How to Become a Digital Nomad in 2021: The Ultimate Guide

  • By: Nikita
  • Date: June 8, 2021
  • Time to read: 11 min.

Starting your digital nomad journey is a stimulating process. From choosing a destination to planning your budget, shifting your work to making the lifestyle viable, there are so many variables to consider that it might get crowded in your head. But imagine the freedom it holds and if that is something that excites you, this step-by-step guide will help you plan, understand, organize and achieve your dream of becoming a digital nomad.

Step 1: Set your intentions

Setting your intentions means understanding what digital nomadism is, why you want to do it and if it is right for you.

What is a Digital nomad lifestyle?

Digital nomads are independent workers, traveling while working remotely. The core idea is to explore the world while making a living from anywhere on the globe. Digital nomads enjoy the freedom of having their own work hours, space, and will. It is perfect for those who want to travel the world, work online, or build something independently without being confined to an office.

Is Digital Nomad Life Right for you?

There are no set criteria for being a digital nomad, but there are a few mandatory factors that are an integral part of this lifestyle. If you are unsure whether this lifestyle is right for you, ask yourself the following questions before deciding:

  • Do you like the constant change of environment in your day-to-day routine?
  • Are you self-motivated to work consistently and productively?
  • Are you comfortable with an unstable income, changing schedules and routines?
  • Can you picture yourself moving every few months?
  • Do you like being out of your comfort zone?
  • Do you like exploring diverse cultures, food, and meeting new people?
  • Can you have a minimalistic lifestyle?

If your answer to most of the questions is yes, then the digital nomad is life is most likely made for you. It is not a definitive list and there are other ways to travel as well. Find your fit, customize your style of travel if this doesn’t work for you, and just step out.

Step 2: Determine the skills required to be a Digital Nomad

One of the most crucial elements of living as a digital nomad is having your entire work or business online. This does not mean you need to have a thorough knowledge of the online world. This means adapting your current skill set to fit an online/location-independent mode. Here’s a list of the most common professional and soft skills essential for a digital nomad, along with tips on identifying and strengthening your skills.

Professional Skills required to be a Digital Nomad

If you are already working as a digital service provider such as a graphic designer, web developer, English language teacher, or content writer, you’re halfway there. Now you need to work on building a network of clients online. See what other freelancers in your field are doing, what clients are looking for, and finding actual work.

Some of the most common fields for digital nomads are:

  • Web developer
  • Graphic designer
  • Content writer
  • English teacher
  • Translator
  • Digital Marketer
  • Video editor
  • Vlogger/Blogger

The above list of skills and jobs as a digital nomad goes on but the key takeaway is having a primary skill that you can offer to make a living from anywhere.

Soft skills required to be a Digital Nomad

  • Good communication

To build your client network, having strong communication skills is a must. It not only involves verbal communication but also means having a portfolio and learning how to send a pitch. Refer to online resources such as YouTube and Blogs specific to your field.

  • Time zone management

Being a digital nomad means you will constantly change time zones. Use time zone management apps such as Spacetime, TimeTemperature.com, and Every Time Zone to schedule meetings, check working hours and locations.

  • Productivity management

Productivity management doesn’t mean getting maximum work done but having enough time for both work and exploration. You can even use management tools like Asana, Focus Keeper, and Toggl to boost your work productivity and time management.

  • Managing currency and payment

Managing multiple payments and currencies will be a part of your monthly routine as a digital nomad. Manage payments from multiple clients, keep track with apps like Bonsai, Harpoon, Harvest.

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Strengthen your skills as a Digital Nomad

The transition from your current location-based job to a remote job will require you to build some skills and improve on the existing ones. Once you know what your skills are and how you want to build your work structure, you might have to learn new skills to adopt newer work methods. One of the easiest ways to learn is YouTube tutorials, free courses on websites like Alison, or short and affordable courses on platforms like Udemy and Skillshare.

Step 3: Find a Passive Income Source

As a digital nomad, generating passive income and cutting down on your costs will help you in the long run. While it is possible to travel with one steady income source, passive income helps in case of delayed payments, unforeseen expenses, and other variables. A passive income source means having a side income from an additional part-time job or a project. This should not take up a lot of your time and bring reasonable returns. Here are some ideas on how to do it.

How to Generate Passive Income as a Digital nomad

Get paid for your daily activities

This means getting paid for what you are already doing. There are several ways of getting paid for doing your everyday activities without an additional effort. For example, if you are a frequent online shopper, you can register on sites like Ebates and get a 10% cashback on your purchases. Another super easy way to make passive income is using platforms such as InboxDollar. Every time you search the web using their search console (very similar to Google) you get paid. You could get paid to watch videos (Swagbucks), eat out (Seated), shop (Ibotta), walk or exercise (Sweatcoin or HealthyWage), and a lot more.

Investment

If you have a corpus fund you don’t use, invest it across various investment channels. Although it has a certain amount of risk involved, the returns are great too. Peer-to-peer lending is one way to start. Check out Lending Club to find people who don’t qualify for loans, lend them the money and get it back with interest.

Rent stuff out

You might have a lot of things you don’t use every day or when you are away. Renting stuff out is a great way to generate passive income. You could rent out a spare room in your apartment, your bike/car, rent out tools like a drilling machine, motor saw, bicycle/car rack, etc. Check out companies such as Carvertise or Pay me for Driving that pay you for an Ad space on your car.

License your photos

This is another way of generating passive income. If you are traveling, you most probably already click a lot of pictures. Though the income from this may not be huge, there is no additional effort in getting paid for this.

Blogging/ Vlogging

There are plenty of ways to make money from a blog such as an affiliate income and ads. You can also have a paid subscription or patron program where members can access exclusive information.

Step 4: Finding Jobs as a Digital Nomad

Starting out is the hardest part, it only gets easier from there. Once you know your skill set and what you want to do, the next step is finding the right jobs and clients.

Jobs for Digital Nomads with no skills

In today’s world, learning a skill and making money out of it is the easiest thing to do. But if you can’t wait to start your travel without spending a long-time learning new skills, here’s a quick list of some things you can do without specific skills or qualification:

  • Transcription
  • Virtual Assistant
  • Social Media management for brands
  • Proofreading
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This is certainly not a definitive list. You can think of your hobbies or the things you are passionate about and make it into a viable business. For example, if you like to write letters, you could start selling postcards with personalized messages or if you like cooking, plan a cooking workshop at your hostel. Get creative with this and keep an open mind to explore new opportunities that might knock on your door during your travels.

Turning your current job into Location-independent work

There are tons of companies who are looking to outsource their work to professionals. If you already have a job, it is likely that you will find the same job remotely. You can also propose this to your current company and find a workable way to do it within your company. The best part about this is that you don’t have to start from scratch, you just need to transfer your skills into a model that works for you. You can also find opportunities in your existing network or Google for the best database of opportunities.

Where to find jobs as a digital nomad

If you are starting out, platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Flexjobs are a great place to find work as a freelancer. There are tons of categories and various projects to choose from, you can also set your skill level and availability to find the jobs that are right for you. There are niche-specific websites to find work as well. For example, if you want to work as an English language teacher, you can find new postings on Teach Away or ESL Base.

Step 5: Set Priorities in Planning

When planning a trip, set clear priorities to ease up the process. Go from planning essential stuff first then move on to customizing the plan to make it your own. Here’s how you can do it.

Learn about the country you are planning to travel to

When finding information about a new place, information overload sets in and makes it hard to know where to start. Online forums, Google searches, and Facebook groups are great places to start your research. If you are on a strict budget A Little Adrift or Numbeo are helpful sites to find destinations within your budget. Look for things like co-working spaces, things to explore, and immersive culture in a destination.

Eliminate unnecessary expenses and make a budget

Eliminating expenses doesn’t always mean cutting down costs (though it always helps) but it is about planning the inflow of income and your expenses. When you are constantly on the go, creating a realistic budget is foundational. Identify fixed and variable monthly expenses and stick to your budget. Leave some money aside for variables and country-specific expenses. Do your research about the country and plan what you want to do there, and make a budget according to your plans.

How to cut down costs as a digital nomad

  1. Cost of Housing

As a digital nomad, if you want to stay under a strict budget, hostels or co-living places are a great option for you. Remoters and NomadX are resourceful websites to find co-living spaces around the world. At some locations, you can also find cheap Airbnbs or TrustedHousesitters for the long term. Another great way to cut down the accommodation cost is using HomeExchange.com to list your house for other travelers, and search for a home in the next city you will travel to. You can cut down housing costs entirely with Couchsurfing. Check out GoBeHere.com if you want a private space while you travel.

  1. Travel and Transportation

Use hacks such as mile programs, websites with coupons and discounts, and flight comparison websites such as Momondo, Kiwi, Google Flights, CheapoAir to save the cost of travel.

You can also cut down costs by being flexible with dates, looking for connecting flights, and booking one-way tickets.

  1. Food

To save the cost of food and beverages, cook at home as much as possible. Get your groceries from the local market and buy local products instead of packed ones. For example, you can save a lot of money by making coffee at home.

  1. Clothing

Shop in the local markets, go to thrift stores, and follow an exchange (one in, one out) rule to save cash on clothes.

  1. Entertainment

Try looking for free local events like a walking tour, exhibitions instead of going to the movies or malls. If you want to go for a paid event check for discounts, coupons & deals, cheap fare on a weekday, or morning shows, etc.

  1. Investment in gear

When buying gear, look for festive sales or off-season discounts to save money. Buying refurbished items is also a great way to save money.

  1. Cost of visas

The cost of visas may not entirely be in your control but having an estimate helps with budget planning. Knowing what visa is right for you saves you from additional costs and procedural hassle. For example, if you want a work visa, you may save on the Labour fee.

  1. Cost of internet/co-working places

One of the most essential costs as a digital nomad is the cost of the internet. Though it varies from country to country, buying a local SIM card always helps to cut down the internet cost. You can also look for cheap coworking spaces, cafes with Wi-Fi in your new city to save the cost of internet. You can find co-working spaces all around the world on websites like Nomad List and LiquidSpace.

  1. Travel insurance

There are many insurance plans suited for Digital nomads. Look for options that fit your needs and find cheaper alternatives. World Nomads and SafetyWing are great insurance companies, with affordable plans for all your insurance needs as a digital nomad.

  1. Emergency Fund

Save a small amount each month for emergencies. If something new comes up and you don’t have the space for it in your monthly budget, you can use this fund. It will come in handy for things like repair, renewal of visa, or a sudden dip in your income.

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Documentation and visa process

Preparing your travel documents and planning in advance is crucial to avoid the last-minute hassle. Do your research about how much in advance you have to apply for a visa for a country. It also means having an unexpired passport with enough space for new visa stamps. Keep all your important IDs safe and always carry a digital copy with you. Check if you need other documents like a work permit or the process of taxation for a country you are traveling to.

Another important document most digital nomads stress on getting is travel insurance. From lost luggage to delayed flights, having travel insurance always comes in handy.

How to pack light as a digital nomad

Traveling as a digital nomad means your backpack is your home, but this also means it must meet all your needs without having to carry five bags. Find lighter and more compact alternatives for your work gear. For example, a foldable tripod or compact headphones. When packing clothes, find items such as quick-dry pants and multi-purpose/convertible dresses. Some essentials, apart from regular clothes and accessories you must carry at all times, are:

  • A pair of comfortable shoes
  • A pair of flip-flops
  • A rain jacket
  • A fleece
  • Travel size toiletries (you can get small bottles for shampoo, body wash, etc. and foldable hairbrush on Amazon)
  • Battery backup/power backup
  • Cables & hardware backups

Digital nomadism opens up a whole new world for you, all you have to do is to be ready to embrace it. With this guide, you have taken the first step towards a journey of infinite possibilities. Now is the time to shape it into a solid reality.