Have you heard the term “Digital Nomad” somewhere? Perhaps you read a travel article about those crazies who travel across the world, living out of Airbnbs, hostels and coffee shops, somehow living without making millions of dollars and personal chateaus in the south of France while not going broke. Most importantly, when you heard it, you were intrigued.
“How can I do that?”
The good news is, you don’t need tons of money to start, but it will take some risk. Most of all, it will require battling your own worst enemy – yourself. We are raised in cultures with general expectations of behavior. In the US, the common expectation is for the average man or woman to finish high school, go to college, get a good job, purchase your first home and settle down. There are a few exceptions, but this is the “norm.”
Modernity, however, offers us something amazing. For the first time in history, we can keep our employment – or develop new ones – from anywhere in the world. Because of this unprecedented flexibility, some people risk letting go of the culture that birthed them – permanently or for awhile – to venture onto the road. Instead of waiting for temporary, expensive vacations or that fabled “retirement,” people sell their homes and most of their belongings to live light and lean while experiencing the world in new ways. These people are known as “Digital Nomads.”
A few early questions roaming your mind might include: “Do I have to go overseas?” “Do I need lots of money to live this way?” “Won’t my company fire me if I leave?” “Can I sell my children to start this new life?”
The answer to all of these questions – especially the last one – is no. At least, not if you take your time to research the lifestyle and properly plan your way into it. Be assured that it’s not much more difficult than venturing into any new lifestyle, and, more importantly, you will hardly be the first to step into such unknown. Thousands have already successfully lived as digital nomads for years. If you follow and learn the experts, you can learn everything necessary to carve your own version of this life, because no matter what others have done, there is no requirement to copy them.
Being a Digital Nomad is about carving your own path, but like all smart people, you can copy others as much as necessary to find just the right fit for you. Don’t worry, this is something YOU can do.
How? Let’s start with a few questions and answers.
- How does a digital nomad make money?
- Where can a digital nomad go?
- What does a digital nomad do with all their stuff?
- How do digital nomads maintain roots / maintain legality?
- Can digital nomads have delicious coffee everywhere he/she goes?
- How do digital nomads start this journey?
How does a digital nomad make money?
As mentioned previously, you do not have to be rich to be a digital nomad. What it will require, however, is taking ownership of your income. Whether you create a new teleworking relationship with your existing company, seek out remote employment with a company with existing teleworking positions, freelance online or create your own remotely operated business, you must own how you continue to produce value worth other people’s money.
An important economic principle that can ensure success both as a digital nomad and as a person, in general, is realizing that your company neither owns you nor owes you. You are trading your time and skills for its capital. How you negotiate your relationship will always be up to YOU. If you feel you need a family environment of people who will always look out for you, being a digital nomad may not be the path for you – being a nomad requires a level of self sufficiency and self comfort that surpasses dependency. While humans will always depend on each other for life and love, you must take ownership of your relationships. When you do, you free your heart to pursue what it aches for while still satisfying the responsibilities of trade and income.
To that end, you must determine what you can trade for income.
If you want to telework for your company, you must change the existing relationship – working on-site and attending meetings in-person – into a teleworking one, where you perform your work and attend meetings remotely. Don’t worry, others have changed this relationship and you can, too.
If you want to get a new job in a remote position, you will have to research what kinds of remote jobs will satisfy your most basic economic needs (and then some) and what skills/experience are required for you to move into it.
If you want to create a freelance career where you work on a job-to-job basis and become a go-to specialist for companies and professionals, you must find a niche in which you can shine. You don’t have to find a niche with no competitors, only one in which you can stand out.
If you want to start a small online business, you must research businesses which require no physical presence on your part. Tens of thousands of such business already exist and successfully generate income for the people running them. You can learn to do exactly what others have done to dropship products, sell print-on-demand creative work, educational materials or any number of other products and services.
If you want to operate as a niche consultant, you will find a way to be the expert in a field where you can perform most of that expertise remotely, or if not remotely, then the travel is part of your digital nomad life.
Ultimately, the Digital Nomad leverages talent to produce value remotely via the internet. Whether you live as a Digital Nomad from your existing living room (Yes, you can) or you travel SE Asia while running financial education workshops via Skype, you must produce value without having to be somewhere, specific, in person.
Where can a digital nomad go?
Anywhere. While most Digital Nomads seek the nomad element, truth is that you can do it from anywhere. Myself, I’ve only been a Digital Nomad in the US. That will change as I venture further out, but whether I’m stateside or OCONUS (Outside Continental US), the principles are generally the same. The beauty of the culture is that if you wanted to go somewhere new, you’re free to do so.
If you’re afraid of rushing overseas, take your time stateside. Start working from a coffee shop down the street from your house. Then go a week in an Airbnb somewhere in your state. If something goes wrong, you won’t be more than a few hours away. It also allows you to get comfortable working in unfamiliar surroundings. You also need to know if you’re capable of maintaining your own motivation to work when the world is too quiet around you. Some people work better in silence, others get caught up watching Netflix. Self motivation is among the hardest disciplines to master, but if you can find your rhythm, the rewards are amazing.
Once you feel comfortable NOT being at your typical workplace while still producing value, go to a different US state. Airbnb’s can run dirt-cheap, even stateside. I’ve stayed in small places that cost only $30/night. A full week is only $210. Is that affordable to you? That’s only $840 a month in rent, and won’t include water, power, internet or property taxes.
As you grow more comfortable working and living remotely, start doing research on overseas travel. If you’re still skittish on diving into a foreign environment, make your first foreign environment as comfortable as possible. Go somewhere exotic like: TORONTO. Honestly, I’ve been there. It’s America’s cousin who lives next door and has a lot more trees and less toys. Or go to Quebec – lots of French-speakers who also speak English. Or, if you’re a bit more daring, go somewhere English is still a primary language, like England. Because, you know, it was invented there.
England is only a hop and skip from France and the rest of Europe. Working your way out isn’t difficult and enough others have done it before you that you can find their tips and tricks everywhere online.
What does a digital nomad do with all their stuff?
There is no requirement for you to sell anything, at all, to become a Digital Nomad. However, it is infinitely easier to live a life free of overbearing possessions. It will be a great deal more expensive – economically and emotionally – to hold homes in multiple places, but you can do it. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. The freedom of being a Digital Nomad is more fully realized when you actually free yourself from the bonds of location.
If you want to get rid of your stuff but aren’t sure how to (maybe you tried before but felt overwhelmed by the process), it’s time to meet Marie Kondo. Embrace a life of few things and more thoughts. Possessions are fine, but they create an emotional weight you may not realize is there until you start lightening your load. Professionals like Marie Kondo can help by teaching you proven methods of trimming your footprint. Don’t fear you need dispense with everything you have – I’ve had a small 5x10 storage locker in Atlanta since 2007 where I keep my most valuable possessions – old Boy Scout uniforms, awards and thank-you gifts, personal cards, my movie collection and a few other items I don’t wish to part with. I started with a lot, but over the years, I’ve cut out things I thought I wanted to keep but later realized simply didn’t mean anything to me anymore. At $90/mo, it’s infinitely cheaper than keeping an entire apartment subject to power, water, taxes and more government than sticks can be shaken at.
As you begin this journey, start trimming what you own, immediately. Anything you rarely use and which don’t retain long term intrinsic value should be sold or donated. Start the journey into living like a Digital Nomad before ever moving out of your own home. As you live out of a large duffle bag, you might be surprised how little you truly use on a day-to-day basis.
How does a digital nomad maintain roots / legality?
As stated above, you can start by maintaining a storage locker to keep all the possessions you aren’t willing to part with. That’s a simple reassurance, and one you can take the time as you visit it periodically to further trim your possessions.
As for mail and citizenship, you have several options. You can coordinate with a trust family or friend to serve as your home of record and receive your mail. Ensure they’re trustworthy. Just because they’re family or friends doesn’t mean they’ll be able to keep up with all your mail or legal requirements.
If you want a method a bit more under your direct control, I recommend looking up transient-friendly states and moving your citizenship there. I moved to Texas, which has large military and RV-lifestyle populations, and has created laws to support transients. One such law allows professional mailing services to serve as homes of record for transients. I use Global Mailing Service in Houston as my home of record on my drivers license, insurance, vehicle and voter registration and for my income tax purposes. Texas also has no state income tax, instead charging more for vehicle registration and other services. That’s worth it, to me, so I can travel where I want.
Mailing services like Global Mailing Service offer a variety of services beneficial to full-time travelers. GMS will take photos of all my new mail and post it to my account. I receive an email notification that I have new mail. From my account, I can ask them to open and scan my mail into PDF, to trash it or to forward me the physical mail or package. They can also hold onto packages, cash checks into my bank account or even send faxes. As you can also use your HOR as a business address, I guess some still need to use faxes.
Most states will email you notifications about upcoming citizenry requirements like renewing licenses, etc., so you’re never far out of the loop. Texas also allows residents to renew most things remotely, so you don’t even have to come back stateside.
For the federal government, review all requirements for income for ex-pats and world travelers before you leave the country. The US State Department website, in addition to Digital Nomad blogs you should find and follow online, should tell you everything you need to know to get started.
If you plan on running a business, ensure that you follow all of your home state/country rules and laws regarding sales and reporting. If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to consult companies like Business Licenses LLC or LegalZoom to cover your rear.
Can a digital nomad have delicious coffee everywhere he/she goes?
Why yes, yes you can. The reason I even bring this up – other than an enduring love of coffee – is that wi-fi’d coffee shops and coworking spaces/businesses abound worldwide and are growing rapidly largely due to the expanding number of digital nomads out there. From the espresso cafes of central Europe to high-speed coworking locations in Cambodia, you can be assured of having high speed internet, hot coffee and the company of others doing the same thing you are. It helps to have others like you in an unfamiliar environment, allowing you to build family and friends everywhere you go!
How does a digital nomad start this journey?
The first thing you can do to get started is rather simple: Start Reading.
Here are a few book recommendations (in this order) to expand your brain and get your imagination running:
- The 4-Hour WorkWeek
- Be a Free Range Human
- The Laptop Millionaire
Then, go on Facebook or Google and search “digital nomad blogs” or “top 10 digital nomad blogs.” When you’ve researched enough and you’re ready to begin your journey, join “digital nomad groups.” These groups are active with DN’s coordinating and communicating about jobs, opportunities, sharing best practices and locations. This kind of live data will help you get a feel for how nomads actively operate within the community.
Ultimately, becoming a Digital Nomad will take the courage to strike out into the unknown and the commitment to prepare yourself for the requirements to come before you can reap the amazing benefits of a life living full-time on the road. You CAN do this if you commit to it. It’s a great journey and you’re welcome to join us in it!