I have always had a passion for travel. Since very early on, I would find solace on the road. There was something about the uncertainty of being in a foreign place and moving about in a strange land that I’ve frequently found so comforting. Maybe it’s the anonymity of not knowing a single soul, or maybe it’s the thrill of getting to discover the endless beauty that exists out there in this world. Because of that deep down burning desire to wander the world, becoming a digital nomad came naturally to me.
And what’s not to like? A digital nomad has the freedom of indulging that insatiable wanderlust that resides in us all to see new things, experience different cultures and embrace a sense of freedom that comes along with globe trotting across the world. Because of my love and undying affection for travel, I became a wanderlust worker, a self-professed digital nomad, able to live and work remotely from virtually any place on the planet.
For the past decade, I’ve traveled the world many times over, seeing some of the most captivating destinations on God’s green earth. From the undeniable beauty of a city like Istanbul and the shimmering waters of its encapsulated Bosphorus Sea, to the white-sanded beaches of the Dominican Republic, the worn-torn streets of Kiev, Ukraine, the rolling hills of Italy’s Tuscany region, and the bustling Canadian metropolis of Vancouver, and just about everywhere in between, I’ve wandered and I’ve worked there.
However, becoming a digital nomad is no simple feat. To do so, you need some inherent skill and talent. You also need to know just how and where you’ll earn your income from. While many of these so-called work from anywhere companies might profess to give you the tools to succeed in your digital nomadic lifestyle, most of them are designed to extra money from you rather than to help you earn money.
What Is a Digital Nomad?
Before I launch into a discussion about how you can become a digital nomad, let’s first define what it actually is. So, what exactly does it mean to become a digital nomad? What type of freedom does it entail? What type of restrictions does it invoke? What are some things to know before you embark upon this global journey of trekking around the planet, wandering from one country to the next?
Wikipedia defines digital nomads as “people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers typically work remotely—generally from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces and even recreational vehicles—to accomplish tasks and goals that traditionally took place in a single, stationary workplace.”
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work for yourself. You can be a digital nomad and work for an employer. Some of the best travel writers have full-time jobs traveling the world, with their trusty laptops in tote, pounding away at the keyboard and soaking up that intoxicating air of freedom of the open road and ability to roam wherever the wind (or their employer) might take them.
However, a digital nomad, in the true sense of the word, is self-employed. They’re internet marketers and entrepreneurs who attempt to sell a lifestyle of living and working on the beach, being rich and having endless resources to do what they want, when they want and where they want to in life. But it isn’t quite that simple. Don’t get sucked into all the hype or purchase some system that all-but guarantees your success as a digital nomad.
The problem? There is no elevator to success as a digital nomad. You quite literally have to take the stairs. You have to put in the time to ensure that you’re able to support your nomadic lifestyle and to cure that insatiable thirst for wanderlust within you. But back to the questions posed, there are certainly some things to figure out before you embark on this journey. Where will you go? Where will you live? How will you earn your money while abroad? What will you do when problems arise?
There are simply so many competing factors involved here that you quite literally need to ensure you’re organized and financially prepared for this adventure. In some destinations, your digital-nomadic lifestyle could easily be disrupted by things like the lack of internet access, loss of a passport, natural disaster, and theft, just to name a few. So you have to be prepared. You have to have a backup plan or know what you’re going to do in case of a medical, personal or financial emergency.
Yes, I know. It doesn’t sound as glamorous when we start raising all of these red flags, does it? Still, the nomadic lifestyle is a wonderful, fulfilling and incredible experience if you can get past all the finer details. But you have to be prepared. If you’re serious about hitting the proverbial road and throwing caution to the wind, then that’s great, but don’t do it before you at least check off some boxes, dot those i’s and cross all those t’s.
Things to Consider Before Embarking on Your Journey
Okay. Okay. So you’ve made up your mind. You’ve set your goal of becoming a self-professed wanderlust and roaming free, moving where the wind might take you. Sure, it sounds great. Absolutely, great. But before you embark on your digital-nomadic journey, there are some things to consider.
#1 — Healthcare
While traveling the world might seem like a grand adventure, you still need to attend to your health. From immunizations for visiting certain parts of the world, to checkups and tests in other parts of the world, and of course, those unforeseen emergencies that can and do arise, your health has to be a concern when you’re busy wandering the world.
From finding a general practitioner that speaks English, to ensuring what dentist to go to in the event of an emergency, or what phone number to call in the case of an accident or some other more dreadful situation, it’s important to gather the right information and purchase international health insurance before you set out.
There are plenty of plans that will cover you while you’re abroad. It’s best that you search and find the right ones that will fit your situation. Clearly, this also depends on both what country you’re a resident of and just where you’re traveling to. Still, you’ll easily find 6-month plans and even 12-month plans while abroad that should cover most emergency situations.
Overall, when it comes to your health, here’s a checklist of points you should address before embarking on your journey:
- Research and purchase a travel health insurance plan
- When searching for places to stay, be sure to locate the nearest hospital, emergency room, dentist and clinic
- If you don’t speak the language, be sure to locate someone who can translate for you in emergency situations
#2 — Banking
While banking is a convenience in much of the developed world, where credit cards, debit cards and even services like Apple Pay and other smartphone payment systems dominate the landscape, making cash almost obsolete, that isn’t necessarily true for the rest of the world. You also have to be wary of banking scams, theft and other perils depending on where in the world you are.
There’s also the issue of having hard cash and finding a good place to exchange your currency with good exchange rates. What I’ve found is that the best way to get the local currency is to take the cash out of an ATM, which usually offers favorable exchange rates as long as it’s not done in an airport. Never exchange money at an airport unless you want to pay an exorbitant exchange rate.
What you’ll have to determine is just how easy or difficult it will be to pay for things with or without cash. If you’re traveling through Eastern Europe, you’ll find that cash will be more popular than say, Canada or Australia. You’ll also have to be weary of certain ATMs that you do find that are designed to skim your card number or steal your ATM PIN code through sneaky devices attached to the machine itself.
Overall, here’s what you need to consider when it comes to banking abroad:
- The popularity of credit cards and debit cards used for purchases in your intended destination
- If using debit card or credit cards, whether your bank charges an international transaction fee (most do)
- Cost of taking cash (per-transaction fees and foreign-exchange fees) out from a foreign ATM machine
- Location of banks or ATMs close to where you intend to stay
#3 — Housing
Obviously, housing is an important concern no matter where you’re heading. Quite possibly one of the largest costs for digital nomads is indeed the roof over their heads. Now, some prefer to go it rough, sleeping on the beach or surfing on couches. Personally, that’s not for me, but if you’re into that kind of thing, clearly your housing costs won’t be as much of a burden to you.
Depending on where you’re heading, you’ll want to consider your housing situation carefully. While some destinations have great short-term apartments or homes available for rent, not all of them do. The best bet? Use a site like AirBnB if you’re looking to stay for a little while and try to negotiate the rate if you’re coming in for longer than a week or two.
Aside from that, you should really research the area before deciding on something long term. No matter what advice you read, having actual real firsthand knowledge of the neighborhoods in the city you intend to become a digital nomad in, is quit important. What I like to do is grab a short term rental or a hotel room for a few days in a popular tourist area, then explore the vicinity, asking the concierge or locals for advice when possible.
Overall, here are the main pointers for housing as a digital nomad:
- Research the area well, using your personal network (where possible) to find out more about the neighborhoods
- Reach out using Facebook groups to people that are living and working as digital nomads in those cities
- Secure temporary digs before deciding on something in the long term — you can use sites like CouchSurfing, AirBnB and Craigslist to arrange something for a few days or weeks while you do your due diligence
- Pay special attention to crime in the neighborhoods as theft is usually the biggest problem that digital nomads face abroad
#4 — Transportation
One other major consideration as a digital nomad is transportation. How are you going to get around the city that you ultimately choose to stay in for any extended period? If you’re living in a bustling metropolis, yet you find yourself outside the center, how difficult will it be to do things like shop for groceries and run errands when need be?
For the most part, you’ll find great public transportation in many of the places that are ideal for digital nomads. But you still need to do the research. Does the city have a good subway or bus system? Is it ideal for getting around without a car or, if you’re in the middle of a Costa Rican jungle, you might end up needing some wheels.
Take the time to do your due diligence. If you’re selecting a city based on the low cost-of-living prices, ensure that you’ve got your transportation covered. If you plan on staying for an extended period, say more than 6 months, you’ll also need to look into things like an international driver’s license if you plan on driving a car.
Overall, here are the points to consider for transportation:
- Is there a decent public transportation system that includes buses and subways?
- Are ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft available in the city?
- What’s the cost of a taxi ride if you find yourself without a service like Uber or decent public transportation?
#5 — Language
If you’re a native English speaker, then you’re in luck because English is the predominant language around much of the world. However, what you’ll usually find in foreign countries that act as thriving hubs for digital nomads, is that you’ll find the cities and metropolises filled with English speakers, while the countrysides and suburban areas to be less so.
Even within certain cities and metropolises, you might find that people struggle with the language. Depending on how far you wander from home, so to speak, this experience will vary. Don’t count on people knowing how to speak your language where you go. This is definitely a rookie mistake.
While you don’t need to be fluent in the language of wherever you’re traveling to, you should learn the basics. Pick up a phrases or conversational language book or download it onto your phone. You could also opt for audiobooks to help you do the same thing. There are a number of really great ones out there that are helpful such as the ones by Pimsleur.
Some key points to consider here are:
- Ensure that your you can get by without knowing the language spoken in your intended destination
- Pick up a book of phrases or an audiobook to learn some of the basics of the language
- Be sure to have an app such as Google Translate handy on your phone to help you out in times of need
#6 — Phone & Internet
One of the most important aspects of being a digital nomad is having access to means of communication. Having a cell phone and access to the internet are paramount. But, oftentimes, this can be tricky when you’re traveling abroad, especially if it’s your first time.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that you can’t always simply bring your phone with you abroad and swap out the SIM card. If your phone is locked to a network, you won’t be able to use a SIM card from any other network. You might end up learning this the hard way.
The solution? Find yourself an inexpensive unlocked phone you can use when you’re abroad that would give you some basic internet and voice functionality. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it is a necessity for getting around and communicating with others.
#7 — Income
The central goal of any digital nomad is to be able to generate enough income to live off of while traveling and wandering the planet. Depending on how you decide to produce that income, your nomadic adventures can either be the most enjoyable experience, or one of the most stressful.
The worst page about wandering off to a far-reaching destination on the planet is if you get into a situation where you run out of money and you have no one to turn to. However, by finding a destination that’s relatively inexpensive to live, you’re far less likely to run into that problem. Still, emergencies can and do happen.
Do your best to organize your finances prior to your departure. Settle as much of your debt as you can, and ensure that you have a stable source of income or clients that will keep you working throughout your travels. If at all possible, be sure you have access to some savings in the case you can’t generate income during one particular month or go through some dry spell.
What’s the Secret to Becoming a Successful Digital Nomad?
If you really want to succeed at being a digital nomad and truly being able to roam the planet and go wherever the wind might take you, you need passive income. Yes, the holy grail of all income types. Why? Because it’s automatic. So in order to truly embrace that wanderlust within you, travel the world and live as a digital nomad, you need to ensure you can get by in the case that you can’t find work or can’t seem to produce an income for whatever reason.
I know. I know. Producing passive income is hard. That is truly correct. But the only reason I’ve been able to be a digital nomad for the past decade is thanks to the amazing power of passive income. While this isn’t a necessity or a prerequisite for embarking on your adventures, it certainly helps.
While I was able to organize my affairs properly in support of my wanderlust goals and desires, it wasn’t easy by any measure. To become a digital nomad, not only do you have to be passionate about traveling, but you also have to have a clear understanding about how to create an income online that will pay you automatically. In another words, you have to master the art of generating passive income.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You don’t need a passive income to become a digital nomad. That’s true. You don’t. You could head to a city like Chiang Mai, and simply live on the cheap, partaking in jobs in the digital gig economy, writing articles, doing graphic design, developing code, or, for a little bit of human face-to-face interaction, even teaching english to the locals.
Yes, you can do all of that.
However, if you’re looking to become a true digital nomad, a nomadic warrior if you will, where you get to call the shots, and a disruption of internet access, theft of a laptop, or any other number of things that can happen on the road might occur, you won’t need to scramble to find a way to make ends meet. When you have passive income — the kind that generates automatically month to month with little necessity for maintenance — that’s when you’re truly free.