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What Is a ‘Digital Nomad’ and How to Become One in 2021?

Your 9-to-5 doesn’t have to be in an office. In fact, you don’t have to work 9-to-5 at all.

What about becoming a digital nomad, working from anywhere and at any time?

It’s a lifestyle that’s perfect for those who love freedom and don’t want to stay sit behind a desk all day and have awkward watercooler chat.

We’ll let you in on what it’s like being a digital nomad, including its pros and cons, job opportunities, and how you can try it out for yourself.

What is a digital nomad?

A map with a camera and notebooks on it

A digital nomad is someone who leverages modern-day technologies to work remotely from anywhere in the world.

Typically, digital nomads work from faraway places and strike a much better work-life-travel balance than old-school office workers.

To become a digital nomad, all you need is an internet connection, a laptop, and a website to create a powerful digital presence.

That said, to become a full-time digital nomad, you’ll need a certain set of skills.

Being self-disciplined and organized, for instance, are essential skills to be able to separate work and personal life. Setting up a dedicated home office space can also help to create boundaries.  

To make the most out of the gig economy, schedule your work hours, stick to them, and you’ll be free to explore your new city and country later on.

Other necessary and useful skills for a digital nomad are:

  • Great written and verbal communication skills
  • Some knowledge of marketing and sales
  • Experience in budgeting and decision making

What are the pros and cons of living as a digital nomad?

Working remotely and being location independent has its good and bad sides. Understanding both of them will help you prepare to become a full-time digital nomad.

Remote work has a lot going for it, like:

  • Non-stop travel. Visit all of the places in the world you want to explore, meet new people, and experience different cultures.
  • No office politics. You are your own boss, and you’re safe from having to navigate the intricacies of office life.
  • Freedom. Full control and flexibility over your work time, and location independence too.
  • New opportunities. Build a network with the people you met, write a traveling blog, and make money from it, or learn new languages.

However, some challenges of digital nomadism include:

  • No guaranteed income. Unless you’re an employed remote worker for some company, digital nomads are always on the lookout for clients or are busy building their online businesses.
  • Blurry work time. It can feel like you’re always working, especially if you’re not good at managing your time.
  • Loneliness. If you’re going at it solo and are moving around a lot too, it’s hard to form deep and long-lasting relationships with the people you meet.

10 popular ways digital nomads make money

Girl on a laptop outside at a table

Thanks to rapid technological advancements, it’s easier than ever before for people to work remotely. It’s something that was almost impossible just a few short decades ago.

The good news is that you have lots of options to choose from. Some of the high-demand jobs roles for digital nomads include:

  • Web developer. Work as a full-stack developer or focus on either the frontend or backend web development.
  • Graphic designer. Create digital images for various purposes, like posters, pamphlets, logos, and much more.
  • Virtual assistant. Perform administrative tasks like scheduling appointments and managing emails.
  • Digital marketer. Analyze and strategize a company’s online marketing tactics to drive more sales.
  • Content or copywriter. Write marketing or sales copy for B2B or B2C clients; focus on producing copy that compels readers to take action to buy products and services.
  • Consultant. Offer expertise and advice from anywhere in the world. You can be a finance consultant, SEO-consultant, life-coach consultant, or consult in anything that you’re good at.
  • Online shop owner. Run a dropshipping store, sell second-hand items, or promote digital goods through an online store.
  • Translator. This is the perfect gig for anyone who knows more than one language.
  • Online tutor. Support students around the world and help them in subjects that you’ve knowledgeable in or simply the ones which you’re good at.
  • YouTuber or blogger. Share your travels with a digital audience and collect ad revenue.
  • The list goes on… Take any skill or interest of yours and make it into a business. Here are some ideas to get you started.

How to become a digital nomad in 6 steps

1. Fine-tune your skills

Skillshare landing page

Find out what you’re good at and what’s in demand. 

Use of online learning platforms like edX and Coursera. You can even use YouTube and learn from other users sharing their expertise for free.

If you’re willing to spend some money, paid platforms like Skillshare, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning are worth trying. Plus, you’ll get a certificate for completing courses that you can then proudly display and add trustworthiness.

Be on the lookout for communities or forums related to the skills you’re learning. This way, you have a place to ask questions and learn from others. 

There’s WP Developers Club for WordPress developers, ProZ.com for translators, and Behance for graphic designers, to name a few.

2. Find ways to make money online

Once you’re confident in your skills, it’s time to start earning with them.

Digital nomads usually apply for remote jobs, become freelancers, or run their own businesses.

Remote jobs are great if you are looking for a stable monthly income. 

As remote working is becoming more and more normal, keep a lookout on job portals like Indeed and Glassdoor. Don’t forget to create alerts so you’ll get instant notifications when new job opportunities are posted.

Glassdoor landing page

Freelancers typically have online portfolios and social media accounts to promote their work. They also use sites like Fiverr and Upwork to look for gigs and clients.

If you decide to be self-employed and run your own business, there are many ways to get started. You could run a YouTube channel and sell merchandise, create a membership website, or hold webinars and online courses.

Whichever approach you choose, be sure that it plays on your strengths and can support your lifestyle as a digital nomad.

3. Save money

As excited as you might be to start your world traveler lifestyle, it’s best to prepare yourself financially before making a move that’s as big as this.

Calculate your current monthly spending and cut out unnecessary expenses. Track your spending to be sure that you’re working with accurate numbers.

It’s important that your savings should get you through at least six months without any income. Especially if you’re a freelancer or self-employed entrepreneur and don’t have a stable income, this emergency fund will easily get you through one or two bad months.

4. Decide on a location and set a budget

Research the countries and cities you want to visit and live in. 

Read blog posts from other digital nomads and ask them about their experiences living in the cities. This way, you’ll get a good idea for what to expect and what to prepare for.

Once you know where you’ll be traveling, set a budget based on the living expenses around the area.

Some costs to consider include:

  • Accommodation
  • Local SIM card and data packages
  • Groceries and eating out
  • Leisure expenses
  • Tourist visas
  • Transportation
  • Coworking space membership
  • Travel tickets such as planes, trains, and buses

Setting a budget helps to visualize your expected expenses and understand when it’s okay to spend extra on things like travel and entertainment.

5. Join a digital nomad community

Work Wanderers home page

The digital nomad community has built-in support groups and a wealth of knowledge to navigate the nomad lifestyle.

You can learn new skills from community members, ask questions, and get insights into selecting your new base.

Try joining location-specific Facebook groups or platforms like Location Indie or Work Wanderers to connect with other travelers.

6. Get a good a health insurance plan

Many digital nomads make the mistake of not taking health insurance into consideration when they set out on their journey.

You might not realize it, but a simple doctor’s visit for tourist in a foreign country can cost a fortune. Without insurance, you can end up in significant debt trying to cover your health expenses.

Many health insurance companies offer packages for overseas travelers. The price and what they cover vary greatly, so understand your options in-depth before purchasing a plan.

Overall, look for a plan that has global coverage outside the home country. You want a plan that allows you to make a claim online, and covers treatment for pre-existing conditions.

Read the insurance providers’ policy details and FAQ pages in great detail, so you won’t be met with surprises while in a foreign country.

The nitty-gritty of starting a nomadic lifestyle

A person in an airport departure lounge looking at the departing flights

You need some essential documents and tech to prepare for your new digital nomad lifestyle.

Documents and accounts

Before take-off, all digital nomads must have at least these documents and accounts at hand:

  • Passport
  • Business license
  • Local bank account
  • International payment accounts such as PayPal or Payoneer
  • Virtual phone systems like Grasshopper for local numbers and VoIP calls
  • International internet connection
  • Health insurance
  • Driver’s license
  • Emergency fund
  • Doctor’s notes and prescriptions

Nomad tech

When it comes to packing, there’s one major rule:

If you’re not going to use it often or it can’t help you to make money online, leave it. Unnecessary items will only slow you and your travel experience down.

Some of the must-have tech items for your travelling lifestyle include:

  • Laptop and phone. These are your keys to unlock the digital nomadic freedom.
  • Power bank. Don’t run out of charge while you’re on the go.
  • Laptop stand. Reduces back pain and corrects your posture.
  • Powerboard. Charge all of your gadgets at the same time; highly useful since most coffee shops and hotel rooms have a limited number of sockets.
  • Travel wallet. Hold your SIM cards, passports, credit cards, and everything else in one place.
  • GorillaPod. A flexible mini-tripod to attach your smartphone or camera anywhere.
  • Noise-canceling earbuds. Great for airplane rides if you move cities a lot.
  • Flash drive and external hard drives. You’ll never know when and where WiFi won’t be an option for file transfer.
  • Universal travel adapter. Easily plug your electronic devices into any countrys’ power outlets.

Written by

Author avatar

Matleena

Matleena is a seasoned eCommerce writer, with a particular interest in emerging digital marketing trends, dropshipping, and growth hacking. She’s addicted to coming up with new eCommerce business ideas and making them a reality; she deserves her nickname of ‘print on demand business mogul.' In her free time, she enjoys cups of good coffee, tends to her balcony garden, and studies Japanese.

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