Who said you need to spend your whole life stuck inside a cubicle? With the power of the internet, the rise of apps that make remote work possible, and an increasing number of companies keen on remote workers or eager to work with freelancers, more people are quitting their 9-to-5 grind, packing their laptops, and working from exotic places for all or part of the year. Here’s your guide to becoming a digital nomad and transitioning from working a desk job to e-mailing colleagues or clients from a beach in Bali.
You might have heard about digital nomads while browsing their amazing travel photos on Instagram or reading superlative-laden interviews with people who travel the world while working. Digital nomads aren’t putting on a show – they’re loving their lives. A study by oDesk showed that 92% of nomads were happier since they left their traditional jobs and hit the road.
The digital nomad lifestyle is about as varied as the destinations on an airport departures list. Some nomads travel all the time while others spend only part of the year on the road. Some stay at locales for months, whereas others get bored and move on to their next travel adventure quickly.
But it’s not all cliff diving over picturesque waterfalls into azure blue pools. Most nomads spend as much time working as you do – they just do it in locations where there is more to explore on the evenings and weekends and where it is sometimes cheaper to live. Travelling all the time is exciting, but it can also be lonely, stressful, and frustrating. Most nomads have felt the frustration and fear of not being able to find a good Wi-Fi connection when a big project was due, the difficulties of not speaking the native language, and the feeling that they’re missing out because they’re away from home for so long.
Still, for all the drawbacks, there are those times when you can press ‘send’ after completing a big assignment and then head off to dip your toes in the ocean or ski down a mountain.
If you’re interested in being a nomad, the first thing you’ll have to figure out is how to pay the bills. Luckily, there are lots of options. Nomads are writers, entrepreneurs, life coaches, software developers, transcribers, voice-over actors, and even nurse practitioners.
You might want to start by seeing if your company would be open to having you work remotely. FlexJobs, which helps professionals find remote work, released a list of 100 major companies that are actively recruiting or open to having remote workers. If your company is not on that list, you could talk to your HR department or manager or search Flexjobs for opportunities.
If your job isn’t something you could do remotely, you might want to build a freelance career or online business – or both! Many nomads create blogs about their experience that they monetize through ads and affiliate marketing commissions. Some use their existing professional expertise to sell themselves as coaches or experts, building online brands to sell online courses, counselling sessions, and e-books. Some run online stores where they sell items or import and sell products on Amazon or Ebay.
If you’re looking to freelance your way to nomad freedom, figure out what area you want to focus on. If you’re a software developer or marketer, search online boards that list opportunities in your field. Start cold pitching clients and asking current clients or people you know for recommendations. You might even want to develop an expertise in a specific niche. You can also search sites like Fiverr, Freelancer, Guru, or Upwork which list opportunities across many fields. Blogs like The Professional Hobo and Nomadic Matt are also a great resource.
Maybe you already have a bucket list populated with all the locations you want to visit or maybe you just want to find someplace with a nice sandy beach and friendly locals. Sites like Nomad List will help you decide where to go with insights from other nomads.
Some things to consider include safety and cost of living. You can find out about the safety of a destination by checking out the Government of Canada’s travel advice and advisories. Join nomad communities on Facebook or Reddit to get a better sense of the true cost of living at a destination. Most nomads rent apartments or get deals on hotel rooms, or use services like Airbnb or Couchsurfing. But make sure to see how much things like food and other necessities cost to get a better understanding of how much you’ll need to make to support your nomad lifestyle.
Also, it’s important to remember that just because a location says they have Wi-Fi that doesn’t mean that it’s stable or that the speed will be fast enough for what you need. One thing you might want to do is look for locations that have co-working hubs where you can get work done. You can join a co-working network like Copass or use the app Workfrom which will give you a list of local cafes with Wi-Fi as well as local co-working places.
Before you buy your tickets, make sure that you can get a visa to those locations. Many nomads get by with just a tourist visa because their clients are located in other countries, but if you plan on working at your destination, you might need a special visa or you might not be able to visit certain countries.
According to the study by oDesk, about 24% of people saw a decrease in their income after becoming a nomad. That might not be a problem if you reduce your expenses by living somewhere cheap, but make sure that you have an emergency fund, good international health insurance, and a backup plan in case the company you’re working remotely for lays you off or your freelance client cancels a contract.
Also, if you plan to be on the road for a while, reduce your expenses by subletting your home, selling as much of your stuff as possible and putting the rest in storage. You don’t need a car sitting at home that you’re paying for if you’re going to be riding a scooter in Taipei.
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