It’s been over 2 years now since I officially became a digital nomad.
Even though I made the leap after a year at home saving money and carefully weighing my options, there are still things I wish I had known beforehand.
I’ve seen so many people completely overhaul their lifestyles to become digital nomads only to go back to their conventional jobs and lifestyles 6 months or a year later because they ran out of money or the lifestyle wasn’t what they expected.
So here’s everything I wish I knew before becoming a digital nomad: if this type of lifestyle intrigues you, here’s some of my best advice on how to make the change sustainably:
If I could do it over again, I would have kept my full-time salaried job while freelancing on the side. I could’ve saved an emergency fund *so* much faster.
Man oh man is it tempting to drop your 9-to-5 and book the ticket once you get that fire under your butt to make your digital nomad life happen. Maybe you’re thinking you can move to Bali, save on rent, and learn to surf while building your online business from scratch.
My best advice on this one?
Start your online business on the side and get it up and running smoothly BEFORE moving abroad.
Seriously: it’s hard enough to build a business, let alone build a business while also trying to find a place to live, make new friends and establish a community, adapt to a new culture, etc. Take it one step at a time, starting with the most important step of creating a portable and ongoing source of income for yourself.
There are so many ways to become a digital nomad.
For example, there’s freelancing (writing, web development, social media, virtual assistant, and more…), teaching English online, dropshipping, having a full-time remote job…I’ve seen it all.
If you don’t have a strong idea of how you’ll make money online, Google around and see what other people have done. There’s a lot of information out there on this topic. Look for something where you can apply skills you already have.
In my opinion, the worst feeling ever is being broke and alone in another country. I recommend putting away 6 months of emergency savings in case it all goes to shit.
From what I can tell, most digital nomads don’t make it past a year and it is almost always because of money. When you’re running your own show, it’s feast or famine and you need savings for the inevitable famine! This one goes hand-in-hand with the don’t-quit-your-9-to-5 yet.
You know how they say it’s never “the right time” to have kids or to get married or to buy a house or whatever? It’s kinda like that.
Even after you’ve been side hustling for months and dutifully putting away money into your emergency savings fund, you still won’t feel “ready”. I had traveled to dozens of countries alone before – including Thailand! – and was still so afraid to buy that one-way ticket to Thailand.
At some point, you just have to do it. Literally just put your credit card information into the form and click “purchase”.
And if you change your mind and decide you don’t want to nomad anymore, again all it takes is a plane ticket back home. You aren’t stuck in either direction. You are free.
I know it seems boring, but trust me on this: maintaining *any* sense of routine and normalcy when it comes to food, sleep, exercise, and shelter is foundational to your physical health and mental health, and ultimately to your satisfaction as a digital nomad.
For food, have a plan of how you’re going to eat well in different environments. One rule I had to establish for myself early on was to stop trying to save money by limiting myself to street food, which was full of sugar, simple carbs, and high cholesterol oils. Making this change was huge for me.
For exercise, there are a few lightweight tools you can pack (resistance bands, TRX, jump rope) but you may find you need even more structure by committing to signing up for a gym, yoga, or fitness classes in whichever city you find yourself in.
And for sleep, I had to stop staying places where I couldn’t get a guaranteed good night’s rest. This rules out most hostels unless they are made for digital nomads and coworking.
My first stop when I set out was Koh Tao. Living there was a dream come true, but eventually, I started to ache for a more like-minded community. So I moved to Chiang Mai and met heaps of digital nomads 🙂
If you look on Instagram, it seems like there are just a gazillion people sitting on tropical beaches around the world tapping away at their laptops. I can confirm: it’s not true at all.
I recommend adding some digital nomad hubs to your itinerary and seeking out co-working spaces and meet-ups to find others who are also living this wacky lifestyle. The energy you surround yourself with can make all the difference.
Digital nomads work themselves to the bone. Overall, they work longer hours for less money when compared to their full-time traditional job counterparts. I’ve observed that a lot of digital nomads – even the ones who end up “failing” and returning home because they don’t have enough money to support themselves – are workaholics.
I think everyone has different priorities when they set out on this lifestyle, but if you aren’t in it to explore new places, people, and cultures, then you are missing out on one of the most obvious and best benefits of being a digital nomad!
Don’t forget to take advantage of the freedom you’ve created for yourself. Balance work and play and explore the world!
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