How to become a digital nomad 16/12/2014


I get emails asking me how to get started with the digital nomad lifestyle all the time. So I thought I’d write a more detailed blog post with personal advice on the best ways to get started.

The first question you need to answer is: Do you want to become a digital nomad just so you can run your office from the beach? Like you see in most of the articles you read about this lifestyle (including this one)…

In that case I recommend that you stop reading now. We only take those pictures to show off anyway. The sand will destroy your laptop and sometimes it’s way too hot to stay productive.

The reality is a bit different. Sometime we need to escape to dark hotel rooms and empty beach bars just to find a good WI-FI connection and when we really need to get work done we do our best to stay as far away from tourists as possible so that we can focus. In fact, productivitiy as a digital nomad can be quite a challenge.

However, working online allows us to travel the world and see many amazing places in the world. We can live and work anywhere we want and there are many more advantages why you should consider going that route. Not too bad right? And the good thing is, becoming a digital nomad can actually be a lot easier than you think (even if you don’t have a lot of skills to work online… yet).

So let me explain:

The first thing that we need to get out of the way is that everyone reading this post will be in a slightly different position. Many of you will probably already have the right skills but just need to do a better job of selling them, others might not even have an online skill at all. So there really isn’t just one solution that will work for everyone.

However, this is a special post written for those of you who are just starting out and beginning to learn online. I hope it will give you a few new ideas and help you to decide on the next steps you’re going to need to take. Plus it should give you a better idea of whether this lifestyle is right for you.

What’s a digital nomad and why it’s easy to become one!

There are so many types of digital nomads that it’s actually hard to come up with just one description. However, what they all have in common is that they spend at least a few months of the year abroad, change their destinations frequently (usually every few weeks but can stay up to 6 months), and earn a living while working online.

One thing you need to remember though is that the words ‘digital nomad’ and ‘location independent’ often get mixed up, but there is a huge difference. In reality not every digital nomad makes enough money to be able to live and work anywhere in the world.

While you’ll be fine running your business and enjoying a good quality of life as a digital nomad for less than a $1000 a month. You’ll be restricted to low cost of living countries in South East Asia and many other destinations which you’ll find in the destination guide. You’ll need a lot more than that to become completely location independent and be able to run your business from places like London, Munich, or San Francisco.

That’s why it’s a lot easier to become a digital nomad than location independent, which should always your ultimate goal.

The skills you need

You might think that you have no skills to work online but you’re probably wrong. Already knowing how to type and work with a PC could be enough to get you started and land you a simple remote job that could allow you to work from anywhere within a few weeks. It’s even better if you use some of your knowledge in other fields and combine them.

The truth is that you often might not be able to use your current knowledge when starting out as a digital nomad and feel that you’ve wasted your time studying the wrong skills. That can be the biggest trade off when opting into this lifestyle and you can only decide for yourself if it’s worth the effort.

Before outlining some  ways to become a digital nomad I’d also like to give you a few more ideas about the good and bad things about this lifestyle.

  • Enjoy a good quality of life for less money

One of the best things about being a digital nomad is that you don’t need to generate a lot of money to get started. If you choose to spend your time in South East Asia, or most of the destinations in the  workation guide, you’ll be able to enjoy a great quality of life for around $1000 a month. You’ll have to work a lot harder and make a load more money to achieve the same quality of life in most western countries.

  • Important step toward becoming location independent

As explained above there’s a big difference between location independence and being a digital nomad. However becoming a digital nomad can be a great step towards building a location independent business. That’s one reason why many people move to digital nomad hubs with a low cost of living like Bali or Chiang Mai. These are great places meet other digital nomads, collaborate, and learn from each other. Being in an environment like this will mean that you’ll have a much better chance of  building a location independent business or start-up  than trying to do it alone from home.

If I had tried to build a location independent business back home in  Germany instead of South Africa  the salaries would have been way too tempting and I would probably have a 9-5 job in the tourism industry right now. In Cape Town, where I lived at that time, I needed less money to enjoy a good quality of life. That’s why it can give you extra motivation to build a location independent business abroad where you can enjoy a better quality of life on a lower salary than in your home country.

  • Travel the world while working online

Finally, becoming a digital nomad allows you to travel the world. Once you’ve figured out  how to stay productive  you can reward yourself and go on workations to many  amazing countries  around the world. Want to escape the winter in Berlin and learn to surf in Bali, or work from Rio de Janeiro for a few months? You can do whatever your budget and workload allows you to do.

And the bad…

As good as it sounds to travel the world and live in amazing places, you also need to keep in mind that this lifestyle is not going to last forever! I’m starting to see a trend of digital nomads returning to their home countries. Even those that have lived and loved the lifestyle for many years now. Some people work and travel for 6 months, others for 10 years but none of us will do it forever. Keep this in mind before you spend all of your time and energy taking this path.

If the only reason you want to become a digital nomad is to travel, a one year world trip as a backpacker can sometimes be a better option. It’s a lot less stressful and really doesn’t have to be that expensive.

At one stage in our life we all want to have some kind of homebase/constant comfort zone we can eventually return to, which I’ve explained in more detail in the lessons I learned in four years as a digital nomad blog post.

That’s why it’s so important that you actually take the time to build a business that gives you true freedom and enough income to live anywhere you want. Because in the best of the both worlds you should be able to have both: A real homebase in one of your favourite places and the ability to go with your location independent business on workation whenever you feel like it.

Still interested? Ok, let’s talk about the great ways to achieve this lifestyle quickly, because you can probably get started faster with it than you think!

10 ways to become a digital nomad without the skills to work online

You might think that the best route to becoming a digital nomad is by taking the entrepreneurial road and starting your own online business. This will undoubtedly give you the most freedom but it’s very difficult to succeed – especially if you have don’t have a lot of experience. And in fact most digital nomads don’t start out like this, instead they get started with remote work or freelancing. This means they are getting paid to gain more experience and skills. Plus it’s usually quite quick and easy.

Overall there are many different ways to get started as a Digital Nomad. I believe that anyone who really, really wants a life of more freedom and less 9-5 can do this. Keep in mind that you could get started within a matter of weeks or you might require more time and effort.

Your best path not only depends on your current skills, experience, and budget – but also on your willingness to fail. So let’s get started with the 10 ways of how to become a digital nomad without skills to work online (yet)…

1 Get a job that teaches you the skills you need to know

If you’re young and in no real hurry to become a digital nomad immediately, a good way to get started would be to get a job at a company that will teach you the skills to work online. This is a great way of getting paid to learn. If you apply for a job at an Online Marketing agency for example you’ll learn many skills that are perfect to become a digital nomad one day.

It’s probably the least exciting way of getting started but it’s the most secure way as well. You might also be able to take on a few freelance clients while you work which will make it easier for you to deal with clients in the future.

2 Become a freelancer in your spare time

If your current experience can’t be used to work online (yet), and you need the money from your existing job, you could start a freelance business in your freetime. Remember that you don’t need a lot of money to get started so pick an easy skill from this list to get going ASAP and learn more skills so that you become even better.

3 Study at an Online University

You can get a flavour of the digital nomad lifestyle while studying online. Just sign up with an online university and you could essentially travel the world while learning the skills to work online, and you’ll spend a lot less than you would studying in Paris. It’s a great way to get a degree and keep open the option of starting out in the corporate world one day (or to simply keep your parents sane). So far I’ve only met one Swedish student who’s doing this, but I’m sure there are many students out there who study and travel.

4 Buy an existing Online Business

A super fast, but also risky, way to become a digital nomad is to simply buy an existing Online Business that already generates money or, even better, a passive income. You can buy businesses on sites like  Flippa.com. You’re able to see how much money the site already generates and its monetization strategies. This would generate enough income to get started as a digital nomad.

Buying a business this way can be much easier than building a business from scratch. However, be sure that you get some advice from experienced Online Entrepreneurs before you buy anything to reduce the chance of taking on a business that is doomed to fail.

NEW:  Join the web•work•travel community  – Connect to digital nomads around the world, get inspired and learn what it takes to work and travel.

5 Save money and learn in a digital nomad hub

If where you live is so expensive that most of your salary goes towards maintaining your fixed costs, you might consider reducing them and saving up some money so you can move to a digital nomad hub like Chiang Mai in Thailand where your money goes a lot further. Here it will be a lot easier to learn all the skills that you’re going to need to work online because you’ll be surrounded by other digital nomads. You could even rent out your apartment at home and make some passive income that way.

It’s a fun way to get started and could be very inspiring to be around other digital nomads instead of trying to teach yourself alone at home. On the other hand you might get distracted quickly and the chances that you’ll end up wanting to travel instead of putting in the hours to make it happen are high as well!

6 Start with a job abroad

Another more exciting option is to simply move abroad and find a job that allows you experience working online. A good way to do this is by taking a Working Holiday visa in countries like Canada or Australia for example. Why not get more experience in Online Marketing while working and living in Sydney or Vancouver?

Apart from that there are so many other possibilities to get started working abroad like teaching english, working as a dive instructor, or on cruise ships where you could still improve your skills to become a digital nomad in your free time.

7 Move your business online

Do you already own a brick and mortar business? This shouldn’t keep you from working and travelling. Just think about it. There are so many solutions out there that will help you to monitor your business from anywhere in the world without your physical presence. Webcams, Online Accounting, and of course some staff you trust to manage your daily business while being away. It’s possible!

8 Convince your boss to allow remote work

Do you love your job but spend most of your time on the laptop so your presence in the office is hardly ever required? Who knows, if you have an understanding boss you might be able to convince him or her to give you more freedom and allow you to do most of your work remotely. Don’t tell them that you want to work from abroad at the beginning, instead prove that you can do your job remotely from home before taking the next step. Yes it’s true you might be able to become digital nomad without quitting your job. You don’t know if you don’t ask!

9 Find a remote job online

We all know that today there are a lot of office jobs which could be done from anywhere in the world. It’s great to see that today there are  more and more companies allowing their staff to work remotely, just as long as the job gets done.

If it’s impossible to work remotely in your current job you might find a better option online. Check local job portals, or international sites like  Odesk.

10 Start your own online business

You might think that the best way of being a digital nomad is to become an entrepreneur,  build your own online business, and then maybe create some kind of passive income e-commerce business. While it is true that some of most successful digital nomads I know do this, it’s also the hardest route to take if you are just getting started.

It takes a long time to build up the necessary skills to execute this successfully. I believe it’s better to learn fewer skills well and get more experience before becoming a real entrepreneur.