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What You Need to Be a Digital Nomad

Paola Bassanese is a freelance author and writer specialising in food, lifestyle and entertainment.

That important selfie by the pool

That important selfie by the pool

Being a Digital Nomad Is Not About the Glamour

There are some myths around digital nomads: a simple search of stock pictures typing “digital nomads” will produce various images of chilled-out smiley people (pretending?) to work on a laptop, hanging out by a pool overlooking a stunning view. The reality is that most of the work is not glamorous at all, as digital nomads are often tucked away in cafes, hotel rooms or temporary offices frantically trying to meet their clients’ deadlines.

The nomadic lifestyle allows people to do a fair amount of travel, however work always takes priority. Unless you have a business that generates income independently of your input, for example royalties from published books, you have to work on your business every day to earn a living.

The way to make digital nomadism work is to find countries where the cost of living is relatively low but that have a good quality of life. South East Asia is often the preferred location for digital nomads because it has a low cost of living, good infrastructure and stunning scenery.

Day-to-day life of a digital nomad

Day-to-day life of a digital nomad

Equipment for Digital Nomads

You may think that equipment is the most important part of being a digital nomad – in a way, that’s true, but it is just the essential requirement to be able to work remotely. The most essential factor is what you can offer as a digital nomad to clients in terms of your skills and expertise.

A basic “starter kit” for digital nomads would include:

  • laptop, which should be sturdy and lightweight if possible, as it needs to survive several security checks at airports and bumpy rides in trains and buses
  • travel adaptors, to use in various countries around the world
  • external hard drive, to store and back up files
  • local SIM card, to use as a hotspot for the laptop when there is no Wi-Fi available (a good 4G connection can be much better than unreliable free Wi-Fi in a cafe)
  • camera, to capture unforgettable moments and narrate your journeys on social media
  • chargers

Services You Need

Having a good cover while travelling will save you money in the long term. If you fall ill abroad you may not be able to work, or the hospital bill can be expensive. Keeping your business and tax affairs in order is absolutely essential.

It is worth spending on these services:

  • travel insurance
  • health insurance
  • accountant
The view

The view

Qualities of a Digital Nomad

If you want to be a digital nomad you need to have specific character traits including resilience and adaptability.

Some of the qualities required to be a digital nomad are:

  • Self-discipline, to stay focused on projects and probably work harder than you’ve ever had to
  • Self-motivation, because there is no one else who will give you pep talks when you are feeling down and/or had a bad month with low earnings
  • Organisation, to keep your business running smoothly
  • Frugality, to keep costs down and avoid overspending (you can’t afford hefty credit card bills when you freelance)
  • Be debt-free and have enough savings put aside
  • Networking, because you need to keep building business connections

Freelance Jobs for Remote Workers

Remote working has evolved from simple support roles like customer support/call centre jobs. A search on traditional job sites will show plenty of options for remote work.

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Remote jobs that are suitable for digital nomads include:

  • programmer
  • translator
  • copywriter
  • designer
  • digital marketing
  • SEO consultant
  • virtual assistant
  • coaching (lifestyle, fitness etc)
  • photographer

There are many websites that advertise freelance work, but some jobs are low paid and you face a lot of competition because of that (see, for example, my review of Clickworker and Unbabel). Some articles aimed at digital nomads often mention websites like Fiverr to earn freelance income, however this type of freelance gigs will not convert into a sustainable business. The only way to make the best use of these freelance job sites is to get to know new clients and ask them for repeat business and referrals.

An alternative entry point to becoming a remote worker is to join a company with international offices and ask to be posted abroad.

There are websites like Jobbatical that advertise international roles and some employers even offer to cover visa costs.

RemoteOK specialises in remote jobs; you can also do a search on Indeed for remote jobs (see also my review of Indeed).

The most important thing to remember is to already have a system in place before starting travelling: for example, have 2-3 regular freelance clients commissioning work on a retainer basis.

Diversifying Income Streams

Affiliate marketing and advertising are two examples of income streams you can build. While these options won’t provide enough income to cover all your costs, it is worth considering building alternative income streams. Please note that advertising on your blog or offering products through affiliate links may take years before you reach the minimum payment thresholds. For example, you can decide to write online to earn some advertising income. However, it can take quite a while to earn your first AdSense payment.

Don’t Know Where to Start? Get Inspired by These Digital Nomads

YouTube is a great source of inspiration, if you know where to look. Learn from these digital nomads and their experience of working and travelling.

Digital Nomad Downsides

As mentioned at the beginning, being a digital nomad is often not glamorous, and may come with some downsides:

  • being away from friends and family
  • having to train in new skills, for example if your existing qualifications cannot convert into remote working
  • not having home comforts and possessions
  • tax
  • pension
  • being seen as a “foreigner”

Join a Community

You can find helpful people who can give you tips and advice on destinations in digital nomad groups on Facebook and Reddit. It’s a good idea to join a few communities and ask for recommendations. Co-working spaces can also offer work and networking opportunities: for example WeWork and Coworkies have sections on their websites dedicated to jobs and events.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Paola Bassanese (author) from Ireland on October 07, 2018:

Thank you Elaine!

Elaine Byers on October 05, 2018:

Very interesting and thorough article !

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