Getting to travel the world while still making money seems like the dream right? With the rise in location independent jobs as long as you’ve got a laptop, cellphone, and internet connection it’s easier than ever to live that dream.
Instagram may make it seem like its all poolside work sessions scattered among exciting adventures, but a lot more goes into it. Living the digital nomad dream is a lot of hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun and filled with new experiences so if you want to make that leap here are the key elements and skills you are going to need.
How to become a digital nomad
Actual things you will need
First and foremost to work remotely you will need a job that allows you to be remote. Certain jobs will lend themselves more to digital nomad-ery than others, graphic design is easier to do remotely than say wholesale shipping. So your first task will be figuring out if your current job and skills will transfer over to a remote workspace. If yes awesome, if no then you may need to look into learning some new skills and building up a portfolio of work.
The next thing you will need to do is find work/clients that will allow you to work remotely. Maybe your current employer is cool with you traveling around as long as you submit your work on time which would be awesome. But for those of us not so fortunate to have awesome jobs in place its time to start looking for some remote gigs. Depending on your field, experience, and contacts this journey will be different for everyone. There are lots of ways to go about finding work, networks like LinkedIn are good and keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook for job offerings from your favorite companies. But I think the best place to go are remote work specific job sites. There are tons out there now but here are the ones I’ve gotten jobs through and have heard good things about.
The thing to know about using these sites is that they are a good place to start, most of the projects you’ll find on them will be what I call “Resume/Portfolio Builders”. I say that because a lot of them will be small projects and they won’t pay very well. But they get you out there and working, and every once in a while you will get good project that could develop into actual well paying client. But beware that a lot if is “a race to the bottom” as Rob so eloquently put it when I first started using these sites to find work. Meaning that companies are looking for the cheapest most qualified person. There’s a good chance you’ll be doing work for below market rate, but you gotta start somewhere right?
Isn’t the internet grand? It allows us to work from anywhere, or you know, check Facebook from anywhere. So here’s the deal, you will need the internet to do a lot of your work so you’ve got to make sure the places you are going will have access to it. Luckily most of the world is online, I’ve been able to check my email from fancy coworking spaces in the US and Canada to rural beach side bungalows in Myanmar.
When making accomodation reservations I always make sure that the Air BNB, hotel, hostel, homestay, whatever has internet connection. The other big thing to remember is that the internet is not going to be great in some places so plan accordingly. Don’t plan to be on a remote island in Indonesia when you have a big deadline because chances are the internet will spotty and that will cause more stress than productivity. The other thing is to have a backup plan, AKA a local SIM card with plenty of data.
Making sure your cell phone works wherever you are is important so having either an international phone plan or getting local SIM cards is key. Being able to take calls is always helpful in communicating with clients. But the bigger thing is being able to have data to either work from your phone or tether your computer off your phones connection. There will be a point where you will be in the middle of something and lose internet, or have to fix a big problem from the road where there is no internet and being able to tether is a life saver.
You gotta do the work somehow and for most of us a laptop is the key. I had to use an iPad when my computer crashed in Ireland and I couldn’t get it fixed for three weeks, due to our constant motion schedule we were never in a city long enough to get an appointment. For the type of work I do, graphic design, photography, and writing the iPad wasn’t great but I made it work because I didn’t have a choice. The point is laptops are important for work, but depending on the kind of work you are doing the type of computer and programs needed will vary.
Airports, train stations, cafes, hostel, and anywhere else you might try to get some work done are usually noisy. Headphones help to block out all that comotion and help you focus. It doesn’t matter what you are listening to, everyone’s preferences are different. I generally like instrumental music while I’m writing and podcast while I’m designing and editing photos. The main thing is that it’ll block out the two girls at the next table discussing some kind of drama that I would totally listen in on like I’m watching a soap opera.
Skills you will need
Anyone who works for themselves will tell you it takes some motivation to get things done, especially in the beginning. All of a sudden you have all this new found freedom and it can be hard to knuckle down and do the work when you are tired and jet lagged or everyone at your hostel is going swimming at a waterfall. Without a boss looking over your shoulder, or at least in the office down the hall, all that motivation will fall on you.
It can also be hard to stay motivated to keep pitching companies and applying for projects when you are getting rejected. And it can happen, remember that whole “race to the bottom” bit?
You have to be really motivated to live this kind of lifestyle because it does not have the normal security or clear path that a regular 9-5 type job would have.
All this being said sometimes the “I have to do this or I won’t get paid” mentality can be very motivating.
When you are running your own business or at least operating far away from your boss you need to be organized. Keeping track of projects, invoices, and just day to day tasks is a lot and can become infinitely more complicated when you are coordinating with a client or team back home.
There are two organization tools I like to keep me on track and help bring some calm to the chaos. I still use a paper book style planner where I write down everything in color coded pen. I love the Panda Planner, it’s got daily, weekly and monthly views to keep your day to day tasks and goals organized. Then for more specific and long term tasks I use the Trello app. I like that I can list out all my tasks to complete a certain goal on individual cards, then move those cards around depending on where I am in the task. So I’ve got mine set up in four columns, Icebox – any and all ideas and tasks that don’t have a deadline yet, Backlog – tasks that are queuing up to be worked on, In Progress – tasks I’m actively working on, and Done – woohoo anything that is finished!
Industries in the digital space are always changing and evolving and keeping up at some level is important. I don’t think you have to be on the cutting edge of everything but keeping up with what is going on in your industry is beneficial. Every once in while I hear about old school developers or marketers who are so stuck in their old ways of doing things that they don’t care about what all “the kids are doing these days” and wonder why their companies aren’t doing well.
I love learning so I have a subscription to SkillShare and am constantly brushing up on photography, social media marketing, and entrepreneurship classes.
Digital nomad community
It can be a lonely and weird not going into an office, there have been times where I’ve been plugging away at work and realize I have actually spoken to another human in a day or more. We humans are social creatures so having a community around you to chat with, work out problems with, and bounce ideas off of is really nice.
When you are traveling you are bound to meet people, but they could be anyone from backpackers on a gap year to people on their yearly two week vacation, so not quite in the same work travel mindset. Luckily there are so many digital nomads out there now that finding Meetups in your area usually isn’t too hard, you could also host one if nothing is showing up. The other great option are online communities, The Digital Nomad Girls are an awesome online community that do online coworking sessions, workshops, and “Tea Time” just to virtually hang out and chat.
Hopefully I haven’t scared you off the digital nomad lifestyle, but I also wanted to present all the realities of what it takes.
It does take a lot, but I think it’s worth it if you want to break out of the mold and see the world.
My Digital Nomad Essentials
Where to Find Remote Work
How to Work From Home or Anywhere
Digital Nomad Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
How I Quit My Job to Travel
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