Once you have the dream of digital nomad life, it’s hard to shake. If you really want to live a new, location independent lifestyle, you’ll need to start planning and working towards your goal step by step. Here’s my guide on how to become a digital nomad with no skills or experience – what you need to think about before you travel, how to decide where to go, and what to do when you arrive at your destination.
Note: some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products and brands I personally use and trust that I think you would love too!
The difficulty with trying to write an ultimate digital nomad guide is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all nomad lifestyle or path to follow. Every single person I know living the digital nomad life got there in different ways, has different jobs, makes money in different ways, and likes to travel differently.
The key theme here is difference. Whichver way you launch into your nomad life, and however you choose to sustain it isn’t ever wrong, it’s just – different.
This blog is aimed at giving aspiring digital nomads a solid game plan to start thinking about how to start and successfully maintain a new, intentional, location-independent lifestyle, no matter how they choose to go about it. I want to help as many people as possible make their first digital nomad experience a good one!
Most importantly, before I get into the details, I want to point out that age is not a barrier to having a digital nomad career!
I started my journey at 40. In my travels, I’ve met people as young as 18 and as old as 85 that are having fantastic adventures which don’t involve desk jobs or rest homes. So never let how old you are be the reason that makes you brush your remote work dreams aside.
What IS a digital nomad anyway?
People have varying definitions of what “digital nomad” means, and what digital nomads do – even nomads themselves. In the broadest sense, it means a person that can travel and work remotely as they move around.
Wikipedia defines it as:
“People who use telecommunication technologies to earn a living and conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles. It is often accomplished through the use of devices that have wireless Internet capabilities such as smartphones or mobile hotspots. Successful digital nomads typically have a financial cushion or need to develop high levels of self-reliance and self-discipline”
On a more granular level, you’ll need to define what the term means for you personally.
- Will you be one of the remote workers at a large company?
- Will you work full or part time?
- Will you freelance?
- WIll you have other forms of online income that you’ll be using to fund your travels (such as an ecommerce business, blog income, or day trading)?
- Will you only need to earn a small amount each month – so you can work in places like South East Asia?
- Will you need to earn a lot more each month – so you can work in places like Norway, New York, or London?
- Will you move every month, every two months, or every year?
- Will you move around constantly or keep a home base?
You’re in control of designing the digital nomad lifestyle that you want. That’s why it’s so exciting and creates true feelings of freedom (and true feelings of being exhausted and hangry like you’ve never known before).
How much money will you need? Not as much as you think. You can mix and match your income and travel ideas to give you a good work/life balance that you might not have right now. Want to work 4 days a week? You can. Want to explore during the week and do some work on the weekend instead? You can do that too. Save up and take a month off? It can all be planned to fit around your ideal vision of the life you want.
Digital nomad facts
In the media, most digital nomads are commonly portrayed as freelancers, young backpackers, tech startup founders, or entrepreneurs. And despite 70% of digital nomads being women, most digital nomads are typically typecast as male.
According to a survey of nomads themselves, the average nomad is more likely to be a GenX female in a remote job who works around 40 hours per week, and has a bachelor’s degree or higher.
- 19% Gen Z
- 42% Millenial
- 22% Gen X
- 17% Baby Boomers
Steps to becoming a digital nomad that can travel the world
If you’re uprooting yourself from the comfort of your home and possessions, the safety net of a job, and the support of close friends and family, you’ll need to sit down and do some soul-searching about why you want to pursue a nomadic lifestyle – and how you’re going to go about earning money online, step by step.
First – get clear on why you want to live a nomadic lifestyle
Take time to think about why you want to follow the digital nomad path. If you spend time on Instagram, you will have seen all the dreamy images of people working from hammocks, beaches, pools, and other terrible places for actually doing the work you need to keep you on the road. These make great snapshots on social media for selling the digital nomad dream, but in reality – you can’t work online properly like that.
Screen glare, sand, and bad posture don’t make for great times. Not to mention that your hotel WiFi probably doesn’t stretch that far, and there aren’t any power outlets on the beach. So you need to get really, really, real about even the smallest challenges of the nomad lifestyle.
The main reasons why people want to learn how to become digital nomads include:
- A better work/life balance
- Escape from the day-to-day boredom of living in one place
- The freedom and flexibility of the lifestyle
- Freedom to travel and work from literally anywhere
- No more office politics
- No more lame coworker stories
- No rigid rules and time constraints of a traditional 9-5 work environment
- The chance to experience new cultures, landscapes, and food
- Living cheaper than in their home country
- No good opportunites for jobs or growth where they live
- Becoming part of an inspirational remote work and digital nomad community
People often think that because you’re a nomad (or want to be one) that you’re running away from something. But truthfully, most of us are running towards something better.
Nomads crave new surroundings, new challenges, and new people – while otherwise working as they normally would on their laptops. As long as there’s a reliable internet connection, everything is (generally) fine!
Being a nomad feels like living the dream from the outside. And if you talk to anybody who’s been living this lifestyle for any length of time, they’ll mostly tell you the wouldn’t change anything. But despite that, they’ll also tell you it has not been an easy ride. Every nomad will have stories of failures, disasters, and unexpected mishaps – which is all par for the course when you travel full time.
So before you leave home with your backpack full of essentials, you need to be crystal – even double crystal – clear on why you’re doing this, what your end goals are, and what’s going to keep you motivated on the road when times get tough.
With the rise of remote jobs since COVID, everything from coworking to visas to accommodation will get progressively easier in the future for new nomads – but we’re still on the cusp of nomadism being normalized. You’ll probably need to field a lot of questions from your friends and family too (who will often try and shoot your plans and dreams down), so you need to be resolute with your ambitions.
Is a digital nomad lifestyle right for you?
In addition to normal daily life, the nomad lifestyle comes with it’s own set of new, fun, and stressful problems!
The eternal wifi dilemma
When you’re a digital nomad, the internet will become both your best friend and worst enemy. You become 100% dependent on having stable wifi to keep working online, meet with clients and colleagues, and remain connected with the rest of the world.
When you land somewhere and the wifi is wobbly, and you have a meeting later in the day, and need to scramble to find a quiet cafe or coworking space, and you’ve just had a 48 travel journey with no sleep – you’ll feel that delightful rising cortisol level that seasoned digital nomads are so used to. But this feeling of constant wifi dependence can feel overwhelming when you’re starting out.
Wifi issues also mean you’ll need to carefully plan your next digital nomad destination, and you might not be able to live in certain places unless you schedule “vacation” time. For example, I took a month off to fully enjoy some remote parts of South America where I didn’t have to worry at all about having crappy (or no) wifi, which alleviated a lot of stress.
The freelance nomad work/life balance rollercoaster
If you’re a freelancer on the road, you’ll need to constantly check in with yourself to see if you’re really “living your dream” or are now working a million more hours and getting more stressed out than you were before you left home.
I got to the point in my journey where I burnt myself out working 60 hour weeks and didn’t really see any of the places I was staying in. I barely remember anything about Budapest, because I was dealing with crappy wifi and stressing out about multiple client projects – and then it was time to leave again. These are the real joys of a location independent business.
Make sure you set firm boundaries for yourself that give you a clear division between your work and life – otherwise it’s too easy to get consumed by your business and forget why you set out on this journey in the first place.
Along with the feeling that you always need to be working, and the feelings of guilt every time you step away from your laptop to try and enjoy yourself – working every day like a machine can lead to chronic burnout. This can sneak up on you quickly and can be detrimental to your long-term work and travel plans.
Setting good routines for sleep, work, healthy eating, exercise, socializing, and exploring are critically important to ensure you create a sustainable nomad lifestyle, and that you’re making the most of your incredible world adventures.
Traveling as a digital nomad couple
Digital nomad lifestyle can put even the strongest relationships through the grinder. You’ll literally be with your other person all the time now, and dealing with each other’s weird quirks 24/7.
You’ll need to cope with each other being irrationally grumpy when:
- You haven’t slept or eaten anything but corn chips and coffee for days as you catch planes, trains, and buses across the world to get to your next destination
- You’ve crossed several different time zones, have no idea what day it is or where you are, and you also have the jetlag from hell
- It’s too hot
- It’s too cold
- You can’t find a cold beer anywhere
- One of you gets sick and is in your tiny Airbnb bathroom for three days making unholy noises and smells that destroy any hope of relaxation and romance
- Both of you get sick…and there’s only one bathroom to go around
- [Insert endless other travel problems here]
Set realistic expectations about your journey together as a couple, and plan to check in with each other regularly and honestly about êverything.
Travel problems can start with simple things like being too hungry or too exhausted to deal with unforeseen problems, and then quickly escalate into major arguments such as you’ve never experienced in your “normal” life before – so you’ll need ways to identify and navigate your individual stressors and avoid these couple crises before they happen.
Mindset and personality
Some people simply aren’t suited to nomad life. And that is absolutely fine! It’s a life that’s definitely not for everyone. You’ll be leaving most of your creature comforts behind and learning to live with minimal clothing and equipment. And that can be ridiculously hard for most people.
Isolation and loneliness are real problems when you become a digital nomad. New friends and relationships come and go, and the distance between hello and goodbye can often be measured in hours.
Friends and family are far away, and many of them will think you’ve simply opted out of “real” life to run away from everything. This can be hard to listen to, and the real reasons behind your new lifestyle will be impossible for them to understand.
If you’re not comfortable with a lot of alone time, constant change, and needing to overcome new problems all the time – you’ll need to think about how you’ll cope with these.
There are plenty of digital nomad communities and social media channels that you can connect to virtually or in person, but the reality is that a nomadic lifestyle means you’ll be spending a lot more time alone that you might normally be used to.
In order to stay optimistic and productive while you travel, you’ll need to have the right mindset:
- Are you disciplined, self-reliant, resourceful, and patient?
- Can you set good routines to ensure that essential balance between your work and….everything else?
- Are you driven by a clear purpose and goals?
- Are you excited about the thought of location independence?
- Can you navigate that ups and downs that nomad lifestyle will constantly throw at you?
- Do you have good planning and budgeting skills?
- Will you cope if your bag with literally everything you need in it gets stolen at an airport, meaning you can’t catch your flight and are now stranded in Berlin – with no money, no passport, and no laptop, while you’re approximately 1564354 miles from home and help? This happened to me only 2 months into my nomad journey, and it was a big lesson in staying calm and rational when everything suddenly turned to crap!
If most of the above points sound like you, you’ll be well prepared to set out as a nomad. If you’re kind of half and half, you’ll need to do some more prep and planning. And if everything on this list is a NOPE, you might need to rethink your plans. Rethinking at home is much easier than rethinking in the middle of South East Asia when you’re down to your last 500 baht and wondering where everything went wrong.
Are you a person that thrives with a lot of alone time? Or a person that needs a lot of social contact? Do you need to be in the mountains or by the ocean to feel happiest? Make a list of your mental, physical, and emotional needs and then figure out if they’re compatible with the nomad lifestyle.
You’ll also need to consider the practical aspects of long term travel. For example, if you have physical or medical conditions that require specific medications and treatment, you’ll need to do your research to ensure you can get the support you need wherever you travel to. Some medications are hard to find, or illegal, in certain countries – and you may not be able to get these sent to you from home either.
No matter what you do or where you’re headed – setting goals for yourself is important to keep you motivated and focused. Whether those goals are business/money related, or simply making a list of places you want to travel to, it’s important that you keep looking forward to things in your nomad journey.
The benefits of a digital nomad lifestyle
Digital nomads I’ve spoken to during my travels have almost unanimously said that breaking away from “normal” life has improved their physical, mental, and financial health. And studies have been undertaken which back this up.
I used to suffer horrible panic attacks for about 10 years before I left home, but they’ve never been a problem since then.
Digital nomad statistics:
- The number of digital nomads in the USA has increased almost 50% since 2019
- 10.9 million Americans currently describe themselves as digital nomads
- 90% of nomads are satisfied with their work and lifestyle
- 53% of nomads say they intend to continue this lifestyle for at least two years
- 88% say being a nomad has had a positive impact on their life
- 38% of nomads feel less stressed financially
How much does a digital nomad make?
- 18% of nomads make more money than they did at their desk job
- 26% of nomads say they earn less than $25,000 a year
- 38% of nomads say then earn over $75,000 a year
Interestingly, 76% of all nomads (regardless of their income) say they’re happy with their lifestyle.
While money is good and necessary, the nomad lifestyle isn’t all about the money. You’ll soon start to realize that it can be good to work a bit less, have a bit less money, and enjoy the journey and your surroundings with the extra free time you have.
As long as you have enough money to live and travel in relative comfort, that’s all you really need.
Do you have the digital nomad skills you need to be successful?
Apart from having the right mindset about the nomad lifestyle, you’ll also need to figure out how to make money on the road. Even a healthy savings account can disappear rapidly when you starting traveling, so you need to keep your mind on the future.
The last thing we want as nomads is to end up back at a 9-5 desk job in our own country 😖
Most nomads only need a laptop to do their work and get paid. So you need to figure out if you can still do the work you’re doing now, but in a remote capacity – or whether you’ll need to learn new skills to fund your travels. There are plenty of free resources online to help you pick up new skills for location independence.
Will your current job translate easily into remote work?
If you answered yes – then that’s a big problem solved. With more and more employers moving to remote-first workplace models, it could be as easy for you as having a chat with your boss, then packing your bag and heading out in the world with your laptop to start on your new, location independent job.
Having a reliable income source makes things a lot less stressful when you’re starting out as a nomad.
How to become a digital nomad with no skills or experience
I spend a bit of time in Facebook and Reddit communities for digital nomads, and the never-ending questions from aspiring nomads are always things like:
- How do I make money online?
- How can I find a job that I can do remotely?
- How do I become a digital nomad and work from anywhere?
- How do I become a nomad with my existing skills?
- How can I become a nomad with no skills?
- What should I study to become a digital nomad?
A lot of people complain they don’t have any skills at all, but the truth is that most of these complaints are just thinly-disguised excuses.
It only takes a quick search on Google to reveal a buttload of money-making ideas for people that want to live the nomad lifestyle. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you need to learn a new skill, and you’re totally, stubbornly, committed to your end goal of being a nomad – then you’ll make it happen.
Can you learn a new skill quickly? Or start an online business?
I had zero experience as a writer when I left home, and my travel savings ran low faster than I expected. I had literally no idea what I was going to do for money, I just knew I did NOT want to go back home.
With some quick online research I discovered I could get paid pretty well for writing blogs. So I threw myself headfirst into learning how to become a copywriter and how to find freelance writing clients. I found all of this information about starting an online business for free.
Then I built my own freelance writer website to advertise my services and show to potential clients. I got my first writing project in a matter of weeks after deciding this was my future.
Fast forward to today, and I have a six-figure business that I can run from my laptop. I was determined to keep travelling, so I made it happen.
Most of us have skills of some sort that can translate into work that can be done online. Even if you’re more of a hands-on person and don’t want to do “digital” work so much, you can still find ways to live and travel cheaply with things like Workaway, housesitting, working in hostels, or joining various global volunteer programs.
Comparison is the thief of nomad joy
It can be easy to look at Instagram, or scroll through social and see other nomads having a “better” time than you, in more exciting places.
These ultra-nomads appear to earn a lot more than you, so they can stay in fancy hotels and rent state of the art coworking spaces as they travel. And you’re reading all of this as you try and block out the sound of the 11 other room mates in your stinky hostel dorm, while you eat yet another pot of microwave noodles.
Understandably, this can take a lot of the shine off your nomadic endeavours.
“Comparisonitis” is dangerous to all of us – in life and in business. Remember there will always be people who are better off, and worse off, than you are.
Plus, you have no idea what the real story is behind all those glossy Instagram stories about digital nomads. Are these people legit? Do they have a secret trust fund backing them? Are they secretly miserable when the camera isn’t turned on them?
The secret to remaining happy in your own nomad life is to be content, and do the best that you can, every day, with what you have. Don’t judge others, and be kind to yourself, wherever you are in your personal journey.
Those 11 annoying snoring, farting, room mates might just become the best friends you ever made.
And you might only be another 2-minute noodle away from getting that dream client.
Keep upskilling as you travel
No matter what you do for income, it’s important that you keep learning and upskilling. For example, I’m a copywriter, but I also need to understand things like conversion optimization, marketing, budgeting, SEO, email marketing, how to work the apps that my clients use, and how to sustainably grow the business I want.
This means taking courses, getting coachinng, reading books, attending webinars, and keeping my finger on the pulse of what is and isn’t working in the world of copywriting. If you don’t upskill at every opportunity, your current skills can go quickly out of date (especially in the digital world) and you can get left behind.
Most digital nomads end up being multi-skilled, due to the fact they’re always thinking and learning about how to get ahead.
Plus – everything new thing you can learn and do well is another service that you can offer to clients, or teach to other aspiring nomads and freelancers.
How can you support yourself as a digital nomad?
You only need to type “digital nomad jobs” into Google to find an endless supply of articles with ideas that might work for you – so I’ll only touch on this briefly. The main point is that you can become a digital nomad with no skills or previous experience.
The most popular industries that digital nomads work in include:
- Admin and support
- Customer service
- Design and creative
- Data entry
Types of digital nomad jobs you might be able to do right now, or with some training:
- Content writer
- Virtual assistant
- Customer service
- Social media manager
- SEO expert
- Software engineer
- Digital marketer
- Online language teacher
- Online music teacher
- Affiliate marketer
- YouTube vlogger
- Course creator
- Digital product creator
Secondary income streams and side hustles for digital nomads
When you talk to other digital nomads, you’ll find that most of them have one main source of income – plus some other income streams, side hustles, or more than one online business.
Whatever you call them, it’s always a good idea to have more than one source of money if you’re a digital nomad. The luxury of working online on your own terms is that you have more creative energy to think about other ways to earn money. And more time to start making them happen.
Between myself and David, we run our own separate freelance copywriting and design businesses, a micro-agency that handles copywriting, web design, and development, and a print-on-demand t-shirt business. David is in the early stages of monetizing some games on Google Play, and I’m working on growing this blog. We also have investments in cryptocurrency and index funds as a financial backup if we ever get stuck.
Remember that any extra income streams should be as passive as possible. You don’t want to create even more work and have even less time long-term. That’s a recipe for something that you’ll grow to resent. Nomad lifestyle is all about giving you more freedom, not taking it away. So ensure that anything new you’re planning on will create mostly passive income for you over time.
If you can sell your services online, you could set up accounts with freelance marketplaces like Upwork or Fiverr that can help you generate a bit of extra income as you travel. If you’re looking for extra part time or full-time work, FlexJobs is a solid, reputable resource too.
Popular income streams you could think about as a digital nomad:
- Monetize your digital nomad blog or freelancer website with affiliate marketing and ads
- Run guided tours for other nomads and travelers
- Sell digital products like ebooks or courses
- Sell your services on Fiverr
- Drop shipping with Amazon FBA or a Shopify store
- Create new plugins for WordPress
- Sell your photographs on stock photo site like Shutterstock or iStock.
- Start a print-on-demand business selling t-shirts, hats, mugs, and tote bags on RedBubble, TeeSpring, Threadless, or Amazon Merch
- Build your own app or SaaS product
- Create your own music to sell in online marketplaces like Spotify
- Create printables to sell online in Etsy
- Create social media templates to sell online
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STEPS FOR PLANNING YOUR DIGITAL NOMAD JOURNEY
I’m a chronic planner who likes to be prepared for anything and everything that travel can throw at me. Which, over the last 6 years, has been quite a lot. Even if you’re not a planny type of person, you need to make sure that the basic things are taken care of before you set out on your long-term adventure.
Downsize your belongings
Yep, it’s time to embrace minimalism! Unless you have very cheap or free storage, you’ll need to start selling the stuff you don’t need before you set out on your nomadic journey.
I spent 6 months selling off everything I could on Facebook groups and our local auction website. It was embarrassing how much stuff I had bought over the years and never used. Why did I even need a mezzaluna? Or a giant panda costume? Or the really expensive juicer that I used once and put away in the cupboard forever? Selling literally everything you own gives you a sense of absurdity as a human that you never felt before.
Getting rid of all my stuff gave me an extra $10,500 in the bank to kickstart my travels, which was awesome.
I still regret having to sell the panda costume.
Being a nomad means travelling with only what you can carry. You need to be able to easy grab your backpack or bag at airports and bus stations and carry them to your accommodation by yourself if you have to.
Sell or rent your house
If you own a house, you can either sell it and have a comfortable lump sum that can earn interest while you travel, or you can rent your house out to be managed by a local property management team, or by family or friends. These can both be great options if you don’t intend to return home any time soon.
Taking care of your money as a digital nomad
There’s no one-size-fits-all framework for how much your unique nomadic lifestyle is going to cost you. But – it’s generally going to be a lot less than you’d spend at home.
It’s a common misconception that you have to have a ton of money stashed away to be a nomad, and that traveling is going to be super expensive. Both of these things can destroy your dreams before they’ve started – but neither of them are true.
Before you quit your job and grab your backpack, figure out how much money you’re likely to earn every week and match that against the average living costs of countries and cities around the world. This will give you a more realistic idea of where you want to go, and how much it’s going to cost you. Remember – you’ll be renting accommodation that mostly includes power, water, wifi, and cleaning, so you won’t need to spend money on those things like you would at home.
You can use Nomad List to help you compare the relative cost of living in different cities. You’ll need to factor in regular expenses such as:
- Accommodation (e.g. hotels, hostels, Airbnbs, or housesitting)
- Travel insurance
- SIM cards and data for every different country
- Food – groceries, takeout, bars, and restaurants
- Small and annoying repeat purchases like soap, laundry powder, and hot sauce (Okay, I might be the only person with that particular problem)
- Leisure activities
- Extra clothing for different climates as you travel
- Doctors and chemists
- Personal grooming
- Visas and extension fees
- Transport (e.g. bus, metro, Uber, taxis)
- Coworking space fees
- Flights and onward ticket purchases
Banking and credit cards
I personally recommend Wise for managing a nomad lifestyle – but make sure you check around and see what’s available in your country. My copywriting clients pay my invoices into my Wise account which is super fast, so I’m not waiting days for money to clear. Wise comes with a Mastercard debit card, and it has the lowest card and exchange rate fees for me. In addition, it has a handy mobile app so I can turn payment functions on and off. This means if my card gets stolen, nobody else can use it.
Pro tip: Only load onto your bank/credit card the amount of money you’ll need for the day. That way if it gets stolen or hacked, you’ll only lose the small amount of money that’s on there – and not your entire life savings.
If you’re a freelancer, you’ll need to make sure that you can get paid by anyone, from anywhere – and be able to access your money wherever and whenever you need it.
These are my top recommended payment solutions for your clients if you’re a digital nomad:
- Wise (my personal choice)
- Paypal (high fees)
- Stripe (high fees)
- Revolut (another great option – but not available in all countries)
Many countries have specific travel credit cards that give you air points and numerous other benefits as you travel – so it’s worth checking to see what’s available in your home country.
Getting cash out is always a pain in the butt when you travel. There will usually be a limit on how much you can take out at a time, and if you’re trying to pay for accommodation, this can often mean some hefty ATM fees, as you’ll need to do multiple withdrawals. Many establishments as you travel around will only accept cash, so it’s a necessary evil that you have to deal with.
When you’re cashing out at ATMs always select “decline conversion” if you get prompted. Banks make their money with conversion fees – so you definitely won’t be getting a good deal with this option. Decline the local conversion rate, and let your own bank sort that out back home.
When you’re looking at travel debit and credit cards, make sure you know which banks are partner banks in the countries you travel to, and how many withdrawals you can make each month at ATMs without incurring more fees.
ATM fees may seem like tiny amounts, but over a month – and a year – those fees can seriously add up.
If only we could leave our tax payments behind along with everything else we don’t want. But alas, taxes will always find us.
If you’re unsure about how or where to pay your taxes as you travel around the world, it’s best to seek expert accounting advice before you leave home.
I pay tax as I normally would back in my home country of New Zealand, and I have an accountant who handles everything for me over there. Other countries have wildy varying rules about tax payments and tax residency if you’re overseas for long periods of time, so it’s important you know what the rules are in every country you visit, and your home country.
Don’t ask the “experts” on social media about taxes – get the advice that you need from a qualified accountant in your country, and save yourself from some potentially heavy fines.
Keep an emergency fund
The best piece of advice I got before I set out on my nomad journey was “make sure you always have enough cash for a plane ticket home”.
When you live a nomadic lifestyle, you never know when something could go wrong. You might need to take an urgent flight back home, tap into your savings because a client ghosted you, or…there’s suddenly a global pandemic.
Nope, didn’t see that one coming.
I like to keep at least $10k in a separate bank account for any just-in-case moments, which I have thankfully never needed to use.
Organize a permanent mailing address
When you’re thinking about becoming a digital nomad or full-time traveler, you’ll need think about how to get physical mail delivered to you.
Being on the move all the time means that it’s really difficult to important letters and bills make it to you before it’s time for you to move on again. That can mean extra fees and fines if you miss important things like monthly payments and tax deadlines.
I have all my mail sent to a family member back home. They open it, let me know if anything is urgent, bank the occasional cheque that comes in from clients that still live in the 1950s, and that pretty much takes care of everything I need.
If you need another mailing solution that’s more flexible and self-sufficient, you can use virtual mailboxes. These will cost you a few dollar a month, so shop around and see which ones fit your personal needs, location, and price range.
Some recommended virtual mail services include:
This almost needs an entire post of its own.
In most countries, you can easily order from global giants like Amazon, and your other favorite retailers. But make sure you’re not ordering anything that’s illegal to bring into the country (e.g. prescription medication or herbal supplements), and that you understand what the important duties and restrictions are.
Most countries have limits on what you can get sent to you before you start paying very steep important duties. You don’t want a courier to show up with your new Fenty socks, and then refuse to hand them over unless you pay the $200 customs clearance.
It’s often easier to go shopping online at stores located in the country that you’re in – but make sure they’re reputable retailers, and ask around with locals if you aren’t sure.
Make sure you’ve packed the essentials
Before you leave, make sure you’ve got everything you need well in advance to avoid last minute panic.
Backpack – this will most likely be your most important item. It is now your home, where all your worldly possessions are. Make sure it’s the best quality you can afford, that it’s water resistant, and that it’s roomy enough to hold everything you need for many months (or years) of travel.
Laptop and accessories – these are your lifeline to money! Check you’ve packed all the necessary cables, chargers, data sticks, keyboard, mouse, headphones, and any other accessories you need to land, plug in, and get to work.
Passport – most countries require you to have 6 months left on your passport when they’re stamping it at customs. If your passport is old, it’s best to replace it and get a new one that won’t expire for a few years. A passport that’s borderline expired can give you problems at customs, and you don’t want the extra hassle of finding your country’s consulate in whichever country you’re stuck in to organize a replacement.
Driver’s license – take your current driver’s license with you, and also check which countries will need you to have an international license if you want to rent a scooter or car. While it’s possible to get an international license overseas, it’s much easier to organize this before you leave home.
Multiple bank and credit cards – I always err on the side of paranoia when it comes to my bank cards. This is because I’ve lost a few over the years due to being tired, hot, and generally absent-minded. It’s easy to leave your cards in ATMs, at cafes, or in shops, and they will rarely be there when you go back.
I travel with about 8 different cards spread across all my belongings, so if I lose one (or several) I can always access cash. Banks like Wise and Revolut also offer speedy replacement cards that can be sent to you anywhere in the world.
Depending where you’re going, you might need specific vaccines to enter a country. Aside from COVID, there are contagious diseases that you don’t want to catch or spread to other people. These can include serious conditions like yellow fever, polio, tetanus, typhoid, and hepatitis.
Check the CDC Destinations List to ensure that you have any compulsory vaccinations you’ll need to meet country entry requirements, and that they’ve had time to become effective in your system before you travel.
It’s important to note that some of these vaccinations might be on the expensive side, so check with your doctor well in advance of leaving your home country.
Do you need travel insurance as a digital nomad? My answer is always OH HELL YES.
I’ve only used it twice in 6 years, but I’m very grateful that I had it. The first time was when all my tech gear and passport got stolen at an airport. And the second was when we got stranded in Bali for an extra week due to a volcanic eruption.
74% of digital nomads say they have insurance. It’s affordable, and it gives you peace of mind around your health and belongings.
If you get sick, it will cover hospital and medical bills. If you lose personal items, it will replace them. If you have travel disruptions, you can get compensation. If you lose a limb, you’ll get a lump sum payout. And if you die, your ashes and belongings can be safely shipped home. Sorry, I couldn’t help but add those in there. Did you know your leg is worth $12,500?
Some countries will require you have travel and medical insurance as a condition of entering their country. Costa Rica in particular requires that you have a very specific set of insurance coverage items before you can fly in (as at July 2021). I recommend Trawick insurance if you’re thinking of going to Costa Rica.
Buying specialized digital nomad insurance is preferable, because it:
- Covers everyone regardless of where you’re from, or where you’re going
- Offers both health and travel coverage
- Protects all of your important nomad gear and tech
- Allows you to sign up online from anywhere, at any time, even if you’re mid-travel
- Is paid per month – meaning you can turn it on and off if you need to
Things to consider for post-pandemic travel
Travel has changed a lot since COVID appeared in 2020. Having traveled cautiously throughout this strange time in the world, there are things you need to bear in mind now, and probably for the forseeable future.
Flexible tickets and accommodation bookings – borders and country regulations are continuing to change rapidly. It’s really important that any flights, hotels, rental cars, or anything else you book can be cancelled or changed after booking.
With border restrictions, lockdowns, quarantines, and changing vaccination requirements, you need to be as flexible as possible with both your plans – and your expectations.
Vaccination and proof – whether you’re vaccinated or not right now, you’ll need to check country entry requirements. Are they only letting vaccinated travelers in? Do you have to quarantine regardless of having the vaccine? Do you need paper or digital proof when you get to customs?
Make sure you have the most up to date information possible to avoid potential problems when you arrive at the airport.
Health certificate – many countries require that you fill out an online form regarding your health status before you arrive at the airport. Make sure you do this if it’s required, and have your proof ready to show on your phone, or as a printout, when you check in at the airport.
Check for news and updates regularly – what was relevant yesterday might not apply when you get to the airport tomorrow. Make sure you’re checking the news and government website for the country you’re flying into to see that you still meet their entry requirements before you fly.
Onward ticket – many countries have onward ticket policies that they are starting to enforce. For example, Costa Rica and Mexico require you to have proof of a flight out of the country before your tourist visa expires. If you don’t, they’ll make you buy one on the spot, or send you back to the country you came from. Neither of those are ideal, and buying an onward ticket on the spot can be seriously expensive.
If you’re thinking about using a “fake” onward ticket site – I don’t recommend it. Customs and airlines are getting smarter about this. It’s best to book through somewhere like Expedia where you can buy a legitimate ticket and then cancel it once you’re at your destination if you won’t be using it.
Visa requirements – make sure you know how long you can stay in a country for. This can vary wildly for different passport holders. Most countries offer tourist visas that are between 1 – 6 months in length, so check on their government websites before you make your travel plans.
Some countries offer extensions on their tourist visas, and some don’t. Many countries also have their own digital nomad visas which let you stay a lot longer, so check and see if you’re eligible for those, and what the conditions are.
For example, I’m currently in Medellin. I can stay here for 3 months on a tourist visa, and I can renew this visa for another 3 months – or I can exit the country and come back for another 3 months. But – I can only stay for 180 days total in one calendar year. It’s small things like these that are important to know so you can arrange your work and travel plans around them.
It’s also important to know what the penalties are in a country if you overstay your tourist visa. Sometimes it’s a small fine, and sometimes it’s a big fine – plus a note in the country’s system that you aren’t allowed back again.
Visas are a constant problem as a digital nomad. Even if you find somewhere you want to live permanently, the conditions mean you need to keep moving on, or do constant visa runs back and forward across neighboring borders.
While more and more countries are on the verge of offering long-stay visas for freelancers and nomads, this isn’t common yet, and it can often involve steep financial investments to secure your special visa.
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BEFORE YOU GO
You’ll need to do a bit of prep work before you head off on your nomadic journey. It isn’t the same as taking a vacation. You need to ensure you’ll be safe, productive, and self-sufficient while you travel.
This means being realistic about whether you’ll need a strong social network wherever you land, what you’ll need to budget every week for each new country, and so on.
How to pick the best digital nomad destinations
I always recommend Nomad List to anyone that’s trying to pick their destinations.
You can get basic information on this website for free, but for a one-off payment of $99 you get access to the full features forever, including all of the destination filters, and the community Slack channel, which is both active and very helpful.
It’s a great resource when you’re looking for new destinations and other nomads to connect with that are already there.
Best digital nomad cities
If you want to live in a city that has a strong digital nomad community so you can socialize and not feel so isolated, the following are popular digital nomad hubs that have thriving scenes for remote work, entrepreneurs, and full-time travellers.
- Canggu in Bali
- Chiang Mai in Thailand
- Lisbon in Portugal
- Medellin in Colombia
- Berlin in Germany
- Mexico City in….Mexico!
The benefits of living in these cities is that they have good infrastructures already set up for nomad life. They’re typically very affordable to live in, you can easily find modern, cheap accommodation and coworking spaces, and the internet is typically fast and stable.
You’ll find a lot of home comforts in these cities too, plus favorite foods and drink that you might be craving. CHEEZY PIZZA TACOS TOFU SMOOTHIES COFFEE BURGERS OMMGGGGG LET ME AT THEM
I’ve lived in all of these places mentioned above, and while they’re very different from each other, they’re places you want to return to again and again, because you know that you’ll be able to live and work easily in each city, catch up with friends you met on the last visit, and enjoy familiar surroundings.
Map out your plans
It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a digital nomad that can work and travel anywhere in the world. So…where should you start?
First, decide what’s non-negotiable to you for creating a good work/life situation. Then, decide on the environment that you’ll enjoy the most.That way, you can start to narrow your options down by country and city.
- Do you want to be near a beach, in the mountains, by a lake, or in the middle of a big, humming city?
- Do you want the company of other nomads and expats – or do you want to immerse yourself in environment that’s mainly locals so you can experience a new language and culture?
- Do you want to travel on peak season when the weather’s great (but the price of everything will be higher) or travell off-peak or in shoulder seasons to enjoy discounts on accommodation and activities?
- Are you looking for a country that’s as cheap as possible, or are you flexible with what you can spend every month?
- Do you need fibre wifi for your work, or will fast broadband do?
- Are you looking for a place that has good networking opportunities and events?
- Do you want to be alone in the wilderness somewhere?
Once you’ve sorted out your must-haves and nice-to-haves, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to pick your destinations and start making travel plans.
You might not have as much money as you’d like when you first start your digital nomad journey, so this can have a bearing on the countries you travel to. That’s okay – it won’t always be this way!
Always make sure you live within your means when you start out, so you can learn to budget better and live well on the money that you have right now. Getting into debt is not what you want to be doing as a nomad.
It took me two years of hard work becoming a freelance copywriter before I was able to splash out on things like fancy hotels (occasionally) and bottles of champagne.
Okay, one bottle of champagne.
I travel frugally, and tend to avoid expensive tourist traps (No I will not pay an extra €20 to see a secret room in this castle. And no, I will not still be wondering about that damn room 4 years later).
I’d love to live in Norway for a while, but I know that 3 months there could buy me at least 6 months somewhere cheaper. So these are things you need to weigh up as you move around.
Even though I earn more money now than I did when I started out, I’m still very budget conscious. I cook most of my meals at my Airbnb or hotel unless there is delicious, cheap local street food close by.
My tech bag fell apart a while back, so now I carry all my tech gear in a reusable supermarket bag. And I’ve been wearing mostly the same clothes for 5 years now (but I really wish some of them would fall apart so I can buy new ones).
Deciding where to save and where to splurge becomes more important when you’re travelling – especially if you’re a freelancer.
Booking cheap flights
These are the three main sites I use to search and book the cheapest flights possible to wherever I’m headed next.
- Skyscanner – my favourite site for finding cheap, last-minute flights, budget deals, and car hire
- Kayak – another fantastic site for flight comparisons and booking rental cars
- Expedia – great for finding cheap flight deals, and for booking flexible flights with free cancellation policies.
Pro tip #1: If you notice the prices on these sites changing as you search, browse them using your incognito window so you lose the cookie tracking and ensure you always find the lowest prices.
Pro tip #2: If you use a VPN, try logging in from servers in different countries – this can help you buy flights and accommodation at cheaper rates than the country you might be in.
Finding accommodation as a digital nomad
According to a recent survey, the most popular accommodation choices for nomads are:
- Hotels (51%)
- Friends or family (41%)
- Airbnbs (36%)
- In a van or RV (21%)
- Hostels (16%).
My top recommendations for accommodation
Bookings.com – this is always the first site I check when I’m looking for accommodation. You can find everything from fancy hotels to budget hostels, apartments, houses, and quirky local stays on here.
Airbnb – I use this a lot, but before you book a place, make sure you read all the reviews for a place, and turn the filter for “Superhost” on. Airbnb is awesome, but there can be unscrupulous people on there looking to make a quick buck from travellers with places that don’t exist, or aren’t even close to what is advertised.
I’ve never had a problem booking short or long stay places through Airbnb, but I have heard some absolutel horror stories from other travellers.
VRBO – this is the site that used to be HomeAway. It’s similar to Airbnb, but the fees aren’t as steep. There are some great places on here too – we stayed in an apartment in Jerez for a month that only cost $19 NZD a night, right in the centre of town!
Trusted housesitters – if you like FREE accommodation, this is the site for you. There’s no catch…except you need to look after people’s cute cats and dogs. And maybe the odd fish, chicken, or horse. With this housesitting site you set up a profile, then search on available locations and dates, contact the house owners and pitch your services. If you have prior housesitting references this will be an advantage.
Flatio – this site has taken over the old NomadX site, to provide even better services for travelers. If you’re looking for longer-term accommodation, you can search for and book furnished apartments all over the world that have been verified by past tenants.
Selina – if you’re looking for ways to guarantee amazing accommodation, wifi, and community – Selina is a great option. With both coworking and coliving spaces on site, you can choose your room size according to your budget, and look forward to landing in a modern, clean, and functional space. Selinas are typically located in prime spots in the centre of cities, or by the beach.
Outsite – this is another accommodation option similar to Selina. If you’ve got a bit more budget, Outsite’s accommodation options are new, pristine, and in amazing locations. They’re growing fast, so adding new coworking/coliving spaces around the world regularly.
Facebook groups – if you’re on Facebook, simply search on something like “[location] rentals”, “[location] expats”, or “[location] housing”. I’ve found that most cities and towns have dedicated Facebook groups for nomads and expats. You can find some great deals on cheap, furnished accommodation here.
Ask around – I’ve found furnished rooms and apartments by simply asking people at cafes, or around town, if they know anybody who’s renting a place out. You can also check noticeboards in cafes, coworking spaces, and hostels for rooms or apartments to rent.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Check the wifi works! If it doesn’t or it’s not great, this is when you’ll be thankful for bringing a mobile hotspot with you, or locating a close cafe or coworking space in advance.
I usually spend the first day in a new city strolling around and locating all the essential stuff. Supermarkets or mini-marts, laundries, produce markets, street food options, and good-looking coffee, pizza, and burger joints 🙂
Locate close coworking spaces and cafes
Coworker.com can help you find coworking spaces in your area. Alternatively, just Google “[location] coworking” and you’ll usually find a few options close by.
I haven’t been to anywhere that hasn’t had a cafe suitable to work from. But if you’re going to sit and work at a cafe for a few hours, make sure you buy something at regular intervals to compensate for taking up table space!
Always use a VPN when you connect to WiFi
Whenever you use a free public wifi network such as at a cafe or airport, the security is low. This means that anyone with the tools and know how can tap into your connection and start snooping around in your laptop or browsing history for things like bank details, credit card numbers, and personal information.
To avoid this, you should always use a VPN (virtual private network) so that nobody can see what you’re doing online, or where you are in the world. Check out some of the most popular VPNs for digital nomads here.
I personally recommend NordVPN, which is what I’ve used to keep my laptop and phone secure as a nomad since 2017.
Find digital nomad communities
Surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs and nomads can be a great way to boost your confidence, get inspired with a ton of new ideas, and network to find people that can help you – or who you can help. Cities with strong nomad communities also tend to hold regular events that you can attend or get involved in. This means you’ll make new friends in each places, and get more opportunities to promote yourself and grow your business.
- How To Find Digital Nomad Communities All Over The World
- 9 Of The Best Reddit Channels For Digital Nomads
Be respectful of local culture and traditions
Always be respectful of the cities, cultures, people, and beliefs in your new town. I’ve seen so many examples of entitled travelers doing whatever they want in other people’s countries that it would take me a separate blog post to list them all.
Remember that you’re always a guest in somebody else’s country as a nomad. Make sure you familiarize yourself with any clothing, behaviour, or religious etiquettes to avoid upsetting or angering the locals.
Speak the language
If you’re travelling to a country that doesn’t speak your language, make sure you learn a few basic phrases to help you get by when you land.
Trying to speak the language of your country can break the ice with strangers and earn you a bit more respect from the locals too. Good phrases and words to learn are:
- Thank you
- Yes /no
- Where is the bathroom/bus station/market (etc)
- What is this?
- Can I have / I would like
- Basic words for food, fruit, and vegetables
- Vegetarian / vegan / no meat / no gluten / no milk (or other dietary requests)
- One beer please!
Note that some foreign words can be easily mispronounced when you get to a new country. Be cool with getting things wrong – the most important part is to keep trying, and learning.
For example, in Spain, when you ask for a drink at a bar, make sure you request a caña and not a coño. I discovered that one is a small beer, and the other is…definitely not a beer.
In Mexico, David managed to consistently get the mezcal brand 400 Conejos confused with the more testicular “400 cojones”, which had every bartender in hearing distance in hysterics.
Pros and cons of the digital nomad lifestyle
Pros of becoming a digital nomad
- No boss!
- No commuting
- No office politics
- No dressing up for the office
- Freedom to work as much or as little as you want
- Freedom to grow your business, and work on any side projects at the same time
- Geographical freedom to work from wherever you want
- Meet new people on similar journeys as yourself
- Embrace new cultures, foods, and ways of living
- Learn to live with less, and become less materialistic
- Live cheaper countries to save money
- Better quality of life
- You’ll wonder why you ever kept buying such pointless stuff (what even IS a mandoline, and why did I have two of them?)
- You’ll learn to be more flexible and resilient to change
- You’ll figure out what really matters to you in life
Cons of becoming a digital nomad
- Unstable income
- Not seeing friends or family for months or years at a time
- Home comforts
- Your life is always in a constant state of change and moving around
- You’ll need to get used to wearing the same handful of clothes over and over. And over.
- Language barriers
- New foods and different water supplies can often cause an upset stomach
- Can be hard to budget with the different currencies and varying prices for accommodation, services, and food around the world. E.g. one avocado in New Zealand could set you back $8 USD, but in Mexico, you can get 5 avocados for around $1 USD. A doctor in New Zealand will cost you $70 a visit, but in Mexico you can see a doctor for $3 (not even kidding!)
- Accommodation and travel plans can fall apart at a moment’s notice, leaving with you no flight, and nowhere to stay
- Isolation can make some people feel sad, lonely, and depressed
- Constantly having reliable wifi
- Finding productive places to work from
- Time zone difficulties when you’re working
- Everyone you know back home thinks you’ve turned into a smelly hobo that spends all their money on travel (okay…this is sometimes true) and that you’re too lazy to get a real job (super untrue! I’ve worked more now than I ever did in my 9-5 desk job)
BEST BOOKS FOR DIGITAL NOMADS
The 4 Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss
The 4 Hour Work Week is the book that launched a thousand digital nomads. This classic is what inspired many people I know to step back from their daily grind and take the plunge into creating their dream lifestyle.
I read it while I was travelling through Africa, and although only parts of it were relevant, it was enough to kickstart my thoughts about building a well-paid, sustainable freelance copywriting business.
Another highly recommended book from Chris Guillebeau, The $100 Startup shows you how to live a life of adventure, meaning and purpose–and earn a good living. Still in his early thirties, Chris has traveled around the world–and yet he’s never held a “real job” or earned a regular paycheck
Be a Free Range Human – Marianne Cantwell
If you feel trapped in a job or lifestyle that doesn’t bring you joy, and you’re dreaming of swapping this for a digital nomad lifestyle – this bestselling book will help you think about ways to break away from the tedious 9 to 5 and design the life that you really want..
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day – Matt Kepnes
A worldwide bestseller, this book shows travellers and digital nomads how to live on $50 a day as they travel around the world. This book has recently been updated to show remote workers how to travel cheaper, longer, and smarter as a location independent nomads.
This book focuses on how to break away from your normal life and take time out explore the world. No matter whether you plan to leave for weeks, months, or years, this book will give you the ideas, inspiration, and advice you need to go out and experience the world on your own ..
Remote: Office Not Required– Jason Fried and David Hansson
Co-authored by the founder of Basecamp, this book presents an argument in favour of the global shift towards office-less, remote workplaces.
The era of rigid 9 to 5 office life is rapidly changing. With technology now allowing us to work from literally anywhere in the world, there’s no longer any reason for most of us to go back to the grind of commuting and daily office boredom in our home town.
Learn how you can make plans to escape the boring 9 to 5 work day and live and work on the road – on your own terms.
Lonely Planet’s guide to becoming a digital nomad is a practical guide to inspire and motivate people to achieve their dreams of travelling full time, starting new way of living, and creating a more flexible, healthier way of living and working.
Those are my best tips on how to become a digital nomad
Becoming a digital nomad can be very rewarding for some people, but it’s not the ideal life for others. There’s a lot to think about, and a lot of extra challenges that come with permanent travel. It’s not like “being on vacation” – and it’s not like everything you see and imagine based on Instagram. But you can become a digital nomad with no experience or skills, it’s just a matter of planning and patience.
If you’re willing to work hard, adopt a flexible mindset so that you can take everything that the digital nomad lifestyle throws at you – then you might just be ready to create your dream nomad lifestyle.
We all have our own individual reasons for seeking the nomadic lifestyle, and our own different ways of sustaining it. These are my own thoughts on starting out as a beginner, even if you have no previous skills or experience.
Just remember that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. There are more and more people simplifying their lives and setting out on nomadic journeys than ever before. Technology has made it much easier than it used to be for anybody to try this lifestyle – no matter where they come from, or what their skill levels are. It mostly comes down to determination, mindset, and believing in yourself.
Anything you think I’ve missed, or questions that you’d like me to answer for you? Just leave me a message in the comments 🙂
Rachael is a full-time digital nomad and freelance copywriter for B2B and SaaS companies. She’s worked with brands like Unbounce, Biteable, Datacom, Viddyoze, and Owler.
- Best travel laptops for digital nomads
- The best travel vloggers and YouTubers to follow for digital nomad inspiration
- How to become a freelance copywriter with no skills or experience
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TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES
If you’re a pet lover, you can stay FREE in a local house anywhere in the world with Trusted Housesitters. I’ve used this a couple of times in Germany and Australia and it was awesome.