Do you dream of traveling the world with nothing but a laptop, a camera and a backpack? If becoming a Digital Nomad is your goal, you should know it's easier than you think.
There is one absolute truth about traveling - Once you start you will never want to stop. The world is a big place. There are countless places you can see, countless experiences to share with loved ones, and boundless potential friends to make from different walks of life. Finding yourself watching a pristine sunset on some random beach on the other side of the world are definable moments that can bring a sense of gratitude for everything you have, and everything have to offer in your life. These experiences have a funny knack of stripping away what really doesn’t matter and allowing yourself to truly experience the power of now, right here, with us, and with your loved ones.
Although this Article is titled “How to become a Digital Nomad”, the audience is a little wider than just those with Digital Skills - Such a life is very possible if you have any skills that are desirable around the world.
Traveling the world while you work is very possible, home is where you want it to be. If this is the the vision you want for your future, experiencing a quality of life that is grander than what you have now then please read on.
How to become a Digital Nomad
These are our thoughts, lessons and experiences as we’ve created this lifestyle for my partner and myself.
Common Sources of Income for Digital Nomads
Here are a list of common projects we have found meeting Digital Nomads on the Road
Whether it be a “Traveler’s Blog”, a “Specialist Non-Profit Website”, an “Experts Resource Website”, a “Photography or Animation Portfolio & Services site”, one thing is true for all - Content is the currency of the web - New content means new views and new visitors. Quality display of your content whether it be articles, photos, videos, services or products will produce more page impressions. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a bit of a buzzword but worth implementing. There are many articles on what makes a good SEO website.
Blogging by itself will only produce income in one of the following ways:
- Charging visitors a subscription fee - Works with Highly Professional content, like AFR.
- Advertisement Revenue:
- The most used is Google AdSense.
- Video Ads are very effective as Advertisers pay a premium for Video Ads.
- Affiliate Partnerships. See 20 top brands with Partner Affiliate Programs for a list of Affiliate programs. The more relevant your content is to any Affiliate Partner the more effective your Click-through and Conversion Rate will be. Good for you because you only get paid if your website visitor spends money with your Affiliate:
- Selling your particular services directly.
- Selling a product or line of products (either your own or as an intermediary).
Often in combination with Blogging, you can advertise your services directly. A great way to display your portfolio or skills, however if you are not blogging or getting additional content created for you you will need to source additional contracts using other channels (see below).
Success Story : In Spain, I met a Digital Marketer. Whenever she stayed in a Hostel she would offer them free Digital Marketing services to increase their booking with a contract that allowed her to take 10% from any booking that was generated through her channels. Most people will never say no to a free service, and once she had 20 hostels in her portfolio it became a great source of residual income. Not to mention often free accommodation and food.
Creating a channel to sell (and/or buy) certain products is a great way to produce income while on the road.
Success Story : I met a guy in Austria that had been traveling around the world for 3 years doing nothing more than collecting product suppliers within countries he had visited that he viewed to be “underpriced merchandise” and reselling it on ebay and Gumtree. No website, just looking for good bargains and using his Mother’s basement.
It is worth noting that my first experience as a Digital Nomad was with one of the largest website companies in Australia - they had a remote work location structure for their 120+ developers spread throughout the world, and after some negotiation on specifics I moved to Bali, Indonesia and finish the last 6 months of my contract.
Although many workforces still have an office mentality which can be important for many types of work, IT work is not necessarily one of them - more and more companies with IT teams are moving to a remote location setup to better accommodate their IT Specialist. Often it just requires a bit of negotiation…so if you already have a contract or permanent role then moving from office cubicle to working from anywhere may be as close as a persuasive discussion with your boss. It can even be more cost effective for the company you work for.
The second options includes sourcing new contracts, and there are many ways you can do this. Recruiters are very helpful especially if you have specialist skills. LinkedIn is a great way to profile yourself and find Recruiters ready to source contracts for you. The more employable you are, the more they will like you as they generally take a percentage of the contract value.
I’ve met Web Designers, Graphic Designers, UX Designers, Web Developers, Mobile Developers and FullStack Developers all working from cafes or hostels in remote parts of the world under contract.
Additionally, resources like FreeLancer, RentACoder, Fiverr and Get a Copywriter, where you can bid on projects and are selected based on your performance reviews of previous contracts. These types of contracts are Project Based and can range from Design to High Tech Cryptography. Your rating will be invaluable here as clients will choose you on your price AND reviews from past clients.
Success Story : In Granada Spain, I met a Video Producer that invested in a $3k Quad Drone and Camera, and traveled through the world by stopping by all the Real-Estate Companies and Property Managers in the area and offering state-of-the-art Aerial Videos of their properties. He needed four contracts a year to be financially viable, and was finding himself new clients every 2 weeks, not to mention repeat business from previous clients. A very lucrative business that allowed him to travel, play with his quad drone and edit videos all week.
Getting customers, clients, work and income
It’s not about Money……until it’s about Money
Although your particular goals may not be specifically about money (although if it’s not included in your plan you need to reassess and set goals), you must be able to generate income either directly or indirectly. The clarity on your financial targets are a great indicator on how successful you’re likely to be.
In our experience, there are a few little truths about money that will make things much easier.
Money goes where there is passion behind it.
When deciding to invest in any project I look at who the driver is - If they have a great idea and nothing more I’m not likely to partner with them. If they are deeply passionate about their project then they are a partner well worth investing in. My time is an investments, and as an investor in projects I am not alone in this perspective.
If no-one knows about you, no-one pays.
Whether you’re fundraising for a project, offering digital services or running a special interest blog to sell services or products - if no-one knows about it, it’s not going anywhere. Talk about your work. Go to your network of friends and ask for their support. Ask them to share it themselves. Digital Marketing or “Social Hacking” to create a following is also very fruitful for creating exposure. The greater exposure the greater your niche audience and the greater your opportunities. Add your skills or projects to other groups in your chosen channel. Be creative to gain interest. Seek great testimonials and ratings from clients.
Money goes to where there is a Plan.
The more precise and comprehensive your project or service, the more likely it will attract investment or income.
You are only worth as much as you think you are worth.
A lesson I learnt early was that you will only generate income based on how much YOU think you are worth. Never more. Of course there are market expectations, but 10 clients paying $1,000 each is often better than 100 clients paying $100. The old 80/20 is very applicable here - you will quickly find that work producing 20% of your income is taking 80% of your time. By constantly reassessing on “What is of most value to me, whether it be in quality of projects, or quantity of income” will make your endeavours much more enjoyable and much more effective.
You don’t need as much as you think.
Did you know, based on population density, you can live on more than 75% of the planet for less than $800 USD (€650) per month with savings to spare. That’s less than $11K USD per year. Add another 75% to this figure if you have a partner. Families are a different story depending on size and ages of children.
Additionally, it quickly becomes apparent that you need very little while traveling. Aside from your Backpack, Clothes and a Laptop, your costs will be one of the following categories: Travel expenses, Accommodation, Food and Drinks, any additional entertainment such as Sightseeing or Physical Activities, Luxury items (we traveled around with a Guitar and Ukulele) and of course Business Expenses.
There are additional costs you may encounter - Travel Insurance is popular, my partner is Pro Insurance, I personally don’t pay for the “What If” scenarios. A little foolish considering our recent 3 Month Motorbike ride around Vietnam driving among some of the most chaotic traffic in the world.
Meticulous record of where you money goes.
Another lesson we learnt early - untracked money is like a tap that hasn’t been turned off….it just runs down the sink. Track it. Categorise it. Recognise ways to be more efficient with what you already have.
As Expats there are often great Tax Benefits.
Depending on where you are from, what your citizen status is, how long you are on the road or what kind of legal structure (if any) you work under will determine your obligations to both your home country and your current location - Look into it, but a little research here can save you upwards of 30% of your income. That mean you now require one third less income to achieve the same goals.
First step : A Ruthless Self Assessment
What are your passion?
Realistically identify your passions, desires and goals. This will be what pulls you to this life more than anything. Is it freedom from a monotonous 9-5 office cubicle? A Chance to explore? A humanitarian project close to your heart? Want to try new things? Trying to get out of your comfort zone? Experience new cultures?
What are your dislikes?
Just as important as your passions, what are the things in your life that you would like to phase out?
What are your skills?
Any marketable non digital skills?….Trained Chef? Teacher (or Even a Native English Speaker - Check out: Berry Berry : A source of income for English Speaking Travelers)? Farmer? Environmental Scientist? Mechanic? Certified Yoga Instructor? Artist? Photographer? Although I won’t be talking directly about these skills, they are all very transferable to a nomadic lifestyle. We have met many individuals in each of these fields that travel from place to place leveraging their skills. Although these skills are not directly related to a Digital Nomadic life, many of them can work complimentary to Digital Mediums to open up more opportunities.
What are your Digital skills?
- An Animator
- A Graphic Designer, Web Designer or UX Designer
- An App Developer, Programmer or Full Stack Developer
- A Systems, Security or Cloud Expert (DevOps)
- Is Digital Marketing your forte?
Or are you into writing?
- A Journalist
- An avid Blogger
- A Professional Copywriter
Or are you an Entrepreneur? Do you have a great business idea? Can it operate globally and be run from anywhere in the world?
Success Story : My partner and I recently met a couple traveling through Southeast Asia, each with their own business. Pearly had created a swimsuit product. She had arranged a contract to make her product line in Vietnam by a lovely old Vietnamese lady at a fraction of what it would have cost her back home - She had to sell 10 swimsuits a month in order to fund her travels, and with a strong Digital Marketing Plan through Instagram using discount campaigning she usually met those targets within the first week of any month. Toran, her Partner, had created a Platform and network for households to quickly get quotes and hire Tradies (Plumbers, Electricians, Cleaners…etc) for home maintenance jobs. All set up to be a complete residual source of income with minimal overheads or oversight.
Second step: Make a Plan. Then Plan again.
Fortuna favet paratus - Fortune favours the prepared
Personal Advice: You don’t need to be on the road to set yourself up as a Digital Nomad. Preparation is worth its weight in gold - even if it means holding off for 6 months to set yourself up. Make sure your plan has quantifiable and achievable goals…i.e. Build 3 websites within 3 months, save $6K first…etc.
If you have no Web Development skills then there is no point making plans to become a Web Developer until you can develop websites - Common sense.
If you lack some of the skills required for your goals then it’s time to make a plan to upskill yourself. And let’s be honest, when your mind is set paired with diligent and dedicated time most skills can be acquired quickly. Procrastination is usually the killer, not an inability to learn. Have clear targets…you could spend the rest of your life “Skilling Up” with some skills. So set a target like “I can build a website from scratch”.
If you lack writing experience then read up on it. Take some online courses. Write some blog pieces for $20 a piece. Technical skills specifically can often be daunting for individuals without technical experience, but it is still possible. After all, thousands of people around the world can do it, why can’t you?
There are many (paid and free) courses available. Jump online for some webinars. Read Blogs on these skills. Follow an online tutorial on “How to create a Blog Site” - My Personal Suggestion is using “GitHub Pages” and “Jekyll” - or “How to create a Website” or “How to create your First Android App”. Better yet, sign up for a course that ingrains these skills into you.
- The Odin Project : Learn Web Development for Free
- edEX : Harvard University’s introduction to Computer Science
- Codecaemy : Learn to Code interactively, for free
- Udemy : The Complete Web Developer Course
- Viking Code School
- Torque Mag : 5 free courses learn Web Development
- Creating a Static Blog/Website with GitHub-Pages and Jekyll
- Code School
- Hour of Code : One Hour at a time
- Scratch : An MIT Invention to teach kids the basics of coding
- Copywriting for Fundraisers
- Guide To Free Online Copywriting Courses
- StackOverflow : Answers to any question you could possibly have on HTML, CSS, and Programming
If you have a business idea then map out a skeleton Business Plan, and start fleshing it out. It will change over time.
Create a Portfolio. Cultivate a Network.
Some skills you may have no desire learning but still need them to achieve you goals while traveling. This is where a network of service providers becomes invaluable. They can be paid service providers for specific skills, but I personally recommend partnerships with like-minded individuals wanting to get involved in the project you’re engaging in - As an example I have little UX design skills and the last thing I want is to pay every time I want a designer to tweak a UX Interface, so I found a UX Designer I trust that is happy to own a percentage of any product we work on together. Besides, it’s much more fun when you have a team working on a common goal. New energy breeds new ideas, which breeds more new ideas.
Alternatively, if you have developed a new skill, “Web Design” for example, you can try to get some pro-bono or cheap short-term contracts. Be prepared to work on the cheap, there are many places where customers can get these skills very cheaply so you may be designing a website for $50 that might takes you all week. But it becomes a stepping stone to build up your own portfolio and your reputation, which is invaluable. The next time you can charge $100 for a similar contract and it will only take you a day.
Some resources for short-term contracts:
- Freelancer : Bid on Online Contracts - Coders, Designers, Copywriters
- Rent A Coder : Bid for Contracts
- ELance : Where Professionals can advertise for contracts
- Fiverr : Graphic Design, Animation, Copywriting and more
- Get a Copywriter : Buy and Sell services
- Copy Hackers : Buy or Sell Copywriter Services
Third step : Take the Plunge
Ok, I’m not saying you should do anything rash - don’t go in, quit your day job and buy a plane ticket just because you decided to become a Digital Nomad. However first steps will require some focused and concerted action on your part. Execute your plan of attack. Day by day, week by week….slow and steady wins the race.
On a Final Note
Common Excuses to stop you
- Security in having a 9-5 Job - Well not necessarily a reason to not become a Digital Nomad. It just requires a bit of planning. And maybe a bit of courage in exploring the unknown.
- Debt :
- Mortgage - Rent your house out. It’ll help with cash flow on your mortgage.
- Car repayment - There are services to rent your car out for short term leases. Better yet, sell it.
- Student loans - Include the repayments in your plan. It doesn’t mean you can’t travel as well.
- Tenant Agreement - Sublet. Or wait.
- No savings - In this case I do suggest some savings before you travel. Include it in your plan of attack to have 6 months expenses (minimum) while on the road.
Best reasons to go
- You can begin to enjoy a minimalist lifestyle that puts everything else into perspective.
- Freedom to up and move village, town, city or country whenever you like.
- Set your own hours.
- See the world.
- Meet wonderful people.
Make a plan, believe in yourself, find your niche, be proactive and share, don’t make excuses if it’s really what you want, and go out and create the lifestyle you envision for yourself.