Start Your Digital Nomad Journey – Ultimate Guide
You know this feeling: the journey is calling, and you must respond. Don’t you? If you open this article, you must be hungry for adventure. No one else would regard replacing a secure on-site job with an erratic digital nomad lifestyle. Leaving the sweet cozy home office also is not worth it! At least until you are bitten by the travel bug. But if you generously tell yourself: I want to travel the world, then the digital nomad lifestyle is what fits your needs. The question is – how to start it?
Step-by-step guide on how to hit the road, plan trips, and schedule work as a digital nomad.
It’s easy to plan vacations, but starting a digital nomad lifestyle makes things much more complicated. You need a long-term money-earning strategy, destinations with good work settings, proper equipment, the ability to cope with inconveniences… and many backup plans. So this step-by-step guide will teach you:
- what is a digital nomad
- what are basic digital nomad skills
- how to plan trips
- how to schedule work
…and, as a result, how to make your work-and-travel dream come true. So, future digital nomads, let’s dive in!
Who Is A Digital Nomad?
In short, a nomad is a person without a fixed residence. In the past, they were wanderers changing places to find fresh pastures for their livestock. Now things have changed, and besides some still existing nomadic groups such as Bakhtiari, most nomads are digital ones. Instead of looking for food for their animals, they look for electricity to feed their computers.
Indeed, digital nomads are people who travel the world while working online. Thanks to the Internet connection and the rise of remote work, they can keep their 9-to-5 jobs or other regular work without settling. Highly rewarding option for itchy-feet individuals!
If you want to join this community, you may like to know some key facts about digital nomads:
- In 2021, there were 15.5 million digital nomads worldwide. The number is still growing.
- Digital nomads’ average monthly income is $4,500.
- Digital nomads are a mix of full-timers (71%) and part-timers (29%), with most (85%) being satisfied or highly satisfied with their work.
Step 1: Learn On Digital Nomad Basics
- Find the digital nomad job
Sad but true: every long travel requires money. So, the first step to sustaining the nomadic lifestyle is considering your ‘digital’ source of income. It’s the best way to ensure non-stressful and save traveling while having a chance to enjoy the place. You have some options here.
First of all, you can find a full-time WFH job. With the rise of remote work, it’s not a problem anymore! If this idea matches you, check Remote OK, Craigslist, ProBlogger, and We Work Remotely. Writers, SEO specialists, software developers, customer service specialists, and HR professionals are just a few of the professionals who can easily find work there.
OK, but what if your profession doesn’t allow for remote work? You have at least two options. Firstly, you can change your career – it’s bold but stressful and challenging. Another solution is to check Go Overseas – a job board you can find online teaching and other jobs abroad!
Not everyone is born for a full-time job. According to statistics, 36% of digital nomads freelance for multiple companies, 33% own their own businesses and only 21% work as regular employees for just one company. If a freelancing career sounds appealing to you, here’s the list of recommended freelancer job boards:
To complete this list, here are other digital nomad job examples:
- Language Education
- Virtual Assistants
- Affiliate Marketing
- Product Photography
- Selling Handcraft Online
Regarding entrepreneurship, I have no advice besides reading “The Right It” – the book that teaches how to beat the failure beast and enter the market with the right idea. Besides that, I believe all business owners know how to generate their ideas and make them alive! Remember, making the right career decisions is the foundation of your successful digital nomad journey. Take your time on it.
- Learn about taxes
A short tip to all those who feel a headache when hearing “taxes”: learn about it ahead. Personally, I hate all paperwork, and I feel lost in complex financial terminology. However, if you decide to work abroad, it’s essential to know taxes rules. It’s true for everyone – full-time workers, entrepreneurs, and freelancers. Let me share with you my three strategies for dealing with it.
Strategy no.1: networking. Simply put, ask professionals from your country how they solve this issue.
Strategy no.2: google it. Every country has different tax rules. For example, Americans are required to file taxes regardless of where they live, but it’s not the same in most countries. Regulations differ for business owners who can set up their companies in a digital nomad-friendly country, like Estonia, to reduce their tax bill. Learn about your personal situation.
Strategy no.3: hire an accountant. It’s the best solution ensuring you won’t miss any detail. When looking for a good accountant, seek a professional specializing in people living overseas.
- Identify your technology needs
Leaving your country for a long time, you have a few technical issues to consider. The most important ones are SIM cards and VPN. Regarding a SIM card, there’s a common travel hack to use the local one. It’s simple – buy a prepaid SIM card at your new destination and use cheap data packages without spending a fortune on roaming. Also, it will save you from wasting time hunting for Wi-Fi spots.
Another thing to consider is VPN. It’s essential both for convenience and safety! First of all, Virtual Private Network allows you to use US-based sites that may not be available abroad, like streaming services. Thanks to VPN, you can log in to them easily. But it’s not all. When connecting to Wi-Fi from different locations, your social media, banking, and email accounts are in danger. Reliable VPNs protect you by masking your online signature, so your data is secure from cafes or hotels using the Internet.
Some reliable VPN services:
- Private Internet Access
- Torguard VPN
- Get travel insurance
Safety first! There’s a funny thing about medical insurance – we buy it with the hope of never using it. Well, I wish you the best, but as a digital nomad, you may encounter many unexpected situations. Working equipment should also be insured if you don’t want to lose it on the road. So, it’s recommended to decide on medical and travel insurance that is designed specifically for digital nomads, such as SafetyWing, World Nomads, and IMG Global. It’ll ensure all your pain points are covered.
After all, health is important wherever you live at the moment.
Step 2: Tips for nomadic traveling
- Do research about the country you’re going to visit
Help yourself – limit your cultural shock. My biggest surprise during my first nomadic trip? I felt more like a resident than a tourist. Just a few days passed, and I had a favorite bakery; I knew how to get to the bus station and where to buy the best fresh mangoes. Also, I got used to a slower pace of life and shop assistants chatting me up.
From my experience, digital nomads get quickly ingrained into the local culture. It influences how they feel abroad, making them delighted or shocked (like my Cuban friend who couldn’t meet his new Estonian colleagues. Estonian just don’t like to speak. Especially with strangers).
So here’s some short advice: get ready. Read ahead about your future destination’s culture, people’s mindset, religion, and other features. Well-prepared, you can enjoy working in another country more since things that differ won’t shock you as much.
- Consider a city with a digital nomad community
The leading digital nomad challenge? Loneliness. A nomadic lifestyle limits chances to make bonds with other people. Whenever you get closer to someone, it’s about time to pack and go. Even when making some friends, you know that you’ll leave them soon, and every next time it’s more and more hurting.
The cure is finding a place with more people like you – to find digital nomad destinations. There you can meet someone who shares the same lifestyle, travel passions, and, most importantly, similar contact needs. Also, those meetings can inspire your workflow and trip destinations, enriching your journey!
To find a digital nomad community, take a look at one of the most popular places for digital nomads:
- Playa Del Carmen
Another way is to search the web. Try apps like Nomad List or visit one of the following websites:
- The Nomadic Network
Forums and social media groups are also good places to start.
- Download helpful travel apps
We live in a smartphone era – so I couldn’t help myself from including app recommendations! Here is my choice of the most helpful travel apps for digital nomads:
- Maps.me – you will never get lost. Maps.me is an offline map of the whole world that works more accurately than Google maps.
- Hopper – this app is excellent for finding the best cheap flights. It tracks ticket prices and notifies you about drops.
- Translate – download the offline package to talk with anyone, anywhere.
- TripIt – it gathers and keeps all your travel details in one place. It works offline, too!
- Alltrails – OK, this one is my subjective choice. If you are a fan of outdoor activities like me, you’ll love Alltrails, which offers a lot of hiking trails.
- XE Currency – the app that makes currency conversions even offline. The perfect choice for country-hopping travelers.
- Wi-Fi Map – a life-saver. For a small price, you have offline access to hotspot maps. Location and password included!
As a digital nomad, I’m sure you’ll appreciate those digital facilities.
- Find a long-term rental
You may agree: productive work requires a good work environment. Otherwise, how to focus on tasks? Indeed, hostels are not the perfect choice for digital nomad travelers. Noise and cluttered spaces make it difficult to work effectively. When looking for accommodation, consider spacious places where you can feel at home. Here are two cheap ideas:
- HouseCarers is free accommodation. You live at someone’s house, and in exchange, you have to take care of the property, how example, water the plants and take care of the pets.
- Coliving.com offers to share long-term accommodation with other people and specializes in digital nomads around the world.
- Limit your unnecessary expenses
We all want to travel more and stress less, but sometimes it can seem like an impossible dream. But you can limit at least one of your stresses: cut down on your unnecessary expenses.
The more money you save, the more you can put toward your travel plans. To get started, list your non-essential expenses and see what you can cut down on. This could mean preparing lunch for work instead of buying lunch out or looking for cheaper alternatives for the things you need, like shopping for clothes at secondhand stores. This extra money can be used for your next trips and help you to reduce stress.
- Learn to pack lightly
The real nomads have one superpower: packing light. I wish I had known it before. After some trips, I’ve noticed I need only half of the clothes and fewer items I could not use. I also identified more efficient alternatives – for example, taking Kindle instead of some books.
Reducing my packing list reduced my stress. Now, moving from place to place consumes much less energy since I don’t waste it packing unuseful things. Trying it by yourself, you’ll quickly realize that without carrying this huge suitcase, you can switch destinations much more easily!
So, consider taking multi-purpose things to save baggage space and universal clothes matching every outfit. Besides, make a list of travel essentials like ear plugs, sleep cover masks, and a portable battery bank, and update it on the go. Packing light doesn’t mean completely giving up on your comfort, does it?
- Travel slowly
Do not rush; explore. For years, I’ve treated traveling as ticking the checklist. Visiting a new country, I wanted to see all the must-have places and try all the iconic experiences. It was quite reasonable – while spending just a week in a given location, you don’t have time to soak up. But then, I discovered the digital nomad lifestyle.
Staying in one place for a longer time changed my mindset. I discovered the pleasure of slow traveling – spinning in the streets, attending events, and getting in-depth experience of the place. Also, with a slow-travel mindset, I could build a routine and, as a result, improve my productivity while hitting the road.
I know travelers always crave adventure, which is hard to resist. But slow traveling has been the best lesson from my digital nomad trips, so I had to share it with you.
Step 3: Tips for working nomads
- Choose a location that aligns with your working hours
The worst-case scenario is to work at night and be too sleepy to enjoy the days. Unfortunately, it may happen if you won’t choose your destination wisely. Indeed, the difference between time zones is an issue digital nomads must consider. First, you should work when your client and colleagues work, too. Otherwise, attending online meetings, managing emails, and performing other business tasks is impossible.
Secondly, it would be great to work while the rest of the world is awake and not worry about staying late or getting up early. The best solution is to choose a destination in a similar time zone. As a result, you maximize the time you have to enjoy your travels without compromising productivity.
- Balance your work and travel time
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve got from my digital nomad friend while hitting the road was – do not to blend work and travel. She said I should set clear boundaries between the time I work and when I go exploring. I couldn’t get it – for me, it was essential for digital nomads to mix those two! But here’s the thing: the time and place you work should be dedicated just to working. It ensures the best performance. The time for sightseeing and enjoying the place is your free time. Keep it free to relax.
It really matters because when you can’t fully enjoy coffee in a local cafe or the vibe of a sunny beach if you have to respond to emails ASAP. It destroys the immersion. As a result, it may become even more stressful than the conventional job you left behind. So, for a pleasant digital nomad experience – set clear boundaries for when you work and go exploring.
- Always look for WiFi-friendly places
Finding a waterhole for their animals is the top priority for nomads. For digital nomads, it’s to find Wi-Fi. As a digital nomad, finding places with reliable Internet connections is essential – otherwise, you couldn’t do your job. From this point of view, the South American jungle or Hawaii beach can be a poor idea for your travel destination.
Fortunately, there are plenty of far-off places with strong Wi-Fi. It’s the list of how to find them:
- Find strong Wi-Fi spots them using online tools such as WifiMapper or WeFi.
- Learn about the Wi-Fi speeds in different countries using nomadlist.com.
- Look for co-working spaces, which usually have reliable and fast internet connections.
- Before renting an Airbnb or long-term stay, ask the owners to send you a screenshot of their Wi-Fi speed.
- Ask locals for advice – they can tell you about the best places to get online or even suggest cafes or restaurants with good Wi-Fi.
In any case, here’s the backup plan: invest in a reliable mobile hotspot or a cell phone signal booster. Being adequately prepared, you won’t waste your working time switching between cafes to find a strong Internet connection.
- Keep powered. I mean, your electronic devices.
Besides the lack of an Internet connection, one more thing can stop you from doing work: discharged battery. Today we use electronic devices like laptops and mobile phones for everything, from doing a job to booking tickets to paying bills. It’s a lovely convenience which, unfortunately, makes us dependent on energy. It’s just another issue to keep in mind when planning trips.
So, to prevent any problems, consider buying all international AC adapters and plugs for consistent power. Also, always take a power bank. As you care about your energy, keep your electronic devices loaded.
Final thoughts: never stop learning
So, now you are ready to start your digital nomad journey! (Excited?) Before starting, just one final thought. Golden tip you have to keep in mind wherever you’ll go. Never stop learning.
Taking your first digital nomad destination is just the beginning. Despite preparations, you’ll struggle with your unique challenges and overcome them yourself. Probably, you’ll make many travel mistakes. Only this experience can teach you how to make your future trips better and better and how to be a happy digital nomad by your own rules. That I wish you from the bottom of my heart.
Short bio: Karolina Turowska, a writer and travel enthusiast at PhotoAiD. When it comes to writing, she loves bringing dry facts to life. When it comes to traveling, she just loves bikes.