Ultimate Guide on How to Become a Digital Nomad
When someone asks how to become a digital nomad, it’s important to consider where they are in their career. The path to becoming a digital nomad varies depending on one’s experience and the direction one wants to take their career. Whether you’re an experienced professional seeking more freedom and flexibility, or a recent graduate eager to explore the world while working, there are three fundamental steps to becoming a digital nomad:
- Identify the career you want to pursue.
- Enter the market and find ways to monetize your skills or product.
- Establish a sustainable remote work routine and lifestyle
What makes this framework excellent is its applicability to most scenarios, whether you’re just starting out, at a mid-level, or in a senior position. This is the same framework I used when I was searching for my next career move.
Identify the Remote Career You Want to Pursue
Some people who have found their niche can skip this step, but those who feel lost should not. The average person spends a third of their lifetime working, so it’s worthwhile to have an honest conversation with yourself about what you want to pursue. If you’re like me, you have a lot of interests, it’s useful to have a structured approach to this process. For simplicity’s sake, I have outlined three steps to help you narrow down which career will most likely be a good fit for you to pursue as a digital nomad.
Create a Skills Inventory
The first step is to inventory the skills that you believe you possess. Did someone once compliment your great storytelling ability? Add it to the list. If you are self-introspective, this task might be easier, and you can immediately list a few. Have a good friend or someone who knows you well validate your list. You can also ask them if they think you are good at something that you did not list already. Another way to do this is to think of a subject or topic that you excelled in school, even if it’s not challenging for you.
Ideally, these skills should come naturally to you with minimal effort. Although anyone can be anything they want with enough effort, you want to leverage your natural strengths. For years, I tried to become a programmer, and while I enjoyed the learning process and the satisfaction that came with it, I spent countless hours studying. At that rate of learning, I knew I would only become average. So I decided to focus on using my skills where they would be more valuable.
Find the Activities You Enjoy
The next step is to identify the activities you enjoy. These activities should be enjoyable enough to commit to without feeling like a chore. You’ll spend almost a third of your lifetime doing the same tasks, so it’s important to include only activities that bring you joy. Another way to do this is to examine your calendar and see how you spend your spare time. Do you enjoy playing board games? Just because you enjoy playing board games doesn’t mean you should open a board game store or pursue a career related to it. The goal is to find activities that engage you and determine what motivates you to do them.
At this point, you should pause and look for the intersection of the two lists. This should help you identify activities where you naturally excel. I did the same exercise and ended up with this Venn diagram. The occupations at the intersection of the two rings are the careers I’ll use for the next step of this process.
Determine the Market Demand for Your Skills or Product
Before moving on to the next step, I recommend listing around 3 to 8 occupations. Then, evaluate your preferred occupations against the jobs that the market is looking for. Keep in mind that some roles may not be suitable for remote work. For example, there is no such thing as a remote construction worker, but you can take contract jobs as a construction worker.
You can easily determine whether there is demand for the occupations you’ve shortlisted by checking job boards and searching for the number of employers looking for that role. Another way is to look at how long a job has been posted. If a job has been listed for a while, there may be a labor shortage or high qualifications required for the job. Either way, if you have the required skill set, it’s a good sign. For those who prefer a more traditional approach, you can also look up labor statistics on government sites such as Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Let’s say you want to go all in and become an entrepreneur, there are a variety of ways to test out demand. I would highly encourage you to read Rob Fitzpatrick’s The Mom Test.
“The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick is a must-read guide for entrepreneurs seeking honest customer feedback. With practical insights and actionable advice, it teaches how to ask the right questions that uncover valuable insights, avoiding the common pitfalls of biased validation and ensuring a strong foundation for building successful products and businesses.
Let’s say that some of the occupations you’ve listed are in high demand. What do you choose? At this point, it’s mostly subjective, and any career that has gone through this three-step process is a decent one for you to undertake. However, there are a few factors that will influence how happy you are with the role long-term.
- Flexibility with time. The best roles for digital nomads are usually those that can provide some flexibility in how their time is spent. These are usually individual contributor roles where performance is gauged solely on personal outcomes. Examples include programmer or software developer roles where some output is expected given a certain deadline.
- Salary. While a higher salary does not guarantee happiness, it does contribute to how one feels about their job. One’s salary reflects how much management values an employee’s contribution to the company’s success.
- Type of employment (or the lack thereof). There are multiple types of employment, including freelancing, entrepreneurship, or working for someone else. Each type varies in the level of autonomy and job security it provides, and one’s risk aversion is a big factor in choosing one type of employment over another.
- Company environment (if applicable). The difference between a good and bad company environment is clear, but the difference between one with a good fit and one that doesn’t is not. It’s easier to work when you can be yourself both at work and at home without the need to change your persona. People usually overlook this factor, but it can be a dealbreaker in the long run.
Monetize Your Skills or Product
The path to monetization varies depending on your career and the type of employment you pursue.
If you choose to pursue traditional employment, start by creating a standout resume or portfolio. There are many tools available, both paid and free, to help you do this.
If you decide to become a freelancer or entrepreneur, putting yourself out in the public eye is the next step. You can do this through marketplaces like Fiverr or social media platforms like LinkedIn. You may also need to create a professional website or portfolio that showcases your skills, previous work, and achievements. This will serve as your virtual business card and allow potential clients or customers to assess your capabilities and credibility.
Regardless of the path you choose, establishing an online presence and network is crucial to selling yourself. Leverage social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram to connect with professionals, industry influencers, and potential customers. Engage in conversations, share valuable content, and participate in relevant communities to expand your network and visibility in the digital sphere. Building relationships and fostering connections with individuals who share your interests or work in similar fields can open up new opportunities, collaborations, and referrals.
Once you have a plan in place to fund your lifestyle, it’s time to think about how to be productive while traveling. It’s preferable to have some stream of income before taking the next step, but you can get by if you have savings set up as a buffer. The more you have saved, the more time you have before you need an actual income stream.
Establishing a Sustainable Remote Work Routine and Lifestyle
Becoming a digital nomad requires discipline, organization, and the ability to maintain a sustainable remote work routine. While the freedom to work from anywhere in the world is undoubtedly appealing, it’s crucial to establish a balance between work and personal life to ensure productivity and well-being.
Plan Your Setup for Remote Work
Planning your gear and the activities you’ll do once you reach your destination is just half of the preparation you’ll need to do. Assuming you already know the drill when you go on vacation, you know that you need to bring your luggage, clothes, and toiletries. However, starting this lifestyle will be more than a vacation, so you’ll have to think about the implications of long-term travel.
Traveling long-term as a digital nomad often involves navigating visa regulations and legal requirements. Each country has its own rules regarding work permits, visa limitations, and tax obligations. It’s important for digital nomads to understand and comply with these regulations to avoid legal complications.
Reliable internet access is essential for digital nomads to work effectively. However, not all destinations may have stable and fast internet connections. Remote areas or certain countries may have limited infrastructure, leading to intermittent or slow internet connectivity. I recommend always having your own internet hotspot or device to ensure good internet connectivity.
We recommend using the Airalo eSIM while traveling as a digital nomad. Airalo is the world’s first eSIM store that solves the pain of high roaming bills by giving travelers access to eSIMs in over 200+ countries.
Banking Compliance and Cash Access
This is less of a problem now than it was before, but you still have to be mindful of how much it costs to get your currencies exchanged. People underestimate how much each transaction fee eventually adds up to after months of traveling. It would be wise to have a credit card that does not charge or charge the least amount of exchange rate fees when withdrawing money.
Credit Card Recommendation
The Wise Credit Card is a traveler’s ally, offering a host of benefits tailored to globetrotters. With just one card offering competitive exchange rates in 160 countries, it ensures seamless spending abroad for a worry-free journey.
Traveling to unfamiliar places can present health and safety risks. Access to quality healthcare, vaccinations, and travel insurance becomes vital for digital nomads. When getting travel insurance, look at the fine print and make sure that the activities you do are covered, especially if you enjoy high-adrenaline or high-risk sports like mountain biking.
Additionally, adapting to new environments, dealing with jet lag, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle while on the move can be challenging.
IT Security and Telecom
This was my biggest frustration when I traveled to Asia. Nowadays, most online accounts require two-factor authentication, which requires having your phone number from back home active. The larger problem, though, is that you need to have a service to get any of those authentication codes sent to you. It took a lot of emails and phone rebooting before I was able to get this fixed when I was in Thailand.
Unfortunately, it’s one of those things where you wouldn’t really know if your telecom provider will have good service in the place you’re heading to. The best advice I can give is to check what authentication methods you have in place and make sure that you have at least two options set up.
Create a dedicated remote workspace wherever you go
When I was in Laos, I once made the mistake of turning a hut into my office. What’s wrong with this? I had to work in the evenings when everyone around me is sleeping, and huts do not have soundproofing. Can you guess what happened when I had to take a call at 10 pm? I had someone yelling at me to go work from a nearby cave, I got a warning the next day from the hostel owners.
Morale of the story is to try to anticipate all the problems you’ll encounter in every destination you go to. I only prepared for the weak internet so I was able to prepare backup plans but your internet speed is just one factor that determines how your productivity is in your new location.
Set clear boundaries between work hours and personal time
Maintaining a work-life balance is more challenging as a digital nomad because your personal time can also be spent traveling. Sometimes, it’s also hard to keep your focus when you’re in paradise. This is where time management comes in handy. You need to set specific hours for work and for play, and it’s important to keep it consistent.
Explore productivity tools and project management systems
To maximize your productivity and manage your work efficiently, consider using productivity tools and project management systems. These tools can help you stay organized, plan your projects, and collaborate effectively with team members or clients. With the help of these tools, you can streamline your workflow, prioritize tasks, and meet deadlines more efficiently.
Recommended Tools for Coworking
Krisp cancels out external noise and improves the productivity of online meetings with its AI-powered Voice Clarity and Meeting Assistant.
1Password makes it easy to generate, store, and autofill passwords (and any other secrets) for all your online accounts, on all your devices
Todoist is the world’s #1 task manager and to-do list app, which is designed to boost productivity and organize your life. With its intuitive interface and powerful features like project collaboration, recurring tasks, and reminders, Todoist helps individuals and teams stay on top of their tasks and accomplish more with ease.
There are various types of productivity tools available, including task management tools, time-tracking tools, note-taking apps, and communication tools. Task management tools like Asana, Trello, and Todoist can help you organize your tasks, set deadlines, and track your progress. Time tracking tools like Toggl and RescueTime can help you measure your productivity, identify time-wasting activities, and optimize your work schedule. Note-taking apps like Evernote and OneNote can help you keep all your notes and ideas in one place and access them from any device. Communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams can help you collaborate with team members, share files, and stay connected.
Becoming a digital nomad is an exhilarating and rewarding lifestyle choice that allows you to break free from the constraints of a traditional office-based career. By following the three essential steps outlined in this blog post, you can get a head start in becoming a digital nomad.
Remember, the path to becoming a digital nomad is unique for each individual. Take the time to find the career that suits you, put yourself out there in the market, and cultivate a sustainable remote work routine that balances productivity and personal well-being.
Now, take the first step and begin your journey toward becoming a digital nomad. The world is waiting for you!
Safe travels and happy nomading!