So at this point, maybe you think you can pack your bags, and start your digital nomad life. For some people that may be possible, but let’s stay realistic. It’s pretty damn tough to move from a traditional day job to being a digital nomad in any context, even harder at the snap of your fingers.
So, how to become a digital nomad? Like with anything in life, it’s always better to have a manual or some sort of checklist before making grown-up decisions. Don’t we just wish there’s a life manual for everything?
Luckily, there are some hints and tips sprinkled through this preparation guide I especially made to help you out. I’ve broken down my How To Become A Digital Nomad guide into five manageable steps. Get your pencil at the ready, and let’s start ticking off those boxes.
Step 1: Create your game plan
It may be tempting to just fuck everything, and hop on the next plane out into the world. Don’t do that, you’re better than that. Let’s think about these:
Where are you going?
What do you want to do once you get to your destination?
Which digital nomad city do you want to stay at?
Will you stay in a hotel, hostel, or rent an apartment?
It’s a slightly moronic decision to show up somewhere without a plan. Hands up, I’m the go-with-the-flow kinda guy, but getting by without a clear plan just is no way to live.
As William Ernest Henley wrote in the poem “Invictus,” “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” You are the master creator of your game plan. You can just do just about what the hell you want!
Plan where you want to be, be anywhere in Asia or at that beach in Panama you’ve been dreaming about since a teenager. Plan when you want to leave home. Plan the job you want and who you want to work for.
Part of your game plan should be to better yourself. As you’re stepping into the realms of digital nomadism, why not take the opportunity to be the best version of yourself. More than that, make time to learn new skills while you’re at it. If you are a writer, why not try learning to design, code, or video edit? It keeps you from being idle, and these can be monetized when you feel more confident about your skills. This means you have a variety of potential projects and will keep you from being bored—not that becoming a digital nomad is anywhere close to boredom.
Step 2: Save, budget, and create an income stream
A major part of your game plan is to set goals and to budget properly. Planning your income and your financial support is the most integral part of becoming a digital nomad. So, you’ve answered all the four questions above, now think about your answers to these:
How will you make money while you’re on the road?
How much money will you need to get on the road and live abroad?
How much money can you afford to save for the next period of travel?
Can you create a rainy day fund for if shit hits the fan?
Planning your income stream is vitally important. There are so many opportunities out there for digital nomads such as freelance writing, being an SEO ninja, coding, and photo editing, to name a few. You need to find your niche and make it profitable (I can help you with that).
Saving before you step into the world is one of the most important pieces of advice in this How To Become A Digital Nomad guide. The ugly truth is that it’s going to be very difficult to go into the digital nomad lifestyle without any savings. I saved a full year’s worth of income before leaving my home country, but I wish I saved more.
So how do you save to become a digital nomad? Work. Fucking. Hard. Working hard before you hit the road will pay in droves in the months to come. You won’t look back to regret it.
Another thing you can do is to make a conscious effort to cut down your spending. Reduce your living expenses as much as possible. Get rid of clutter and unimportant things. You don’t need an expensive apartment if you can live at home. You don’t need to eat out if you can just bring a packed lunch to work. Most of all, stop buying shit you don’t need.
Sell. Fucking. Everything.
In my last three to five months in Switzerland, I only had one fork, one knife, one plate, one pan, and I didn’t even have a bed frame for my mattress. The only thing I wasn’t willing to sell to make more money for savings was my internet router, which I still needed. I sold my PS4, my flat-screen, and donated 80% of my clothes since I knew I wouldn’t need thick clothing where I was going.
In the grand scheme of things, we only need very little.
One more thing on the money front (this is the wordiest section, I promise!). Besides the money you will save for your first year of travel, you must have a separate emergency fund for unexpected expenses. This is known as the if-shit-happens fund. This kinda shit can be an illness, an accident, or need to go home for a family emergency. A good rule of thumb is to save three to six months of salary in your emergency fund.
Step 3: Be proactive
Being proactive is one of the key traits possessed by any digital nomad. This digital nomad life is not handed to anyone on a plate. Our social media may look like we’re living the dream and permanently on holidays, but little could be further from the truth. It only takes a second to capture a photo and 30 seconds to upload it to Instagram. The remaining 86, 370 seconds? We hustle.
I am a firm believer in the fact that we need to work smart, not hard. Working smart is creating opportunities for yourself by making an effort to network. The great thing about networking is that you don’t just find friends, you may also make essential connections that lead to new projects, or new skills gained. You can even be a mentor to another digital nomad down the line if you have useful advice to share.
Working smart is focusing on your work for shorts amount of time and eliminating the procrastination. So, stop watching Game of Thrones, and focus on what needs to be done!
Fine, I love GoT probably as much as you do, but what I’m trying to say here is that, if you are serious about being a digital nomad then you need to invest your free time to grow your freelance portfolio or business instead of investing time on useless things.
Working smart is keeping yourself motivated effectively. There are many digital nomad podcasts, blogs, and Facebook groups out there, where you can get daily motivation. Being on your own can be a downer. It can be lonely as a bit isolating at times.
You know yourself better than anyone, so you know what helps keep you motivated. Maybe it is knowing you can have a beer at the end of the day, or listening to music while you work, or knowing that you’re working on building your dream life. Whatever it is that keeps you motivated, keep doing it.
Step 4: Create a foundation
Create your profile in freelancing websites like UpWork or PeoplePerHour. Build your portfolio and client testimonials. Grow your online presence be it through a website or your social media accounts. Generate independent clients. All these will help you create your foundation before you hit the road, which is another really important step in becoming a digital nomad.
It may be hard to balance all these things beside your full-time job, but it’s certainly doable. Many people will say they don’t have time, but having a cushion and some projects to do before you start your digital nomad lifestyle will save you stress.
In creating this foundation, you are putting yourself in the best possible place to move forward. Having a stable financial foundation and steady work foundation is the perfect position for stepping into the digital nomad world.
Step 5: Get feedback, get packing, get moving
So, you’re nearly ready to go. You’ve created your master game plan, you’ve sorted out the financial situation, you’ve been motivated and proactive AF, and you’ve started building your portfolio.
Now we’re onto the final stage, the consolidation of all your hard work and what is soon to be your old life.
Before you hit the road, there is one more step in concreting your ultra solid digital nomad foundation. The best way to build credibility for yourself as a freelance worker is to get testimonials from previous clients who are happy with you. These testimonials will tell other people how you work, what your quality of work is, and how well you delivered the final product.
Happy clients may even refer you to other people they know. The point is, if you are someone who is tried and tested and great to work with, then you won’t have a hard time convincing clients to hire you. And if you get bad feedback from clients, use this to improve yourself and your work.
Now all that’s left to do is to pack your bags and get going into the digital nomad world! Don’t wait for the perfect time to do it because then, you will be waiting forever. There is no perfect time to do it. It will never feel like it’s the right time. Provided all of the steps above are solid and considered, go for it.
So stick to the date you already set for yourself, and live your dream!
Need more help figuring out where to go and what to do as a digital nomad? I have a ton of helpful resources and tips that will help you get started on the digital nomad lifestyle. Better yet, sign up for my free digital nomad course!