There are hundreds of guides online on how to become a digital nomad. But how can you actually BE one?
Life as a digital nomad is an exciting one! Lounging on a beach with your computer in your lap while the waves gently crash creating natural ambient music… and by the time you’re done with work, all you need to switch modes is to exchange your laptop for a mojito. Perfect, right?
Well, except that no one actually works on a beach because no one likes sand between their computer keys. (It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere.) And holding your laptop in your lap is not only an ergonomic nightmare but will also give you burns for days!
When I became a digital nomad, I had a pretty vague idea of what the lifestyle actually was like. If you’re thinking of making the jump, you’re probably stuck in the same sitch.
So, let me shed a little light into what the digital nomad lifestyle is actually like, and why you ultimately should ABSOLUTELY take the leap, pack up your laptop, and take over that beachside lounger (after hours, of course).
Work in the Life of a Digital Nomad
Let’s dive right into the one thing that really separates digital nomads from plain old travellers: work.
Even though I’m pretty sure my mum still doesn’t believe I have a real job, digital nomadism is all about work. Here’s what you need to know about it.
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Why Working as a Digital Nomad Is So Dope
Let’s be honest, most digital nomad jobs ARE office jobs (which I swore back in the day to never succumb to), but our offices can be as bright and tropical and outdoorsy as we wish. No need to sit in a cubicle when the world is your workspace.
I usually work in cafés or coworking spaces. These areas are awesome for us professional wanderers since they bring nomads together and make finding friends easy through different events. Talk about a fun office atmosphere!
Plus, coworking spaces are set up specifically for digital nomads, which means great internet speed and ergonomic seats. (She says happily from her borrowed office chair. Bye lower back problems!) Just slip a universal adapter into your digital nomad packing list and you’re good to go.
While some nomads work for a specific company or employer, most are freelancers (based on digital nomad statistics). You know what that means? Freedom over your work hours. If you’re not a morning person, no one’s going to drag you out of bed at 6 a.m.
Escaping the clutches of a traditional 9-to-5 means that while you CAN work as much and hard as you wish, you don’t have to. Whether you’re teaching English online or trading crypto, you decide when and how long you work. When you’re in charge of your working time, you end up cutting your working hours (or working days!) and gaining more free time. Tim Ferriss would be so proud.
With great working hours comes great responsibility, though – freelancing digital nomads do need to be experts in time- (and self-) management to get shit done.
Don’t Believe Everyone Selling the Digital Nomad Lifestyle
If you find yourself googling “how to become a digital nomad with no experience”, you might want to take a deep breath and re-evaluate.
Digital nomadism is a fucking great choice if you want to take your job to the road. If you don’t have an existing career or skills, though, kickstarting the life of a nomad takes a bit more work.
I know many people who were inspired to start their remote business after seeing an influencer or a blogger promoting how easy it is to put up a business or start a successful travel blog. Just one hiccup there: a lot of influencers are not honest about how successful they actually are.
There are a lot of half-honest hustlers out there who like to sell the dream without helping you ACTUALLY learn how to become a digital nomad. It’s easy to create an image of success on social media while the reality might be something totally different.
Don’t fall for it. Just like any normal kind of work, you need to put the hours in if you want to make a living. Sometimes jobs magically find you when you’re not even looking for them (whaddup, writer’s gig at The Broke Backpacker) but this is rare.
Many digital nomad jobs which are often promoted as easy-to-start have a super-saturated market, which means that social media marketers, photographers, and coaches coaching coaches are clambering over each other to make it on the uber-competitive market.
Definitely don’t give up on your digital nomad dream. Instead, take a moment to really identify your skills and figure out what works for you. There are many great travel jobs out there for brave nomads.
And hey – going where other nomads are can help with finding work. Opportunities for networking are infinite!
Will has gone from broke backpacker to serial entrepreneur and… there are secrets he wants to share with YOU.
Over on Ditch Your Desk, you enter the mind of Will Hatton: blogs about online entrepreneurship, personal development, mastering your productivity, and an honest look at the digital nomad lifestyle.
9-5 or anytime, anywhere. The choice is yours.[Visit] Ditch Your Desk [Read] Online Entrepreneurship 101
Living as a nomad is very much a communal experience unless you’re actively trying to avoid other people. Meeting other nomads and making friends is one of the main worries of new digital nomads. (Spoiler alert: it’s super easy.)
Here is what you need to know about the social side of being a nomad.
How to Win Friends and Influence People to Be Your Friends
I don’t know about you but back home, it was almost impossible to get my group of friends together more often than a couple of times a month. With eight-hour workdays, commutes, and household chores, my friends would often have little time to hang out after work. And even if they did have the time, they usually didn’t have much energy left to be social.
Remember what I said about managing your work hours there earlier? Well, turns out that when you’re in control of your own time and manage to work more efficiently, you also have a lot more free time. The digital nomad lifestyle is all about the fantastic work-life balance. Work in the week, adventure on the weekend.
The digital nomad life is also inherently social. (Even though, ironically, a lot of nomads I’ve met have been self-proclaimed introverts.) Since everyone is always on the move, constantly making new friends becomes an essential skill. Wherever the community goes, there are plenty of events, shindigs, and shenanigans to take part in to follow.
It’s always easy to meet new people who are likely a lot like you: travellers at heart, hustlers by day. It helps to stay in cities that are known digital nomad hotspots but in general, you never have to be alone.
Dating as a Digital Nomad
There are different brands of nomads, from established couples to whole-ass families with children, pets, and plants. To generalize, though, most digital nomads are young, single, and waiting for the right person to tingle their Spidey senses.
As a one-time mass consumer of Tinder, I couldn’t write about the social life of digital nomads without talking about dating. (Who doesn’t love love?)
Sure, it’s hard. The timing works against you since you rarely have time to let the relationship grow naturally before one or both of you move onto the next destination. And, surprise surprise, digital nomads are freedom lovers so many guys, gals, and theys might not even be looking to settle into something serious.
But because relationships happen fast, they are often more intense, exciting, and intimate from the get-go than a regular relationship. You skip over the awkward initial phases and go straight to “let’s travel the world together”.
Since you’re most likely to be hanging around a sea of other sexy nomads, your chances of running into someone much like you are unusually high. Even the best dating app would struggle to match that algorithm! Besides, when most people are stuck with the hot singles in their areas, digital nomads have the whole world as their dating pool. When you do find your boo, you’ve got all the flexibility in the world to move with them.
Dating sucks everywhere, that’s not a special digital nomad condition. But the chances of finding an actual soulmate amongst other wanderers? Definitely high.
There is One Downside to Digital Nomad Friendships…
But Elina, you might ask, don’t you get lonely?
At first, it might seem like an absurd question but hold up, let’s talk about it. While you meet a lot of people as a digital nomad, most of those friendships are fleeting. Even when you do form real, strong connections with someone, that digital nomad lifestyle means friendship usually becomes long-distance sooner rather than later.
Many of my digital nomad friends have complained about the same issue. If you’re an introvert, it might be tough to put so much energy into new friendships and relationships just to let them go so soon. Luckily, there is a cure to the cause.
As free as you are to come and go, you are also free to stay. For me, the best decision I could have ever made was to find a base with long-term expats and digital nomads who base themselves at the same place. As much as I love freeform adventure, in recent years I’ve really started prioritizing lasting friendships. It can be done.
Besides, as most nomads like to move between the same countries, the chances of meeting the same people all over the world are pretty high.
Digital Nomad Lifestyle is Lux Life by Default
I’m not saying I do it for the cheap massages – but if I can live somewhere where I can pay a strong-handed lady to rub the knots out my neck for six dollars an hour, you bet I’m dash-diving headfirst onto that table as soon as I get off work every single Friday.
Digital nomads tend to flock to some of the cheapest countries in the world for this exact reason. London and New York are all fine and dandy but if you could afford a better lifestyle for less money… Wouldn’t you take it?
If you’re from a Western country working for a Western employer, your money goes a long way in most countries where digital nomads roam free.
This lifestyle allows you a standard of living that is often much better than you could get at home. And this is coming from me, a Finnish person, whose country tops pretty much any imaginable list of standards of life (Finland is the happiest country in the world for 4 years in a row, yo.)
Bringing Stability into the Digital Nomad Lifestyle
Living as a nomad is irregular by design. You didn’t get into this life to make five-year plans, did you? Nah, you signed up for an adventure. However, even the most intentionally aimless nomad can benefit from some safety nets.
Creating Meaningful Routines as a Digital Nomad
As grand as the life of a digital nomad is, there are many unhealthy pitfalls you might find yourself in if you don’t look out for them.
I know “routine” is a bad word among digital adventurers (almost as bad as the question “did you pay your taxes?”) but trust me, it can make a huge difference in your all-around health. Adventures are exciting but they also burn you out quickly.
Establishing some good habits in the metaphorical stormy sea that is your capricious life is not all that hard. I’ve been journaling for years and I know most Broke Backpacker team members would recommend it, too. Your routines can also include goal-setting (professional or personal), morning yoga, and/or weekly phone calls to your family.
Your physical health is also important. Hiking, jogging, boxing, wild sex in a hostel – pick your favourite exercise and keep fit. Maybe find an amazing fitness retreat. Even the tiniest towns have some sort of a gym where you can do your usual gym routine. Never skip leg day, even while travelling.
All this stuff helps keep your mental health in check, but I’d also recommend checking out actual mental health services if you feel like you might need it. It’s sometimes hard to find a good therapist when you don’t have a real home country, but I promise it’s worth it to deal with those spicy issues as early as possible.
Many nomads are big into self-development and improvement. I wonder if it comes with the whole chase of a happier life thing, but most nomads want their lives to be spectacular both outside and inside. So even if you’re struggling to set up routines and healthy habits, you’re surrounded by a support network that can help you get there with gentle positive peer pressure.
Eventually, Every Digital Nomad Needs a Base
When I came to Bali in January 2020, I was exhausted. Before deciding to go there, I had mapped out my plans for the new year and realized I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t feel like starting over again like I had so many times before; make new friends, learn new streets, just to leave it all behind.
That’s why when a digital nomad friend invited me to come to Bali with him and his friends, I resigned free will and just followed him. And it turned out to be the best possible decision ever. Now I have a solid friend group, an awesome regular coffee shop, and a base that makes me feel at home every time I come back.
As exciting as the digital nomad life is, most nomads hit a wall at some point.
The digital nomad lifestyle is sold as the perfect way to travel the world and work at the same time. And it definitely did some wonders, the backpacker-digital-nomad-stats are rising continuously. Exercising both the digital and nomad parts of the title at the same time is really, really hard, though. Only a small sample size of people actually has the stamina and willingness to just keep going without stopping for years and years.
In the long term, having some sort of base is the most sustainable way to live the digital nomad dream.
Digital Nomad Lifestyle – Is it for Me?
Even though there have been some doubts about whether digital nomadism is the future of work, there are now more people than ever interested in working remotely. It’s always possible to do remote work from your home office. Being a digital nomad is taking it one step further.
The pros and cons of the nomadic lifestyle are manyfold. For me personally, the avalanche of pros outweigh the few minor cons by a million. This life might not be for you if you prefer the comfort of home and a traditional lifespan – but if you’re already reading this and here at the Broke Backpacker, I’m guessing you’re not one of those people.
What is the digital nomad life really like? There isn’t one simple answer. It might help to hear a stranger on the internet tell you about her experience. I could claim there are surely some universals, or things that most nomads go through, but this is not the one and only holy truth.
There are so many ways to live the life of a digital nomad that you can tailor it to really suit you. Just because most nomads make it to Bali at some point, doesn’t mean you have to. You don’t need to change countries every month. You can even engage full introvert mode and not go to any social events ever. It won’t be much fun but if you hate people, there’s no one stopping you.
Hopefully, you have learned a few things about life as a digital nomad by now. The most important one to remember? Don’t bring your laptop to the beach. Just… don’t do it.
Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀
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