Picture this: you’re lounging in your beach chair on a bright, blue beach. Maybe you’re somewhere in Asia, or perhaps the Caribbean. The sun is shining as waves lap the shore. Salty air fills your lungs while you gingerly sip a fresh coconut. Your fingers type away as you work on your laptop, shaded by a private cabana. Sounds like the perfect office, right?
Now picture that same scene. The scenery is just as beautiful, but you’re squinting your eyes in an attempt to combat the glare on your screen. You’re tethered to your phone and guzzling data because you don’t have WIFI. You didn’t even touch the sand but somehow it’s lodged between every crevice in your keyboard. You’re drenched in sweat. Your laptop battery is running low, but there are no outlets. You have deadlines to make. That coconut is still pretty delicious though.
Congratulations, you just experienced a day in the life of a digital nomad! My life to be exact. And I just want to clarify that in three years of working remotely, I never made the mistake of trying to emulate those idyllic “laptop on a beach” photos again. That sand still haunts my dreams.
When I first embraced the lifestyle, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was lucky and accidentally landed a full-time remote role as a visual designer, which came with the abrupt realization that I could work from anywhere. I thought it would all be exotic locations, gorgeous internet cafes and pretty Instagram photos from that point on. In many ways it was.
But as it turns out, while it is liberating to break free from the corporate 9 to 5 and accomplish your dreams of traveling the world, no one tells you that your life as a digital nomad will revolve entirely around finding outlets and reliable WIFI. You will be carrying heavy, expensive electronics that you depend on for income and will be perpetually paranoid about them breaking or getting stolen. Time zones will make it hard to maintain relationships with friends and family. You will meet people that will change your life, and have to part ways knowing full well that you may never see them again. You will come to either embrace or detest the constant feeling of impermanence. And despite everything, you will count the days until you can book a flight to your next destination and do it all over again.
I have been asked so many times about how to become a digital nomad, and the first thing I always say is that no matter what glorified view you might have of it, it is not a vacation. It is also not working from your desk in pajamas; that is called working from home. Nomad, as the name implies, means you are making traveling while working your priority. If you are willing to work hard and make major sacrifices to maintain the lifestyle, it is freeing and blissful in ways you could never imagine.
Here are some steps I would recommend taking if you are passionate about becoming a digital nomad:
First and foremost, ask the tough questions.
Working while traveling sounds glamorous on paper, but you need to make sure that it is truly for you. Will you ditch your permanent address and live on the road full-time? If not, will you rent out your place to cover rent or a mortgage while you travel? If you are in a relationship, how will your partner react? If you have a family, will you take them along? Perhaps the biggest question to ask yourself is: are you ready to give up your stability?Refine and market your skills.
Whether you are looking to freelance, start your own business or find full-time remote work, you need to figure out which skills you have that can translate into the digital realm. You likely already have a skill you can use, and if you don’t, you can learn one! On my journey I have met designers, copywriters, translators, English teachers, therapists, photographers, bloggers, developers, customer service agents, virtual assistants and social media marketers, just to name a few. You’ll have even more luck if you find a niche within the job you want. What is something specific that you can offer to stand out from the crowd?
Join communities and network.
Facebook has some amazing groups where you can network with current and aspiring nomads, advertise your skills, find job offers and get advice on just about anything if you are starting out. These are some of my favorites:
Check remote work job boards.
There are many job sites that focus solely on flexible or work from home positions. While some companies may require that you stay within a certain time zone, there are many around now that operate completely remotely! Here are some that are worth trying:
- FlexJobs (be sure to check out their post on the top 100 remote companies of 2018)
Don’t get discouraged.
It can take a considerable amount of time to find your footing. Set goals for yourself. Save money. Do research. Network and engage with other nomads. Everything you are working towards is absolutely attainable. Remember that when you finally book that plane ticket and are standing in a place you always dreamed, it will all have been worthwhile.