UPDATED NOVEMBER 2019
Being a digital nomad, living and working from anywhere, is many people’s dream. How can you create a digital nomad lifestyle for yourself?
How I became a digital nomad
I started my digital nomad life in 2009.
I worked as a freelance translator and was working from home for a while, when I realised that if I could work from home, I could work from anywhere.
So I took my laptop with me to Berlin, rented an apartment from a local, got online and did translation jobs for my clients, who didn’t even know where I was at the time 😉
When I saw my little test in Berlin was working well, I moved on to other destinations.
In later years I combined more freelance jobs and a solopreneur business, while travelling to nearly 40 countries in Europe, Asia, North America and Australia.
What is the digital nomad lifestyle?
Living the digital nomad lifestyle means you can work from anywhere. Using the internet, you can be location independent and still make a living by working remotely.
For many jobs it simply doesn’t matter where you are and as long as you have a reliable Internet connection.
This lifestyle is immensely liberating, though it does have its challenges.
I think the biggest challenge is of course starting out! I know that as I often get messages from people who want to pick my brain on how to become a digital nomad.
As this lifestyle is becoming more popular, I sense that there are many people who would love to go location independent but are confused as to how exactly to achieve that.
My aim in this guide is to explain the process of how to become a digital nomad and make it as simple as possible.
Become a digital nomad: A step by step guide
Can you work online from anywhere?
Is your current job the type of job you can do remotely? or do you have a freelance job or a business that you can run from anywhere?
If you’re an employee, start by thinking about what you currently do for a living and ask yourself if it’s the kind of work you can do from home or from a coffee shop?
If your job can be done from anywhere with an Internet connection, you’re in luck (if not, then read on, I’ll address all the options below).
What’s left for you to do is convince your boss that you no longer have to show up at the office every day. That’s a bit much, so first you want to ask for a test period, meaning you will work remotely from home for about three days.
This should show your boss that you’re available online when needed and that you are productive, able to meet deadlines and achieve goals even if you’re not physically at the office.
Now you have some proven results and that’s a good basis for negotiations. You can negotiate a longer period of remote work and see what you can get. If your employer says no, perhaps you’ll have to try another test period.
If despite all that your current employer refuses to let you work remotely, you can look for work with a different employer who is more open to the idea.
This way you won’t have to change your position or learn entirely new skills, just find similar work elsewhere. Alternatively, you may have to find a new job.
Where to find remote work
If you need a new employer, you should know that employers who support remote work are becoming more and more common. You can find full-time and part-time remote jobs online.
Here are some leading sites to search for remote work:
If you are a freelancer or business owner and you can work from anywhere, then you have to take two more steps on your way to a digital nomad lifestyle:
(1) Make sure you have enough clients who pay on time.
It’s sometimes tough when you’re freelancing or running a business, as your income may not be regular. It also helps if you have more than one income stream.
(2) Pick your destination according to your budget and prospective income.
You can move to a place where the cost of living is low enough to let you travel and enjoy yourself without worrying too much about work.
What if you can’t work online from anywhere right now?
In case your current job is not the type of job that you can do remotely, and you still want to be a digital nomad, then pick a new job as a remote employee, a freelancer or an entrepreneur.
If you are currently required to be present at a certain time and place in order to do you work, then a career change is needed.
This means you will need to pick a new job, learn and develop the skills and start your new digital nomad lifestyle.
This can be either as a remote employee with a company that will allow you to work remotely, or as a freelancer or an entrepreneur running your own business. Let’s break all of this down.
There’s a lot you can do with an Internet connection!
These jobs can be done by email, over the phone, on Skype or other similar video tools, by sharing files on cloud services and so on.
Digital marketing expert
Online language teacher
Remote customer service
Recruiter / Hiring consultant
Social media expert
Online music teacher
This is by no means a comprehensive list, of course, but it gives you a general idea.
Select some jobs that appeal to you from the list.
If you can’t find any, Google more examples of digital nomad jobs, you’ll find plenty.
Now it’s time to learn from other people’s mistakes.
Google the name of the job that appeals to you + digital nomad and find people who are already doing what you want to do.
Since you’re going to make a big lifestyle change, it’s best to prepare now than have regrets later.
There are tons of interviews with digital nomads online that will give you a glimpse into the reality of both the lifestyle and the profession.
You can also send some of them a message, introduce yourself and say you’re considering a lifestyle shift.
Ask about recommended courses, job boards, earning potential and anything else you have doubts about.
You can ask people you know, friends of friends, people on digital nomad groups on Facebook or anyone else you might think of who is already working at the job you picked.
It’s a good idea to get a realistic picture of what the job is really like, so you can decide if it’s really for you.
How to acquire the skills for your new digital nomad lifestyle
Take a few minutes to list your current skills.
These may include skills you acquired in previous jobs. There may also be hobbies or activities you’ve been involved in, that you can develop into a new job.
Any past experience can be valuable.
If your level is good enough, that’s great, and if not, you can take some courses that will bring you to a professional level.
There are also professions you can learn from scratch, based on your interests. It’s easy to learn online these days.
You don’t have to spend too much time and money on getting a degree in order to do most of these jobs. Online courses can teach you the skills you need.
Where to find online courses to train for digital nomad jobs
Many online these are free to take. Sometimes you can take a course for free, but if you want a certificate, you’ll be asked to pay for it.
Other courses are not free but still very affordable and provide good value for money.
Setting up your own business as a digital nomad
If you don’t like the idea of being an employee and you don’t like the idea of freelancing for different clients either, this may be a sign that you should start your own business.
As a digital nomad entrepreneur you will have double the freedom, but also a lot of responsibility.
Take that into account, when you picture your travels in your imagination: are you up for this level of responsibility?
The above list of examples of jobs that you can do from anywhere can also give you some ideas for small businesses you can start and perhaps later grow into something bigger.
Books for aspiring digital nomads who want to start a business
One of my favourite books on starting a business is The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.
Written by one of the pioneers of the digital nomad movement, the book is a collection of success stories of people from around the word, who started their own small business with a very low investment of under $100.
It’s easy to read and full of inspiration and practical advice. This can be a good starting point.
Another book I recommend by the same author is Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days.
This book takes you by the hand and shows you how to create a successful and profitable side hustle, without necessarily quitting your job.
It’s got a very balanced approach, very much the opposite of all sorts of “get rich quick” schemes you see online.
If you’re staring out and need to test the water before jumping in, then Side Hustle is an essential book for you.
Finally, you want to read the book Will It Fly? by genius marketer Pat Flynn.
While he’s not a digital nomad as such, he has established himself as an authority on creating passive income.
Passive or semi-passive income is any digital nomad’s dream, because it will allow you to work from anywhere.
Flynn is very straightforward and honest in his approach.
The book Will It Fly? will teach you how to validate your business ideas before you start investing time, money and effort into them.
Basic advice on how to start a business
Use these basic tips to start.
Validate you business ideas
Before you start a business, you want to test and validate your idea to see if there’s any real demand for it.
The book I recommended earlier, Will It Fly? – will teach you how to do that.
You will need to find a specific audience, understand their pain points and how you can help them.
Find a business mentor
To avoid making mistakes at this stage, it’s a good idea to consult someone with more experience in entrepreneurship.
Ideally, you want to look for someone to mentor you.
If you can’t find a mentor, read all you can on the subject and take online courses on business success and entrepreneurship to learn how to set up a business in a more systematic way.
Outsource what you can to save time and effort
Another tip that any experienced business owner would give you is this: don’t try to do everything yourself – outsource!
Learn what you can, but don’t try to perform each and every task related to the business by yourself. It might fail you or just wear you out.
Instead, hire freelancers to do some of the business related tasks for you, from design to marketing to customer service.
One of the best marketplaces to use when you need to outsource certain tasks is Fiverr, where you can hire extremely affordable freelance services, and give yourself the time and space to focus on your strengths.
Remember, your role is to run the business, not deal with each and every aspect of it personally.
Another way to build a business and go nomad is to sell a new, innovative product, and then outsource and automate its production, so you can travel while it’s making money for you. You will need a popular product to do that.
Crowd funding is a great tool you can use to test the potential popularity of your idea.
With crowd funding, you don’t have to start manufacturing until you have enough people showing interest in buying your product and supporting it with their investment.
Find clients who pay on time
If you chose the freelance path or the entrepreneur path, before you book a flight, make sure you can pay for your new digital nomad lifestyle.
First find some reliable clients or customers who pay on time, ideally clients who give you work on a regular basis.
Unless you have a nice amount of money available in your savings account, I suggest you don’t ignore this.
This stage may take some time and effort, but it’s the key to your success and will save you tons of frustration later on.
It took me a long while to find reliable clients before I started my digital nomad life as a freelance translator, but it was worth the effort.
I could travel, see places and meet people without being constantly worried about whether or not I was going to get paid on time.
As I was preparing for my digital nomad lifestyle, I came across quite a few clients who didn’t pay me on time and I simply decided not to work with them again. The clients I kept were the ones I could actually rely on.
Where to find clients as a digital nomad freelancer
You can start finding clients simply by asking your friends and family, posting on Facebook or other social media that you use regularly that you are looking for clients, and finally, by searching these job boards that offer work for freelancers:
Choose your digital nomad destination wisely
Ideally, as a clever digital nomad, you want to travel to a place where the cost of living is cheaper than where you currently live.
You can check the cost of living in different places around the world using sites like numbeo.com.
I use it before every trip to get an idea of how much things cost, from a bus ticket to a restaurant meal.
But the cost of living isn’t the only factor to consider. Many aspiring digital nomads I’ve talked to are worried about meeting people and making friends at their new destination.
If you already have friends, family or contacts somewhere, that would of course make the move much easier.
Otherwise, don’t worry. There are many ways to meet people when you travel. The easiest one I know is by attending local events.
These can be digital nomad meetups, language exchange meetings, city tours and many other types of social gatherings.
Work at your destination
Way before the term “digital nomad” became so commonly used, people would travel without their laptops (!) and find work at their destinations.
Working at hostels in exchange for room and board is probably the most popular example, but there are many more…
This route can either be planned or spontaneous. These jobs don’t necessarily require an Internet connection, so it’s a good option if you want to disconnect for a while.
So what can you do other than working at hostels? Here are some examples of jobs you can work at while you travel:
Working on a cruise ship
Scuba diving instructor
Summer camp staff
Pay attention to the work visa situation at the places you travel to.
In some places even unpaid work is considered work that requires a visa.
Other countries may be more lenient or you can get a working holiday visa if you’re eligible. Find out before you go.
Here are some websites you want to check out if you choose to travel and work at your destination:
Travel Medical Insurance for Digital Nomads
Before you embark on your new digital nomad lifestyle, you should buy travel medical insurance.
Your needs as a digital nomad are a bit different to those of ordinary travellers.
Some digital nomads travel continuously for several years without going back home; others may travel for several months at a time, then go home for a while and then go abroad again. There can be endless variations.
This lifestyle of working from anywhere gives you a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility in planning your trips.
For me, this is one of the best advantages of being a digital nomad.
It can be a major disadvantage though, when you contact traditional insurance companies that are normally strict about the dates of your travel and renewal options.
As a digital nomad, you won’t always be able to give them the fixed dates they require.
You want to be able to pursue opportunities that pop up along the way and enjoy the freedom of working from wherever you feel like. That’s why you need to be able to start and cancel your travel medical insurance at any time, even if you don’t know exactly how long you’ll be travelling for.
How do you make sure you’ll always be covered, without being limited to specific dates?
SafetyWing offers travel medical insurance intentionally designed for digital nomads.
It’s flexible, so you can start and cancel at any time. You can also buy it while you’re already travelling.
It’s available in 180 countries at a competitive price with 24/7 support. It even offers limited home country coverage, so you’ll be covered if you visit home occasionally. For the full details visit SafetyWing’s website.
The four routes to a digital nomad lifestyle
To recap, these are the four routes you can take, depending on where you are right now, to create a digital nomad lifestyle for yourself:
(1) Work in a remote position for your current employer or for a new employer
(2) Become a freelancer, working for various clients
(3) Set up your own business
(4) Work at a local job at your destination
Digital Nomad Lifestyle FAQ
Digital nomads can live and work from anywhere using an internet connection.
1 in 5 digital nomads makes over $100K per year, according to FlexJobs. How much you’ll earn depends on your industry and skills.
South East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central and South America are the most popular digital nomad destinations. In Western Europe, Spain and Portugal have large digital nomad communities.
Any job that can be done online, for example: Graphic designer, web developer, video editor, online tutor, hiring consultant, community manager, life coach, copywriter, illustrator and many more.