How to Be a Digital Nomad and Thrive?

There’s been a lot of hype around digital nomadism for some time.  In our previous post, we cast doubt on its status as a dream lifestyle.  Nicole, our customer success gal, hit the road to report on what it feels like to be working on the move. Check out her story if you missed it the first time around.

In this post, we’ll consider how to live the lifestyle and thrive.

However enticing the vision of being able to travel year-round may be, it doesn’t necessarily seem to suit everyone. There are a few things you need to consider before you set your mind to living the dream.

Who the heck are digital nomads?

There’s not just one kind of digital nomad. The term covers remote workers with stable employment, freelancers working on short-term projects, and entrepreneurs running their own businesses while traveling.

I assume that if you’re reading this post, the term rings a bell for you. You might even have read Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-conformity and decided to make your life one constant adventure. You’re either only just embarking on the project, or you’ve already hit the road, but either way, you’re a newbie still unsure what to expect. If this sounds familiar, this post is for you – keep on reading! I’ll try to paint a picture of living and working on the road for you, and give you some tips to serve as armor on this exciting battlefield.

1 It’s all about mindset

If you’ve already set off down this nomadic path, you’re probably a brave and open-minded individual. You cringe at the thought of giving in to the confines of work in a cubicle. You want to breathe and be the master of your time. Intuitively, you feel there’s more to life than living from vacation to vacation, merely.

We’re on the same page here. But, mind you, there’s a trap in this way of thinking. If you think that being a digital nomad means being on a never-ending holiday, think again! It’s no secret we need to work if we want to sustain ourselves. Depending on your skill set and the type of contracts you’ll work on, making a living as a digital nomad might be an ordeal you’re not cut out for.

Feel free to…

2 Let’s first consider potential types of employment

These will depend on your skill set and creativity / entrepreneurial capacity. But, generally speaking, there are essentially 3 legal options for working as a digital nomad.

  1. Being a freelancer doing temporary gigs
  2. Having a contract with a remote company
  3. Running your own business

We agree with Chris The Freelancer – a digital nomad, vlogger and blogger whose channels inspired this post – we strongly recommend exploring the last option. It’s the most profitable one in the long term. But while it does give you the best returns and the most freedom, it requires a lot of effort, commitment, and courage to take risks. For some people, this might be a burden they aren’t ready to bear.

If you haven’t discovered your entrepreneurial spirit yet, ditch this option for now and explore the first two.

There are pros and cons to both choices. As a remote employee of a company you receive a stable income, but you’re more likely to be somewhat constrained by the company’s schedule of meetings. You will be required to stay in touch more than a freelancer, too.

When doing freelance work you’re not an employee, so you’re more autonomous; the only duty is to meet project deadlines. Here it’s totally up to you what time of night or day you’re working as long as the work gets delivered within the agreed timeframes.

Freelancing will feel a little less secure if you don’t have a large portfolio to showcase your expertise, or if you don’t have a strong skill set that will help you land a job whenever you need it. You may want to devote some time to “developing your muscles” before trying your strength in the freelance arena.

3 Give yourself a timeframe

This is a vital aspect of the first two points we’ve discussed. Before embarking on your project, decide on the time frames. Is it a lifestyle you want to have for long, or is more of a sabbatical year you’re giving yourself? If it’s the former, take into account the social insurance and pension plans you’re missing out on as a freelance worker. (Also don’t forget about travel insurance in case of illness or accidents.) Plan!

Anticipate the fact that sooner or later you’re likely to grow tired of this lifestyle. A lot of people does. The need to belong somewhere is inherently human. It’s bound to kick in one day. Of course, by then you’ll have developed a new set of skills that can open new doors.

By traveling you develop adaptability, meaning the ability to work in intercultural contexts and to change contexts. These skills are becoming increasingly important. You’re likely to have the unique experience that will be of huge value to companies and your future community.

Having said that, you may want to think about the long-term and make sure your employment conditions allow you to both travel and save a little money to cushion you in the future.

4 Develop discipline

Sounds out of context here, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we be talking about a life of leisure, lying comfortably in a hammock with your Mac on your lap, working when you feel like it and for as long as you feel like it?

No. That’s the whole answer. 😉

Undeniably it’s one way of doing things. But, trust me, this is a path that leads to losing control of your time, screwing up your projects and missing deadlines, sleep shortages that make you prone to stress, and feelings of guilt when you go exploring your surroundings.

You’ll be much better off if you apply some discipline to your schedule. Part of this is having a routine that will help you keep the boundaries between work and private time clearer. This also implies working productively. Again, the point is that you need to plan.

Choose locations with good wifi. If you hail from a country with extensive infrastructure, you probably take internet access for granted. You’ll be surprised to learn that you can’t find it everywhere. If you’re just getting started on your journey as a digital nomad, consider places with lower costs of living.

That said, those places are likely to have limited access to the internet. So you also need to explore what tools help digital nomads do their job. Consider using time tracking apps that will help you stay focused, as well as convenient file sharing software, like Droplr. 🙂 Yeah, we’re promoting our stuff here, but only because we know how much we can help people like you.

When you work in an office, you often need to show somebody something to discuss the changes you want to implement. That’s pretty tricky when you’re not in the same room. You could share screens, but what if you’re in a different time zone? Droplr features help you navigate such situations and communicate effectively so that you can leave work and focus on exploring your surroundings. 

Ok, enough bragging. Let’s get back on track. There’s one more really important thing we want to focus on. And that is… people.

5 Find your tribe

Being a digital nomad involves moving around and living in different locations for various periods of time. You will almost certainly experience periods of loneliness, which is healthy only to some degree. Make sure you join a digital nomad community.

Also, check out co-working spaces in your area. Not only are they great places to find people who can help you with your projects, but you’ll also meet others who share your lifestyle and are to socializing and connecting on a human level.

If you lean more towards being an introvert, just start riffing. You’ll be amazed when you see how easy and emotionally rewarding small talks can be. They tend to have bad fame as they bring to mind a corporate life and etiquette. The secret is being genuine, and really noticing other people, without worrying too much about how well or poorly it’ll go down. We’re all social animals. And in the end, it’s people who make the whole traveling experience worthwhile. Give it a go and best of luck from us!

I'm a service designer and a digital marketer, passionate about human-centered design and storytelling. To my own surprise, I frequently find myself writing about motivation and organizational culture. Why? This could be the human factor at play...

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