It didn’t happen for me quickly. Every time I read a book, heard a podcast or saw travellers on their MacBook’s, the seed grew bigger and bigger. I remember being 20 years old and finding a travel writing course.
I knew I was looking at my future.
It takes more than the stars to align or a stroke of good luck. Don’t believe the photos of digital nomads working at the beach. Sand, wind, water and laptops don’t mix.
I’ve written this guide for you, or anyone, looking to work remotely.
Forget the hype. Yes, this life is awesome, but it takes hard work. Be honest with yourself. Do you really want it more than anything? If your answer is yes, then get comfortable – you’ve got 3,880 words of location independent goodness coming up.
Before you leave: Pre-flight
1. Make the decision
Ok, first’s things first. You’ve got to make the decision. What I mean by this is, make the choice to become a digital nomad.
Everything you do, every choice you make, should serve this purpose. It could be a year or two, or even seven, like it was for me. It’s easier to say no to tempting things with friends if you’re committed to saving money or developing a skill.
What helped me at the start was planning ‘my perfect life.’ Every year, I wrote down my goals that helped me achieve my greater purpose of becoming a remote writer. I stayed focused during the year by breaking down these goals into actionable weekly and monthly tasks or habits.
I created vision boards, listened to podcasts from people living the life I wanted, and always continued to inspire myself. That’s the important part – you’ve got to learn how to become your own inspiration. Manifest it. Start planning for it. Your mindset is everything.
2. Research, everything
I love podcasts. Natalie Sisson, Tropical MBA and Empire Flippers were my three go-tos, that I’d listen to on my way to work (as an employee) or meetings, once I was already freelancing. What I love about tuning in is isn’t just that I’m learning something, but rather that I’m reminded I’m not in this alone.
I come from a small city, Adelaide. I’ve only had one or two people in my life that travelled the world while working at the same time. It’s easy to get stopped by the ‘this is too hard’ or ‘this can’t be done’ mindset.
What I found with podcasts is they open up my thinking and make me feel like I’m part of the community of people living this life. This is extremely important when you’re going through the waves of emotions before you leave.
Learn as much as you can about digital nomads.
I’d listen to podcasts in the morning, read blogs at lunch, and watch YouTube clips before bed. I was a sponge for everything about how others were kicking goals – from people living minimally off $600-800 in Thailand to big CEOs running million-dollar business in the states and living in Costa Rica.
I quickly learned that the digital nomad path isn’t linear. It looks different for everyone, so embrace the advice but be willing to make your own rules.
Here are three awesome books which I recommend buying:
(NOTE: This post contains a few affiliate links which means I’ll earn a small commission if you purchase a product I recommend through one of my links. I only recommend products I use and love, and these links help to keep the site online. Thank you for the support.)
3. Choose a destination
It’s time to choose a place to live. Hang on, don’t we have to have the money chat, you’re thinking. Actually, the destination comes first. Let me explain why.
Living in say Bali compared to New York will vary dramatically in living costs. I use these two examples because this is what I know. Last year, I lived in Bali, Indonesia for eight months. Our budget was $40/day. We lived a comfortable life. We had a beautiful guesthouse with a pool that was nestled between a surf break and rice fields. We ate our three meals a day and bought everything – water, scooter hire, taxis, and alcohol.
On an average month, we probably spent closer to $1,200. For the eight months, we saved $15,000. This included our $1,200/month to live, plus an extra $500/month to allow for international travel. We had to leave Indonesia every 30 days due to the visa, so we decided to make the most of it.
During our time in Bali, we also visited Borneo, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India. While we were travelling, we still embodied the same approach – to live in a place, not just move around. We chose a town we’d heard good things about, and settled there for our stay. This helped us save money, while still seeing new places.
Fast forward to this year and I’m about to move to New York. We’ve budgeted an average of $100/day. Accommodation is around $55/night, and the rest will be spent on food, drinks, and the subway. For a month, we’ll be looking at $2,800, so 2.5 x the amount of our Bali budget.
Because it’s going to be so expensive, I’m only planning to stay in the city for three months, with no travel. This will cost me approximately $8,400. I can live anywhere in SE Asia for double the amount of time with this money, but that’s ok – this life is about experiencing lots of different countries.
So, when it comes to choosing your destination, you can either pick a place you really want to live, like NY, and stay for as long as you can with the money you have, or just wing it in a country that you know is cheap. We spent a month in northern Thailand and we struggled to spend more than $30/day. We lived the good life. Times this figure by 365 and you can live well, great in fact, for about $10,000 a year.
See, you don’t need much at all in some countries. Your money just goes so much further.
The Nomadlist is a great place to start if you’re letting life take you.
Maybe break it down by continent first. Choose a country or city based on things like weather, activities, cost of living, and visa situation. Make a list of the aspects that you’d like. Is it proximity to surf or snow? Is it to stretch your money as far as possible? Be clear about what you want, so you can match it to a destination.
4. Making money
Cool, so you now know where you’re going to live or at least have a few options. Now, it’s time to talk money. Achieving location independence can’t be done without either savings or money coming in the door.
So, you have two options:
You sell products or services and you work off your laptop
You have savings and you’re going to build your business on the road.
To be honest, I’ve been on both sides. Well, not personally, but I’ve seen how both works for a digital nomad.
I fall into category number one. I had a freelance business with over a dozen clients that were ok with me working while travelling. It’s something I built up over many years and it took a lot of guts to get the stamp of approval to take it remote.
Then, there’s option 2; travelling off your savings for awhile.
The cool thing about this is you can live in a cheap country, like Thailand, for a year, on just $10,000. This gives you a 365-day runway to make things happen and start earning.
You can do anything, and I mean anything. Here are a few ways to make money while travelling:
– Freelance (Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer)
– Online tutoring
– Sell your own products, such as clothing
– Become a brand ambassador & sell on your blog
– Sell stock photos & videos
– Create & sell graphic design materials
– Build & sell websites
– Write & sell your own e-Books
– Become a YouTuber
– Sell on Amazon
– Earn with Google Adsense
– Drop shipping
– Location-specific products
– Create an Etsy store
– Life coaching
– Online courses
– Build a marketing agency.
There are so many ways to make money online. See what works for you and what you enjoy doing.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. What activities do you like? Reading, playing sport, cooking, learning new skills. How do you spend your free time?
2. What topics do you spend your time researching? It could be travel, food, health, psychology… whatever it is, if you’re always looking at it, it’s probably a passion of yours.
3. How would your friends describe you? This will help you portray your unique style/brand – your authentic self.
4. What makes you forget to eat dinner? Funny question, I know, but if you’re so consumed by something that you forget to eat, it’s a good thing. Well, not for your stomach but it shows that you’re engaged, entertained and you care.
5. How are you going to save the world? Ok, not literally, but how do you think you can make a difference? Is it through your words, your leadership skills or your art?
Once you know your sweet spot, run a search on Udemy and do a course to build your knowledge. Online courses were (and still are) my saving grace. You can teach yourself just about anything.
I’m currently working on creating my own products, selling others, and building packages to teach others how to follow their happiness. But for now, all I have experience to talk about is how I’ve made it as a remote freelancer.
Let me give you one piece of advice. There are thousands of clients out there, but they won’t all be for you. Accept this from the beginning and you’ll start attracting the clients’ who are a good fit. Some of the ways I’ve found clients include utilising my existing relationships, networking, Facebook groups, and freelance websites.
Freelancer is my favourite platform to find freelance projects. Go there now and check out what jobs are available for you.
Here are some other resources:
Digital Nomad Jobs: Lists types of jobs that are suitable for being a digital nomad
Jobbatical: Combine work and travel with short-term startup jobs around the globe
Modern-Day Nomads: Travel jobs and inspiration for globe-trekking creative professionals and digital nomads
Remote OK: Work remotely as a digital nomad or from home as a telecommuting employee
The Remote Working Company: Listing jobs you can do from anywhere
Working Nomads: A curated list of the best digital jobs for those looking to work remotely.
Don’t be lured by the 4-hour working week mindset. Freelancing, in reality, is a lot of hard work. It’s a business and so it should be treated as one.
But if you’re passionate about what you do, you’re persistent and you’re in it for the right reasons – creative fulfilment, flexibility and personal growth – it’s a lifestyle you’ll never be able to go back from.
5. Start telling people
This might seem like a simple step, but it was one of the most difficult ones for me. Please respect this part of your journey and don’t underestimate the emotions that will arise as you share your plans. You’ll tell your family, your friends, and potentially your boss.
Expect mixed reactions. For me, I had either people who told me to ‘go for it’, and others who said ‘I’m not happy, but I guess this is what you really want.’ Respect their opinion but don’t let them influence your decision. People aren’t used to others breaking society’s path – go to university, get a 9-5 job, buy a house, have kids. If they don’t respond the way you had hoped, that’s okay. They’ll come around.
On the other side: Post-flight
Welcome to the digital nomad life. You’re in for one hell of a ride.
6. Stick to budget
You’re going to quickly learn, if you haven’t already, that your home is your backpack. This is extremely liberating. You start to realise that everything you need you can fit in a bag. You’ll notice you start to buy less stuff. Unlike the times when you were on ‘holiday’ for two or four weeks, you don’t want to carry anything extra around.
I used to get excited about the new things I can buy in the places I visit. Now, I spend my money on experiences – and they have to be factored within your daily budget.
Be observant of your spending habits. I started to live lavishly when I had an end date. I knew I was going home, so I started to get lazy with my budgeting. I started to jam-pack things in.
I know it sounds tedious, but every time you spend something, add the figure into your phone’s calculator. Do this every day, so you have an estimate of how much you’ve spent at the end of every day. This method is simple but it works. You’ll only have to add a few numbers in each day – three meals, water & accommodation, typically.
When it comes to your budget, food and accommodation will be your two biggest expenses. Try to get offline and look for hostels and guesthouses by walking around.
You can always negotiate a cheaper price for walk ins and long-term stays. The same goes for food. Don’t be afraid to eat locally. This is all part of the digital nomad experience.
In Pai Thailand, we wandered the street markets every night and sunk out teeth into delicious $1 Pad Thai.
7. Making friends / your ‘office’
Loneliness is real issue for digital nomads – whether you’re with a friend or partner and you’re not hearing from anyone at home, or you’re on a solo journey trying to make friends.
It’s part of the nomad life that many people don’t give enough attention to.
One thing I noticed when I started freelancing, was the gap in my social circle for ‘work friends.’ I was used to working in a busy office, with a team of people.
As a digital nomad, one of the biggest perks is that you get to choose when, where and how you work. The more offbeat places I’ve worked from include on trains, at the beach, in my friend’s backyard and on an airplane.
My laptop is my office, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you have to work all by yourself. Co-working spaces are a great option for nomads looking for a dedicated space to work, that still offers flexibility. You can meet new people working for themselves too, as well as incorporate that social aspect back into your work routine.
Co-working spaces are in most main cities around the world and you can either choose to rent a “hot desk” for the day, or become a member and use it as your “office”. I like to switch up where I work. Monday from home, Tuesday a cafe, Wednesday a co-working space, and so on. I like diversity in the places I work, so I love this.
Run a quick Google search on ‘coworking spaces’ in your location. I’m just about to start a co-living experience where it blends coworking and accommodation in the one package.
I’ll get back to you on my experience with that, soon.
8. Balancing work + life
Work/life balance is something we nomads still need to consider. It can go one of two ways – we work too much and don’t really experience the location, or work too little and become just a traveller.
Me? I fall into category #1. I love my work and I find it hard to turn off, especially when the success of my business will continue to let me lead this life. But I find I go through a slump every six months where I don’t want to do anything – and I mean anything!
This life isn’t as easy breezy as it’s made out to be. You’re not just a writer or a graphic designer. You’re an accountant, a project manager, a marketer… freelancers wear a lot of hats.
You have to overcome criticism, rejection, and clients that don’t pay on time. You never feel completely settled, unsure where the next job will come from. You’re constantly having to build your business, each year, each month, each week and each day – to stay afloat.
These fears can drive you to overworking and the “I’m going to take on everything I can get” mentality. And add to this living in a new country with little support, it can become all too much.
So, here are some of my tips:
Be clear on what you expect from your clients, and what they expect from you. Somewhere along the line, people’s perspective of freelance workers means you can work all hours of the day. While working from home does give you some room for movement outside of the 9-5 hours, it doesn’t mean you have to be available for them.
It’s important to establish a normal working schedule – one that works for you. And the beauty of living in a cheap country is you can work less and still live well. I decided to drop back my freelance work to four hours a day, which I did between 8.00am – 12.00pm. I got to spend the rest of the day swimming, exploring, reading, writing, recharging and just enjoying local life.
Make time for yourself
Carve out time in your schedule for “you”. Literally block it out in your schedule; otherwise it’ll drop to the bottom of priorities. This could mean taking weekends off, or something as simple as a 30-minute walk every day. Sure, occasionally you might need to work a 70-hour week to get a project done for an important client. But that should be the exception, not the norm.
Invest in ongoing education
It can be easy to forget about yourself and your own business, while working on others. Try to continually spend time investing in your own education and skills – to help keep your ‘sword’ sharp.
You need to refresh and recharge more than your laptop.
The same applies for you. Know your strengths and play to them, stay healthy, learn something new each day, interact with others, keep up your hobbies, and get some help when you need it. I spend an hour each day on ‘myself.’ This could include anything from listening to a podcast, meditating, reading, or doing an online course.
9. Coming home
Sooner or later, you’re going to have to come home. Whether your visa has run out, your best friend’s getting married or you simply miss home, the time will come.
For me, it was six months after I left. It was a strange cocktail of emotions. I was excited, heck was I excited. But at the same time, you realise that life goes on without you. Relationships get closer and others fade.
The best thing I did was remind myself that going home was part of the journey still, not the end. I was still learning and gaining new perspectives.
I started to see home with a new set of eyes and let go of the things that were no longer serving me. This is the cool thing about being a digital nomad – you become confident in yourself. Not in the physical ‘I’m so cool’ way, but in your decisions, your lifestyle, and your purpose.
10. Tips + tools
Tools are a digital nomad’s best friend. And the cool thing is, there is a bunch of resources available, both free and paid, to help make your life easier on the road.
Here are a few of the tools I use in either my travels or business.
PandaDoc: This program is great for creating proposals, quotes, and contracts. The system is set up for you to easily collect e-signatures, so all of your contracts are 100% legit. No need to meet in person to get a signature.
Freshbooks: This is the system for invoicing. I love it! It’s super easy to use and you can add all of your expenses in there too. Every month, it shows you a graph of earnings/expenses, and at the end of the financial year you can export for your accountant. It simplifies numbers, especially for us creatives.
Pocketsmith: This platform helps you manage your budget and forecast your finances. Honestly, I think it’s the best personal finance software there is. I really started to understand my money and the flow of it coming through.
Trello, Asana, Teamwork: These are three of my favourite project management tools. I use each one to collaborate with different clients, but you can use them with your own tasks, too.
Skype & Google Hangouts: For communication, I use Skype and Google Hangouts. Both are great, but you need to make sure your WiFi is strong. The house is only as good as the foundation your build it on. The same rule applies for using good internet.
To be completely honest, I don’t book much before I leave. But, there are three things I have to do – book flights, accommodation for the first couple of nights, and research the destination. These are my three, go-to websites;
Skyskanner: I use this website for all of my flights. I love using the ‘Everywhere’ search functionality. It gives you a list of all of the places you can fly to from the city you’re in. I love being able to go to the one website and know that all the airlines will be on there.
Booking.com: I actually really love using booking.com in a new city. As a digital nomad, I rarely stay in hostels. I’ve simply outgrown them and I need a good night’s sleep for work the next day. What I love about booking.com is you don’t have to pay a deposit to book your accommodation. Just add your contact details and it saves your spot. Super easy!
Trip Advisor: If you have a question about a destination or you’d like to hear from people who have been to somewhere you’re going, Trip Advisor is great. I often hop on Trip Advisor to find answers for things like visa situations. You can book your accommodation on here, too. Reddit is also cool for searching destination topics.
Facebook groups: I’m always exploring Facebook groups. They too will be your favourite way to connect with other nomads. Some of the groups I’m part of include Digital Nomads Around the World, Girls Love Travel, and Digital Nomad Girls. There with be location-specific ones, too. When I was living in Bali, I joined the ‘Canggu Community’ group.
Meetup: Connect with millions of nomads and find out what’s happening in ‘your’ city. I’ll be doing that in New York when I arrive next week. You can search by business or personal interests.
Ok, to sum this up:
1. The first step is deciding this is your new life – and own it
2. Do your research and see how other people have made it happen
3. Have an idea of what you want in a destination, then start looking
4. Explore three ways you’d like to make money. Pick one and do a Udemy course or two to build your skills
5. Jump on Freelancer or Elance and make an account. Search for jobs.
6. Hop on Skyskanner and book your flight, then Booking.com for your first three nights accommodation.
7. Pack your bags and get ready for everything life has in store for you.
See, seven easy steps. Kidding!
Be prepared for a whole lot of emotions, but let me tell you this, it’s worth it. You’re going to be ‘living the dream’ like many people have told me. You’ll smile, nod and say this: “Yes, I am living my dream.”
This life certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you look at yourself in the mirror and honestly say it’s what you want, then you’ll be successful.
If you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!