Beginner's Guide to Digital Nomads

by Diego Navarro | LAST UPDATED March 21, 2021

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There are a few things that we can reasonably assume when someone tells us that they’ve worked in an office for more than 6 months.

Number one - You’re sick of clocking in every day and going through the same routine.

Number two - You’re just aching for a change of scenery and a fresh start to your day.

Number three - Your back is never going to forgive you for what you put it through in those few months.

There are naturally going to be quite a lot of people that are content with their routine and don’t feel like they want to change it.

However, if you’re one of those people that’s been hit hard by wanderlust and simply feel like you need a change, then the digital nomad lifestyle might just suit you.

What Does Digital Nomad Mean?

Digital nomad in nature

“Digital Nomad” is a very strange and oddly mystical-sounding way to refer to someone that’s simply working online.

The name leads to a lot of confusion, so we feel like we should go over a few of the bare essentials as to what the term actually means.

Simply put - a digital nomad is someone that can work from virtually anywhere, provided that they have access to wifi or a hotspot.

We should mention that it’s quite distinct from people that take up van life. 

For one, digital nomadism usually involves staying in a hotel or Airbnb, while van dwellers bring their own homes.

And while you can work online from your van, most people who do tend to take up “on location” jobs in order to earn money due to the lack of internet access.

The idea behind the digital nomad life is that it can allow you to visit any location that you want, while still being able to work and finance your travels.

That being said, the nomadic lifestyle isn’t an easy one and it requires a lot of hard work and dedication.

However, same as working in an office, it has its ups and downs, and it’s up to you to decide which of the two you’d prefer.

Why Not Work In an Office?

Office space

Sub-par work conditions and minimum wages are a sign of a poor workplace rather than a bad office environment, so we’ll just go ahead and skip issues like that.

Aside from any major annoyances with the job itself, anyone that’s ever worked in an office knows exactly how confining it can feel.

There are differences of course and not every workplace is going to be the same, but a lot of them share the same issues.

A lot of offices have the sort of cliques that you rarely see outside of high school movies, and it’s very easy to step on someone’s toes and have half of your coworkers give you the cold shoulder.

There are also strict rules about everything, from the arrival time at the office to the number of decorations that you can have on your desk.

It’s also very common to have your superior monitor the amount of time that you spend away from your desk and scold you for it, regardless of if your assignments have been completed or not.

There are plenty of other issues that we can mention, but you get the idea already.

Again, some workplaces are going to be better than others, while some are going to have all of these annoyances and then some.

While these may seem like small problems, they have a tendency to build up over time and the end result is an unpleasant work environment.

Coronavirus

It's pretty hard not to talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to trying to make any sort of travel plans in the current climate.

The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest problem that you're going to face when it comes to trying to break into the digital nomad lifestyle, and it's going to be the biggest issue when it comes to your quality of life while traveling.

You'll need to make constant detours and re-route your travel arrangements in order to avoid countries that have closed their borders.

Additionally, you're also going to need to sit out the mandatory quarantine periods as soon as you manage to enter the countries themselves.

This is undoubtedly a massive hurdle in your path and it'll really test how badly you want to become a digital nomad.

The Positives of Being a Digital Nomad

A taxi driving in an urban area

Our beginner’s guide to being a digital nomad is going to cover a lot of the technical aspects, as well as the things that you should expect if you decide to go on this journey.

However, we should take a bit of time and actually go over a few of the most incentivizing reasons as to why people decide to become location-independent online workers.

Every Day Is an Adventure

There is a certain exhilaration that you get when you wake up in the morning and you aren’t quite sure what exactly that day might hold.

You know that you might get something to eat and that you might try and get a bit of work done whenever you can, but aside from that, it’s a blank slate.

This sense of jumping into the unknown can really allow you to tap into reserves of positive energy that you didn’t think you ever had.

This is a great source of inspiration for anyone that has a job that requires creativity, but that might have been stifled by spending every day in the same environment.

Actually, this change of scenery can also work for people that don’t have jobs that are focused on being creative since they can still use this energy to be more productive.

Keep in mind that everyone is different, and further on we’ll go into some of the negatives of constant travel.

But all in all, as long as you know your limits and are aware of how often you can afford to switch locations and when you need to take a break, you should be just fine in terms of energy levels.

Beautiful Locations

Let’s just get this out of the way - No, you won’t be able to visit all of the places that you’ve ever dreamed of.

This will all depend on your budget and the amount of travel that you’re willing to do, but in general, being a digital nomad is going to mean using what you have wisely.

What we mean by this is that you’ll be able to visit a lot of beautiful locations both in the US and internationally, but most of the time you won’t be able to spend a month in Bali or drink Vinho Verde on the beaches of Portugal.

Location independence is about using what you have intelligently, and as long as you put a bit more effort into planning your destinations, you’ll see a lot of the world on a pretty tight budget

We’re not saying that you can’t spend some time in Chiang Mai in Thailand, or even go for a drink in October in Berlin.

What we are saying is that you’ll probably need to spend a bit of time in less tourist-focused cities in order to save up some money to spend more time in the locations where you actually want to go.

More Time for Yourself

Remote work allows you to set your own hours.

Working from home is very useful for anyone that can’t exactly get into gear in the morning and needs a bit more time to wake up before they can become productive.

Digital nomad jobs usually allow you to set aside more time for yourself during the day and actually explore the location that you’re visiting.

This is a good way to ensure that you’re well-rested and have enough concentration to put in a bit of hard work later on in the day.

This flexible work schedule also allows you to take as much time on your assignments as you might need.

This can allow you to take more frequent breaks in the day or knuckle down and get the job done in a few hours and simply have the rest of the day to yourself.

The Negatives of Being a Digital Nomad

A woman looking at a map

This isn’t a vacation, and while you do get the opportunity to visit some drop-dead gorgeous places (if you can afford it), you won’t be able to just lay back and relax all day.

Work is work, and if you’re not careful, you might fall into repetitive routines and get sick of this lifestyle as easily as you got sick of full-time office work.

There are a few pretty common reasons as to why a lot of people start to experience mental fatigue after a long time on the road and their productivity levels drop off significantly. 

Feeling Homesick

At the risk of sounding cliche, we have to admit that Dorothy was right when she said - “There’s no place like home”.

You might well be a seasoned traveler that’s used to having the road under their feet each day and a different hotel pillow under their head each night, but everyone has their limits.

It might be a few weeks, a few months, or even more than a year after you start your nomadic life, but sooner or later, you’re going to start to miss your home base.

This might come as a result of you wanting to see your family, or maybe even because you want to spend a little time back in your old stomping ground and see what’s changed.

More than likely, you’ll get tired of constantly moving around and will want to go back home and spend a bit of time in one location to actually get your head on straight and take a breather.

You can do this on your travels and simply spend a few weeks or months in any town, but there will still be that lingering feeling of lying in a different bed in a place that you don’t know all that well.

It Loses Its Luster

While working at the office can give you a bad case of cabin fever and a desire to travel, being on the road for too long can actually get pretty boring.

Yes, seeing new locations can be exciting, and there are plenty of beautiful architectural wonders that you can visit and breathtaking landscapes that you can marvel at.

But after a while, all of the churches and castles in Europe are going to start to blend together and all of the hills in Holland are going to start to resemble the Windows XP wallpaper.

Ironically, doing nothing but traveling each day can really get as repetitive as going to the office each morning.

In situations like that, you’ll need to focus on not allowing your boredom to interfere with your productivity levels.

This isn’t always easy and it can lead to a real problem if you fall behind on your work because you’re just not feeling as hyped as usual.

A Pretty Solitary Affair

There are going to be plenty of fantastic people that you’ll be able to meet and befriend along the way, but they sadly won’t be in your life for long.

You’ll still be able to keep in touch with them, but chatting to someone over Facebook and actually being able to go get a beer together are two really different experiences.

Additionally, if you were already in a relationship before you decided to enter into this location-independent lifestyle, then you’re likely going to be faced with a tough decision.

Most partners aren’t going to have a skill set that can allow them to make money online, and they’ll either have to dip into their savings in order to come along with you, or you’re going to have to provide for two people.

However, if you have a partner that can work online and has the same love of travel as you, then the journey will be half as expensive and twice as fun.

We should also mention that not everyone is looking for a traveling companion.

People have different preferences, and some nomads are actually going to prefer the peace and quiet that a solo journey can bring.

Nonetheless, it’s important to consider this aspect of the lifestyle before you commit to it. 

The Takeaway

Tiny figure of a human standing on a map

As you might have noticed, most of our positive and negative points cancel each other out.

This is simply an example of how you can have too much of a good thing.

Each person is going to have a different threshold when it comes to how much travel they can take and when they’ll get sick of exploring and will want to take a break from this high-maintenance lifestyle.

Keep in mind that there’s no rule against taking a break and simply working from home for a few months until the travel bug bites you again.

The point of being a digital nomad is to satisfy your lust for life by traveling the world, but if you reach a point where you get sick of moving around, then you need to stop and re-evaluate the reasons why you’re doing this.

Before You Start

A passport and a brown bag

If all of our talk of burnout and hardships didn’t frighten you off and you’re still interested in becoming a roaming freelancer, then there are a few things that you need to do before hitting the road.

Travel Insurance

Freelancing isn’t exactly known for providing you with the best health insurance policy offers. In fact, you’d find it difficult to score any remote jobs that actually insure you.

This is a bit of an issue since you’re likely going to need to visit a hospital sooner or later.

This essentially means that you’ll need to strike gold and actually find an online job that’s willing to cover you, or you can either go for the “World Nomads” or “Safety Wing” insurance plans.

These are without a doubt the best options for roaming nomads since they cover all of the essentials that you’ll need on your travels, and they aren’t all that costly.

Set a Realistic Goal

It’s important to have a plan before you set out into the world. The places that you might like to visit, how long you plan to stay away, how many pairs of underwear you should bring, and so on.

You’re going to have limitations based on the amount of savings that you have, the amount of money you’re going to be bringing in with your job, and the amount that you can realistically spend on a daily basis.

This is going to result in you spending a lot more time in certain places and a lot less time in others.

This means that you need to make a concise account of your financial situation and plan out your route ahead of time.

Get Your Work Affairs in Order

Seeing as how you’re going to be making money online, you might not think that it’s important to get a job before you head out.

For obvious reasons, dipping into your savings straight out of the gate is a really bad idea, so you’re going to need to have a steady source of income already set up, or else this is going to be a very short adventure.

And plus, getting better acquainted with the job requirements and learning the ins and outs, as well as the exact dates on which your employers pay you can be really beneficial in the long run. 

Travel

Yellow bus toy

You might be surprised to learn that we actually have very little to say about travel locations in our beginner’s guide to being a digital nomad.

That’s because the main reason why people choose to go into this lifestyle is because of the freedom to be able to travel anywhere in the world.

Some people are going to want to visit the beaches of Mexico or Barbados, while others might prefer spending some time in Spain or even Singapore.

The locations that you visit should reflect your personal preferences, and we don’t know them half as well as you would, so giving you travel advice for Vietnam tourist spots might not be all that useful if you’re planning to spend most of your time in Estonia.

There are however a few travel tips that we’d like to share with you:

  1. Always keep an eye on your budget and make sure that you have a “rainy day” fund in case of emergencies.

There are always going to be unexpected costs and travel fees to cover, and it’s always a good idea to check prices online beforehand.

  1. Rent a car, motorbike, or get to know the main transport system of the city that you’re visiting.

Taking a bit of time to walk around and get acquainted with a new location can make you feel more comfortable and at peace.

  1. Bookmark Airbnb.com and Booking.com, or set them up as your browser’s home screen, because you’re going to be using them A LOT.

Airbnb is the best way to find an affordable property that you can rent for a set period of time, while Booking is great for finding affordable hostels and hotels.

  1. Always try to find rooms with wifi access, or quickly locate nearby coffee shops or restaurants where you can go to use their internet for work.

You always have the option of using your phone’s hotspot if there are no wifi spots available, but that can be a real drain on the 4G, so always think ahead.

Equipment

Digital nomad's equipment - notebook, binoculars, etc.

Up until now, we’ve only talked about the things that make up the nomad part of the lifestyle, so it might be time to focus a bit more on the digital aspect. 

In truth, there really isn’t all that much gear that’s essential, which is good news since you’re going to need to lug everything around every time you move, so keeping things simple is always the best choice.

The essential pieces of equipment that every digital nomad needs can easily be found on Amazon, and they include:

  1. A trusty laptop

Your laptop is also your workstation, so you’re going to need to pick something that’s affordable, easy to transport, and can handle the type of work that you do.

Most professions are going to be able to get by with just about any standard laptop, but anything that has to do with editing or front-end software development might need a bit more processing power.

  1. A battery pack

Most of us find it hard to keep our phones charged even if we spend the whole day at home, so imagine how much of a charge your phone is gonna hold on the road.

Not only is your phone the most vital gadget that you own, but it’s also a secondary source of wifi thanks to its hotspot.

Making sure that your phone stays alive during the day is important, and luckily also easy, as long as you get a power pack that is.

  1. A good pair of headphones

If you’re traveling internationally, the only type of affordable work or private calls that you can make is going to be through your laptop, and for that, you need a pair of decent headphones.

Additionally, traveling with no music can be really boring, so they can also be used if you wanna kick back, relax and simply drift along as you stare out onto the road.

  1.  Reading tablet

Speaking of relaxing, you’ll need to make sure that you set aside some time for yourself.

Seeing the sites is nice, and working is necessary, but actually sitting down and unwinding with a good book can really help you recharge your batteries.

Every now and then you need to take a lazy day, load up some of your favorite books on your reading tablet of choice, and just let the world fade away around you as you immerse yourself in the story.

Finding Jobs

Digital nomads looking for a job

There are quite a few places that aspiring remote workers can turn to in search of an online job, but most of them tend to gravitate towards Upwork and Linkedin.

In our experiences, Upwork is geared more towards longtime employment and finding you jobs in companies, whereas Linkedin is more suitable for commissions and matching talent with people in need of help with a particular task or job.

However, seeing as how these sites are both an online business in and of themselves, they will charge you a commission from every payment that you receive for your work.

This leaves you with two options - try to save money by finding a part-time job for yourself or give in and subscribe to one or both of these sites.

Available Jobs

We can’t offer you a complete guide to all of the available jobs that you can find online, but we can provide you with a list of the most popular choices and allow you to decide which one you believe would suit you the most.

Writer

Objectively speaking, writing is probably the easiest job that you can get into while you’re on the road. 

All you really need is a laptop, an internet connection, and a general knowledge of the English language.

Needless to say, things aren’t so simple, and while we might be a bit biased on this topic, this job really isn’t for everybody.

However, as long as you have at least a general knowledge of sentence structure and flow, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to make a career out of writing. 

You might be surprised to hear, but this job is really much more about a reliable work ethic rather than any creative spark or outstanding talent to string words together.

As long as you can take criticism and put in the work each day, you should be able to make it as a writer and slowly improve your skills over time.

Travel Blogger

If you’re wondering how to make money while traveling, the answer is blogging.

Since you’re already visiting exotic locations and beautiful views, it only makes sense that you might like to try your hand at running a travel blog.

These sorts of bloggers essentially use social media in order to advertise certain locales and share a few “travel hacks” with anyone that’s looking to visit a particular country or city.

The difficulty in this sort of work is getting sponsorships.

Most travel bloggers rely on either their Instagram revenue or financial backing from the city or location that they’re promoting.

This means that payment negotiations are going to be an everyday occurrence, and backing is going to be so infrequent at times that you’re going to need to develop a side hustle just to make some money.

SEO

Search Engine Optimization has become a big part of any online industry.

At the risk of oversimplifying things - this field of work specializes in using keywords in order to generate better results from the Google search engine algorithms.

This better placement results in the site receiving more traffic and being able to generate more revenue as a result.

If you’re new to all of this, then it might sound needlessly complicated, but in truth, it’s actually quite simple.

Each SEO program is pretty easy to get the hang of, and as soon as you get better acquainted with the software you won’t have any issues at all.

This is a pretty easy field of work to get into, and there are always available job positions, making this an ideal pick for just about anybody.

Virtual Assistant

There are going to be people that need a certain set of skills in order to complete a certain task which they can’t tackle on their own.

This task can involve anything from graphic design to entry-level site programming.

Depending on the level of knowledge and experience required, you might either need to have completed a few online courses or studied and earned a degree in this field.

What we’re trying to say is that virtual assistant jobs vary greatly in requirements, difficulty, and payment, so taking on work of this nature is really a crapshoot.

Starting your own business

You have a few options when it comes to online businesses.

Some people like to start product-focused eCommerce sites, while others focus more on promoting their skills by starting a simple WordPress site.

You can also choose to go for something like selling your hand-crafted goods, offering private tutoring sessions, providing accounting services, and so on.

These examples are taken at random, and the exact startup that you decide to go for will naturally need to rely on your own set of skills and qualifications.

Final Thoughts

A globe

Being able to pay for your cost of living while traveling the world and getting away from the mundanities of everyday life is always going to be an appealing concept.

However, if you’re really dedicated to following through with this lifestyle, we encourage you to take it seriously and not treat it as just some sort of sightseeing trip.

Diego Navarro
Diego became interested in a nomadic lifestyle during a semester abroad during college. He spends most of his time in central Europe and the American southwest (where his family is from). He loves exotic food and playing video games on his Nintendo Switch.

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