So, you want to be a digital nomad.
I’ve been living the digital nomad lifestyle for 4 years now and I love it. It’s given me the freedom and flexibility to live a life full of adventure. But it’s not all sitting on the beach trying not to get sand in your laptop while sipping on mojitos. Being a digital nomad can have its challenges. From finding good wifi, to earning a steady income, to all the logistics that come into living life abroad, there are considerations you should make before jumping into this lifestyle.
I wouldn’t give up my life as a digital nomad, but you’ll also meet challenges that you never would living a ‘normal’ life in your hometown. You’ll get into the nitty gritty of living life in a new place. You’ll sip on delicious cafe con leche in Spain or munch on Samosas in India and meet interesting and inspiring people along the way. You’ll also wonder why on earth you decided to do this and where the h*ll you can find good wifi in this town.
If you think this is something you know you want to do, welcome to the crew! To help make your transition to the digital nomad lifestyle a little smoother than mine was, here are 15 things to consider before starting life as a digital nomad:
1. Are you up for the digital nomad lifestyle?
Some people don’t want to mix work and travel. If you’re really looking for a holiday, but kind of like the idea of making money while you go, you might want to take a deeper look into what life as a digital nomad is like. Most digital nomads don’t have a regular salary, are constantly uprooting themselves and must look for new accommodation, friends, etc. in each new city. Before selling all your belongings and moving overseas, figure out why you really want to live this lifestyle.
2. What resources can you gather before you head out?
Once you land overseas you’ll likely be in a country with a foreign language, trying to find an apartment, open a bank account, figure out health insurance, etc. Anything you can get together before you leave such as clients, financial resources, information on accommodation, etc. is going to be a big help. Use sites like Money Nomad, Couchsurfing, Airbnb, Internations, or others to see what you can get settled before you go. I know, I know. You want to land in a new country and fly by the seat of your pants. But when you land in Athens with a client call in 2 hours and nowhere to stay you’ll wish you had followed my advice.
3. Who do you want to interact with?
Heading to a digital nomad hotspot like Spain or Thailand means you’ll find the cream of the crop of co-working spaces, strong wifi, good coffee, and a slew of other people who understand the lifestyle you’re going for. If you choose somewhere with fewer nomads you’ll have more time to talk with locals, learn a new language, and fully immerse yourself in the culture of the other place. I’ve done both and each has its ups and downs. Decide which kind of place you’d like to start in and go from there!
4. Where do you want to go?
The ultimate question for digital nomads! You’ve got freedom at your fingertips but now you have some big decisions to make. Some things to consider are cost of living, language, ability to get a visa, how long you want to stay, etc. If you’re just starting your career or just changing careers, places like South East Asia, Eastern Europe, or Central America will give you more financial flexibility.
5. What kind of work do you want to do?
If you don’t already have a remote job, there a few different ways you can go to become a DN:
- Become a freelancer
- Start a business
- Get a job at a remote company
- Do local temp jobs
FIGURE THIS OUT BEFORE YOU LEAVE. Trust me on this – from someone who wound up on a couch in London with not enough money for a bag of chips while frantically trying to find work. FIGURE THIS OUT BEFORE YOU LEAVE.
I’m now a social media manager and blogger. Ideally you want to find something that is a good mix of your skills and interests. Ie. something you are good at and that won’t make you want to smash your computer while you’re on the road!
6. How will you find consistent work?
Once you’ve decided what you want to do, it’s time to actually get clients and customers. Check out freelancing sites like Upwork, relevant Facebook groups, and reach out to your network of friends and family. Get creative with this one! If you can already have some basics in place (i.e. Business set up, a few clients in place,etc.) before you leave, even better. If that’s not possible, at least leave with a plan!
7. What is your financial situation?
If you’re just starting a business or freelance career do you have enough saved to support yourself for a few months? It takes time to build a steady income. If you don’t have savings I’d recommend going somewhere with a low cost of living, to begin with! Hey, this can help you out with number 4! Sites like nomadlist can help you filter locations by budget.
8. What’s your travel style?
Do you want to live in one country for a year? Move around every three months? Maybe you want to have a home base but travel around for a few weeks or months at a time. Or maybe you want to be fully nomadic! The best way to figure this out is to experiment! But if you have an inkling, start with your inkling and make a plan from there. This will help you figure out if you need a visa to legally work and live somewhere, or if you are just going to bounce around using Airbnb and hostels.
9. Is it important to be close-ish to home?
Do you want to be able to visit home for Christmas or other important events? Keep that in mind before hopping on a one-way flight to Australia!
10. Do you want more time alone or more time socializing?
Do you love big cities, or prefer to be in the country somewhere. Digital nomad life can get lonely, yet some of my best experiences have been in tiny little mountain or beach towns, taking some much needed time to myself. Know thyself. Do you like more time alone, or do you want company?
11. How will you keep in touch with friends and family back home?
Friendships built on the road are great, but nothing can replace your best friends from back home. I love planning Skype & Wine sessions once a month with some of my BFFs. Keeping in touch will help you out when you’re having your (inevitable) digital nomad life crisis.
Do you need a visa or work permit where you’re going? This depends on where you’re from and where you want to move to. If you’re moving within your own country you won’t have a problem, and EU citizens can live and work freely in multiple countries. Any other situation you will probably need to apply for a work visa. Check out the embassy of the country you want to go to to get more information on this. I’ve heard stories of people overstaying with no visa and having no problem, and I’ve also heard of people getting 5-year bans from Europe and hefty fines. I wouldn’t mess with this one – if you plan on staying in one place for more than three months, get the proper work permit.
13. Health insurance and health care.
Get health insurance before you go!! Depending on where you are going and if you are getting a visa, you may be eligible to apply for healthcare in the country you are moving to. If you can’t stay healthy on the road you won’t have much fun. This is definitely something you should research before heading out. Language is also a consideration. You may want to research where you can find an English speaking doctor before (or soon after) you arrive.
14. Keeping healthy on the road.
How will you stay healthy on the road? Do you like running? Cycling? Swimming? How can you fit those into your new (and ever-changing) routine? What’s the cuisine like in the places you want to go? Do you have any dietary restrictions or allergies you need to account for? This is especially important if you’re going to a small town – you may need to hit up a grocery store in a bigger city before settling in! The Spanakopita and cheap beer will be tempting, just remember you’re not on holidays- this is your normal life now.
15. Seek adventure and make time for fun.
There’s a lot to plan for when becoming a digital nomad, but really most of us choose this lifestyle because we want more adventure than we can get back home! While one of the best things for me about this lifestyle is that I’ve also been able to choose a job that I love, don’t let work completely take over your life. Remember why you chose to do this in the first place and make time to explore the place you’re in! Make time to close your laptop, disconnect, and create an adventure.
I hope this helps you wrap your head around what you need to do to start your life as a digital nomad. It can be fun and rewarding, and will be the more so if you plan ahead, and are aware of some of the challenges that might come up on the road!
Bio: Kayla is a digital nomad, yogi, and freelance social media manager. Currently bunkered up in Europe, but originally from Canada, she’s visited, lived, and worked in over 40 countries! Learn more about her and her work on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.