One of the greatest perks of being a freelancer or working remotely is that you can literally work anywhere. That said, many of us stick close to home but secretly dream about coding, writing, designing, or doing whatever it is you do from an exotic location.
This lifestyle, known as a digital nomad, is easier than you think to start. It’s not possible for everyone because of family or other lifestyle commitments, but you might be surprised to learn how easy it is to live the nomad life even if it’s just for a short period of time.
So if this sounds exciting, this article is the right place to find out more about being a digital nomad:
- The importance of testing the nomad life before jumping in
- Misconceptions about being a digital nomad
- Top skills in demand
- How to start as a digital nomad and the crucial soft skills
- Considering the financial aspects
Test drive nomad life
If you’ve never lived as a digital nomad before, how do you know that you are going to like it? That sounds like a silly question, but the lifestyle is not for everyone and is not always as glamorous as it might seem.tal
To gauge whether it will be a good fit for you, consider a trial run for a few weeks. Pick a city or country that you’ve always wanted to visit and make travel arrangements.
Here are a few things to consider as you are planning your digital nomad trial run:
- Is there anyone or anything at your home that needs to be looked after while you’re away? This can be pets, plants, or anything else that needs a little TLC from time to time. These arrangements will need to be made before you leave.
- Who are your emergency contacts? It’s good to have at least one person in place in case something happens while you are away.
- Who needs to know where you are going? This includes friends, family members, and your clients and/or coworkers. Consider who needs to know that you will be living and working in a new space. This is especially important if you will be heading to a place that’s in a different time zone from where you currently live.
- Does your new temporary home have somewhere to work? If not, you’ll need to consider a coworking space or other options with a reliable Internet connection.
Once you’ve picked a place and figured out the logistics, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to be doing during the time that you’re not working. One great thing about digital nomad life is that you have the opportunity to see new things and meet new people everywhere you go.
As more and more people adopt the nomad lifestyle, there are more and more opportunities to meet fellow travelers around the world. Check out opportunities on Meetup, Nomad List, and Couch Surfing before you arrive, and look out for events posted around town once you arrive.
As soon as you get started, be sure to use time tracking software so that you can rest assured that you will be able to track your hours worked and collect a paycheck no matter where you are in the world.
At the end of your trial run, it’s time to have an honest conversation with yourself about how things went and whether the lifestyle is something you can sustain long term. Wait to make this assessment until things settle a little bit after you return home — you don’t want your post-trip excitement or the relief of being home to cloud your judgment one way or the other.
When the time is right, you might even consider making a pros and cons list to help gauge the good and bad of digital nomad life. You should also project how a long-term move would affect your finances and what you need to do to make yourself a full-time nomad.
Digital nomad misconceptions
Finally, remember that being a digital nomad is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Moving from place to place is not a way to escape your problems or run away from trouble at home. Sure, that might happen for a little while but your life will catch up with you in the end.
Moving from place to place also means that it’s more difficult to maintain relationships with others. In other words, you will be spending a lot more time alone. If you are an introvert, this might sound like a dream come true, but it might be a more difficult transition if you are an extrovert.
And, there are going to be times when you might get a little homesick. Maybe it will come when you are stressed out about a deadline or when things aren’t turning out how you expected. Hopefully, these situations will be few and far between, but you should anticipate them so you can be prepared when the feelings arise.
Like anything, fully becoming a digital nomad will take time and patience through the transition phase. Lean on your support network at home and abroad to help you through any tough times that arise. And, you can always go home if things don’t work out and make another move later when the time is right.
Finally, you might hear that the digital nomad way of life is not safe. Any of the tens of thousands of people out there who live as nomads would tell you that’s not the case. No matter where you are in the world, don’t put yourself in any situation that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
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Top digital skills you need to become a digital nomad
To make money on the road, you will need to pick up some serious skills that you can do from anywhere in the world.
While it’s not unheard of for people in any profession to find a way to become remote (or partly remote), according to Fulltime Nomad, the most popular and demanded digital nomad skills are:
- Writing: Anything from copywriting to managing your own blog.
- Web design: Front-end or back-end, any type of development skills can easily be transformed into remote positions.
- Graphic design: Everything from illustrations to logos can be done remotely. There’s plenty of demand for freelance work if you wish to remain your own boss.
- Virtual assistants: Plenty of business owners are looking to outsource some of their repetitive tasks, such as bookkeeping or data entry.
- Translation: With the global economy, more companies are looking at expanding internationally. This means their websites and other materials need translating.
- Digital marketing: This can cover anything from running Google or Facebook ads, SEO or social media marketing. It all has enormous demand and huge potential for remote work.
- Video editing: This is a skill that can easily be done remotely. Plus, there’s enormous demand for video editing skills across industries.
If you don’t have any of the listed skills, the good news is that it’s easier than ever to pick up any skills you might need by sites such as Skillshare, Udemy and Coursera.
The harder part will be in either convincing your employer to let you work remotely (we will cover this in a bit), finding a remote job to begin with or setting up your own outsourcing business.
So while it’s certainly possible for someone with no skills to slowly pick them up and then work their way into a remote position, don’t expect this process to be quick. Prepare yourself to achieve your digital nomad dream on a reasonable timeline.
How to start as a digital nomad
Even if you have all the skills that a remote worker requires (such as software development, freelance writing or marketing skills), you may still struggle to go remote.
In order to be successful as a digital nomad, you might still need to acquire a whole set of new skills to sustain your digital nomad journey.
A lot of being a digital nomad is not about what you do for work, but rather how you do your work.These are the 6 skills you need to work remotely from anywhere in the world (hint: none of them are technical) Click To Tweet
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3 crucial skills to acquire for successful remote work
If your goal is to get out of a desk job, there’s something critically important you should know right off the bat:
The ability to do the thing you were hired to do is taken for granted.
After all, that’s why you collect a paycheck. So if you want to build the skill set that gives you the leverage to go remote, you need to focus on all the soft skills — the stuff that a manager typically handles — so that you no longer need to be managed.
So before you ask your boss to let you work remotely, make sure you’ve built the skills that will ensure your transition to remote work goes smoothly.
Skill #1: World-class communication
When we’re face-to-face, it’s easy to keep everyone on the same page. But if you’re in Tokyo and the rest of the office is running on Eastern time, communication requires its own dedicated effort.
If someone needs to ask what you’re doing, you’ve failed as a communicator.
It makes you seem like you need to be managed, and that’s a deal-breaker for managers when considering a remote arrangement.
Become a rockstar communicator by adopting these simple habits:
Send status updates far more frequently than you think you should. At least daily.
Use the Agile stand-up format: What did you do yesterday? What will you do today? Is there anything blocking you from doing it?
Take the extra thirty seconds to add a greeting and a summary to your emails. Yes, a one-sentence email is efficient, but it can also make you sound like an asshole.
Skill #2: Plan like a pro and hit all your deadlines
Easily the biggest drain on time and resources is poor planning.
Every project gets planned.
Some just get planned after a bunch of time and effort has been wasted. You can become an invaluable asset to your company (and yourself) by taking the time to plan each project effectively.
To do this, you can use a system I’ve created, called the ATOM Technique: break down the project into a series of tasks that are Actionable, Timely, Ownable, and Measurable.
In other words, turn the project into a to-do list where each to-do is an action step that should take 90 minutes or less to complete, has a true-or-false completion criteria, and only one person responsible for doing it.
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Skill #3: Learn how to market yourself
The hardest part about going location-independent is marketing yourself.
“Wait,” we say, “I have to go around and tell people how awesome I am, and ask them for money? That feels slimy.”
And while it can be, marketing yourself doesn’t have to be slimy.
But if we don’t go to bat for ourselves — whether it’s with our bosses or with potential clients — who will?
What sets apart the people who get what they want from the people who only dream about it is their willingness to ask for it.
If there’s an opportunity that you know you’re a good match for, put yourself out there.
Sure, it feels weird to toot your own horn, but if you stand around waiting for other people to toot it for you, you will long remain untooted, my friend.
You already sell things constantly throughout the day (the restaurant you want to go to, the products you prefer, the music and movies you enjoy) — and once you reframe what you’re doing, selling yourself is no different: if someone trusts you with their project, their life will improve as well as yours — so how is that slimy?
3 skills to create a working style that allows you to enjoy remote work
Once you’ve successfully cut the cord and you’re working location-independently, it’s tempting to think the war is won and all your problems are solved.
Unfortunately, without extremely strong working and personal habits, your experience with remote work will likely be stressful, fraught with missed deadlines and misunderstandings, and — most likely — very short-lived.
So before you start posting laptop-and-coffee-shop selfies, make sure you’ve got the skills that will keep you remote.
Skill #4: Create untouchable productivity habits and routines
The freedom of remote work won’t last long if we don’t have the discipline to get our work done, so it’s critical to build incredibly effective working habits to keep us productive.
Everyone’s optimal working style will vary, but there are a few things you can experiment with to immediately see a productivity boost:
Group tasks by the type of work to avoid a context-switching penalty.
Work with your natural rhythms to create productivity rituals that keep you consistent.
Front-load the hard tasks to take advantage of higher willpower earlier in the day.
Skill #5: Use your freedom to put constraints on your working time
One of the most treacherous parts of remote work is the tendency to spend more time working after we escape the office.
Since we can work whenever we want, wherever we want, there’s a temptation to work always and everywhere.
But remember what Cyril Northcote Parkinson said: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
So use your freedom to limit your working time, not to expand it.
Use timers and work in blocks of 25–90 minutes (depending on how you work best), and take real breaks between blocks.
Create obligations that force you to be done with work at a certain time, such as dinner reservations or plans to meet a friend.
Leave your charger at home — nothing makes you more productive than knowing your battery is going to die in 60 minutes.
Skill #6: Never become busy
The whole reason to go remote — especially if you’re location-independent and traveling the world — is to create a better life for yourself.
Remote work can create an immense amount of freedom. Or, an immense amount of stress.
It’s on us to ensure that we stay proactive, keep on top of our to-do lists, and make sure that we only accept projects that we can realistically complete (another reason to get really good at planning and estimating).
Without staying diligent about what we can and cannot do, and managing our schedules proactively, all the freedom we worked so hard to create will be swallowed by the stress of hectic days, packed schedules, and general chaos created by poor self-management.
You worked really hard to earn the privilege of working from anywhere in the world; don’t undo all your hard work by making your life harder than it has to be.
Consider the financial aspects of being a digital nomad
Before you start on your digital nomad journey, it’s important to consider some details in your finances.
It goes without saying that before you go anywhere, you should have a steady income that you can sustain for at least a few months while you get on your feet.
If you’re not there, focus your time and energy on building your client base or seeking remote employment that will be easily portable.
The motivation to become a digital nomad may be just what you need to move quickly toward securing stable income.
You should also try to downsize and sell as much of your stuff as possible.
Consider what you will need to live in your new place (or places) and get rid of everything that you will not need. This can include your car, furniture, extra clothes, and even things like gym memberships or subscriptions that are based on your home location.
Here are a few other factors to consider as you get your finances in order to leave home:
While not nearly as glamorous as location or lifestyle, taxes are an important factor in deciding where you’ll be based. Each country has its own rules and regulations when it comes to how long you need to live there before you have to start paying taxes.
You can also set up your own business that’s based in the U.S. if you do not want to deal with foreign taxes.
This is more complicated and not possible if you work full-time remotely for another company.
Either way, you should consult an accountant and a tax attorney before you begin your journey.
Check out Nomad Capitalist for more information about how to plan for taxes as a digital nomad.
Because you’ll be living away from family and friends, it’s important to have insurance in case something happens while you’re away.
This includes both health insurance and insurance for all of your belongings.
If you are going to make a living working remotely, chances are you have a pretty nice computer, cell phone, and maybe some other equipment to go with them.
You would literally lose your ability to work if that equipment is stolen. t’s important to have insurance so you can get it back quickly without incurring extra expenses. World Nomads offers travel insurance specifically for digital nomads and is run by people who are nomads themselves.
Depending on your policy, travel insurance may cover some health care costs, but it should not be your sole means of health insurance while you are living away from home.
You can choose to keep your existing coverage and pay out-of-network fees, or you can forfeit your home insurance and purchase international health insurance.
The right answer depends on how the coverage you have at home compares to what you can get in your new location, and how healthy you are. Of course, if you are moving from one place to another in the U.S., you can keep your existing health insurance without issue.
Before you choose a place to move to, do your homework on exactly how much it will cost to live there.
This includes basics like rent and utilities, but also things like public transportation, groceries, and other items you’ll need for daily life.
Nomad List and Numbeo have cost of living calculators for cities around the world.
In all the excitement of moving to a new place, it can be easy to forget about expenses you might still have to pay back home:
- If you own a home, you’ll need to sell it, rent it out, or pay the mortgage while you are not living there.
- You’ll still need to make payments on student loans, credit cards, or any other debts that you have. Consider paying down your debt as much as possible before you leave home so you have less overhead to sustain while you are on the road.
- As we mentioned earlier, you will be responsible for making payments on anything that you don’t get rid of before you move.
Remember that you want to be able to enjoy the places you choose for your digital nomad lifestyle, so don’t cut your budget so close that you can’t afford to have a little fun.
Embrace the idea of minimalism to make your money stretch even further and get the most out of the places you are traveling to.
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Take the plunge
Once you’ve done your trial run and considered whether the digital nomad lifestyle is right for you, the only thing left to do is start traveling.
Even though we’ve spent a lot of time in this post talking about how important it is to make plans (and it totally is), the reality is that you are never going to be able to plan for every hiccup that will occur once you leave home.
Overcoming those unexpected obstacles is part of the fun of being a nomad in the first place.
If you can handle a crisis when you are on your own away from home, you can handle just about anything else that life throws your way.
It might be tempting to have someone else take care of all the details for you, and those services are certainly out there, but in the end, you are going to be most committed to a plan that you create and implement.
Putting in the effort yourself will give you a greater sense of accomplishment and make enjoying your new lifestyle that much sweeter.
Why wait to start traveling?
The world is waiting — literally.
There are so many great people and places out there just waiting to be explored. You’ve already taken one step toward freedom by unchaining yourself from a traditional office environment.
Maybe now is the right time to take the next step and commit to the digital nomad lifestyle.
Are you a digital nomad? What advice do you have for people who are looking to adopt that lifestyle? Share your experiences in the comments.