Wikipedia defines a digital nomad as “a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and more generally, conduct their life in a digital manner.” Investopedia defines it as, “people who are location independent and use technology to perform their job.” Ok great, looking at these two definitions, it seems pretty simple. Have a job, get a laptop, and…do your work wherever you want. This is all true, but there’s a lot to navigate personally and professionally as you move your life from a 9-5 desk job to a life where you have the flexibility to work from cities across the globe.
So how do you go from dreaming of a nomadic lifestyle to living it? As a California gal that loves traveling and immersing myself in different cultures, I relocated my life across the globe over a year ago to the beautiful city of Buenos Aires. When I first moved here, I was excited to start a job with a local company and found myself working a 9-5 job in a cubicle.
I quickly realized this wasn’t quite the dream I had in mind.
New city, same struggle. I wanted freedom, flexibility, and the ability to work hard towards my professional goals and dreams while also pursuing one of my greatest passions, travel. So I ditched the 9-5 cubicle life and worked hard to build a fully remote lifestyle to create more room for the passion that brought me 6,424 miles away from friends and family.
If you have a major case of ongoing wanderlust and dream of a remote lifestyle, you too can make the digital nomad lifestyle a reality. Here’s my advice…..
Find remote work or take your current work remote.
If your goal is to be a digital nomad, and not to simply find work in a global city (that’s a great goal too! It just was not my goal), defining career goals that do not tie you to an office is fundamental. You need the ability to work from anywhere. After endless research on remote jobs, I felt like a walking dictionary for remote job boards. Here are a few popular boards I found to be fruitful: Flex Jobs, We Work Remotely, Remote.co, Pangian, and Remotive.io.
The remote screening process is competitive; it’s important to be resilient and patient. Don’t give up, the right opportunity will work out with time. Like all jobs, it’s important to stand out amongst the crowd. The remote talent pool is larger than the number of jobs out there; here are some tips I found useful on making your application stand out from the crowd.
If you are happy in your current work and dream of taking it remotely to travel, check out Remote Year. Remote Year creates travel programs for inspired professionals who want to travel, live and work remotely in different cities around the globe. This allows you to join a program and travel with your current job situation. However, this takes buy-in and agreement from your employer along with a monthly service fee (like rent). Be sure to do your research, be thoughtful and demonstrate to your employer you’re capable of managing your work remotely when pitching this program.
Down-size and become a (or more of a) minimalist.
Cue spin on the Tame Impala song, the less I have the better. To be location independent and move around freely, it’s important to step up your game in minimalism. Most people that live a digital nomad lifestyle agree that when you want to pick up and go, the ideal situation is one bag, yes, just one carry-on (…still working on this). It might seem scary when you are planning for an indefinite period, but don’t forget that you can buy things along the way! And, as Marie Kondo taught us, we only need the things that help us spark joy!
Sparking joy is a little vague, but it’s also called only packing the essentials. If you’re like me, you’ll think of all the potential occasions you might need that one red dress..and that one blouse…and that one pair of shoes. However, if you pack basics and only the essentials, you’d be surprised at how much you don’t need. I found some great tips on minimalistic living here and a list of the digital gear you’ll need to stay connected at work here. Also check out The Minimalists who are helping millions live meaningful lives with less through their website, books and podcast.
Plan the city and do your research.
Once you have decided on a city (or cities), do your research! Research more about the climate, safety, language, and best neighborhoods before you relocate. Nomadlist.com is a great resource to learn more about a city. It details city scores based on multiple factors (weather, internet, safety, etc), nomads reviews and the pros/cons of the city. It’s also a great resource to connect with a community of digital nomads.
Secure accommodations beforehand.
If you work Monday to Friday, my advice is to purchase your flight to arrive on a weekend. This will give you the time to settle in, explore and do the necessary checks (mainly stable internet) before the workweek starts. Depending on your preference and length of stay, you can secure housing in several different ways.
Hostels– You may prefer to stay in a hostel to meet other travelers or nomads during your stay. Hostels often have private rooms at a slightly higher cost if you’d like the option to use your room for working in a private space.
Airbnb– Airbnb is another great option for short-term housing. I highly recommend researching the previous reviews, location, and internet connection, beforehand to be sure it is a good fit for a travel/work lifestyle. I always message the host first to mention that I work from home and need stable wifi before making a reservation. Interested in joining? Check it out here for a little surprise!
Expat groups- find expat groups for your destination city on Facebook to see if anyone is looking for subletters or to ask questions regarding the best way to secure housing in the city. More on this below.
Ensure stable wifi and have a back-up plan.
Wifi and I have a love/hate relationship. I’m currently writing this from a cafe a few blocks from my Airbnb since the internet has been out. Stable internet is a crucial part of the digital nomad lifestyle and unfortunately, has left me at times I needed it most (like yesterday). That’s why with every city you enter, I highly recommend having a wifi back-up plan. Wifi that cuts-out in the middle (or start) of client calls is…no bueno. Here are some ways to ensure you have dependable wifi:
Many cities have local coworking stations where you can pay by the hour or enroll in plans to ensure stable wifi. Research and find a coworking space near your accommodations.
Local phone plan:
When entering the city, you can get a SIM card with a local carrier and enough data to tether from your computer in case you lose the internet. Here’s info on using your hotspot from an iPhone and from an Android.
Hotspot devices or Mifis:
These are portable and allow you to connect several devices, have higher download speeds and a much more powerful battery life than a mobile phone. Skyroam is a great option because it doesn’t require local SIM cards nor is it dependent on your phone provider. Rather than pay for the provider, you pay by the day avoiding any roaming charges. Check out this article that details a comparison of several different hotspot devices.
Accommodations with stable connection:
Whether you’re staying in an Airbnb, hotel, hostel or local apartment, ensure by contacting the host or owner beforehand that the internet connection is stable. I let them know I work remotely and that I will need to work from there stressing the importance of internet connection to be sure this is the case. I still recommend having a backup plan as Wifi can cut out even when your accommodations confirm you have a stable connection – sometimes this is due to the country’s wifi network and out of the host’s control.
Find ways to network and connect with others in your destination city before arrival. The earlier you join and connect the better! Don’t be afraid to send the group a message, “Hey, I’m relocating to XYZ for the next 3-months and I’d love to connect over coffee with other nomads in the area.” You’ll be amazed by the number of reach outs and the support you get. There are also several online communities to connect with digital nomads worldwide:
- Facebook – search “nomad” or “Expat” groups in the city you’re in (or headed)
- Nomads List Community
- Global Digital Nomad Network
Ok, so now you’ve got some tips and tricks to curing your Wanderlust and making your dream of becoming a digital nomad a reality. Once you work through the challenges of settling into the first city, crank through daily work, immerse yourself into the culture, see some amazing new places, and experience the magic of nomadic lifestyle…it’ll have you thinking, Where to next?!