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How to be a Digital Nomad in 2020

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Everyone dreams of working while traveling the world and exploring exotic places. The good news is, it can be done! Being a digital nomad has become a reality for many willing to take the risk.

With growing opportunities in remote work, people can more realistically roam this wide world with just a laptop, wifi, and the will to hustle. Nowadays, someone can literally just walk out of their office and never turn back.

But, how? 

Becoming a digital nomad requires a great deal of professional networking, determination, self-promotion, and consistent work ethic. Not to mention courage.

This article covers how to get started as a digital nomad, the pros and cons, important tips, and the types of career paths that are out there for anyone looking to leave the ole desk job behind.

The Good, the Bad, and the Reality

When someone thinks of a digital nomad, they probably picture someone on a tropical beach with a margarita in hand, a laptop, the perfect tan, and a sunset backdrop. This is the quintessential image we get from social media influencers. 

It can be like that sometimes, but more often than not, a freelancer or remote worker is grinding to find clients, meet deadlines, or make ends meet while simultaneously planning their next adventure. 

The Good

  • Digital nomads can set their own schedule. They have the flexibility to work on their own time, in the morning, at night, during the weekdays, on weekends. They are essentially in charge of their own life, which lends them quite a bit of freedom. 
  • They can work from anywhere. Having the option of travelling the world, exploring new countries and experiencing new cultures is by far one of the most gratifying parts of this lifestyle. Freelancers and remote workers are getting stuff done at any chosen office, whether it’s a temporary airbnb, hostel cafe, or their humble abode.
  • They have financial freedom. Digital nomads, freelancers, and remote workers are typically not limited to a monthly salary. They can negotiate payment, take on as many clients or projects that they can handle (once they are established), and with some hard work, can quickly work their way up the pay scale. They are not limited to a monthly salary, waiting indefinitely for a promotion, or a meager annual raise. 
  • They can avoid office culture. No more office politics, drama, cut throat competition, and mundane Mondays. No worrying about what Mary said to Craig, daily memos, hovering bosses, and missing boring corporate meetings. Many digital nomads operate their own business or blog or work independently which eliminates the stress of office culture. 

The Bad

  • They don’t have a stable home. Digital nomads don’t have a place to call home at a certain point. This can be tricky when it’s time to mail something or fill out tax forms. All these things can pose problems if someone is remote and on the move the majority of the year. Also, they might also experience homesickness or begin to miss having roots somewhere. 
  • They lack financial stability. Freelancers and remote workers lack financial stability. Their income may vary greatly from month to month, and they are usually always hustling to finish projects, land new clients, and network so they can make sure the cash is flowing. 
  • Their CV is all over the place. The lifestyle on paper does not look great. Digital nomads who decide to settle down and go back to the more conventional nine to five might experience some hardships. This is changing over time with the new generations, but most companies want to see some continuity. They get suspicious after seeing mostly odd jobs and freelancing on a CV; they want someone who’s got a proven track record and is going to stick around for more than a year. 
  • Relationships are hard. It’s challenging to keep in touch with old friends when someone is always on the move and far away. After a while, a traveller is out of the loop about most things back home. Romantic relationships are a struggle when people aren’t settled anywhere and digital nomads can develop the feeling that they are missing out on opportunities for love if they don’t have a solid travel buddy, lover, or community. 

The Reality

The reality is, the life of a digital nomad is a mixed bag, just like most anything.

For some who have less commitments, no children or family of their own, and enjoy adventuring, living the life of a digital nomad is a dream come true. If they can handle the hustle and can balance work with play, they will thrive.

On the other hand, those who prioritize financial stability, have a 10-year plan, kids, pets, or prefer to watch movies at home on the weekends, this is probably not the life for them. 

How to Switch from Office to Remote

The easiest way to make the transition to a digital nomad is to use what professional skills have already been developed and build on them. Whatever degree, work experience, and life skills that have accumulated up to this point can be put to good use as one transitions into freelance or remote work.

In many cases, English speakers take on teaching English online because it is an easy way to make money while living abroad, doesn’t require a big investment, is flexible, and can cater to the life of a digital nomad. 

There are so many online teaching jobs available which makes it less competitive than many other fields which require specialized training. Even still, getting a TEFL or TESOL certification to teach English means more opportunity or competitive salary and may be a worthwhile endeavor.

In addition, freelancing is a popular option, and learning to be an online freelancer is always a good option. 

Creatives often thrive in this field because they hold specialized skills in a particular set of niches. They can virtually appeal to the brand or needs of a company or client by marketing themselves and displaying their work in portfolios and land clients accordingly. This includes writers, content creators, photographers, web developers, and graphic designers. 

Typically, they can accomplish projects from anywhere in the world, and many companies outsource this kind of work because it tends to be more project based.

Of course, with a rise in remote work, the market is growing more competitive; significant effort must be made to wow clients and land jobs in these creative fields.

Another career path is administrative remote work, such as a virtual administrative assistant. These types of jobs can provide more financial stability than freelancing or gig work as many remote companies may require consistent work in this department.

Overall, there is no shortage of odd jobs and other online projects that can be accomplished while being a digital nomad, however, these are the main career paths in which people have become successful. Devoting to one of more of them may be essential in making the transition from conventional work to remote.

Travel Protection for Digital Nomads

Other things an aspiring digital nomad should know is that along with the awe-inspiring nature and enriching cultural experiences comes the hassle and risks of traveling outside of the home country.

Bouncing from one country to another means going through many airports and dealing with the hassle of lost luggage, travel delays, and unexpected expenses associated with this. Some people risk the inconveniences and potential of losing luggage or are willing to pay extra for travel delays. 

Others look to traveler’s insurance to reimburse them and take care of the nuisances of being transient. 

Also, medical emergencies can happen at any point, and are especially a concern if someone is engaging in high-risk sports. Digital nomads often look to digital nomad insurance to cover them. 

Fortunately, there are many  insurance companies who cater specifically to digital nomads, offering a combination of travel protection and medical coverage.

Being prepared for any potential accident abroad is definitely a good idea. And if anything, provides some piece of mind to the traveler and their loved ones. 

Digital Nomad FAQs

How much does a digital nomad make?

The income of a digital nomad varies greatly depending on the career path they choose. 

In many cases, freelancers can negotiate their own salaries. Their income may vary greatly on project based work, depending on the scale of the project and scope of work. 

However, many freelancers within a specialized niche can make between $20-$40 per hour once they have become established in their field. 

On the other hand, online English teachers can make anywhere between $10-20 per hour, and perhaps more if they move up in their company or take on private clients. 

It all comes down to the skill, experience, and self-determination of a remote worker. Since they tend to have flexibility in their schedule, they can work up to 100 hours a week if they want, or only work 20 hours a week. 

But if someone is determined to make good money as a digital nomad, rest assured, they can.

Do I need digital nomad insurance?

Having digital nomad insurance and being protected is always a good idea. It is not required, but for many people who have experienced major problems, they might urge it is necessary. 

There are many reasons to opt for coverage, from trip protection to a medical emergency. 

And, even the most minimal coverage can be worthwhile, without burning a hole in a digital nomad’s pocket at the end of the way. For people who have never had any major issues, they might argue that it’s a waste. 

But ask anyone who has had a medical emergency or lost their thousand dollar camera, and they might provide another perspective.

Check out our guides on SafetyWing, TripAssure, Seven Corners, and other nomad insurance.

How do digital nomads make a living?

Digital nomads make a living in a variety of ways. And it usually requires some degree of hustle. 

Freelancers are out scouting new clients on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr all the time. They may be looking to old connections and Linkedin to find some remote work and branch out from there. 

Digital nomads might decide to teach English online while at the same time working part-time on a farm or hostel wherever they are staying, or trade for room and board. 

There are those who are managing multiple blogs, creating content for the travel industry, curating a successful YouTube channel, and essentially monetizing their digital nomad lifestyle. 

What skills do I need to be a digital nomad?

A digital nomad can decide what career path is most suitable for them, and build on these skills. For example, figuring out what they are already good at and what they have a knack for is the natural first step. Most jobs will benefit from what we think are critical skills for working online.

Good at writing? Technical tasks such as building websites or managing an events calendar? Taking and editing photographs? Working with kids?

From there, developing skills as a freelance writer or freelance photography through experience and online courses is beneficial. 

A freelancer might devote some time to learning about what makes a successful freelancer, and why having an impressive portfolio is key. 

For an online English teacher, having language skills and a basic understanding of teaching techniques, along with any other certification is helpful.

The most important skill is actually more of a mindset—and that is self-determination. A digital nomad can acquire any skills they need and sell their skills accordingly to become a successful remote professional and thrive in any field. 

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