Digital Nomads: A Resourceful Beginner's Guide For Travelers

by Diego Navarro | LAST UPDATED March 21, 2021

This article may contain affiliate links. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.
Table of Contents
Primary Item (H2)

A beginner's guide to digital nomadism: the pros and cons, travel hacks, and more

If you ever feel tired of working routine day jobs or have a strong desire to drop what you're doing and explore alternative ways of living, there's a good chance you've landed on the right page.

Perhaps the notion of wanderlust has you dreaming of a fresh start, or you're constantly sick with the travel bug. In this case, you should keep reading because we're about to tell you everything you need to know to get started as a digital nomad. 

After all, the secret to a successful digital nomad experience is a formula that requires preparation and careful planning. And there's much to consider when transitioning from modern society to living on the open road. 

From taxes and health insurance to travel suggestions and what to do for work, we've covered it all. Your transformation from a bored worker to a hustling globetrotter starts here, so let's go!

What is a digital nomad?

Digital nomad in nature

The term "digital nomad" is an attractive way to refer to expats that work remotely while simultaneously traveling the globe. A digital nomad can work from virtually anywhere, and they find creative ways to generate stable income regardless of their location. 

We should mention that it's distinct from van life for many reasons. Digital nomads fund their venture through remote work, and their travel plans are not limited to where their vehicles can go. While van dwellers live and travel out of their van, the digital nomad is free to wander in any way they see fit. 

That said, a nomadic lifestyle isn't an easy one, and this uniquely modern way of living requires a lot of hard work, planning, and dedication, especially since the pandemic hit.

Can I work as a digital nomad despite covid-19 restrictions?

Office space

Of course, you can still travel but be aware that covid-related travel restrictions exist in nearly every country. And although many borders are closed or unwelcoming to outsiders, opportunities to live and work as a digital nomad abound. 

With that said, we strongly advise you to conduct thorough research regarding covid policies and protocols for every destination before you plan to visit. Also, be aware that each border may have a different set of rules to follow, and your vaccine status may affect the steps you need to take. So plan accordingly. 

In reality, problems relating to the pandemic pose some of the biggest hurdles facing the digital nomad lifestyle, and you are guaranteed to encounter them. The truth is, it's going to be the biggest issue when it comes to your quality of life while traveling. 

If you aren't ready to go through extreme measures to comply with covid protocols in every country you visit, life as a digital nomad might not suit you. 

*Pro-Tip: Use this tool to browse International travel restrictions fIltered by country and origin.

Three positives of being a digital nomad

A taxi driving in an urban area

The benefits of digital nomadism are plentiful. Ask anybody with a little or even a lot of experience, and they will likely agree the advantage stems from absolute freedom regarding work, travel, and social life.

Here are three positives of living a nomadic life in no specific order. 

1. Every day is an adventure

You get a certain exhilaration when you wake up in the morning in a new place, and this is precisely the type of experience the digital nomad is after. This type of traveler is motivated by a deep sense of wanderlust and a daily desire to explore the unknown. Experience is what matters, and adventure is the prize for the nomadic backpacker. 

2. See the world at your own pace

Let's get this clear now. There is a vast difference between taking a trip and living as a full-time digital nomad. The main factor is the timeframe. Traveling is an entirely different experience when you can stay for as long or short as you want. Moving at your own pace gives you more time to explore the sites, learn the language, taste the food, and more. 

Want to spend a month meditating in Thailand or maybe a few extra weeks drinking Vinho Verde on the beaches of Portugal? If so, think about embracing digital nomadism. 

3. More time for yourself

Remote work is a prerequisite to living on the road, and it gives you the flexibility to set your hours, which means you have more time for yourself. Not to mention, you can customize your work schedule to fit your travel needs, not vice versa. 

Just remember that productivity is up to you, and you'll need to learn how to focus in any environment. As long as you can do this, you'll have plenty of free time to explore your surroundings and do your thing.

Three negatives of being a digital nomad

A woman looking at a map

As with everything in life, we need to take the good with the bad. And digital nomadism is no different. While you do get the opportunity to visit some gorgeous places along the way, you won't be able to lay back and relax all day—this isn't a vacation.

Being a digital nomad is hard work, and there's a good chance you'll get burned out if you're not careful. Here are three things every potential nomad should first consider. 

1. Eventually, you'll feel homesick

At the risk of sounding cliche, we have to admit that Dorothy was right when she said - "There's no place like home." In all fairness, we have a human need to remain connected with our home—it's an integral part of who we are. 

You might well be a seasoned traveler that's used to a new bed every day, but everyone has their limits. It might be a few weeks, months, or even more than a year after you start your nomadic life, but sooner or later, you're going to miss your home base. 

2. The nomadic lifestyle can lose its luster

While working from a home base can give you a bad case of cabin fever and a desire to travel, being on the road for too long can get old as well. Yes, seeing new locations is exciting, and there are plenty of destinations and landmarks to marvel at, but after a while, it all starts to blend. 

Ironically, doing nothing but traveling each day can get as repetitive as going to the office each morning. You'll need to focus on not allowing your boredom to interfere with your productivity levels in situations like that.

3. Life on the road can get lonely

Whether you're traveling in a group or with a long-time partner, hardcore travelers still get lonely after a certain amount of time. Chalk it up to being away from home, friends, and family for too long. Whatever the case, this is a genuine downside of life as a digital nomad so prepare to deal with loneliness.

So, is the digital nomad lifestyle worth it?

Tiny figure of a human standing on a map

Each person will have a different threshold for how much they can endure and how long they can last before a break is required. Keep in mind that there's no rule against taking a break and simply working from home for a few months to rest up. In many cases, I recommend it.

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, you need to stop and re-evaluate why you're doing this. 

How to get started as a digital nomad: Three things to consider

A passport and a brown bag

We gave it to you straight up and without the fluff in this beginner's guide. So if our talk of burnout and hardships didn't frighten you away and you're still interested in becoming a roaming freelancer, then there are a few things that you need to take care of before hitting the road.

Don't skip the travel insurance.

Freelancing isn't exactly known for providing you with the best health insurance policy. And it isn't easy to score remote jobs that offer international travel insurance, especially when working with new clients. 

Once traveling, it won't take you long to realize accidents happen all the time. And when it does, you must be prepared. Being sick or injured in a foreign country without access to medical treatment is a nightmare. 

If you can't find an online job willing to cover you, check out the insurance plan on "World Nomads" or "Safety Wing." They are undoubtedly the best options for roaming nomads since they cover all of the essentials you'll need on your travels. And they're pretty affordable too.

2. Set realistic travel goals.

It's essential to have a plan before setting out into the world. To make realistic travel goals, you need to do your research—decide where you want to go, how long you want to stay, and estimate how much it will cost. After all, budgeting is one of the most critical components of long-term travel. 

You're going to have limitations based on your savings, amount of income, cost of living, and a slew of other factors. The truth is, most nomads are skilled budget travelers because they work hard to find cheaper options. In the end, the more money you have, the longer you can travel.

3. Get your work affairs in order.

Seeing how you're making money online, you might not think it's essential to get a job before heading out, but that's a big mistake. For obvious reasons, dipping into your savings straight out of the gate is a terrible idea, so you're going to need a steady source of income from the start. Otherwise, this is going to be a short adventure. 

Travel tips for aspiring digital nomads

Yellow bus toy

1. Create a detailed budget plan and stick to it. 

When traveling, unexpected costs arise. We suggest mapping your daily expenditures with a budget plan and preparing an emergency fund. Take the time to research your destinations and estimate your daily spending (accommodations, food, transportation, etc.) based on your habits. If you stick to it, you're unlikely to run out of money.

2. Rent a car or motorbike, and get acquainted with various forms of public transit.

Taxis can be an expensive way to get around, depending on where you are. Expert travelers take advantage of the cheapest modes of transportation at each destination. That means you should be willing to learn how to drive a motorbike, take the local bus, ride a tuk-tuk, or rent a vehicle. These are small ways to avoid stress and also save money. 

3. Use Airbnb.com and Booking.com to find accommodations. 

These websites are the most popular ways to find lodgings in just about any major city. Download these apps or visit their homepage to browse, book, and pay for a place to stay 24/7. Although we advise adding a debit or credit card to pay upfront, you certainly don't have to as payments options vary by property. 

4. Try to find rooms with wifi access, or locate nearby coffee shops or restaurants where you can use the internet for work.

Don't forget you're working remotely, and a reliable wifi signal is mandatory if you want to succeed. When searching for a place to stay, always check the wifi status before reserving the room. If they don't advertise wifi, check the map for a nearby coffee shop or restaurant. That way you can have a place to work.

What to pack: The bare essentials

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

In truth, you don't need much to survive as a digital nomad because the lifestyle demands a minimalist approach to possessions. That said, there are a few items you must have every day to earn passive income. Let's review them.  

1. A laptop 

Your laptop is also your workstation, so pick one that's within your price range, easy to transport, and can handle whatever job you do. Most professions will 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. 

2. A battery pack

Most of us find it hard to keep our phones charged even if we spend the whole day at home, let alone while we're globetrotting. Not only is your phone the most vital gadget that you own, but it's also a secondary source of wifi. 

We recommend these 17 travel battery packs because they're compact, affordable, and provide a way to charge your phone on the go and without a power outlet. 

3. A good pair of earbuds

Every prepared traveler knows a good pair of earbuds is a source of comfort during long trips. You'll also need a way to speak with your clients privately during meetings, and to be honest, using the computer speaker doesn't cut it in public places. 

If you need a decent pair of headphones for your journey, check out our list of the 13 best noise-canceling headphones. Whether it's music or podcasts you're after, they will keep you entertained.

4. Reading tablet

Reading tablets are the perfect way to unwind and pass the time. They are lightweight, don't require much power, and are pretty cheap. If you're staring down a 20-hour bus ride, E-readers are worth having. 

If you're interested, check out this article featuring ten of the best E-readers for travel.

Recommended platforms for remote work

Digital nomads looking for a job

There are quite a few places where aspiring remote workers and location-independent entrepreneurs can find online jobs, but most of them tend to gravitate towards Upwork and Linkedin

Upwork is an app and online platform that connects freelancers to clients. It is more suited towards long-term engagements than one-off projects, although there is plenty of the latter to go around. On the other hand, Linkedin is ideal for network building and provides a great platform to share career-focused posts. 

You can use both of these resources to find remote work opportunities or launch your next big start-up. 

Popular jobs for digital nomads

We can't offer you a complete guide to all of the jobs that cater to the digital nomad, but we can provide you with a list of the most popular choices. While this list is far from exhaustive, it does cover the basics. 

Consider every country has different laws regarding travel visas, work permits, and other documents relating to digital nomad work opportunities. Before working, always research each country, so you're not illegally employed. If not, expect to pay massive fines before you leave.

*Pro-tip: Remember to keep track of the time difference if you have clients in other time zones. This way, you won't miss deadlines or important meetings.

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.

The difficulty of this work is getting sponsorships and monetizing your content. Most travel bloggers rely on revenue from social media traffic or find a way to get financial backing from local businesses.

If you go this route, you should be good at writing, website management, sales, photography, and you need to know your way around social media too. 

SEO

Search Engine Optimization has become a big part of any online industry, and it's one of the most popular remote jobs. If you know a decent amount about computers, digital content and can formulate a strong sentence, this might be worth checking out. 

At the risk of oversimplifying things - this field specializes in using keywords to generate better results from the Google search engine algorithms. The job of an SEO specialist is to conduct research and edit or develop content in a way that creates more traffic for a website. When done correctly, this results in more revenue for your employer. 

If you're new to all of this, then it might sound complicated, but in truth, it's pretty simple as long as you can follow instructions. Each SEO program is pretty easy to get the hang of, and the software tools are just as simple. 

Subject teacher

These days every major city has a demand for native English speakers. As the international business market expands, more people worldwide want to learn English because it allows them to make more money. No matter your area of expertise, there's a good chance somebody or some institution will pay you to share your knowledge.

It's not a secret that businesses and governments around Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia/Bali) actively recruit English-speaking professionals to teach students, workers, and business owners. But the buck doesn't stop in this region. Outside of Asia, some of the most well-known ESL hotspots are Colombia, Mexico, Croatia, Spain, New York, Oman, to name a few. 

The TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) industry is a multi-million dollar business, and it's by far one of the most popular ways to make money in foreign countries. 

Virtual assistant

There will be people who need help completing general daily tasks online. These responsibilities involve anything from graphic design to entry-level site programming, data entry, answering emails, and any business-related job imaginable. 

Depending on the level of knowledge and experience required, you might need a specific degree, specialized training, or some previous work experience in a related field. It just depends on what you're looking for and what you are willing to learn. 

A note about co-working spaces

If you decide to settle for a longer duration in a larger city, we recommend finding a low-cost co-working space. It's an excellent way to take a break from cafe hopping and enjoy stable wifi, air-con, and clean restrooms while you work.  

Although co-working spaces range in price, they're generally pretty affordable, even for part-time work. From $50 per month upwards, you can rent out shared office space with strong wifi, a desk, and much more, depending on how much you're willing to pay.

Final thoughts

A globe

The opportunity to be self-employed, travel the world, and make money with nothing but a computer and internet connection is an appealing concept. Although many memorable experiences come with this alternative lifestyle, it's no vacation. 

Running a successful online business outside of your home country requires hard work, dedication, and patience, regardless of your trade. Although it's one hell of an experience, most people can't deal with the intensity of this lifestyle. It's beautiful and utterly life-changing but incredibly challenging. If you decide to give it a whirl, be prepared for absolutely anything.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

OptOutLiving is an online destination for alternative lifestyle inspiration, advice and information. Our goal is to help people design a life that optimizes their time and happiness.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram