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Part 1: How to become a digital nomad
Since the pandemic, becoming a digital nomad has become increasingly popular. The ability to work online from anywhere in the world is a dream for many.
Seeing photos of friends in what seems like an eternal holiday makes you wonder “could I do it?”
I’ve been quite open about the fact that I work online on my social media channels and this blog. Because of that, I get a lot of people asking me questions about it.
I use Instagram as travel inspiration but I also hope to inspire others to head off to far flung corners of the globe as well. I know for a fact that over the years I have encouraged a few people to go travelling that may not have otherwise done so.
So in this post I aim to answer the questions that I get asked the most about becoming a digital nomad. It may inspire you, or it may put you off. However all I want you to see is that it is achievable for most.
Digital Nomad FAQ
What is the definition of a digital nomad?
There are many definitions of digital nomad, with the term first being used in 1997 by Tsugio Makimoto and David Mann. Digital nomads are also called location independent workers, online workers or a variety of other terms that can be used. All this means is that somebody can work whilst being anywhere in the world that has an internet connection.
It was first made popular by Tim Ferris and his book “The Four Hour Work Week” which told his story of setting up a mail order company in the 90’s which allowed him to check his emails rarely but still earn considerable sums of money to fund a lavish lifestyle. Now the internet has changed the world of work forever.
How do I become a digital nomad?
I see this all the time on Facebook groups and on my Instagram feed. The question of how to be a digital nomad is on the lips of everyone that wants to travel the world and work but currently doesn’t.
They think there is some kind of course or book that will give you all the answers that will then allow you to take photos of swinging in rice fields in Bali, or posing on beaches in Mexico and raking in the cash. Unfortunately it isn’t like that.
Firstly, you need to be able to earn money whilst being away from an office or workplace. Most people now do this on the internet.
There are countless ways to earn money on the internet, and following any “influencer” (god I hate that word) will surely tell you how easy it is only if you buy their course which will tell you to make a course to sell. But like anything worthwhile, becoming a sustainable digital nomad takes time and effort. You can either be employed by a company that allows you to work from anyway (fortunately more and more companies are allowing this), be a contractor that allows the same, or by being a freelancer and working for a number of clients around the world. Some digital nomads I have met even have their own business that they run online.
The key thing to being location independent is not having one office to tie yourself to, but by being able to work online and work anywhere. The “how you earn money on the internet” part can be done in a number of ways.
What jobs can I do as a digital nomad?
Basically any job that can be done “working from home” can be done online and hence as a digital nomad.
If you work as a barista, barber or bartender and you want to become a digital nomad, you may have to consider a career change before hitting the big wide world.
I currently work in SEO. Search engine optimisation allows webpages to appear higher up in Google, allowing more traffic and more revenue. (Hopefully that is how you found this page!) I basically edit web pages to make them better and I am employed by a company.
But I have met so many other digital nomads that work in a wide variety of fields, from teaching English, graphic design, software engineers, virtual assistants, finance experts, writers and full time content creators/ bloggers.
Where’s the best place to go as a digital nomad? How do you choose?
Someone one asked me if I choose my destinations by throwing a dart at a map.
It feels like it sometimes.
But there is no best place to go and everybody will have a different reason for being in the place they’re in and for how long they’re staying there.
For me, travel is the most important. I love travelling, exploring new places, going to destinations that not many people go and getting way off the tourist trail. So for me, I’m more likely to go to Romania, Bahrain or Barbados than I am to Bali or Cancun which seem to be the most popular digital nomad destinations.
There are many places with a strong digital nomad community which normally means westerners working in an IT related field. Chang Mai in Thailand, Bansko in Bulgaria, Tulum in Mexico. Many countries have digital nomad visas that allow the worker to stay for a year or more in the country with some tax advantages. Portugal offers this making Lisbon a popular destination, as does the UAE making Dubai popular.
There is no right or wrong place to go. It all depends on you. There are places I don’t like which may be amazing for you to head to, and that’s OK!! Everyone is an individual and that means that there will always be a destination that is right for you.
Firstly I would think about the climate of the destination. South east Asia is popular due to its year round warmth. Many Eastern European cities are popular in summer but less so in winter. Bansko is a popular ski resort for those that prefer the cold.
Another factor may be time zones. If you are from the UK and your employer wants you to work similar hours, Europe and Africa will be on your radar but Australia will be out of the question. If you work for a US based company, central and South America will be your most popular option. This depends entirely on your working arrangements with your employer. I do know of some that work UK hours but work through the night in south east Asia as that suits them.
And finally you are going to have to think about what time of place you would like to live. Are the bright lights and city vibe of Dubai and Bangkok calling, or would you rather be in a mountain hut in Georgia or a beach town in Morocco?
You may want to go to one place for a year and “settle down” there, getting to be a part of the community, forming a base. Other may want to only stay for a few weeks before moving on as they love travelling so much (I’m guilty of the latter…). Like backpacking or travelling in general, there is no right or wrong way to do it.
What are the best ways to become a digital nomad
In an ideal world, you would already have the skills and talents necessary to become a digital nomad. Something involving tech or IT is always a plus. If you can code or are very talented at developing software, you are already well on your way. If you are already contracted out by a company and are self employed, this will make your life even easier.
(I am not a tax expert so if you do want to become a contractor/ self employed and or work abroad, I encourage you to get your own personal tax advice for the country you are a tax resident of)
But as I’ve mentioned above, there is so much more you can do than just that. Find out what you are good at, and then run with it. If you’re great at art, have you considered graphic design? If you love writing, can you become a copywriter? If you’re a teacher could you tutor online? It may mean you have to take a course to upskill yourself. There are plenty available online, with many of them free on YouTube and other accounts.
Once you have these skills in place, look for a remote job where you can get a job using these skills. If you can get a regularly job from this, FANTASTIC! However you may need to do it as a side job and build a portfolio of freelance work before taking the plunge to do it as a full time roll.
To keep this from being an essay I’ll leave it here.
Hopefully with these points in mind you now know what you need to do to get employed and find work as a digital nomad and where would be a good idea to travel to.
But these are just first steps.
Once you’ve got this bit sorted, there is so much more to consider. Where are you going to stay? What are you going to do? How will you have access to money? What are you going to take?
I’ll cover all of this in another post which you can see below.
Keeping reading for part 2…
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.