14 secrets of a kick-ass digital nomad

Anna Brech

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Dream of becoming a digital nomad?

It’s easy to romanticise the idea of working aboard.

Say the words “location independent” and images of a hip coffee shop somewhere in downtown Buenos Aires spring to mind, or hazy days spent by a palapa hut on a remote Keralan beach.

The reality, of course, is rather different.

The bright green Seminyak beach resort in Bali lined with multi-coloured parasols and bean bags
The large swathe of Seminyak Beach, Bali, is known for its beach clubs, restaurants and multicoloured parasols

With tech options booming and “international villages” forming everywhere from Chiang Rai to Medellín and Ubud, being a digital nomad has never been more popular.

Read more: The benefits of a four-day working week

And yet, adopting this lifestyle far is from a waltz in a wild flower meadow.

Today’s digital nomad has to juggle everything from dodgy internet connection to loneliness, all while keep their head above the surface with a viable remote income.

But – with the right approach and some careful planning – the digital nomad is now an ideal within reach of nearly anyone with the option to work flexibly (expanding well beyond the travel blogger cliché).

And done right, untethering from the office to wander the world can be a wonderfully rich experience.

Here, 14 digital nomads from all different backgrounds explain how they work the roaming lifestyle. Because home is where the wi-fi is…

Choose the lifestyle you want first

digital nomad

“Choose your lifestyle first, and commit to that before income or type of career. You can always adjust those two later. That was the biggest switch in my way of thinking, and as soon as that changed, all the pieces of the puzzle started fitting.

Read more: Can you travel alone if you’re in a relationship?

[…] I can’t say I ever LOVED content writing, but I love growing and personal development, and since I was motivated by my lifestyle, I didn’t stop when the work got almost too much to bare. The other thing is that I love business, psychology, and personal growth, and I ended up finding work as a copywriter, which I can say that I am much more passionate about than the stuff I was doing before. So even if you don’t like something at first, be patient, do a good job, and opportunities for more fulfilling work will present themselves.”

Freelance copywriter Colin Pomeroy  (via Chris the Freelancer)

Develop your nomadic niche


“Develop the right set of skills that you can use to work online. You don’t need to start a blog. In fact, doing that will involves years of hard work. But you can write for others or find any other kind of online work through sites like Upwork and Fiverr. In fact, there are numerous ways you can make money online, no matter where you might be travelling to.

Read more: Once-in-a-lifetime journeys to make your soul sing

The ideal skills would involve anything that can be done from a laptop, remotely. Keep in mind that you’ll likely be working from a vastly different time zone than you’re used to, so if you plan to work as a digital nomad, you need to be flexible enough to work when you have the time and not constrain yourself to some 9-to-5 hours.”

Travel writer Matt Kepnes of the blog Nomadic Matt (via Forbes)

Make a decision and stick to it


“It’s actually really energizing once you’ve made the decision to set out and make your dream journey, even if that journey won’t be a reality for another couple years. What might be an otherwise unremarkable stretch of two years of working in an office can actually be kind of thrilling when you know that this work is going to finance an amazing global adventure. That’s why I encourage everyone to embrace their work, even if they don’t particularly like it — fun or not, work is how you earn your freedom to make your travel dreams a reality.

Read more: Solo travel fuels this major happiness habit

Obviously there is an element of risk involved in leaving a steady lifestyle to travel the world — especially for an extended period of time. But you have to put things into perspective and realise that you’re only given so many years in life. Which will you remember best in your old age — a six-month journey across Europe and Asia, or an uninterrupted 20-year stint of working and saving for retirement? Naturally, the uncommon choice is going to be what makes your life experiences richer.”

Travel writer and adventurer Rolf Potts (via Vagabondish)

Do a financial clearout


“Do you currently have a lease or a mortgage? Maybe you run a physical business that you can’t just quit and leave? Or maybe, you have some debts to pay. Whatever it is, the ideal scenario is that you do your best to clear your financial obligations before you set off on your travels. I know this might be incredibly obvious but unfortunately, there are no shortcuts here.

Read more: Motivational quotes from daring travellers

When I decided that I wanted to become a digital nomad, I had 11 more months on my apartment so I waited until the lease ended before my girlfriend and I started travelling. If you own your own property, perhaps you might want to either sell or rent it out? I understand that it simply may not be practical to sell everything and leave. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it but if you have financial commitments, this needs to factor into your decision.”

Web developer Christopher Dodd of Chris The Freelancer fame

Seize the moment and follow your gut


“Extensive long-term travel has taught me patience, endurance, and that I’m adaptable. It’s also made me learn how to appreciate very simple things and realise that I don’t need much to be happy.

I’d known for a very long time that I didn’t see my life based in London. It’s not the climate and pace of life that works best with me. Since, I already had extensive experience of Asia, it wasn’t that big of a transition… It was all about timing, desire and opportunity colliding at once. Sometimes you just realise that the time is NOW!”

Ecommerce strategist Stacey Herbert, who started her Ecommerce business Brazen Profit Lab after moving to Bali (via Brown Girls Fly)

Find your passion and your pace


“Being constantly on the move can ruin anyone’s focus, rhythm, and pace, but I’ve discovered that it can be easily solved by doing slow travel and finding the right balance to how you do your workflow. Always think long-term … Sure, it’s fine to take it easy at the start as you get skills and do temporary work and projects, like volunteering, but at the very core, it’s still best to work your way towards a grand goal that will give you a more stable remote profession.

Read more: Unwind and recharge with a green therapy hit

Ensure that you are going after your true passion in life because though the process would at first be slow, it’s inevitable that you will eventually become a master of it and when that happens, not only will the money come but you will also be open to a LOT more possibilities such as potential business ventures, partnerships, and more.”

Entrepreneur Aileen Adalid of travel blog and retail store I Am Aileen (via Business Insider and Mapping Megan)

Connect with a local community

digital nomad

“Loneliness on the road is one of the most common complaints of digital nomads. Travelling solo for a long period of time can get old quick if you don’t have travelling buddies to meet up with or local friends.

Read more: What today’s single women really want

But by travelling slowly, and being proactive about meeting others, you can integrate into the local community or build a network. A good place to start is by joining a Facebook or social media group in your area and then identifying some events you can attend. […] Don’t try to work from your room. It is so much more productive to separate your work and living spaces. I usually choose to work from co-working spaces, but coffee shops with good internet can also suffice.”

Kristin Messina, co-founder of nomad travel company YonderWork (via Women Digital Nomads)

Get a feel for your neighbourhood

digital nomad

“How I pick a destination is usually part whimsical, part consideration of temporary factors like weather, airfare, interesting events worth being there for. It’s also part work-and-logistic considerations like does this city have good public transit? Reasonable cost of living? Good internet and cafes?

Read more: Tackling the mid-30s blues

The most interesting as well as hardest part of being a nomad is there’s no typical day that stays typical for more than a few weeks. The first few days in each place is focused on exploration. I’ll wander about the neighbourhood where I live, walking or running or cycling. I’ll take the public transit and just change lines randomly and then wander about the crowded places. I try to find good coffee shops to work from that have good wi-fi and are open late, and areas with good restaurants that are cheap and convenient. The next few days I start to settle into a routine around getting work done, and use any free time to continue exploring.”

Software developer Keerthik Omanakuttan, co-founder of BitGym (via The Hindu)

Make room for exploring


“I became location-independent last year, when I travelled through Europe for seven months. I brought my laptop, and I was constantly on calls or doing work. I was burned out, and as I hurried through Budapest, I realised: I hadn’t seen anything.

I decided to make Tuesdays and Thursdays meeting days, with all of my phone calls and Zoom or Skype sessions scheduled then. And I made the decision that Wednesdays were for exploring. One of the best things about working somewhere else in the world is that the time difference can work in your favour. When I was in Thailand, I could work through the day, knowing it was the middle of the night in the United States, and I wouldn’t be interrupted.”

Innovation specialist Donteacia Seymore of the product consultancy Donteacia Seymore (via Refinery29)

Be flexible and patient


“Two of the main things digital nomads need are a good workspace and a solid internet connection. This seems like it should be simple, however in many locations it can be a chore. Cafés are often a great choice, however depending which country you’re in, it might not be culturally acceptable for you to sit around taking up space on your computer. Also, many cafés in more remote areas won’t offer wifi, or if they do it might not be that great of a connection.

Read more: 4 reasons your boss may agree to a career break

One of the biggest things you’ll have to learn as a digital nomad is patience … the network could crash at any moment, and frequently, so be religious about saving your work. When the internet’s down, take a deep breath and go do something else until it comes back. Being a digital nomad means being flexible and adapting to your current situations.”

Freelance journalist Marissa Megan of wellness travel consultancy The Hotel Yogini (via medium.com)

Approach work in a different way


“When you’re a digital nomad, work stops being that physical space you go to in order to get your job done and instead it becomes a state of mind. Work is tied more to what you can deliver to your clients. It’s an opportunity to empower yourself to regain ownership, responsibility, and accountability of the work you do.

Read more: The benefits of a mental health career break

The amount of freedom and flexibility you have, the stupendous work-life integration, and the ability to work remotely with multiple people from different geographies, cultures, and customs have convinced me that I don’t think I’d be able to go back to an office environment.”

IBM computing evangelist Luis Suarez of the advisory firm Panagenda (via Scandinavian Traveler)

Be kind to yourself

digital nomad

“Being kind to yourself is much harder than being kind to others (or being mean to yourself). But when you change places every few days or weeks, sleep on couches, and spend a lot of time on public transportation, being kind to yourself is a must if you want your body and mind not only to stay healthy, but to thrive.

I’m constantly reminded that there is no solid ground but the one within, and that plans can get disrupted in a blink: a friend can no longer host me; my computer, camera and phone die within a week; a loved one dies; I hit my pinky toe; I lock myself outside the apartment; I can’t create. Disruption comes daily to agitate me, but it’s the way I react that determines how I get through it, and what I get out of it. And I found that being kind to myself was the best way to always make it work.”

Artist Nathalie Sejean, an audio and visual storyteller (via Chris Guillebeau)

Stay focused on the work


“Though remote work can resemble vacation, it’s still work. Your clients don’t care if you stayed out until sunrise dancing with locals or that you’re adjusting to a new time zone. Deadlines must be met. If you’re travelling over a period of time, you may sometimes miss out on travel experiences because of work. This is especially challenging when you’re travelling with people who are on vacation or who don’t work the hours you do. But at the end of the day, if your business funds your remote lifestyle it needs to be prioritised.

Read more: Essential podcasts for your next adventure

Avoiding “vacation mentality” extends to your health and personal finances as well. When you’re travelling as a lifestyle it’s important to look for ways to cut costs (you don’t have to eat at every five-star restaurant your guidebook recommends). Additionally, frequent flights and exposure to new environments can lower your immune system, so get enough sleep, exercise, and look for healthy food options to avoid getting sick. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Marketing coach Rebecca Rubin of coaching business The Pursuit of Fabulous (via Business Insider)

Give it three months to get into the swing

“Like anything else, it takes some time to perfect your groove living and working nomadically. Do not expect to leave one life and just fall seamlessly into the new one. Be gentle with yourself. Know that hiccups, crises, and “I hate this!” moments are normal. You didn’t get great at what you’re doing now inside the first two weeks, it took time. This will too.

Read more: Life as a Flash Pack adventure architect

Three months. That’s about the time it takes to find your feet in full-time travel and digital nomad life. At the end of three months you’ll know what’s working and if it’s going to work for you. It won’t all be perfect by then, but you’ll be getting there. You’ll be learning about yourself and what you want out of this lifestyle. You’ll be making connections with enough other people of the same ilk that you’ll have compared notes and be helping each other forward. Don’t pass judgement on yourself, or the experience for at least three months; that’s my best piece of advice.”

Education consultant Jenn Miller of Travel Access Project (via Air Treks)

Images: Flash Pack, Facebook and Instagram

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