Ever hear about those mystical creatures that get to travel the globe and work from their laptops? Rumor has it they’re called digital nomads… But what is a digital nomad? And more importantly, how do you become a digital nomad to live a life of location independence and ownership of your time?
Okay, let me back up a second and set the scene. Imagine it’s a Tuesday morning at 10:00am. You’ve just gotten out of bed after a big night out, hopped on your motorbike, and are on your way to grab some breakfast by the beach.
After a leisurely smoothie bowl and quick surf session, you jump back on your motorbike, and whiz along the coastline through rice paddies and past temples until you get back to your sparkling villa, where you hop in your pool before a long mid day shower in your outdoor bathroom. Once all the salt is washed away, you grab your laptop and hit a local eatery, check your email, shoot off your latest article to a client and snap your computer shut.
With a rev of the engine, you’re back on the motorbike, meeting up with your best friends for sunset beers and sushi on the beach. Life in Bali couldn’t get any better.
Sound like a life only one could dream of? Definitely. But the craziest part is that this is just an average day in the life of a digital nomad.
Written by a seasoned digital nomad herself, this article gives a complete rundown of what a digital nomad is, the best jobs to have, the pros and cons of the lifestyle, and tips to become a digital nomad yourself, following the same steps I took.
So if you’ve had enough of the 9-5 cubicle grind, keep reading to learn what other options are out there. Spoiler alert: you’ll be surprised at all that’s possible as a digital nomad.
What is a Digital Nomad?
First thing’s first: what is a digital nomad in the first place? A digital nomad is someone who is location independent and works from their laptop (or other piece of tech) to perform a job. Digital nomads often move from one place to another, hence the nomad in the name, and work remotely rather than from a company office.
The term digital nomad has even made it to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, with the definition: “someone who performs their occupation entirely over the Internet while traveling.”
Digital nomads have often given up the creature comforts of many belongings and a single home base. Rather, they tend to travel light and move from place to place to see as much of the world as possible, all while working from their computers.
Digital nomad life can be extremely comfortable and very rewarding. That isn’t to say that it isn’t challenging at times, but overall, being a digital nomad unlocks the key to working freedom in a way the world has never seen before.
Read More: Remote Work Guide
Digital Nomad Jobs
The best part about being a digital nomad is there are so many jobs available. Whether you want to take your career on the road or explore a different path by making good use of your skillsets, the opportunities are endless.
Here are some of the most common digital nomad jobs today. How many are you qualified for?
Of course, this only scratches the surface of the possible digital nomad jobs out there. It all boils down to tapping into your unique skillset and finding a job that’s going to be the best fit for you. And who’s to say you have to stick with it? As a digital nomad, you have complete freedom, so if you try out one job and hate it, what’s stopping you from trying out something new?
Pros of Being a Digital Nomad
Along with being a digital nomad comes a huge plethora of perks. Here are some of the main benefits to being a digital nomad:
Whether you choose to settle in your favorite city or take your job on the road, the absolute best part of being a digital nomad is location independence.
Instead of having to report to the same office every day, being a digital nomad means you can telecommute to any work commitments. Instead of sitting in traffic for two hours in the morning and evenings, you can log on at the touch of a button from the most beautiful places in the world.
Work from the beach in Bali, the rainforests of Thailand, the backroads of New Zealand, or the steamy jungles of Mexico. Settle in one spot or move around to your heart’s content. Since your job has no physical ties, the world is truly your oyster.
Control of Your Time
Since you don’t have to commute or sit through arduous in person meetings, being a digital nomad significantly contributes to control over your time in life. Think about those two hours you’d spend sitting in traffic or on the train daily. Think about what you can accomplish with those whopping ten hours out of your week.
What’s more, many digital nomad or remote jobs have flexible hours, allowing you to work when you want so long as the job gets done. This means morning swims, long afternoon lunches, early sign offs, and even the occasional weekday free — an impossibility in the world of office work.
Plus, if you’d rather forgo a traditional 40 hour workweek, many digital nomad jobs are freelance rather than full time, which means you are completely in control of your schedule and the hours you work. Talk about a massive benefit.
Learn New Skills
With a change of life pace and all of the newfound free time, being a digital nomad is an ideal position to learn new skills. When I first started working remotely, I marketed myself as a writer. Through my first job writing for one of the top travel blogs in the world (keep reading to see exactly how I scored it!), I was mentored closely in the art of search engine optimization (SEO), which I had never even heard of before.
Fast forward four years, and SEO is my main jam — a skill set I would never have discovered if not for being a digital nomad.
But this experience isn’t unique to me. I have so many friends who became digital nomads in one field and went through a massive transformation into another line of work completely. Being a digital nomad opens up doors and exposes you to work possibilities that have never been on your radar before. What could be more magical than that?
Like Minded Community
And finally, one of the biggest benefits of being a digital nomad is the community. This movement has spanned the globe — it’s borderless, ageless, and sectorless, filled with people commited to changing the world of work.
If you seek location independence and a flexible schedule, you’ll find a massive community of people worldwide who value the same things and can be companions or mentors through the process.
You’ll find digital nomads sprawled out on the floor of airports, traversing night markets, holding it down at coworking spaces, and surfing on the beaches. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll find this empowering group anywhere you look, with the opportunity of friendship and meaningful partnership just around the corner.
Cons of Being a Digital Nomad
Though in my mind, there’s nothing quite as valuable as being a digital nomad, this lifestyle doesn’t come without its downsides. Here are some of the major cons to being a digital nomad to help you decide if this lifestyle is right for you.
While getting your bearings as a digital nomad, it can be super lonely at times. You may have just landed in a new country or been away from English speakers for quite a while. It can feel super alienating and isolating, and that’s the truth.
Of course, loneliness is often temporary and can easily be combated by staying in lively hostels or joining coworking spaces. But still, it’s a large part of the digital nomad experience and one of the major downsides.
Like with any long trip or time spent away from where you’re most comfortable, it’s only natural to experience some homesickness. In fact, this is a quintessential part of the digital nomad experience as you find a home away from what you’re used to.
Though it can be challenging to work through at times, there are plenty of ways to cope with homesickness as a digital nomad, like seeking out others from your home country, divulging in creature comforts (hello peanut butter), and talking to loved ones.
All of this can help contribute to a more positive experience away from home, and while the homesickness may never disperse completely, it can certainly get better.
Being a digital nomad often means moving around a lot. Even if you settle in one place for three, six, or even twelve months, having to pack up all your belongings and find a new place to call home frequently can be draining.
Then factor in navigating a new city or town, working for a company in a different time zone, and trying to make friends with the constant revolving door of people coming and going. All of this can lead to instability, as is natural, with such immense amounts of change. It’s all about taking things one step at a time and being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Someone once told me: “comfort and growth cannot coexist.” These words have become my digital nomad mantra and massively helped me to cope with the instability of this lifestyle.
Can Be Costly
Lastly, being a digital nomad can be costly from traveling all the time. Flight tickets are expensive, hostels or hotels can be pricey, and coworking spaces and eating out can definitely start to add up.
However, there’s plenty that can be done to offset the costs of being a digital nomad, like living in a less expensive country and traveling regionally rather than internationally.
There’s a good reason why so many digital nomads settle in places like Chiang Mai and Bali — these countries have a very inexpensive cost of living and make for an enticing travel hub for exploring other cities and neighboring countries.
How to Become a Digital Nomad: 5 Tips to Get Started
If you’re ready to take the leap to digital nomad life, here are 5 tips to help you get started.
1. Choose a Job
First thing first: you’ll need a job to be a digital nomad. While these days, many companies allow their employees to work remotely, if this isn’t the case with your job, finding a new one is probably ideal.
In addition to the digital nomad jobs listed above, it also helps to ask yourself these questions:
When answering these questions, think outside of the box. Your skills and passions don’t necessarily need to align with your current occupation, as you’ll find there’s plenty of room to profit from what you enjoy.
For example, when I first started on my digital nomad journey, I was working as the business development manager for a wine company. But when I asked myself these very questions, my answers didn’t line up with anything having to do with business, or wine for that matter.
Instead, I knew that I was good at writing and knew it was something I enjoyed, so I tapped into this skillset as a means to make money. And boy, am I glad that I did.
Since then, I have had more than 400 pieces of content published under my name online. I’ve made a living by putting words to paper (uh, Google Docs rather) and have written in a huge range of niches for some of the largest websites in the world, just from the one idea I had to start writing for a living.
This just goes to show how quickly you can change your life if you’re willing to take a leap of faith and earn from what you enjoy.
But simply choosing what you want to do for yourself is only one part of the equation. Next, you’ll need to actually find a job in the field. This is where marketing yourself comes in.
2. Market Yourself
These days there are so many companies hiring remote workers that there is no shortage of digital nomad jobs. It’s about finding the right ones and marketing yourself for the opportunity.
I found my first remote job from a digital nomad Facebook group.
This one Facebook post singlehandedly changed my life. Because I put myself out there and marketed my skills at the most basic level (to the right audience), I was bombarded with freelance writing work and even landed my first remote full time position.
I can’t emphasize this enough: if you want to make it as a digital nomad, you must put yourself out there. Write in Facebook groups, network on LinkedIn, make profiles on freelance job boards, and advocate for yourself and your skills. No one else will do it for you, so if you hope to be successful, be your own biggest fan. The rest will follow.
3. Save Up Some Cash
Before setting off, it’s a wise idea to have decent savings to start your digital nomad journey. I’ll never advise anyone to simply quit their job and go (learn from my past mistakes) as the last thing you want is to end up strapped for cash.
Ensure you have a little bit of padding for a decent safety net, or at least to get settled in your new home to start earning.
My advice is to have enough saved for a round trip flight ticket (in case you need to go home), a few months’ rent, basic necessities like food, and enough money in case of an emergency.
This will make starting your digital nomad journey much less stressful than if you go at it with nothing padding your pockets.
4. Research Destinations
One of the hardest and most exciting questions for every digital nomad is where to next?
It’s worth researching destinations to settle in a place that suits your unique interests and needs. The digital nomad movement has reached some of the most far flung corners of the earth, with bustling hubs around Europe, Asia, the Americas, Oceania, and beyond. No matter what kind of environment you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find a digital nomad destination that caters to it.
As a digital nomad, I’ve lived and worked in tons of countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Japan, France, Croatia, the USA, New Zealand, and more.
Some elements to look out for in destinations are:
All of these considerations will go a long way to helping you find somewhere comfortable and safe to settle as a digital nomad.
5. Find a Community (and WiFi)
Last but not least, it really helps to get started as a digital nomad where there’s already a community to fall into. Rather than paving the way yourself, lean on the experience of others and let them help to guide your path.
Community goes a very long way in digital nomad life, as these people quickly become your family when you’re out in the wide world on your own. You’ll find that there’s always someone to help out, commiserate, or simply share a beer and a good old laugh.
There’s nothing quite like the bond you form with other digital nomads, so falling into a like minded community ASAP will greatly ease the transition. Not to mention the endless possibilities for collaboration and partnership with driven people from different backgrounds.
I’d also be remiss to skip out on noting that finding strong WiFi, along with community, is one of the best tips for being a successful digital nomad. Because, after all, how do you plan to work without an internet connection?
My biggest piece of advice to find both strong community and WiFi is to join a coworking space, which is an environment made for meeting others and being productive. Aside from heaps of individuals on their own digital nomad journey, coworking spaces often provide exclusive events and even places to stay.
There are coworking spaces pretty much everywhere in the world, making this an effortless way to find your people globally.
This list shows off some of the coolest coworking spaces in the world, including Dojo in Bali, where I met some of my favorite people on earth (and the location of the picture below).
FAQs About What a Digital Nomad Is
If you still have lingering questions related to what is a digital nomad, check out these FAQs for some final answers.
What is one example of a digital nomad?
One common example of a digital nomad is a blogger who writes content and earns money from their website through advertisements, affiliate marketing, digital products, and more. However, a digital nomad can also be someone hired by a blogger to write content for their website, do graphic or web design, be a virtual assistant, or help with any number of tasks that they may need to outsource.
How much money do you need to be a digital nomad?
There’s no set amount of money needed to be a digital nomad, but it’s recommended to start your journey with some savings, so you don’t struggle financially as you get your bearings.
What kind of work does a digital nomad do?
A digital nomad can do any kind of work, so long as it’s location independent. Some basic digital nomad work may include writing, editing, developing, and consulting. Other digital nomad work may be in the areas of HR, accounting, coaching, marketing, translating, and beyond.
What are the main downsides of digital nomads?
Though digital nomad life is highly sought after, the main downsides include loneliness, homesickness, instability, and variable costs.