Many people imagine digital nomadism as a lifestyle filled with new experiences, exotic delicacies, and captivating sunrises, and the idea of living a life of travel without being tied to any one place can be very romantic.
It used to be an attractive idea, but the pandemic proved to many employers and employees that working remotely is not only possible but can also be profitable. For that reason, being a digital nomad and working while traveling is one of the new work paradigms. Not to mention that, nowadays, achieving this is easier than ever, thanks to new technologies and digital professions.
In fact, you only have to stroll through cities like Chiang Mai (Thailand) or Canggu (Indonesia) to come across hundreds of travellers who are already living in places where the cost of living is a fraction of that of their home countries. I have been travelling as a digital nomad for more than 15 months, and in this guide, I will provide you with all the information you need to understand what types of digital nomads exist, what options you have to become one, and what are the ideal places to practice this lifestyle.
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What is a Digital Nomad?
A digital nomad is a person who works remotely, taking advantage of new technologies while travelling around the world. In other words, a digital nomad works remotely, regularly changes their place of work, and often follows their own schedule. There are three defining aspects:
- Geographic freedom. When working online, their office is all over the world. And they tend to be people who don’t like to put down roots.
- Freedom of schedule. Those who work for others usually have a time slot in which to be available, but the rest of the day, they have freedom.
- Rejection of the status quo. Digital nomads are aware that there are other ways of living, far from the archaic concept of having to study to find a job that lasts a lifetime.
Many people associate the concept of digital nomads with that of low-cost backpackers, but this is often not the case: some nomads rent luxury homes or enjoy diving trips that cost several thousand euros. And as a digital nomad, you can earn a lot of money, as I will show you below.
I also warn you that you have to work hard and be perseverant because it is not easy to stay working in a coffee shop in Bangkok when you have dozens of tourist attractions around you.
The Revolution in Work Culture
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century instituted a paternalistic labour model, in which it was valued (and controlled) that the employee spent a certain number of hours per day performing a function at his or her workplace. But the Internet and digitalization are changing that paradigm. Now, it is no longer the time spent—not even productivity—that is rewarded but the end result.
We are experiencing a change that will be explained in future history books. Because people are aware that they have more options at their fingertips and are no longer looking for a job to survive, they want a job that also allows them to LIVE in capital letters. For this reason, more and more people are giving up unmotivating, abusive, or poorly paid jobs to seek freer professions that are more aligned with their values and based on results.
This is the origin of digital nomadism. From the desire to have more control over one’s life, to be more responsible for it, and to stop being a slave to the traditional work system. This new paradigm continues to generate doubts in those who still live in the previous model, but there are three realities that make it unstoppable:
1. Remote Work
Thanks to new team management tools, such as Asana or Zoom, many companies are making their conditions more flexible so that their employees can work from home for part of their working day. Even so, in 2019, just 4.8% of the working population teleworked on a regular basis in Europe. But the pandemic accelerated this change: now, in addition to salary and social benefits, employees value the flexibility to do part of their work outside the office.
Therefore, companies that do not offer the possibility of teleworking part of the working day will find it increasingly difficult to find qualified employees.
2. Digital Professions
Many traditional jobs, especially those involved in production processes, are disappearing as they are replaced by robots. But many new ones are also appearing related to the management of digital strategies, a sector so recent that it cannot yet be automated by machines.
Some examples of these digital professions would be social media managers, web content writers and writers in paper writing services, YouTube video editors, or SEO consultants, to name a few.
3. Passive Income
The Internet and online shopping have created a new reality: the store that never closes. A website stays open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and this opens the door to automate income generation and earn money even while you sleep.
Unlike traditional jobs, many online businesses allow you to generate income that is not directly dependent on your availability – such as advertising on your website or selling ebooks on Amazon. This makes them the type of business most appreciated by digital nomads. With passive income, you not only earn money, but you also earn time, the greatest asset anyone can have.
Do You Really Want to be a Digital Nomad?
Despite its obvious advantages, this kind of lifestyle is not for everyone. Working as a digital nomad still means going against the imposed culture – the one that dictates that you need to study to find a good job, move up the career ladder, and stay there as long as possible.
As a result, the biggest resistance digital nomads face often comes from their own family and social environment. It’s not uncommon for their decision to go against the grain to be discussed and belittled, and if you don’t keep a cool head, it can end up causing some conflict.
That’s because many people are still unaware that you can make a lot of money on the Internet. Because, unlike most physical businesses, it is no longer usually necessary to invest or possess technical knowledge to create a digital project. To become a digital nomad, you also have to like to travel, of course. But it’s not just about traveling and it’s about traveling. That means being able to maintain focus and concentration on your work, even if paradisiacal beaches surround you.
Remember: you’re not on vacation indefinitely. Otherwise, you’ll soon find yourself packing your bags back home.
DIGITAL NOMADISM IS FOR YOU IF…
- You want to enrich your life with experiences.
- You adapt well to change.
- You get tired of repeating the same routine day after day…
- You have a high capacity for concentration
- You are an organized and planned person
- You are independent
DIGITAL NOMADISM IS NOT FOR YOU IF…
- You don’t want your family or friends to discuss your decisions
- You prefer security to novelty
- You like to work surrounded by people
- You need to have your family or friends close to you at all times
- You are easily distracted
Types of Digital Nomads
Depending on the type of work they do or the duration of their trip, three types of digital nomads can be identified:
1. Digital Nomad
They are travellers without a fixed residence who move around different countries (although they may stay for long periods in one) while working remotely, generating income that allows them to maintain that lifestyle.
They are usually small entrepreneurs with digital businesses capable of generating passive income, such as an online store or an affiliate website, and to maintain them, they only require a computer and Internet connection.
2. Digital Traveller
They tend to be freelancers who have remote jobs, such as designers or programmers. Instead of working all year round in their place of residence, they take the opportunity to do so while travelling for 3-4 months.
They are people who value freedom over money. Many also try to save enough during the rest of the year to be able to travel without having to take their computer with them.
3. Remote Worker
Everywhere in the world, it is possible to find people working remotely away from their home country, usually in places with a better quality of life, a cheaper cost of living, or a lower tax burden. In this way, they can afford to live in places or luxuries that would otherwise be unthinkable.
Even if they do not travel regularly, they are a good example of the freedom conferred by the new possibilities of teleworking.
How to Become a Digital Nomad?
Before taking the plunge, consider what your options are for living on the road. Usually, you will have three:
1. Self-employed entrepreneur
If your knowledge allows you to solve a specific need or problem of a group of people, becoming a digital entrepreneur can be an excellent option to be able to travel while you work.
As a digital entrepreneur, you will be solely responsible for your online project: creating content, attracting an audience, and selling a solution they are willing to pay for. This gives you the greatest possible freedom to travel – in the end, you decide your working hours – but it also adds uncertainty to your monthly income, as it depends entirely on the success you achieve.
This is the option I opted for when I left my stable job and the only one I have been contemplating for several years.
Maybe you are not willing to assume the (low) risk of creating your own digital business, or you do not consider yourself ready to develop a business strategy.
In this case, an excellent way to work while travelling is as a freelancer. A freelancer is a person who sells products or services to clients, working on a contract basis. It is a very widespread form of work (half of the world’s workforce is freelance) and perfect for a digital nomad because many jobs that accept the freelance mode are done remotely.
In Spain, to work as a freelancer and be able to issue invoices, you must register as a freelancer with the tax authorities and Social Security. You can start with a flat rate of 60 euros/month for the first year, which will progressively rise to 286.15.
3. Employed By Others
Finally, you can also work remotely as an employee. One of the few pieces of good news that the COVID-19 pandemic has left is that many companies have been forced to resort to teleworking, a modality that allows you to work from wherever you want as long as you meet business objectives.
Before the pandemic, 4.8% of workers in Spain were teleworking. In September 2020, the figure stood at 16.2%, according to a Randstad report. The possibilities of conciliation that it offers to workers and the good results that it has given to the companies make its definitive implantation nearer.
Essential Tools For Working as a Digital Nomad
As you have seen, there are many options for living while travelling as a digital nomad. However, it is just as important to have the essential tools to make it possible. First of all, it is essential to have a laptop and a good Internet connection. The ideal way to do this is to get a SIM card with an Internet connection in the country you are in, create a hotspot on your cell phone, and connect to your computer.
You can also use a portable WiFi device, so you don’t have to keep changing the SIM card in your phone. You can also look for coworkings, where you will probably find a community of travellers like you.
Be sure to take with you as well:
- A smartphone
- Chargers for your electronic devices
- Power adapters
- A power strip in case you don’t have enough plugs
- Camera and GoPro (for water sports or adventure)
- External hard drive for backups
Also, to improve your working conditions, you can use the following tools:
- A project management program to get organized, such as Trello or Asana.
- A time management program, such as Toggl
- A calendar with the tasks of each day and time differences
- An antivirus or password protection program like LastPass because you will be using a lot of public WiFi networks.
- A video calling application such as Skype or Zoom to meet with clients and close ones
Benefits of Being a Digital Nomad
If you like to travel, meet people, and live new experiences, digital nomadism can be your ultimate life experience. Because it will allow you to:
- Feel absolutely free
- Have your own schedule and be your own boss
- Travel around the world and see dream places
- Live experiences that will leave you with lifelong memories.
- Meet many people from other cultures
- Learn languages
- Have a broader vision and discover another way of living.
Disadvantages of Being a Digital Nomad
All that glitters is not gold either, and digital nomadism has certain disadvantages that some people do not take too well.
- You may feel very lonely.
- You will encounter frequent technical problems.
- Sometimes, you will have to work in uncomfortable and noisy places.
- If you have a health emergency, the language barrier can be problematic.
- You must learn to disconnect from work to enjoy the trip.
- You will have to adapt to the different time zones of your family/clients.
- You will miss family and friends.
Top 10 Best Places to Live as a Digital Nomad
Being a digital nomad gives you the possibility to travel all over the world. Still, it is also true that some places are better prepared than others to receive digital remote workers.
Below, you’ll find the best places to live as a digital nomad according to the Nomadlist community – although it is updated frequently.
1. Lisbon, Portugal
The Portuguese capital usually takes the first place thanks to its security, Internet quality, leisure possibilities, proximity to its inhabitants, and mild temperature.
2. Canggu, Bali, Indonesia
The Indonesian city of Canggu stands out for having an affordable cost of living, a good temperature all year round, good security, varied leisure activities, and good Internet quality.
3. Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City stands out for the number of leisure plans you can make, besides being a city not too expensive to live in, with a pleasant temperature all year round and where it is easy to do business.
4. Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Thai city of Chiang Mai has always been considered one of the cradles of digital nomadism. It stands out for its affordable cost of living, the quality of the Internet, its temperature, its safety, and the number of leisure possibilities it offers.
5. Austin, Texas, United States
The Texas city of Austin usually appears in the top 5 thanks to factors such as the quality of its education and hospitals, its size (it isn’t easy to find crowds in this city), and the ease of doing business here.
6. Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
Ko Pha Ngan is another highly-rated Thai city. It shares the same characteristics as Chiang Mai: low cost of living, pleasant temperature all year round, safety, good Internet, and many leisure options.
7. Berlin, Germany
The German capital always appears in the rankings because it is a safe city with a very good Internet connection, where there is a high quality of life (with hospitals and schools level) and offers many leisure alternatives for all types of travelers.
8. Istanbul, Turkey
Multicultural Istanbul is a very welcoming city with an affordable cost of living, where it is very easy to meet people and do business, and it is highly recommended to live for a while as a digital nomad.
9. Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Playa del Carmen is located in the heart of the Riviera Maya, a city that guarantees good weather all year round and tranquillity to work, at the same time as numerous leisure plans and a lively nightlife.
10. Cape Town, South Africa
Closes this list Cape Town, the capital of South Africa, which is gaining more and more followers among digital nomads for being an affordable city to live in, quite safe, and with good quality in areas such as education or health.
Practical Tips For Digital Nomads
We won’t end this guide without my personal recommendations for aspiring digital nomads. Here we go.
1. Create your source of passive income
Nothing will give you more security to travel for long periods than having an additional source of passive income, with a “cushion” that avoids having to dip into your savings if necessary.
My recommendation is that about 10-12 months before your trip, you plan to start an affiliate website or a blog where you sell your own info product.
2. Travel with international health insurance
You never know what can happen to you in a foreign country so make sure you always travel with an international insurance that covers you for possible medical costs because they can be stratospheric.
3. Maintain an exercise routine
It is easy to be blinded by the exotic gastronomic offerings of each new country and neglect our bodies a little.
Although in most countries there are gyms that allow you to buy tickets for a single day, I recommend you bring a pair of elastic bands that allow you to exercise anywhere.
Traveling in itself is already a vital experience, but meditating will help you to see it from a different perspective and to relativize the possible setbacks you may encounter.
5. Meet local people
Travel guides are great, but there is nothing like having a local show you the most authentic places in the area.
For this, I recommend you use Couchsurfing from time to time to stay (for free) in the homes of local people who are eager to meet foreigners. It will be a pleasure for them to show you places that do not appear in the guidebooks.
Thanks to the unstoppable boom of digital jobs and businesses, today, it is possible to start a new life as a digital nomad. Or at least try it for a while. In addition to gearing your career towards remote employment, my recommendation is to start creating your own umbrella of security through a source of passive income. However, I have met many digital nomads who had simply requested a leave of absence from their company and had decided to take advantage of a job change or the completion of studies to travel. So don’t hold back. If it is something that has been on your mind for a long time, I assure you that it will mark you forever – in a positive way.