How to become a digital nomad The Complete Guide

August 29, 2016

Given the chance, would you take your life on the road?

If you answered with an enthusiastic ‘who wouldn’t?!’, then you might want to consider learning how to become a digital nomad. Digital nomads have done just that: they are remote workers in every sense of the word, taking their work with them all around the world. Combining work and travel in this way wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago, but thanks to fairly recent technological advancements (i.e. things like cloud-based collaboration software, videoconferencing tools and the widespread availability of Wi-Fi) we can run our office from almost anywhere in the world.

But, contrary to popular opinion, being a digital nomad isn’t all about working on the beach. You need to know the ins and outs of wherever you are (things like where to find a quiet place to hold a meeting or where to fix a faulty headphone jack), you need to be the pro of packing efficiently and you need to be able to be productive in a variety of different environments.

For anyone interested in the nomadic life, start here: we’ll take you through practical tips and tricks – including gadget and travel recommendations – to prepare you for the nomadic life.

Making the initial step from office desktop to personal laptop 

man-person-apple-iphoneSwitching from Desktop to laptop

Digital nomads are often portrayed only as creatives - photographers, writers, designers and the like – when in fact, there’s a wealth of jobs available for remote workers: everything from marketing associates to customer support staff to web developers and much more. So if you’re worried about what kind of work you would do as a nomad, don’t. There are so many different routes to take to become a digital nomad - and you never know, you could make some truly valuable professional connections while on the road - but you should read through these five things to consider before becoming a digital nomad.

 

Five things to keep in mind before becoming a digital nomad

1. Ask your boss

Before you pack it in at your current job (based on the assumption that there’s no way you could do the same work remotely), discuss things with your boss. Nowadays, more and more employers are adopting a remote working policy and if you have a proven track record with the company, you might be able to work something out. Who knows, you may not even need to quit to become a nomad!

2. Take an online class or two

This is a great way to develop your skills, strengthen your CV and help you gain confidence to be self-sufficient in your work. And it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

Here are a few places to start looking for online courses:

  • Lynda – this is a subscription-based service, where a monthly fee gets you unlimited access to over 4,000 courses. However, once you complete the course, you no longer have access to the course materials, which may pose a slight problem if you’re someone who likes to continually refer back to things. Try it free for 10 days to see if it’s a good fit.
  • Udemy – this is a bit like Lynda in that it offers affordable courses on a wide variety of subjects; however, with Udemy, you pay per course and can continue to access the materials once it’s finished.
  • The Open University – although this is a more formal institution, they do offer free OpenLearn courses on everything from bookkeeping to child psychology: check out the list here.

3. Start freelancing before you leave

It’s a good idea to start building up your network before you leave. Start outreaching your work, bidding for different jobs and collecting testimonials from old clients to help get the ball rolling. It’s difficult to start freelancing and you can never have too many connections.

4. Do your homework

Thoroughly research any travel requirements before going anywhere. Make sure you are completely clear on any visa requirements, vaccinations, weather conditions, travel insurance, cultural etiquette, etc. Also, if you’re nervous about traveling alone, read this blog post by Jodi, the author behind the travel blog Legal Nomads. Although this is aimed at solo female travellers, the advice she gives is useful for everyone.

5. Know that this may not be forever

Be prepared for this to be much harder than you think. Incredibly rewarding, yes, but difficult. Many find that after a while, it’s hard (mentally, emotionally and physically) to maintain the lifestyle and eventually return to a more stable arrangement. So go into this with an open mind, and keep checking in with yourself to make sure that you’re happy, healthy and fulfilled.

How to become a digital nomad

 

So now that you’ve done the prep work, what about the particulars: what to pack? What does the inside of a digital nomad’s backpack look like? While this will depend in part on your job, there are certain gadgets no nomad should be without.

Gadgets that should be on every digital nomad’s packing list:

Digital Nomad Packing List

(From left to right)

  • A sturdy backpack
    • This Tortuga Travel Backpack is carry on size and allows you to pack an impressive amount of equipment without looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  • Luggage locks
    • These Travel Buddy travel locks come in a pack of two, are TSA-friendly and will help keep your valuables safe while you’re on the go.
  • Portable recharger
    • Absolutely necessary for keeping your devices up and running, this one from Zendure is extremely durable.   
  • Waterproof phone case
  • Noise-cancelling headphones
    • These AKG headphones cancel out noise, have excellent, crisp sound and fold up for easy travel.
  • Laptop
    • This kind of depends on what operating system you’re used to and what kind of job you’ll be doing while on the road, but unsurprisingly, MacBooks are favoured by many nomads.
  • Universal plug adaptor
  • External hard drive
  • Wireless mouse
    • This Logitech mouse works with Windows, Macs, Chromebooks and Linux-based computers, and is much more comfortable than using a laptop trackpad.
  • Kindle
    • This is somewhat optional but for the avid reader, a Kindle is much better for travel and you won’t strain your back carrying all the books you couldn’t bear to leave behind.

 

The next logical question as you prepare your leap into the nomad life is: where to go? Personal preference will play a big part in this, as well as budget and Wi-Fi availability, so there isn’t one definitive list.

That being said, Southeast Asia is one of the most popular destinations for nomads, taking into account cost of living, Wi-Fi quality, availability of coworking spaces (because it can get a bit lonely on the road!) and culture/food.

Here are three popular destinations for nomads:

Digital Nomad Destination Bali

1. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia  

Ubud is a great destination for nomads because of its laid-back, spiritual vibe, beautiful scenery, affordable cost of living and friendly people. In particular, check out Hub in Ubud, a coworking space with all you need: fast Wi-Fi, nice food/drink and a supportive, friendly community of other nomads to befriend.

 

Digital Nomad Destination Thailand

2. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai’s cheap prices, moderate temperatures, delicious cuisine and plethora of spaces with strong, reliable Wi-Fi make it the unofficial digital nomad capital of Southeast Asia. Coworking space Punspace has two convenient locations: Nimman (which has a cool start-up feel to it) and Tha Phae Gate (which is quieter and more spacious). For more information on coworking in Chiang Mai, read this blog post written by digital nomad couple Sam and Zab, who blog at Indefinite Adventure (also, their Digital Nomad guides are definitely worth reading through).

 

Digital Nomad Destination Malaysia

3. Penang, Malaysia

This former British colony is quickly becoming a top destination for digital nomads, even giving Chiang Mai a run for its money (check out this blog post by Anna at The Freelance Explorer for a comparison of the two cities – it’s got good information, even if there are a few typos). George Town, the capital of Penang, has a growing nomad scene, especially in coffee shops like The Alley Penang and Budan’s Brew Coffeehouse (within walking distance of each other).

 

Three more useful resources to help you on your journey

Nomad List

This is like Airbnb for digital nomads: you can filter popular cities by different search criteria like ‘big city’, ‘gay friendly,’ ‘warm’, ‘affordable’ and much more. You can also look for remote jobs, co-living arrangements and places to work in whatever city you’re in, and you can join in on the forums to network with other nomads.

Coworking Wiki

As the name suggests, this is a database full of information about coworking spaces all around the world, with information added and edited by users. Although it’s a bit clunky to navigate, there’s a ton of useful information there, especially if you don’t want to spend ages researching which coworking spaces to use.

Legal Nomad’s Resources for Digital Nomads & Location Independent Entrepreneurs

Check out this extensive guide written by digital nomad Jodi from Legal Nomads: she deals with all aspects of life on the road (from battling procrastination to sorting out work visas) in straight-forward, thoughtful way.

So there you have it: your becoming-a-digital-nomad starter kit! Obviously, this guide is not a ‘definitive’ one by any means, so continue to do your own research, read blogs and other online publications written by digital nomads and start making your own experiences. It’s not quite as easy as grabbing your passport and hopping a flight to Thailand, but being a digital nomad is well within your reach.

 

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