As a business coach, I specialise in creating joy in peoples work lives, but also allowing their job to fit around their personal lives. I’ve been incredibly lucky to ride the wave of increased travel opportunities within the last few decades, ticking off countries like Peru, Kenya, Thailand, the Philippines, Italy, Mauritius and the Caribbean.
However, it cost me significant amounts of money and I only got to travel a few weeks at a time.
What if it could cost you nothing, and you got to stay for months? Enter the newest travel trend: the digital nomad dream where you work in a distant country.
What is a digital nomad?
The term is a clever portmanteau of “digital” (because they work online) and “nomad” (because they travel).
According to the man who popularised the term, digital nomadism is: “a way of life where people use their location independent income from the internet to travel around while working and living out of laptop bags. It is very similar to the concept of living out of a suitcase while having an office job.”
Digital nomadism isn’t a new concept, of course.
The nomadic lifestyle has been around for decades, with individuals travelling the world full-time in the form of online entrepreneurs and freelancers. Some of them are very wealthy, while others are just plain old broke. Either way, they’re now being romanticised and glamorised by millennial trendsetters who started off in a big city like Birmingham, but who have wanderlust in their hearts and who show their life off on popular Instagram and YouTube channels.
What’s great about the digital nomad life?
You can get financial benefits by working overseas for up to four years with no need for permanent residency or any work permits or taxes to pay (if you’re in a country that doesn’t tax freelancers). You can choose where you want to live so you can enjoy the best weather, food, the thriving people of the digital nomad community and the different cultures of distant lands.
You may also find that you benefit from significant personal growth. Meeting challenges head on and surviving them can be incredibly liberating and do enormous amounts for self confidence. They can also lead to the starting of new businesses which grow while you’re away and supported by the digital nomad family you meet, and continue when you come home and settle down.
You get to travel the world and see the amazing sights. The digital nomad lifestyle is appealing because you experience so much about the world.
You can work from anywhere – on a beach in the middle of nowhere, in your hotel room or even in a hostel or a coworking space, which are dedicated to digital nomad needs.
You can have a regular 9-5 job while travelling – working from your home or a coffee shop all day.
The starting point for being a digital nomad is an internet connection – preferably reliable and fast. Many countries like Thailand and Bali have digital hubs and have significantly upgraded their infrastructure to allow for this.
What are the most popular countries for being a digital nomad?
A digital nomad typically visits a foreign country for a month to three months, depending on the activity they’re involved in. However, some stay for significantly longer if they love it.
Some popular digital nomad hotspots include: Thailand; The Philippines; Mauritius; Bali; Mexico; Costa Rica; Sri Lanka; or discover a new city in various Eastern countries within Europe. They are all cheap (or cheapish) to live in and typically have fantastic weather. For this reason, Southeast Asia is particularly popular. You must check the tourist visa situation for each before going. Some may require you to leave every few months and come back straight away (known as a visa run)
For those of you who have decided digital nomadism is the life for you, find a place where there are many westerners (because you will make friends with them) loaded with cafes to work from, great weather and food (and bars) and then get working!
How do you find work?
Typically, digital nomads find remote work as a freelance writer, web designer, dropshipper, affiliate marketing, virtual assistant, social media marketer, SEO and teaching English as a foreign language. Freelancing is the most popular option though, with plenty of opportunities, and within that class of job digital marketing is favoured.
The work is online and can be done anywhere in the world. Typically, they are remote worker jobs which are easy to do from anywhere and no one is reliant on you being in an office, or they offer significant passive income opportunities.
You can also start an online business, such as running your own blog or running an online course that you develop and promote. Certainly, many have chosen to become a travel blogger and make significant income from affiliate opportunities.
There are a variety of freelancer online boards, like upwork, peopleperhour and fiveer, which can help you to find work. Being a freelancer isn’t an easy life though since you will often have to be finding work, and it could dry up reducing your income stream. Put another way, make sure you have significant funds in the bank for a rainy day!
Why should you become a digital nomad?
Now we know a little about the lifestyle and benefits, my interest is in why you should choose this. First off, most digital nomads are younger – under 40 is usual – because they have not settled down and have few to no responsibilities back home (such as a mortgage to pay). This doesn’t mean people in their 50s aren’t digital nomads – they are – it’s just less common.
If you think about the standard path of life, at least in the UK and much of the West, it’s:
- Get a job
- Find a partner
- Buy a house
- Have children
- Progress your career
- Purchase lots of “stuff” with your increasing income
- Watch the children slowly fly the nest
- Sell the house and downsize
Personality types of a digital nomad
Now that might suit some personality types, but not all. For some, it’s their worst nightmare. They can’t stand the idea. There’s something alive within them which isn’t being satisifed.
Who are they?
The website 16personalities – which I use to help myself and clients understand them – has an entire class of personality called “explorers”. It consists of personality types “known for their spontaneity, ingenuity and flexibility”.
A common personality type for digital nomads is “entrepreneur”, which they describe as:
“… tend to be energetic and action-oriented, deftly navigating whatever is in front of them. They love uncovering life’s opportunities, whether socialising with others or in more personal pursuits.”16Personalities description of “Entrepreneur”
Imagine these types of people following the path above, and you can understand why it doesn’t suit.
My personality type is “Campaigner” and even I would love to be a digital nomad!
If you are living a dull life and hating it, you’ll no doubt wish to change it, and you should. We only get one life, and options for fun and partying tend to reduce as you hit retirement.
I think this is a great idea for those that have the financial means and can travel the world. If they’ve built up enough clients to know they’re getting, say, £1000-£1500 a month and are fairly secure, it might be the right time!
I’m all for trying new things, The benefits of being a digital nomad are quite clear now, but I want to motivate you to try it.
Some of the common fears about becoming a digital nomad
Some people may be hesitant to become a digital nomad for fear of the unknown or reaching out of their comfort zone; they might worry about the dangers in a new country, or perhaps that they will be living out of a suitcase. But don’t let these fears deter you from exploring your nomadic potential. Here are some of the most common myths and misconceptions revolving around life as a digital nomad.
Digital nomads are running away
Being a digital nomad isn’t running away from home, or being unemployed.
It isn’t an escape from your job, or an avoidance of hard work. It’s not something done for lack of other choices, and it’s definitely not a vacation for people who do not work. Digital nomads are adventurous, independent professionals seeking a new way to live and travel while continuing their careers.
In fact, digital nomads are often managers and executives who have their own companies, or full-time employees building new businesses on the side.
In many cases, digital nomadism costs less than working conventionally. You no longer have to pay for a house, electric or water bills, insurance policies, a mortgage, etc. It is true that some people live extremely frugally while travelling and may not own a car or a home during their time as digital nomads.
However, it is also evident that many people choose to purchase these things when they return home because they enjoy the convenience and luxury of owning them.
Digital nomads will suffer loneliness
Digital nomads often work online and live with other people, but they may also work independently at home or in locations (such as co-working spaces or cafes).
Many digital nomad communities will provide you with support if you are in need of it, and some offer a lot of social interaction. There are many ways to meet new people besides frequenting the local bar scene.
I won’t be able to find work
Usually, people who worry about not being able to find work as digital nomads are simply not doing enough research to ensure a sustainable and enjoyable location is chosen.
There are many places worldwide where you can find English-speaking roles, or roles that are easy to transition into. Be sure to do your research before settling down in a new location just because it’s cheap or convenient.
Healthcare in less developed countries
A common misconception about digital nomadism and healthcare is that the quality of service will be lower than in your home country. In many ways, this is not true. Many countries have healthcare systems that are just as good as those in America or Europe, especially if you are speaking with doctors within a major city.
The costs of medical treatments and tests can vary greatly by region, but there are always more affordable options available to you without sacrificing quality. Many digital nomads choose to take out travel insurance or health insurance policies for the purpose of maintaining peace of mind while travelling.
Security and safety
The dangers you face travelling can be much more serious than they are at home; however, these risks can also be mitigated. Many digital nomads stay in the city or an expat community, where the risks will be lower. While you may face occasional dangers as a digital nomad, you can also take measures to ensure your safety.
You should of course ensure you have a mobile phone and it is usually cheapest to get a local sim card.
I can’t travel forever
Many people choose to become a digital nomad in order to live a new lifestyle for just one remote year, or even several years, and they see visiting a different country as a challenge worth taking. Others have decided it’s time to settle down again when they’ve run out of money or no longer feel inspired by their work and wanderlust.
What’s holding you back from being a digital nomad?
If you’re looking at being a digital nomad, but tend to be a bit of a worrier, you’re less likely to just hop on a plane. It might take more planning for you. Here’s how you might be able to move forward and meet your goal.
- Write a list of everything that’s worrying you about being a digital nomad
- Evaluate – for each – whether that situation could leave you in a truly unsafe situation. Truly unsafe shouldn’t just be “I needed to fly home”, but more like “I’m in serious danger”.
- For any which put you in serious danger, consider how you can mitigate the risk
There are also a number of Facebook groups dedicated to being a digital nomad in specific countries, and you could join them and ask questions to help you mitigate risks that you imagine.
At this end of this exercise, can you see that you’ll be safe? Or do you still feel anxiety and distress?
If you’re struggling with moving forward and would like to live the digital nomad journey, you’re welcome to contact me to discuss how you might overcome this and discover your dream.