What Is a Digital Nomad?

Digital Nomad

In an age of growing technological innovation, it’s no surprise that more people are turning to the Internet to make a living. Some sources have predicted that over a billion people worldwide will make a living over the Internet in the next 15 years. More and more companies are recognizing this new trend as a way to attract and engage their employees.

You might already know people like this: people who call themselves freelancers, remote workers, or even digital nomads. That last title has a trendy sound to it–like it’s the next cool thing to do with your life. Many people around the world think so too.

Understanding Digital Nomads

Digital nomads travel while they work, accompanied by their trusty laptop computer. They might also have some belongings in a suitcase, and a driving wanderlust. Their favorite places to work might be in coffee shops, public libraries, or even an RV, using Skype, Slack, or Zoom to stay connected.

The traveling, working lifestyle is not limited to the young, as pop culture might have you believe. Anyone can be a digital nomad: a fresh college grad, a seasoned office worker, even a retiree with time to kill. As long as you know how to type and work a personal computer, you can be one too.

The name “nomad” makes it sound like you must travel to be a proper digital nomad. In truth, all you need to do is be able to work remotely. Whether you work for yourself or another company, as long as you do your work from a computer or a mobile phone with an Internet connection, you’re a digital nomad–no epic, romantic wanderlust necessary.

Many people think that all digital nomads are location-independent–that they can work from anywhere. Not every single digital nomad has the means to work anywhere in the world. Again, if you can do your work outside the designated office building, you can still call yourself a digital nomad.

How Digital Nomads Get Paid

Digital nomads can get paid through direct deposit, just like a regular office employee. They can also get paid through PayPal or Transferwise, where they can manually transfer their funds to their bank.

How Digital Nomads Connect

Living in the digital age has only increased how people connect, especially for people living in a nomadic style. Especially in a vocation as lonesome and fast-paced as a digital nomad, you’ll be confident knowing you’re never alone in your adventures.

Conferences and hubs

We’re all familiar with connecting through social media, but digital nomads have some unique networking events. The Nomad Cruise, for instance, gathers over 250 digital nomads from around the world on a cruise ship to socialize, connect, and otherwise have fun together.

Chiang Mai in Thailand is one such place where many digital nomads go to live. You might find yourself in a hub full of digital nomads who will gladly teach you a thing or two. Either way, you’ll make new connections, and you might be inspired to learn from other people, rather than trying to teach yourself everything.

Facebook groups

Joining a support/advice group on Facebook can also help you understand what the digital nomad lifestyle is like worldwide. Digital Nomads Around the World and Digital Nomads Hub are two such groups that you may consider joining.

On the other hand, you can join a small, more regional nomad network. Groups like this will talk about specific countries or cities that you might want to settle in, such as Digital Nomads Thailand and Digital Nomads Croatia. With these groups, you’ll find information about the best hotels or hostels to stay in, where other nomads might meet up to work, or even where to get a good bite to eat.

To get even more specific, if you’re a female digital nomad, you can find digital nomad groups made solely up of female members.

Whichever group you choose, you might make some new contacts, and even some new friends, through their advice.

Upsides to Being a Digital Nomad

Many people become digital nomads because they like being able to work from anywhere. They don’t have to commute to an office or deal with daily coworker drama, or even having a set of hours to work. These people might also value experiences, such as travel or more time with their family/themselves, more than the money/work grind.

There are hundreds of possible vocations for a digital nomad to have. While many are tech-related, like web design, programming, coding, marketing, graphic design, etc., there are plenty of others. Lots of writers, editors, teachers, coaches/consultants, etc. are digital nomads. There’s a reason the digital nomad lifestyle is also known as the “laptop lifestyle.”

Many digital nomads talk about the adventure in their lives. Every day, they can find a new place to sit and work, and they never know what kind of people they’re going to meet. Plus, you’ll be able to work and live in different time zones and cultures, which may be jarring at first, but will make a wonderful memory.

Being a digital nomad means traveling lightly and not worrying about accumulating too much home junk, like furniture, clothes, or other items. In some extreme cases, a digital nomad might sell their home and most of their belongings, and live entirely on the go in an RV or camper.

Challenges to Being a Digital Nomad

Seeing the world while you earn a livable paycheck sounds like a dream. However, the most significant complaint among digital nomads is that it can be a lonely vocation. You might have a lot of email and video chat conversations with friends, family, and clients–not to mention the freedom of packing and going where you wish–but it doesn’t account for the lifestyle’s physical lonesomeness.

On the other hand, there have been married or friendly couples who walk the digital nomad lifestyle together, but for the most part, it’s a road traveled alone.

You might sometimes have trouble finding and keeping Internet connectivity. Wifi hotspots are usually available, but that’s why, before you set out for the great unknown, you’ll need plenty of backup methods for staying connected.

Similarly, you’ll inevitably run into problems staying motivated or productive. Of course, you are allowed to enjoy where you’re settling, but you cannot do it at the expense of your work. Remember, you’re on the go to work, and not to spend every waking moment being a tourist.

Digital nomads also sacrifice the official perks/benefits and insurance of an office job when they travel or work for themselves. Luckily, digital nomads can get health or travel coverage through World Nomads or SafetyWing, but other benefits might be harder to come by.

Tips for Becoming a Digital Nomad

No matter how deep you dive into the nomadic lifestyle, you need specific characteristics to be a successful digital nomad. You’ll also just need to put some things high on your to-do list. Long story short, there may be a steep learning curve you’ll have to weather.

You’ll Need Plenty Of Self-Drive And Self-Discipline

The first lesson to learn about the digital nomad lifestyle is that no one will get you work but yourself. You can certainly get help from people you trust, including other digital nomads, but getting the work and keeping the job depend on your work ethic and hustling ability. Seizing opportunities as they arise and being able to adapt quickly to new environments will serve you well.

Adapting well also means being responsible for your failures. That might be the best lesson that becoming a digital nomad can teach you because you’ll have to work quickly and smartly to find a solution.

Self-discipline also means staving off the temptation to be more of a tourist than a worker. If the idea of traveling intrigues you more than working across the world, then backpacking for a year — without the added responsibility of working — might be a better thing to try out first.

Settle Your Debts And Expenses Before Setting Out

You cannot balance a healthy work-life and making stable revenue on top of trying to pay off your debts. You’ll likely want to set aside a decent emergency fund (roughly $5,000) to help you in case your work temporarily dries up. Better yet, you’ll want to make sure your business–or whatever work you’ll be doing on the go–is strong enough to supplement your new lifestyle.

Make Sure Your Business Can Pay For Living Expenses

How much your business makes and how much you spend on living can affect where you settle for a bit. Cities in South Asia are popular for digital nomads because their cost of living is so low. Before you even hit the road, you’ll have to figure out your living budget: food, travel, hotels, etc.

Digital nomads are sometimes successful while living in a large U.S. metropolitan area, but these areas do not provide a cost-effective way of living.

You’ll also just want to make sure that your business is good enough. That’s where having a trial period to work at home (see more below) might come in handy. You can take the time to learn more about what it takes and develop those skills accordingly.

Consider Which Skills Will Help You Succeed

All digital nomads have some kind of niche. However, they often start as remote workers or freelancers, gaining the skills necessary to open a business or strike out on their own. A freelance writer might work for a content mill learning about SEO and content creation, and remote office workers learn to balance a work/home life when the two become intertwined.

Whatever the case, you do have something to offer. It’s a matter of figuring those skills out and developing them enough to monetize them.

Ask For A Remote Trial Period

If you already work for a company but want to try the digital nomad lifestyle on a small scale, ask your boss for a remote trial period. You can get a sense of how you work for yourself and away from the office environment. If you find you like it, you might even use the time away to begin preparing for a more nomadic lifestyle.

Have A Plan In Place

It can be a wild and romantic notion to pack a bag and go where the wind takes you, but you’ll need much more sense if you want to succeed in the digital nomad lifestyle.

First of all, have some idea of where you’re going to travel. Have an idea of how long you’ll want to stay, and where you’ll want to stay. If you need to contact someone in an emergency, have an effective means of communication on hand. Connecting through Facebook nomad groups can help with this step.

Develop Passive Income

Many digital nomads make a living solely off what they do every day, but having passive income on the side can help you out even more.

Passive income is exactly what it sounds like: money you make passively, sometimes without even trying very hard. That’s not to say that it’s easy. It just means that you create a product that makes money for you over some time.

Such products might include an e-book. They might detail different processes for business, writing, publishing, whatever the writer knows how to do. Blogs also serve the same purpose, except they are updated regularly. Most digital nomads write travel blogs about their adventures, which can make a decent buck if maintained well.

People use their passive income differently. Some digital nomads put that money toward their emergency fund or put it toward their usable income. Either way, it’s money in your pocket.

The Bottom Line

Digital nomads can come from anywhere and live/work anywhere. As more and more companies become comfortable with a distributed workforce and technology evolves to allow people to join the digital nomad lifestyle, that lifestyle may only continue to grow.

Blair Campbell

Founder of GetInternet. Blair studied computer science at the California Institute of Technology Computing and Mathematical Sciences program, but he enjoys writing on the side. He grew up in southern California and now lives in Denver, Colorado.