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Being a digital nomad sounds like an unrealistic dream to many people. It sounds too good to be a real possibility. But, if you look into what it really takes to start living a nomadic lifestyle, you might discover there’s not as much standing in your way as you think. Two of the biggest things that get in the way of more people being nomadic are:
Not knowing how easily it can be done.
Fear of that unknown.
It can be scary to jump into a lifestyle that is different from what you have been doing all along. But as any digital nomad will tell you, it’s also very rewarding for the right person. In this article, I want to take a look at what is necessary to start a life as a digital nomad, or at least to test it out for a while!
Savings to Get You Started
A good amount of savings is essential for any digital nomad. The ideal amount is six months worth of living expenses. You may not have that amount, and that’s okay. When I set out to become a digital nomad in 2012, I had about $1,000 in the bank. Although I made it work out ok, I would not recommend you flying by the seat of your pants as much as I did!
Bring as much savings as you can; it will help you enjoy your travels more and not have to worry so much about finding ways to work remotely from day one. You don’t want to jump from an office job into a life that’s meant to be free… only to find that you’re working and hustling more than ever.
Note that the amount of savings required should reflect your destination’s cost of living, not your hometown’s cost of living. The amount of savings you need depends on the cost of living wherever you plan to go. You won’t need a huge amount of money to get started as a digital nomad if you head to a cheaper location. Southeast Asia is famous for being a backpacker’s paradise, but places like South America and parts of Europe are starting to be popular too. However, if you’re planning to stay in expensive destinations, like Western Europe, you will need to bring a lot more money with you.
So, choose your location and then research the cost of living there. I’d say having at least two months of living expenses saved up for your destination should be a minimum goal that will keep you happy and safe on your travels. There are many ways to make money online in a pinch, though, should you need it.
A Travel Laptop
If you’ve got a laptop, you have the potential to work remotely from anywhere in the world. You may not want to bring your brand new Macbook Pro on your trip though; personally, I always feel nervous when bringing expensive items in my travel gear. Part of living the digital nomad lifestyle is letting go of stuff and not having to worry about it anymore.
I’ve used a Chromebook for years to do my freelance writing work while traveling. Sure, it’s a bit slower than a nice computer, but it gives me much more peace of mind to know that I’m not carrying around something super valuable that could get stolen, lost in baggage claim, or ruined if I’m caught in a rainstorm somewhere. True story: that has happened to me several times while looking for my accommodations or waiting for transportation.
A Plan to Work Remotely
Even if you have savings and you want to travel around a bit before doing any kind of paid work, it’s nice to know that you could make money at any time if you wanted to. So, I recommend setting up at least a few sources of income before you start off on your travels.
Here are some ideas on finding jobs that allow you to travel:
If you are already deep into a specific career, you might want to first look for remote work in your specialty. You may be surprised to find that, no matter what job you’re in, there are companies that will let you do the same job remotely. Places like weworkremotely and jobspresso are options for looking for professional, remote jobs.
If you don’t have any specific career path yet, my biggest recommendation is to check out freelance writing. This is how I work remotely, and there are plenty of remote jobs around content creation. There’s really no need to be in person with the rest of your writing team, so it’s an ideal job for people who love to travel. Read also: what’s it like to be a location independent writer?
The third option for income flow is to sign up for “gigs” and little jobs online, like user testing, virtual assisting, and other digital nomad jobs that don’t require a lot of time commitment. These side hustles do not require any specific background; as long as you can learn and follow instructions, you could get hired to do any number of these jobs. This is a good way to diversify your income streams so that you always have something you could work on when you need a little extra cash. Since you can do these jobs whenever you want (or not at all!) it never hurts to apply and get accepted for a bunch of different online gigs, just in case you need the money.
Finally, a word on passive income streams like blogging and lifestyle businesses: It’s great if you already have a business that’s making money, but if you want to get out and travel and you don’t already have a blog/lifestyle business, I recommend starting with something that provides more immediate income. Sure, you could start a blog, but the returns are slow, and blogging is more of a long term game. So maybe first choose a few gigs that provide the cash now if your goal is to be location independent ASAP.
I have a longer post on gigs and jobs that allow you to travel, so check it out if you need ideas on how to travel and make money.
At first, you may be trading a good quality of life for less money. But you will feel more independent and by working online, you can travel the world. Eventually, though, there’s no reason you can’t make a great living while traveling. My rates as a traveling freelance writer (after 7 years of tinkering) are over $100 per hour.
A Destination (And Housing)
So, where will it be? Do you plan to do a round the world trip? Are you going to hunker down in one place and learn to call it home? You have a wide variety of options as a digital nomad. Sometimes it’s freeing to just start by picking one place that you can start out. Yes, choose a destination, find temporary housing there, and see how you like living abroad.
Try this: book an airbnb in a single location for 1 month. (hot tip: look for Airbnbs that have a monthly discount so that you can save some money). A month of guaranteed accommodation will give you some low-stress time to explore, meet other travelers, and think about where you might want to go next... or if you want to stay right where you are for a while. You never know what it’s going to feel like to be out traveling long term until you get there. so this downtime is will really help you adjust.
Some popular (affordable) places to start your travels include:
Thailand: This is a popular place because it’s so cheap. The housing is $5/night, the food is great, you and you can go to the beach or the mountains while at the same time experiencing a very different culture. Since there are so many other travelers, you shouldn’t have a problem communicating or finding new travel friends to hang out with.
Argentina: There are tons of expats in Buenos Aires especially. One good thing about having a hub in South America is that the time zone isn’t too different from the US. If you’re working with a US company and you need to communicate with coworkers, this could be a good place to set up shop until you get the hang of how to work and travel.
Berlin: Berlin is a cool place for expats. If you end up loving Berlin, there are actually some visa options for non-European Union citizens, including an artist visa and a self-employment visa.
Another note: you may get homesick as a new digital nomad, but often it is just an adjustment period. Staying in one place for at least a month can help with this; take it sloowwww to acclimate yourself a bit!
Guts and Willpower
And finally, the thing that you need most to become a digital nomad, more than planning, resources, money, or anything else, is just guts. There’s no way you can control what will happen completely when you become a digital nomad. There is no way you can read and learn every single thing you need to know before you set foot outside your door.
But really, isn’t that part of the beauty of it? You’re setting off on an adventure. You’re opting for a life that is less polished, more unpredictable, more diverse and vibrant. A lot of new things will come your way if you decide to travel. But if you’re the type of person who is considering becoming a digital nomad at all, I feel confident that you have the fortitude and smarts to figure out the challenges that come your way.
Some people love being a digital nomad, and some bounce back. But the only way you’ll find out whether you like it or not is to give it a try! That means taking that first step and having faith that you’re smart enough to make it work when you get there.
Who Wrote This?
I’m Renee Hyde and I’ve been a digital nomad freelance writer since 2012. So far I’ve visited 60+ countries and counting! On this blog I share tips about dreamy travel destinations, travel hacks, ways to work remotely and travel, and advice for living your best nomadic life!