How to be a digital nomad
Are you kicking the shackles of a cubicle and taking your gig on the open road? You must be stoked!
There’s a growing cohort of people out there in all sorts of industries who are doing the same thing.
We call them ‘digital nomads’ and they can be defined as a group of professionals in certain industries where office-based work is unnecessary. Instead, they grab a laptop and take their jobs to the hills, working remotely using modern connective technology.
But wait! Before you cancel your life and downsize from a house to a backpack, what do you need to know? What can we learn from those who have blazed a trail before you?
1) Nail down your intended income
This is square one stuff, but before you even think of uprooting and working independently, you’d better have a solid job (or jobs) nailed down first.
Certain roles such as IT workers, developers, accountants, writers, photographers and online teachers lend themselves naturally to the digital nomad lifestyle. Others not so much.
Maybe you have a solid freelance clientele already – perhaps you will need to build one. For some, it’s a matter of translating an existing full-time position into a new mode of doing the same work.
However you’re handling this, be confident of continued and consistent income – with a budget to match. You don’t want to run out of work in the first few weeks.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
2) The great disconnect
Inbuilt in the concept of a digital nomad is the lack of connection to a particular place. That’s the ‘nomad’ bit, right? So, let’s start by beginning the great disconnect.
Start tying up these loose ends:
- Phone and internet contracts
- Leases or mortgage responsibilities (or renting your own property out)
- Cancelling all subscriptions
- Paying down all debt and ensuring your have backup savings for emergencies
- Selling your car
- Having a garage sale and minimising or eliminating expensive storage requirements
- Redirecting or cancelling mail
Of course, there are also very personal and important concerns to consider here: pets, children, family and significant others may be deal breakers. Only you know your life.
3) Where are you off to?
There’s a good chance you have a destination in mind. Then again, perhaps you’ll be roaming a little looser.
All destinations were not created equally and, unlike a pure backpacking experience, you’ll need to be in a place tuned for serious work. This isn’t a holiday after all – just a change of workplace scenery.
You’ll also be basing yourself in locations for longer periods of time. Hopping around like an antsy 19-year-old on a gap year is incompatible with working hard.
Perhaps you’ll stay local, maybe Asia has you excited, or maybe you’ll be basing yourself in metropolitan cities of Europe or America. All these choices have pitfalls and upticks you’ll need to research.
Think seriously about:
- Availability of Wi-Fi and 4G internet (extremely important)
- Visas and entry requirements
- Travel and health insurance
- Co-working spaces and support networks
- Price of accommodation and daily consumables
- Time zones if you need to respond in real time
- Language barriers or firewall concerns (it’s hard to work remotely in China, for example)
4) You still need a proper working space
If you’ve been sucked in by self-involved Instagram posts of cocktails next to MacBooks with azure seas in the background (and likely a tanned set of legs in a hammock) – get smarter. This is not reality.
That idealised image is just that – idealised.
In truth, you will likely need to base yourself somewhere with co-working spaces or private and quiet rooms, somewhere away from the screen glare and distractions of the beach.
5) What do you really need?
Do you need to pack that? Really? Probably not. Living out of a suitcase has its drawbacks and you will need to get comfortable downsizing.
Aside from your personal belongings, think carefully about the work devices and paraphernalia you really need.
The essentials will include:
- A lightweight and reliable laptop (preferably with LTE and a webcam)
- A mobile phone capable of creating a Wi-Fi hotspot
- Either local or roaming sim cards
- Several options for accessing cash and personal banking
In a nutshell, this is likely all you really need. But what about some optional extras?
Think about the necessity of:
- External hard drives
- Portable battery packs
- Job specific equipment such as a camera
6) Cloud for the win
This is the engine of your whole operation – in fact it’s the chassis too. And the wheels. Without cloud technology, this digital nomad life is painfully out of reach.
You’ll need to be comfortable with a range of cloud applications (better yet, apps that can be run off both phone and laptop in case of device failure or loss)
You will need to consider getting:
- Cloud storage for essential backups
- File sharing services like SharePoint
- Communication apps like Slack
- Workflow and task apps like Trello
- Several email accounts
- Cloud accounting software
7) Cloud accounting is an absolute necessity
It’s not only necessary – it’s a life saver. To keep your finances in check, submit invoices to clients and stay compliant with taxes, you need cloud accounting software. No question about it.
A parting word from Jack Kerouac:
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”