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7 Steps to Take if You Want to Become a Digital Nomad

by Eric Halsey Aug 19, 2016

DIGITAL NOMAD: THERE’S SOMETHING ROMANTIC and freeing about just the phrase itself. But for those who really live the life, the impacts go far beyond simple daydreaming. Flexibility, travel, new horizons, adventure… Who wouldn’t want to work from a tropical island or a cobbled street in the heart of old Europe?

The trick for the rest of us is to understand how on earth they do it. We talked to a few digital nomads to put together these six easy steps to get you to the digital nomad lifestyle of your dreams.

1. Find the right kind of work

It’s time to admit a hard truth. If you’re, say, a dentist, the life of a digital nomad isn’t really going to be possible for you. Licensing requirements make it a bit tricky to pull off freelance dentistry around the world. So to start, you’ve got to find the right kind of job.

That means a job that can be done remotely, preferably from a wide variety of timezones (trust us, you don’t want to try to pull off a New York 9-5 in Thailand). Obviously digital jobs like professional blogging or marketing work well, but even lawyers can pull it off with the right grit.
One of the best techniques is to set up passive income channels. That could mean spending a few weeks or months creating a marketing website or piece of content and then traveling while it earns you money. Or it might mean selling ads on your blog or podcast while you travel and create it. Really, there are an incredible number of ways to make money while you travel, so get creative!

2. Plan your attack (Be prepared)

One of the biggest lessons you learn after becoming a seasoned traveler is that you have to plan extremely well. Think hard about where you want to go, what you’ll do when you get there, where you’ll want to stay, and what you’ll tell your family.

Learn as much as you can about your planned destination: follow local news sites, join online groups for expats and travelers, and investigate your housing options before you go – whether or not you’re comfortable taking a room or apartment before you arrive in town. Stock up on any necessary medications and if you have special dietary needs, research your local options or connect with online groups for advice.

Make sure you have affordable temporary accommodations covered for your first few days. Otherwise, you might find yourself arriving in town, jet-lagged and suitcase in tow, frantically searching for a free hostel bed and wifi.
But is planning all you need? If you want to be a digital nomad, you also need to accept a bit of chaos.

3. Unplan your attack (Be spontaneous)

If you plan everything to a T, the irony is that you’ll also be losing out on one of the best parts of being a digital nomad: the potential for spontaneity.

Find an amazingly cheap flight to Bali? Take it!

Someone offers to take you hiking up a volcano? Go for it!

Traveling often comes down to mastering the art of making a detailed plan and then being willing to throw it out the window the moment you need to.

4. Understand visa regulations

This one is really critical. We’ve known plenty of people who have gotten in trouble by either not paying attention to these rules or believing any random friend who insisted it worked a certain way. Being a digital nomad often means coming close to visa limits, so make sure you know where they are and how they work.

The US State Department website has great information you can rely on. Then, you can always call an embassy to double-check anything that’s unclear.

5. Learn to live with a light footprint

Suitcases may be getting smarter, but airline luggage requirements are also getting more restrictive. That means it’s more important than ever for frequent travelers like digital nomads to learn how to pack like a professional. Besides the basics (i.e., you should really be rolling your clothes), invest in some great luggage and learn which airlines have more generous policies.

If you’re a packrat by nature, it’s time to say goodbye to a few items. Pack a few key items of clothing and get used to doing laundry regularly; that cool jacket you wear twice a year probably looks better in your friend’s closet anyway. And we understand the lure of flea markets abroad, but no matter long you’ve been searching for that record, do you really want to spend a year hauling it around while your record player gathers dust in your dad’s garage in Iowa?

Buy everything travel-sized or pick it up when you get there; we promise they have toothpaste abroad. Pack light, pack right, and never look back.

6. Prepare mentally

This is one of those steps that gets left out far too often. Some of us have been moving to various cities around the world for years, but if you’re not used to a nomadic lifestyle, it can be quite a shock. Learning about your destination helps, but don’t expect to know everything just because you’ve spent a month reading the local English-language news site.

Be prepared to be open to new viewpoints and new ways to do things – whether it’s riding the bus, washing the dishes, or a different perspective on a current or historical event you think you know all about. Just because things happen one way at home doesn’t mean it’s better (and even if it is better, you won’t single-handedly change a whole country’s habits).

Everyone will have something different that they find it difficult to adjust to: whether it’s a nine-hour time difference from friends and family at home, confusing product labels at the grocery store, rude subway passengers or just not being able to get your favorite coffee. But don’t forget to consider all the amazing new experiences you’ll have. Ask any frequent traveler: experiencing different cultures and environments teaches you things no university ever could.

7. Take the plunge!

In the end, if you can’t stop dreaming about a digital nomad lifestyle, buy your tickets and go for it! This kind of working and living has only recently become possible, so why not take advantage and live your dreams?

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