digital nomads working in a restaurant Expat Advice

Digital nomads – how to become one?

We live in a highly mobile world connected by technology. It’s created the perfect environment for a new breed of workers – digital nomads.

The term has been around for a few years and most people are familiar with it. It often brings to mind someone relaxing on an exotic beach, tablet in one hand and martini in the other. This hip millennial lives lights and carries all they need with them, as they travel the world on an online up-and-get-‘em freelancing income and a diet of multicultural, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

This idealised image may be grounded in truth, but it’s often far from the case.

And as technology, tourism, and work cultures continue to change, the place digital nomads hold is beginning to shift.

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who uses modern technology to work from different locations. It’s different from remote working in that the “classic” nomad is self-employed. They’re often freelancers and entrepreneurs, running their own small businesses.

This often means flexibility of working hours and location. This is key because it allows people to work from anywhere, just as long as they have power points and WiFi. Digital nomads tend to use the freedom of their work style to travel the world. Without responsibilities like rent and bills, nomads can put their resources into funding ongoing travel.

Internet connectivity is key to this lifestyle. It’s the primary way to communicate and gain clients. As mobile technologies improve, this lifestyle has become more accessible to more people.

The services these workers offer tend to be digitally-focussed. This is partially because it’s often not necessary to be in the same room as clients for this work, and often the work is smaller projects. Common nomad jobs are website developers, copy writers, social media marketers, and digital creatives doing work like video production.

However, this digital nomad ideal is no longer as unique as it once was. The increasing accessibility means more people are doing it. More businesses are seeking freelancers over permanent employees to fill the gaps.

It’s also led to a rise in businesses offering their permanent employees the option to work remotely. According to Forbes, the number of people who’ve quit their employment because of a lack of flexibility has nearly doubled in 3 years. It’s risen from just 17% in 2014 to 32% last year. It seems a trend that’s likely to continue. Flexible working is not the unique thing it once was.

Living as a digital nomad

Some of the pros

The biggest drawcard for the nomadic life is the flexibility. Being your own boss means you can arrange your own schedule. You can set aside the morning for work, then spend the afternoon doing whatever leisure activities take your fancy.

To some extent, you can also pick the kind of work you do. You have the option to choose your clients. It can be much easier than travel and work under the old-fashioned work visas. With them, the job you’re able to get heavily depends on a job market in a single city. In the digital world, you have a global market.

Someone organised will find it’s possible to travel the whole world with just a backpack and a smart device. Especially if they can find somewhere where the cost of living is low. Southeast Asia has done well as a digital destination, as have some countries in Eastern Europe. Many of these were already popular tourist destinations and have done a great job of cashing in on the convergence of tourism and technology. Ukraine is one thriving example.

But ask any digital nomad about their lifestyle and you’re bound to hear it’s not as fancy-free as it may seem.

Challenges of the lifestyle

Anyone who’s traveled knows how difficult it can be to keep organised – and that’s just when you’re on holiday. Add in remote work challenges like tracking projects, balancing deadlines with travel, and managing multiple clients across different time zones, and it’s a whole different game.

This is on top of the normal challenges of self-employment. You don’t always have the financial security. Even without financial responsibilities like rent and bills, there’s costs like food, transport, and accommodation. If you’re on a low budget you might be staying in cheap hostels, but that gets tiring. A serviced apartment can be a great option, but that lightens the wallet. Budgeting is crucial.

Life administration is still necessary, and more effort is needed to get paid. You’re responsible for your own invoices and tax declarations.

Travelling also poses its own risks and uncertainties. You’re dealing with different cultures and local rules. You have to find your own way around unfamiliar cities. And you need to find a reliable WiFi connection.

The digital nomad lifestyle tends to be a temporary way of life. It can be exhausting travelling around constantly and not having a place to call home. Plenty of blogs online share stories of those who’ve abandoned the nomadic life. Some have even found the lifestyle unproductive.

Becoming a digital nomad

For many people, the benefits outweigh the challenges – especially as a short term way of living and traveling the world.

Although it sometimes seems like a fad that’s dying out, there’s never been a better time to be a digital nomad. We’re not saying it won’t be a challenge, but if you’ve got the drive and stamina, it’s worth a go.

There’s plenty of advice on how to become a digital nomad all over the internet. You can often find forums and websites focused on the kind of work you do, or the locations you want to visit. It’s always worth looking for communities and people who’ve done it before.

Earlier this year Forbes put together a great article on being a digital nomad. One of their key pieces of advice for newbie nomads is to define what success looks like for you. If you’re setting your own schedule, you can also set your own priorities and make sure work and personal life align.

Another key tip – if you’re taking the freelancer route – is to build up a base of clients before you start the nomadic lifestyle. Budget sensibly and work out your minimum income requirement. Develop good relationships, get longer-term work, and grow your reputation.

Finally, be careful not to take too much with you. If you’re travelling around a lot, you don’t want to be burdened with unnecessary items. Our packing tips for moving might help, but so might choosing a bag you can carry on your back and only filling that.

Just don’t forget your laptop. Or tablet, smart phone, or other mobile digital device.