7 Essential Tips to Help You Succeed as a Digital Nomad
The term ‘digital nomad’ has picked up notable amounts of traction over the last few years. Resourceful travelers who wanted to country hop on an indefinite basis figured out ways to do just that – while pulling in hefty paychecks at the same time.
A digital nomad is essentially a long-term traveler who works remotely. Remote work can entail a number of things. You could choose to freelance, land a remote job, work as a consultant, start your own dropshipping business, do affiliate marketing, become a travel blogger/ writer, or start a remote firm. As long as you can make a decent income with just a laptop and a stable internet connection, you’re good to go.
You’ve finally cracked it – that million-dollar idea that gives you location flexibility. Or you’ve convinced your upper management at work that you require minimal supervision and you can transition your full-time job into a remote one. Whatever your income source is, you just can’t wait to hop on the next plane out. But is becoming a digital nomad really that simple?
While glamorous Instagram shots and YouTube vlogs paint a pretty picture, there’s a hidden side to the digital nomad lifestyle. The truth of the matter is, you need to have a ton of self-discipline, planning skills, and general grit to make it work. What are some of the essential factors to keep in mind in order to be a successful digital nomad?
Regardless of how you plan to make money to sustain your lifestyle, you’ll need to leverage a few tools out there to make the journey easier. These tools, either physical or software are essential to reduce logistical nightmares you’ll encounter on the road and help maintain a smooth workflow. This is especially true if you’re running your own online business. Getting the right tools also applies to freelancers, as you’re essentially running a one-person company. You’ll need to invoice regularly, write client reports, map out expense records, do accounting (business and personal), and also generate proposals and contracts. If you’re spending too much on tasks that can either be automated or handled easily with the right tools, you’re not going to be left with much time to enjoy the destination.
Research thoroughly and pick the right laptop. You’ll be doing the lion’s share of the work on this device and it’s important that it lasts you a while. Make a list of your exact requirements before deciding on a certain model. Also, factor in repair and maintenance costs specific to your destination – It might be hard to find an Apple expert while exploring the jungles of central Vietnam. Use the same principles to pick out a good phone and a pair of earphones. It might even be worth subscribing to a premium VPN connection. Plug points and range extenders can also come in handy.
The most important tool to finalize is your communication tool. You’ll need a reliable and easy to use tool to stay in constant touch with your clients, collaborators, managers, and other professional contacts. Slack is a great tool to chat and exchange documents. You can use it on your browser or as an app. It can even be easily integrated with existing software. Depending on your usage, pick solid, reliable tools for accounting, video and photo editing, etc.
You’ve got your gear in place and you’re rearing to go. But where? A decade ago, working while traveling would’ve been a nightmare. Lack of stable internet connections, proper infrastructure, and accommodating locals would’ve thrown a wrench in most people’s plans. But it didn’t stop the pioneers of the nomad movement. It’s much easier now to get access to what you need.
The most popular destinations in the world for digital nomads are probably Chiang Mai, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia. The thriving café culture, organic vegan food options, a vast community of nomads and numerous co-working spaces make these destinations especially attractive. You could live comfortably for less than $2,000 a month. Other popular destinations include Colombia, Mexico, Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Lithuania), Japan, and South Korea.
Before picking a location, consider a few things. What exactly do you hope to accomplish from your journey? What are your long-term goals? Can you work remotely from there with minimal hassles? What is the visa situation? While it’s impossible to know everything beforehand, doing some basic research will definitely help out. Prepared nomads tend to last longer and have more fulfilling journeys.
Working from a laptop on a hammock beside the sea is played out. The reality of the situation is that you have to prioritize work in order to keep the travel feasible. If you’re just looking to get a taste of the exotic for a couple of months, you can get by on phone hotspots. But if you’re looking to transition into a full-time nomad who’s serious about your career and passionate about long-term travel, you have to invest in proper workspaces.
If you’re heading to popular digital nomad destinations like Medellin, Mexico City, Bangkok, or Hanoi, you’re all good. Most major cities have a ton of co-working spaces and cafes with strong internet connections. You could buy a daily pass from co-working spaces in SEA for as little as $6 – this comes with free Wi-Fi, work desks and chairs, and coffee – even fitness studios and swimming pools sometimes. You could also opt to stay in co-living spaces that have in-house co-working facilities. Cafes serving up locally-sourced coffee, vegan smoothies, and avocado toast aren’t uncommon either. The important thing is to create a noise-free environment with good connectivity to work uninterrupted for a few hours.
You could always cut costs by choosing to work from home, as many nomads do. A good option would be to book an Airbnb for a couple of nights and scour the city (or town) for a cost-effective place with free Wi-Fi and desk setup. Working from home tends to blur the personal-professional boundary, but it’s definitely achievable if you’re organized and disciplined. Get your personal bearing sorted first. Are you more productive in an office-like environment? Or do you prefer to work in solitude?
While it’s possible to string along by being minimalistic and backpacking on a shoestring budget, the chances are that you’ll be back home in a few months. A common notion is that choosing a nomad life means not having to work as much as your typical 9 to 5. In most cases, it’s the exact opposite. You’ll be slogging extra hard because building a stable career remotely is quite challenging.
It’s understandable to feel tempted while on the road. All you feel like doing is exploring that off-beat waterfall or haggle with cooks in local street food markets. On the other hand, it’s also tempting to work non-stop on building your brand new blog or e-commerce store.
The importance of work-life balance cannot be stressed enough.
If all you’re doing is going on safaris and surfing all day and managing to throw in a couple of English lessons a day, you’re going to end up bankrupt sooner or later. And while it’s more enjoyable editing videos for your YouTube channel from your Bangkok high-rise than being stuck in a cubicle in Chicago – overworking yourself is guaranteed to leave you a nervous burnout.
Maintain manageable loads of work. Know when to say “no” to your clients. Understand that it’s alright to shut down your laptop and take a walk sometimes. Try to limit your workdays to 8 hours. If you’re running your own agency or you’re working for a demanding client, there’s no option left sometimes. You have to do what’s necessary to hit those deadlines. But always make up for the lost time by taking ‘you time’. This brings us to the next tip on the list.
Driven. Business Ready. Resilient. These aren’t a company’s slogans – they’re personal characteristics that bring success. Of course, everybody’s definition of success varies – but success as a digital nomad is scaling your income while exploring foreign countries. And you need a high degree of self-discipline to achieve this.
Time is the key factor. How you manage and use time each day will define a large part of your journey. Establish a daily, weekly, and monthly goal and plan your resources accordingly. If you spend more than 8 to 10 hours on work for 2 consecutive days, take half a day off and do some fun activities. If you plan to do a multi-day trek or take a couple of days to explore a nearby beach town, prepare to hunker down and work hard after. There’s no magical one size fits all plan for time management – especially when you’re traveling most of the time. It’s easy to get lost in the confusion and end up spending time on trivial and non-consequential matters on a daily basis. This is why it can help to be a slow nomad – one who takes a few weeks to explore a place, rather than hopping on a flight every 3 days.
Unless it’s a travel day, it’s beneficial to set a rigorous daily schedule. Always keep a track of where you’re spending time and how to cut down on unnecessary activities. You can choose from a host of time-management apps available on the market. You can even maintain a daily journal outlining your goals for each day. Set aside sometime each day to exercise as well.
Keeping everything moving seamlessly is close to impossible – and good time management can boost your efficiency and act as a contingency in cases of logistical hiccups.
The Nomad Social Factor
While you’re juggling visa paperwork, work, plane tickets, personal finances, and other activities – an important element of life tends to slip past. While this comes off as cheesy it’s still true – life is better when you have people to share it with.
If you’re traveling in a pack of close friends, half of your work is cut out for you. You can share costs, plan together, and even work together. Traveling with known people also adds a layer of much-needed security.
But if you’re hitting the road alone, it can be quite taxing. Meeting new people is a huge part of traveling abroad – but maintaining friendships and relationships as a nomad is hard. Most connections are surface-level and fleeting and this can cause a feeling of loneliness. Everybody has their own separate travel schedules, career goals, and desires. As a digital nomad, it’s important to find a way to connect with like-minded individuals in a meaningful way, but also be prepared to let go at the drop of a hat.
Isolation isn’t good for a healthy state of mind. If you’re living in a city, go out and try to find places where other nomads congregate. While connecting with locals is crucial and enjoyable, talking to nomads who are going through similar experiences can be rewarding. Co-working spaces usually conduct events, workshops, and conferences where you could forge professional relationships. Or you could hit the local watering spot and grab a couple of beers – you might even run into someone from your hometown.
Paperwork is a prime aspect of achieving success as a digital nomad. In addition to visas and travel clearances, it’s prudent to invest in insurance. It’s necessary to get different kinds of insurance for a few destinations, but it can get you out of sticky situations when it isn’t necessary either. You could be the most ‘Zen’ person on earth – it wouldn’t matter. The fact is, things go wrong when you’re constantly traveling. Canceled flights, lost or stolen electronics, malaria, injuries from a scooter mishap on a crowded Cambodian back alley – even yellow fever deep in the Amazon jungle, life is unpredictable. Spring a few extra dollars and cover yourself. Look into affordable health insurance plans – travel, theft, and ex-pat insurances are options to consider too.