your own preferences. You can search by budget, proximity to another city and loads of other factors.
Preparing for digital nomad life
Get your accounts in order
There’s nothing worse than being far from home and realising the document you need is on the other side of the world.
Back up everything
And I mean everything! Back it up and back it up again. I always back everything up on at least two hard drives and my favourites (and the ones I trust the most!) are by Western Digital. I also carry a 512GB SSD by SanDisk for backing up media such as images and video clips.
You’ll also make sure you have insurance, even if you usually travel without it. When you’re travelling long-term, there’s even more chance that something could go wrong and it’s reassuring to know you have it. Travel insurance isn’t cheap, but I like to think that it’s replacing my household bills every month – which, in London, came to a lot more than the cost of my travel insurance!
Many travel insurance policies are only valid for 60 days of travel at a time, so if you’re going to away for longer, you’ll need to get a policy that caters for that. I use World Nomads because they’re specialised in digital nomad life and long-term travel, and will cover you worldwide for 365 days per year.
Find a community
The final thing I’d recommend you do before you begin your digital nomad adventure is to find some sort of community for support and encouragement. Facebook is definitely the best place to go because there are loads of digital nomad groups ranging from female digital nomads to city-specific groups. You’ll also find vegan groups, family groups, LGBTQ+ groups and more.
In fact, I’ve found Facebook groups so useful that I decided to start my own. Travelistes is a group for female travellers and digital nomads to connect and share advice on every aspect of long-term travel. It’s a closed group because I want to keep the community as close and connected as can be, but just send a request if you want to join.
Other Facebook groups for digital nomads:
Travelistes: Community offering advice for female travellers and digital nomads
Female digital nomads: A group for all female nomads.
Global Digital Nomad Network: A group for all digital nomads.
Travel bloggers: The place to be if you’re blogging or vlogging your journey.
Travel Community: A place to ask for recommendations and travel advice.