Last Updated on June 30, 2022 by Christine Kaaloa
In 2018, Danny sold all his stuff, wrangled an online job, and packed everything into a backpack to experience life as a digital nomad. At What’s Danny Doing?, he shares tips, insights, and ideas he’s picked up over the last three years to help aspiring digital nomads live a location independent life in 2021.
Thanks to the internet, anyone with a laptop, Wi-Fi connection, and remote job can make money on their terms; wherever and whenever they want. Are you hoping to take the plunge and give this way of life a try?
Well, having been a digital nomad for over three years now, I thought I’d offer some tips, insights, and inspiration to shed light on the lifestyle and simplify the process of entering it! Without further ado, read on for a comprehensive beginner’s guide to how to become a digital nomad.
A Complete Beginner’s Guide: How to Become a Digital Nomad in 2021
What Is a Digital Nomad?
The way I see it, a digital nomad is someone who:
- Earns an income online!
- Leverages the flexibility to travel, see the world, and live an itinerant existence while generating a living on the move.
In other words, it’s a perfect practical solution for people who love adventure and yearn for freedom, but who also need to make some money! I’ve fallen madly in love with this lifestyle over the last several years and despite COVID-19 causing it’s chaos in the travel industry recently, can’t imagine going back to my previous 9-to-5.
Learn how to make money if you are a travel vlogger or blogger
What You Need to Become a Digital Nomad
1) Essential Skills/Personality Traits
Being willing to change your plans will come in handy when you go to a café to do some work, sit down with your overpriced latte, and then realize the Wi-Fi doesn’t work. Or when a global pandemic hits and you have to ditch your carefully-laid travel plans to fly home in a hurry!
Whether you work in marketing or not (many digital nomads do), being able to promote yourself to others is a big deal. Remember, you’ll probably be your own boss! That means you’re in charge of winning clients, growing your fledgling business, and making enough cash to fuel your ongoing adventures.
On the subject of business, becoming a digital nomad may require you to start filing your own tax returns. And that, in turn, means tracking your income and expenses, keeping your receipts/invoices, and so on. I encourage you to learn the ropes ahead of time (or to get a good accountant).
Recommended accounting software:
Quickbooks – If you need invoicing features and think you’ll need help with bookkeeping. There is an online version and desktop PC and Mac version.
Wave Accounting– Free but online only.
SlickPie– Free; for those with little experience in bookkeeping.
Being a digital nomad means there’s no guaranteed monthly pay cheque and no boss to turn to for solutions. Not only that, you’re in a whole new country, with new customs and rules. Resourcefulness will get you through the trials and tribulations in one piece.
Courage will prove useful in those times when you lose a client, the money isn’t coming in as quickly as you need it to, or your visa’s running out, or you lose your passport, or your laptop breaks, or when any other of the endless array of possible mishaps occur.
2) Essential Equipment
A high-quality laptop is crucial for life as a digital nomad. Oh, and I recommend getting yourself a wireless mouse to go with it. When you’re spending lots of time on the computer, it’s just one of those little gizmos that makes a big difference in terms of convenience.
For staying in contact with home, interacting with clients, catching up on emails when you don’t have your laptop to hand, navigating new places, checking the news/weather, watching Netflix on long journeys, taking photos, scrolling through social media feeds, and so on and so forth.
Though they’re not always necessary, getting a portable Wi-Fi device can be a lifesaver when you have work to do and are traveling somewhere with limited public Wi-Fi, or when you’re in-between places and have to get something done on the move.
10% off on Skyroam portable wifi using our code: GRRRLTRAVELER
External Harddrive (or Portable SSD)
So you can back-up your treasured photos and files and enjoy added memory when your primary hard-drive’s running low. Ultimately, it’s about peace of mind (imagine losing your laptop, camera, or smartphone without having backed them up!) and practicality (saving large work files, downloading movies to watch later, and so on).
Tip: SanDisk Portable Extreme SSD is a rugged, reliable and light-weight solution (Read review)
It’s never fun when your smartphone runs out of battery as a digital nomad. In one fell swoop, you lose everything from your primary form of communication, map, flashlight and alarm clock. A powerful power bank can be a lifeline whenever you’re cutting it fine.
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
VPNs protect your computer data from theft when using public and shared wifi networks. However, they are vital for digital nomads in that they allows you to surf popular sites that can only be accessed whilst in your country – e.g. Netflix or Hulu for Americans. Also, if you are in communist countries like Vietnam or China, certain sites such as Facebook and Gmail/Google will not be accessible without a VPN. Read more about why you NEED VPNs for Traveling
For NordVPN: use grrrltraveler to get 70% off 3-year plan + 1 month free)
Digital Nomad health insurance
For digital nomads and remote workers, who continually move homes across country borders, solid health insurance coverage is not easy to find. SafetyWing has Remote Health Insurance to cover remote workers in live abroad situations. It offers an insanely low monthly plan and insures you in 175 countries, including your own. They have Covid and quarantine coverage for travel insurance too.
The Pros and Cons of Digital Nomad Life
It’s easy to paint an idyllic picture of the digital nomad lifestyle. Truth be told, though, being a nomad has its downsides too! Here are the pros and cons of digital nomad life to give you an accurate idea of what to expect.
5 Pros of Being Location Independent
Ultimate Freedom and Control
Humans aren’t designed to be cooped up inside a cubicle all day! Thankfully, digital nomads enjoy freedom in abundance. You’re in control of everything from your daily routine to your weekly (and annual) schedule. Come and go as you please; work, or don’t. It’s entirely up to you.
Work to Live
Living to work is no fun. You get stressed out, burnt out, and lose all zest for life in the process! By comparison, digital nomads have nothing to tie them down. You’re able to fit work around life and fill your days with adventure.
Life as a digital nomad tends to go hand-in-hand with travel. In fact, this is many peoples’ primary incentive for entering a nomadic way of life! When you can work from anywhere in the world, why not make it an exotic, far-flung destination that you’ve always wanted to explore?
Read 7 Jobs which PAY YOU to Travel
Lower Cost of Living
A lovely by-product of the ability to work overseas is that you can go to countries with a lucrative exchange rate and low cost of living. This means you can earn less than you would in an ordinary job at home, but that your money goes further. In some cases, being a digital nomad enables you to live like a king on a shoestring budget and maximize your saving potential as a result.
No Boss, Commute, or Office Politics
Digital nomads do not have an overbearing boss breathing down their necks. Nor is there a long and arduous commute to the office each morning. Gone is also the unhelpful gossip around the water cooler. In their place is an empowering sense of independence and self-sufficiency.
5 Cons of Being a Digital Nomad
Distance from Loved Ones
Not all digital nomads spend their days working and traveling in distant foreign lands. But those who do, can go weeks, months, and sometimes years away from friends and family. You miss significant birthdays, vacations, casual get-togethers and other family meet-ups that happen all too infrequently anyway. The travel blues can be tough.
Check out ways to beat the travel blues.
The 9-to-5 gets a bad rap in some circles, but it’s hard to deny how comforting the routine can be. Alas, no two days are the same for many digital nomads. From where you’re staying to where you’re working to where you’re eating to where you’re going to where you’ll get your next client…Uncertainty can run rampant and stress can soon kick in.
The list of practical problems you can face as a digital nomad is almost endless! For example, your money’s running low but a power-cut in the remote place you’re staying means there’s no Wi-Fi. Or you’re on a tight deadline, your laptop’s running out of battery, and there’s no power point in sight. Or you miss your expensive flight, your stuff gets stolen, and so on!
Striking a balance between work and play is a constant challenge for nomads. On one hand, motivating yourself to work when there are beaches to relax on, ancient temples to explore is no mean feat. On the other, ambitious go-getters might find it hard to tear themselves away from the computer long enough to make the most of their freedom and embrace the local attractions.
Being in charge of your work schedule isn’t always a good thing. With no external motivation (e.g. from managers or contractual agreements) to persuade you to wake up at a certain time and get a certain amount of work done each day, you have to summon that motivation from within. This can be tough- especially in the early days of your new digital nomad life.
Top Tips for Aspiring Digital Nomads
At this point in the post, I hope you have a better idea of a) digital nomadic life as a whole and b) whether or not it’s a lifestyle that appeals to you! From this point on, I’ll be going into more specific details on how to get started.
Let’s kick things off with a few quick-fire tips for enjoying nomad life:
- Don’t Think, Jump!
Making the switch from typical job to life as a digital nomad is a big deal! It’s a huge change that can feel equally as daunting. However, if it tickles your fancy, sparks your curiosity, and gets you excited, then you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. Remember, if it doesn’t work out, you can always go home and get another desk-job!
- Get a Job First
One thing for which I’ve always been grateful is the fact I had my remote job (as a content writer) from the very beginning. Knowing that I could earn money from the get-go took all the pressure off when I decided to hit the road! There was no mad dash for a remote job as I watched my bank balance steadily deplete; no stressful purgatory period as I waited with bated breath to land my first client. If you can do the same, then I highly recommend it.
Websites like Indeed, Problogger, Fiverr, HubTalent and Upwork are all useful resources for finding freelance roles.
- Strike a Balance
For me, the sole point of becoming a digital nomad was to take control of my time. I looked around, realized life was short, and wanted the freedom to spend my days on my own terms. However, I also need to earn enough money to sustain my lifestyle and keep me on the road! So it’s a constant tug of war between my desire to live and the need to work.
Try to strike a balance that works for you. If you feel yourself working too long and hard (and losing enthusiasm in the process), then reign it in a bit and remember why you became a nomad in the first place. Vice versa, whenever you’re having a little too much fun, it’s probably time to knuckle down.
- Establish a Routine
One thing I’ve realized over the last few years is that I work best when I have a routine. Unfortunately, routines seem harder to establish when you’re traveling all the time, staying in new places every few nights, and doing new things every day! If you benefit from a routine too, then do what you can to establish one that works for you.
This might involve a daily routine. For example, waking up at a certain time, doing a set amount of work between particular hours each day, and taking set breaks for meals. Yet it might also be at a wider scale. You could, for instance, try working full-time for 4 days each week and having a long weekend to explore.
- Crawl, Walk, Run
You don’t pick up a guitar for the first time and expect to play it like John Mayer, right? It takes time, practice, and commitment. It’s the same with becoming a digital nomad. There’s a definite “teething phase”. Like any new job, it could take a while to feel like you know what you’re doing! Take it slow, don’t spend all your savings in the first week, and give yourself time to adjust.
Popular Countries for Digital Nomads
As a digital nomad, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is where to travel next. After all, any country you choose has to satisfy certain criteria. From internet speeds and expat communities to the visa requirements and general acceptance of digital nomads, not all countries are made equal. Since the pandemic, some countries have even offered digital nomad work visas, tax incentives and free vaccines.
To help you separate the wheat from the chaff, here’s a brief list of the best countries for digital nomads. This section isn’t taking into account the current COVID-19 regulations in each country. So, before you set your heart on a particular place, be sure to check the rules first in order to qualify you can go.
You’ll struggle to find a list of “best places for digital nomads” without Thailand on it somewhere. And for good reason. It’s cheap, friendly and stunning; the locals are friendly, the Wi-Fi’s surprisingly good, and there’s a well-established nomad community. Oh, and Thai street food is incredible! Note: This is the one country on this post that does not yet offer a digital nomad work visa. But Thailand shares borders with other Southeast Asian countries, so many nomads opt to do visa runs.
See Christine’s eguide on Bangkok
Greece is a definite front-runner as far as government incentives for digital nomads go, boasting impressive tax breaks for people who decide to work there. Throw in the natural beauty, fascinating history, and solid infrastructure, and you’re onto a winner.
Huge, dynamic, lively, and low-cost, Argentina’s been a favored digital nomad destination for some time now. Better still, as of this year, the Argentine government’s trying to reinvigorate the economy by offering attractive visas aimed specifically at attracting digital nomads into the country.
With its beautiful Mediterranean climate, sunny disposition, solid infrastructure and budget-friendly living costs, Spain’s another worthwhile country to explore as a digital nomad. Top tip: the cities of Valencia and Seville are said to be particularly good.
Mexico could be ideal if you want to practice your Spanish while living and working in one of the budget-friendliest places on the planet. Big, diverse, and boasting a wonderfully warm climate, it’s become a haven for digital nomads over the last few years.
More countries offering digital nomad work visas: Portugal, Estonia, Germany, Croatia, Iceland, Georgia, Czech Republic, Taiwan
Top Digital Nomad Jobs
It’s one thing to know where you want to go, but another altogether to know how to earn a living there. What online jobs are available to aspiring digital nomads nowadays? They may take some time to master, but here are a few options that most people should be able to do, regardless of qualifications or past experience:
- Content/Copy Writing
- Graphic Design
- Virtual Assistant
- Customer Support
- Online Tutoring (Languages, Skills…)
- YouTuber ( check out our YouTube courses)
- Website Design and/or Development
- Marketer (Social Media, Affiliate, SEO…)
- Your Current Position (negotiated to do remotely)
See more digital nomad jobs
There you have it, then: a complete beginner’s guide to being a digital nomad!
With any luck, the insights in this article will help you decide whether or not to give this amazing lifestyle a go too. And, if you’re more determined than ever to make the switch, I hope the advice above will make the process that bit easier.
What are your main take-aways from this beginner’s guide to how to become a digital nomad? I’d love to hear from you!
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