Becoming a Digital Nomad: Everything You Need to Know
I’m a digital nomad and I’ve been living in Thailand for most of 2023. I’m able to work remotely while soaking in views like the film photo I took above. It feels like a dream, to be able to live on Koh Phangan Island, in Southeast Asia.
I decided to pack up my whole life into two big suitcases and venture into the unknown in exchange for a life of financial freedom and flexibility. I’ll share what a digital nomad is and how you can become one too. If you’re thinking it sounds too good to be true, don’t worry. I used to think so too.
Being a digital nomad was foreign to me for most of my young adult life. I was working as a nurse, clocking out after 12-hour shifts and most of the time working the dreaded night shift. But after one trip to Thailand, I fell in love and never looked back.
It’s been the most incredible decision I’ve ever made and I’m excited to share with you all the information you need to know to do the same.
First Things First, What Is a Digital Nomad?
A digital nomad is a person who has the freedom to travel anywhere in the world while working remotely. What intrigued me so much was the idea of being location independent.
Meaning, my work could travel with me to wherever I wanted to go. Not to mention being able to experience new cultures and of course, amazing food.
I was also desperately craving a work-life balance. Working as a nurse had left me feeling burnt out and my days outside of work felt like I was constantly just trying to catch up on rest and to-do lists. I wanted to do something that gave me more freedom and would allow me to travel to beautiful places at the same time.
And I’m not the only one who finds the lifestyle of a digital nomad appealing. As of 2020, there were an estimated 10 million digital nomads worldwide..
Define Your Goals and Motivations
When I decided to become a digital nomad, I grabbed my notebook and started writing about why I wanted to do this. Think about what your personal goals are for this type of lifestyle. Is it to experience new cultures? Achieve your ideal work-life balance? Live a more simple life?
Understanding your goals and motivations will guide your decisions as you move forward. Take some time to really reflect and maybe even talk to a close friend if it helps.
A few pros and cons of the digital nomad lifestyle
- Flexibility and freedom: This one is my favourite. Having the flexibility to not be tied to a typical 9-5 weekday schedule while working from anywhere in the world is truly a beautiful thing. It also means I can travel to lots of cool places and focus on doing things I love during my free time.
- Increased productivity: I feel more motivated to work because every day I wake up and get to do something a really love; write.
- Personal growth and cultural immersion: Living in Southeast Asia has been an incredible opportunity for growth. I’ve been able to meet so many other digital nomads, as well as a lot of wonderful locals on the island. Being a digital nomad has gotten me outside of my comfort zone in lots of positive ways.
- Loneliness and social isolation: Leaving the United States was challenging because it meant leaving behind my closest friends and family, as well as a very familiar daily routine.
(Pro tip: schedule weekly Facetime calls with your loved ones. This has helped me so much).
- Lack of stability: Adjusting to a new time zone, environment, and career is no simple task. It can feel overwhelming, especially at first. My advice is to take it day by day and give yourself some grace along the way.
- Legal and visa challenges: Perhaps my least favourite is the visa process, especially in Thailand. It’s different for each country though, so just make sure to research your specific destination.
Boring But Important Legal Stuff
I just experienced my first “visa run” which is when you leave the country for at least 24 hours before you can obtain a new tourist visa in the same place (Thailand).
I currently have to do this every 60 days. However, not every country is like this. So to save yourself some time and stress, make sure to do lots of research on your specific destination.
If you’re an aspiring digital nomad and unsure where to start when it comes to visas and work permits, I recommend checking out these 58 countries with digital nomad visas for more information.
Embracing The Digital Nomad Lifestyle
It’s a big life adjustment when you’re first starting your digital nomad journey. It definitely was for me, at least. There are a few things I’ve felt to be extremely helpful and I wanted to share them with you.
Now that I’ve embraced the lifestyle with a more open mind and heart, I couldn’t be happier. And it’s estimated 71% of other digital nomads say they are happier since embracing the lifestyle, according to a survey by MBO Partners.
Here are some tips for a successful transition:
Establish a reliable work routine
Set a schedule that allows for productive work hours while leaving time for exploration and relaxation. It’s all about that balance, right?
Create a portable work set-up
Invest in a nice laptop and you’re basically good to go. Of course, having a reliable internet connection is also important. Depending on where you’re located, a cafe or co-working space can be a great option for free wifi and charging spaces (and coffee for a nice caffeine hit).
Build a digital nomad network
Meeting other digital nomads is a great way to make new friends wherever you go and it can also lead to work opportunities. I met a few digital nomads in Thailand that are now my co-workers and friends. It’s the best of both worlds.
Develop time management skills
Prioritise tasks and manage your time effectively to maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you find yourself becoming easily distracted, try turning off your phone notifications and making sure your workspace is clean and de-cluttered. I personally love the “do not disturb” option on my phone. It makes a huge difference when I’m trying to focus!
Budgeting and Finding Work
Determine your current financial situation and create a budget. Consider how much you have saved and what you are realistically able to spend on a month-to-month basis.
When I started my digital nomad journey, I had a decent chunk of money saved. But budgeting has still been an important part of my journey because I didn’t want to blow through all of my savings.
I try to keep track of my expenses on an Excel spreadsheet to give me a better idea of what I’m spending money on the most. But there are lots of budgeting apps you can use such as Mint or Goodbudget.
Platforms to help you get income
When finding work as a digital nomad, I recommend exploring multiple sources of income. This could include freelancing, remote work, online businesses, or passive income streams. Platforms like Upwork, Toptal, and Freelancer can connect you with potential clients. Someone once told me, “Cast your net as wide as you can” and it always stuck with me.
When I first moved to Thailand, I was teaching English online. This is a great option for digital nomads just starting out because it’s relatively easy to become certified. Now, I’ve transitioned to more copywriting work through a process of meeting other digital nomads who needed help with some of their projects. Hence, why being open to lots of opportunities can be so great.
You can also engage with online communities and job boards specifically for digital nomads, such as Nomad List, Remote OK, or FlexJobs4. These platforms provide a wide range of job opportunities and resources targeted towards digital nomads.
Depending on where you’re located, I would also recommend checking out Facebook to see if there is a digital nomad group in your area!
The Fun Part: Pick Your First Destination
This is the exciting part! Consider factors such as cost of living, quality of life, safety, visa requirements, and internet connectivity when trying to decide. But also, go with what feels right and remember, you can always change locations. That’s the beauty of being a digital nomad, right?
It was a no-brainer for me when I chose Thailand. I had been lucky to meet some amazing humans when I first visited and fell in love with island living.
If you need some inspiration, check out The 16 Best Places for Digital Nomads to Live in 2023 for more tips and ideas.
Step By Step, How To Become a Digital Nomad
Ok, so here’s my step by step guide on how to become a digital nomad. I’ll explain the areas you’ll need to cover and understand if you want to become a digital nomad. We’ll go through skills, steps on how to make yourself open and areas you will be able to find remote work.
1. Understand what your current skills are
First things first: What are you good at? Understanding your current skills is the foundation of becoming a digital nomad. Whether you’re a writer, designer, programmer, or something else, knowing what you can offer is essential. But don’t worry if you’re unsure, we can work on that too.
So, in my opinion you can actually learn a lot of remote work skills online through courses, youtube, taking the leap and working for free and many other options. Firstly, identify your strengths. What are you good at?
Next up, evaluate your experience. What have you done in the past? What are your current hobbies? Have you developed any experience or skills from these?
Now you can start to make a list and begin to match your skills towards remote jobs that are going to meet a balance, make you money and give you something that you enjoy.
2. Build out your personal portfolio
This is probably the next crucial step towards becoming a digital nomad. It’s your chance to showcase what you can do and impress potential employers or clients. Basically, think of it as your digital calling card. You can share it with lots of people at scale.
There are so many different ways to create a portfolio. You can build yourself a website, you can create a PDF document on something like Canva, you can even create a portfolio on freelancer sites like UpWork or Fiverr.
Here you should include testimonials from any clients or work you’ve done in the past. If you haven’t got any, now would be a good time to start. If you have a friend or family who you can practise on, or even practise on yourself then you can showcase this.
3. Push your portfolio out into the right areas
Now this is sometimes difficult, but this will be an area that if you do right then you will succeed. Make yourself active in areas that digital nomads are, but also where your clients might be active.
So, the first thing. Do some research. Who needs your skills? Is it businesses, individuals, or maybe other digital nomads? Understand who you’re trying to reach.
Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram can be great places to share your portfolio. Join groups, participate in discussions, and don’t be shy about sharing your work.
There are numerous online forums and communities where digital nomads hang out. Engage with these groups, share insights, and make connections. You never know, this could lead to you landing an opportunity of a lifetime, whilst learning from existing digital nomads.
Don’t Give Up! Building a presence and gaining recognition takes time. Stay consistent, keep pushing your portfolio, and the opportunities will come. It took me a while, and many nomads I’ve spoken to are the same.
Good things take time.
Networking Could Be The Answer You’re Looking For…
Networking is so, so vital in this area. Learning from those who have already been in your shoes could accelerate your nomad journey by years. Especially if you impress them, they could even consider outsourcing their work over to you (If your industries align).
If not, then they can give you important advice and guide you in areas of ways to get more clients or live like a digital nomad. This is actually gold.
So, how do you get here? Well, networking of course. And there is no better way than dropping yourself in the deep end and actually going to the location of where digital nomads hang out.
Hotspots like Koh Phangan, Buenos Aires, Madeira are great areas. But of course, where are you actually going to find them?
Consider jumping on a digital nomad tour
One easy way to break through and build your own community would be by joining a digital nomad tour or community. There is no better way to get close to someone when you are living with them for a few days or weeks.
Feeling isolated can be a challenge for many digital nomads. By joining a tour, you’ll instantly become part of a community, making connections that could last a lifetime. You’ll be living and working with fellow digital nomads, freelancers, and remote workers. This can lead to collaborations, job opportunities, or even business partnerships.
Tours often include social events, workshops, and activities that allow you to have fun and unwind with your new community. This breaks the ice instantly, allows you and others to share your story and build a group of nomads you can learn from.
Of course, don’t forget to check out our digital nomad tours to accelerate your journey quickly 😉.
Make The Commitment To Becoming a Digital Nomad
Listen, I know we all want to be a digital nomad but those who are successful do so because they commit. Put yourself outside of your comfort zone to where you need to make the decision of “it’s now or never”.
A dream without a plan is just a wish. Outline the steps you need to take, from building your skills to choosing your destination. Having a roadmap will guide you on your journey.
Share your goals with friends and family. Surround yourself with people who encourage and support you. Join online forums or local meet-ups with other aspiring digital nomads. Once you feel happy then…
Take The Leap! At some point, you’ll need to take the big leap. Book the ticket, submit the resignation letter, or whatever that significant step may be for you. It’s scary, but it’s also the start of something incredible.
So, how can you become a digital nomad? Well, I hope you now have a better idea. To summarise, you will need to focus on understanding your skills to build a personal portfolio, pushing it out into the right areas, and even taking adventurous leaps like joining a digital nomad tour, the path is filled with opportunities and challenges alike.
But as we’ve explored, success in this lifestyle doesn’t come merely from following a set of steps. It comes from a genuine commitment, a willingness to step out of your comfort zone, and an unwavering belief in yourself and your abilities.
The world of the digital nomad is as diverse as it is exciting. With the guidance and strategies I’ve outlined above, you’re not just on your way to becoming a digital nomad; you’re on your way to becoming a part of a thriving global community.
That’s the most important thing right? Freedom of time, community and a lifestyle worth living.
Please don’t hesitate to write any thoughts, share your success stories or motivation for others in the comments below.