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10 things you need to know before becoming a digital nomad

Photo credit: littlehenrabi/iStock.com

Do you periodically find yourself cursing the dreary sameness of your work routine and pining for travel? If you’ve ever had the realization that you could just as easily be working beachside or in a Scottish castle, a nomadic digital lifestyle could be for you.

A digital nomad is someone who’s said “no” to the 9-to-5 office grind and has hit the road with their laptop instead. With no permanent address, travelling is their top priority and they’ve built their work life around that choice. Greatly aided by the rise of a “gig economy” and new work-sharing apps, this lifestyle has gained a lot of traction lately. But before you sell up and ship out, have a good hard think about what it actually means to work remotely day in and day out.

1. Location, location, location!

There’s a lot to consider before deciding on the best destination to start your nomadic existence: cost of accommodation, safety, security, and internet reliability just to name a few.

Sites such as Nomad List and Momondo can help narrow down your search to the wild beaches of Central America or the medieval cities of Eastern Europe but ultimately it depends on what type of experience you’re after.

2. Reduce and recycle

The second step to living on the road is simplifying life at home. Cancel subscriptions, gym memberships, TV cable services and any other monthly payments that become obsolete the moment you step out your door. If you own a car, sell it. If you rent, unload your junk and store the rest.

You don’t know when you’ll be back so lightening the load will make it easier down the road.

3. Skills to pay the bills

To work remotely you need professional skills that people will pay for and not care if you’re sitting next to them in a bricks-and-mortar office.

Coding, writing or marketing — no matter what you do it has to be done digitally.

Scans sites such as Upwork and Fiverr to see if you have what employers are looking for. If you don’t, it’s time to take a night course or two.

4. Set goals

Where do you want to go and how long would you like to stay? What’s your backup plan if you can’t make ends meet? Having a clear work and travel framework will help focus your energy — without a clear path, the digital nomad lifestyle can fall apart fast.

5. What could go wrong?

Think through the realities of living and working in multiple foreign countries (and the possibility of successfully communicating in multiple foreign languages).

If you need to get to hospital, how would you do that? Does your travel and health insurance cover horse-cart accidents? Are there regional laws and regulations that could affect your access or ability to work there?

6. Work still means work

If your desire for being a digital nomad is based on a vision of sitting by the pool vaguely tapping away on your laptop while sipping an ice-cold beer, you may need to rethink your strategy.

The reality is you’re still working — and you may need to put in a 14-hour workday to hit a deadline on more than one occasion. The payoff comes when you hit “send”, it’ll be just in time to enjoy a Sumatran sunset and beachside curry.

7. Routine dream

When your surroundings are constantly changing, it’s nice to create a personal routine that presents a semblance of normalcy.

It could be drinking a cup of special tea you picked up in Tibet each morning or maybe designating each day of the week for certain activity such as “Museum Monday” or “Travel Log Tuesday”. This helps hone focus and give structure to the weeks.

8. Fitness finesse

Life on the road can be hard on the body — unusual (and sometimes unhealthy) foods, long travel days (and nights) and uncomfortable beds are just a few of the drawbacks. Making sure you’re doing what you can to keep yourself strong and stretched is a must.

Adopting a morning yoga practice (hi, YouTube tutorials!) or finding a hiking friend when you arrive in a new spot can help keep you active.

9. Travel truths

Becoming a digital nomad is not for the faint of heart — it takes a lot of preparation, constant vigilance and a huge level of commitment to be successful at it — so be very honest with yourself on why you want to dive into this work-travel lifestyle.

Is it a true calling or it is just because it’s trending? Would a leave of absence/long vacation or a work-abroad stint do the trick?

10. Time to commune

One of the best ways to see if a digital-nomad lifestyle is for you is to join an online community, either something global such as Couch Surfing or one that’s based in the area you’re interested exploring.

It’s the best way to ask pressing questions before booking any plane tickets and they can provide an instant network of people the moment you land.