For some time now, I and my partner travel around the world as digital nomads, working online with the help of our laptops. We visit a different country every 3 or 6 months. My office is different every day. I manage my own business and I am the owner of my time and my schedules.
Sounds good, right? In this post, I want to explain what a digital nomad is, the advantages and disadvantages that we have, and how to get your independence from countries, schedules, and offices.
What is a Digital Nomad?
If you look for “digital nomad” in Google, you will see lots of photos of teenagers on the beach, MacBook on their laps, pretending they are working. This vision is far from the reality of any digital nomad. I can assure you that sweating on a beach, directly under the sun, will not get much work done.
However, becoming a digital nomad opens up a world of possibilities. Suddenly, you are no longer tied to a place, an office, a boss or a schedule. You are the owner of your time, your life, your work. You can live on an island in Thailand or in a cabin in New Zealand, as long as there is a good internet connection.
A digital nomad is usually someone with a location independent job that can be performed online. Developers, entrepreneurs, designers, marketing specialists, writers, bloggers … Someone with a series of skills that can be delivered online and customers willing to pay for them.
When you discover that all you need to work is your laptop (or even your iPad), you start to wonder why you are paying thousands of euros for an old flat in Barcelona, Paris or London, when for half that amount you can be enjoying a coffee in Riga, a Pad Thai in Thailand, or a mate in Buenos Aires.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Digital Nomad
Not being tied to a geographical location changes your life completely. If I had to describe it using a single word it would be “freedom“. Freedom to visit other countries and discover other cultures, to work at your own pace, to escape from traffic jams and mortgages, to go out for a walk on a Tuesday when the sun rises on a winter’s day …
Not having a car or a house, and owning only the stuff that fits in my suitcase, is also liberating. When you declutter your life of everything you’ve been accumulating for years, you discover the true meaning of the sentence “less is more”. You realize you can live with a fraction of what you thought you needed, and also that most of your belongings are superfluous or don’t add anything valuable to your life.
However, not everything is a bed of roses. Being a digital nomad requires a complete mindset shift. You have to be willing to make some sacrifices and take responsibility for your life, your job, your next location… You can no longer rely on a steady routine.
You will have to work hard on your own business, late at night or perhaps even weekends. And you will have to take into account a lot of stuff you never worried about when you were an employee, such as getting clients and keep them happy while traveling around the world, or locating the safest, most affordable and well-connected neighborhood in Budapest.
Therefore, being a digital nomad is not for everyone. If all you need to be happy is a big house, a good sofa, and a huge television set, that’s perfectly ok too! In that case, maybe this lifestyle is not the most appropriate for you. However, if the idea of traveling the world, and the freedom of being the owner of your life are more attractive for you than the apparent security of a stable life, read on.
Steps to Become a Digital Nomad
Ok, so you’ve decided to take the leap and become a digital nomad, how do you start?
Location independence is not something you can achieve overnight. In my case, it was a process that lasted several years. Like any lifestyle change, it consists of a series of brave decisions that gradually take you in the right direction.
Do not take this as a sequence that you must perform sequentially, but as a guide on what you have to take into account to start your nomadic adventure.
1. Find a job that allows you to work online
The first step is to find something for which others are willing to pay money. Not everything works. It has to be something you can comfortably do with just your laptop or tablet.
Basically, any digital service or product falls into this category: programming, technical consulting, business consulting, design, marketing, sales, writing, videos, translation, virtual assistant duties … the possibilities are endless.
It doesn’t matter if you are not an expert -yet- in what you do. In reality, it’s all about doing something that excites you, something you are so about that you won’t even call it work, and finding a way of taking that passion to the digital world.
2. Grow a customer base
Becoming a freelancer or entrepreneur, especially if you’ve always been an employee, can be daunting at first. Suddenly, everything depends on you: create an online curriculum, promote your services, create a credible image as a professional and, above all, get clients.
Also, you have to take care of lots of things you never even thought about before: marketing, administration, finding clients, customer support, etcetera.
However, all it takes is time and practice. One day, you will get your first client, then the next one, then another… Eventually, you will have a portfolio of clients that will allow you to quit your job, if you haven’t already done so.
3. Quit your job
To be honest, in my case, I didn’t pass through step two before getting into this one. I had a lot of confidence in my skills as a developer back then, and my ability to get clients if I worked hard. I also had a good online resume and a blog that brought me a decent audience, and occasional job offers.
So in my case, I jumped into this adventure without a safety net. It took me a few months to get my first client, but when I did, the feeling was amazing. It is something that boosts your self-confidence and makes you grow as a person and as a professional.
In your case, it may be different. You can have or not a big financial cushion, but don’t fall into the trap of “saving enough money” or “waiting for the right moment”. It will never be the right time, nor will you feel safe enough, never.
4. Create a company that allows you to work wherever you are
When I took the leap, being a freelancer Spain was a trap with no way out. Then I founded a Spanish company, thinking that it would be better, tax-wise, but it actually worsened my situation. To make things worse, the Spanish administration is a mess, composed of different offices isolated from one another.
I also needed to live in Spain to manage my company because -let’s be honest here- the Spanish digital certificate does not work, and you will need to visit an office sooner or later for some paperwork. Sounds like your country?
Also, your banks will panic if you tell them that you are going to become a tax resident in another country, or no resident at all. Not to mention accounting, which was an enigma full of incomprehensible rules I was never able to understand.
Creating a business in Estonia changed my life, and allowed me to have a legal framework from which to travel around the world. A European company, which could manage remotely anywhere. No worries, notaries, visits to finance offices, paperwork, or bureaucracy.
5. Declutter your life
Being a digital nomad means traveling and living only with what fits in your suitcase. We are not aware of all the stuff we accumulate over the years until we have to get rid of it.
This is perhaps the most difficult step. After a life of storing junk, you will have to make an analysis of what really matters to you, what is essential for you … and how much of that you can take with you when traveling.
You learn a lot of things during this process … about yourself, and about people close to you. Reducing your life to the essentials is one of the most revealing experiences that I have gone through.
6. Start your adventure!
When you have everything ready, simply choose where you are going to start your adventure. There are a lot of options, some better than others, to start your nomadic life.
In future articles, we will talk about the ones we have visited, the ones we recommend, and the ones that are most appropriate, economical and interesting at the business level for entrepreneurs and freelancers. Follow us and don’t miss a thing!
In this post, we talk about the digital nomad lifestyle, discuss what is a digital nomad and how to become one. This process is not something that can be done overnight. However, if you are curious about this way of life, its advantages and disadvantages, in this article you will find answers to your questions.