Figuring out how to make money while traveling is only a small part of learning how to become a digital nomad. In this article I’ll briefly cover how to jump into the digital nomad lifestyle, step by step.
So, you want to know how to become a digital nomad
Starting out as a digital nomad comes with a sea of challenges, and most ‘beginner nomads’ will find it easier to kick off their journey some place where the living is easy.
It’s no secret that Thailand, and more specifically Chiang Mai, is the “digital nomad capital of the world”. Hemingway had Paris, and Chiang Mai is known as the Paris of the East.
There’s a lot of reasons to choose Thailand as your first digital nomad destination so that’s where my focus usually is when I write these kind of articles; it’s an affordable place to live, it has modern infrastructure and hospitals, and you can still find a lot of the creature comforts there that you’re used to back home.
In this article my wife Oshin discusses what it’s like to be a digital nomad in Thailand in greater detail. In this post, I’m going to get into the fundamentals of becoming a digital nomad -the challenges you’ll face, the mindset you’ll need, and of course; how to make money while traveling.
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Make arrangements, not debates
The decision to become a digital nomad and pack your life into a knapsack wasn’t easy to come to terms with –and it will probably be even harder for your friends and family to grapple with.
It’s a closet you’ll need to walk out of, one day. Don’t rush it.
One thing to remember is that even those close to you who side with you when others call you crazy, the rare few who see it your way –will start to find that you’re actually seriously going to become a digital nomad— and they’re going to be filled with different emotions over it.
My acquaintances didn’t give a damn; it was my closest friends and family members that unknowingly starting to build walls I had to climb over.
Because they’re going to miss you.
Because your life choices are in direct opposition to theirs.
They’ll try their best to be supportive, but remarks will be made, debates will be kindled under the guise of “I love you -but”.
Is it safe over there?
What if you run out of money?
What if you get sick?
You won’t have any friends!
Don’t they abduct kids your age over there?
I won’t help you with XYZ financial obligation if you get on that plane. You’re on your own.
The Thanksgiving before you go, the “last Christmas” –whatever; it will be a family gang up session for a lot of people reading this.
That is, if you try to convince them.
Make arrangements, not debates.
As you can tell by reading either Nomad is Beautiful or Hobo with a Laptop -there’s plenty of people who’ve made the digital nomad lifestyle work for them quite successfully, and even more reading material to get you through.
In fact, the only aspiring nomads I met who didn’t make it were the ones who didn’t get on a plane in the first place.
Failure is temporary, and there’s no cure for the urge to become nomadic.
So my advice for this part of this mini digital nomad how-to -don’t open doors you don’t want to walk through. At least, not until you’ve got your escape plan and your bankroll, ready to go.
Your family and friends will do best with a short 3 month grieving period, then be done with it.
Pull the bandaid off quickly.
Invest in yourself
In the year or two leading up to your departure, you’re really, really going to want to invest in yourself to adopt the “digital nomad skills” necessary to be successful in whatever you do.
Yeah, the joke going around about digital nomads is that they keep making courses and selling them to other digital nomads. It’s a riot, I know. And it’s true. And there’s a lot of garbage out there.
So before I get into suggesting what you learn before you take off; don’t buy courses that push a lifestyle. Buy courses that push a skill.
The end result is what you can do, not where you’ll be –that’s no one’s business but your business.
Internet marketing weathers all seasons
No matter what you want to do with your life as a digital nomad, it’s almost certainly going to have an online component.
You might want to create a lead generation website for dentists. Or become a consultant with a niche skill you already have. Or start an Amazon FBA drop shipping store. Or become a blogger. An author. A developer for hire. Whatever.
Being able to represent yourself online and conduct business in one shape or form is crucial. Starting a side hustle –even a placeholder website– a year in advance is a smart move because it will give you time to rank it first and learn about all the strings that come with it.
For the uninitiated and the careful, consider ranking a website before you hit the road. And for many of you that means learning new skills.
Sure, there’s Google with a sea of incomplete “free” information. But you need a straight line, because if there’s too many delays to going nomad, too much time sitting on the proverbial “runway”, it will get maddening.
And by that third delay, you might do something stupid like head off to a developing country without a plan and without proving yourself ready.
Going home with your tail between your legs isn’t very fun.
Invest in yourself. Find good courses. Identify what skills you’re short in and do the straight line –buy a course or two and follow along with it religiously. It will help you keep your mind off the calendar, too.
Learning SEO and internet marketing are an absolute must. Your success hangs on search results pages. Linkedin, Amazon –everything is a search engine.
I spent a few thousand bucks on courses this summer to review them and fill you in on the ones that are worth the money. Soon you’ll be able to see my reviews on The Roaming Economy.
I’m currently reviewing the ClickMinded suite of courses and so far, so good.
Research, research, research
You’re on one of the best digital nomad blogs to begin your journey. Gianni and Ivana are two of the most successful nomads I know and it’s an honor to be here writing a guest post.
And beyond them there’s countless other nomad bloggers out there who are only a year or three ahead of you, begging you to join the party.
Fresh converts of any religion are always the most vocal.
So lap it up.
What you learn before you make the nomad leap is directly related to how good your questions are.
Ask questions first –questions that relate to your specific needs, then consume information second.
- Have you qualified your business idea yet?
- Do you have any unique medical or dietary requirements?
- Do you know what your country’s visa requirements are for your destination?
- Will your banking card work at international ATM machines?
- Will you be comfortable in the climate of your destination country, long-term?
- Should you learn common phrases in another language?
Reading too much before having your questions in mind will throw the trees out from under the forest and you’ll find yourself overwhelmed.
Digital nomad blogs
Hobo with a Laptop is our blog, and a great place to start.
We try to focus mostly on the skills you’ll need to become location independent in between our travel posts; we cover everything from blogging to getting your first entry-level remote job.
We also wrote a free 200-page guide called Digital Nomad Escape Plan that covers what’s in this article you’re reading now, and a whole lot more.
And then there’s the people who inspire me.
Digital Nomad Wannabe has been nothing short of helpful when it comes to verifying a blogging idea, and Sharon is a great human –she gives a lot of valuable information at no charge. In fact, I’m about to hop on to a free webinar she’s hosting this morning! Check out her group on Facebook, too.
Expert Vagabond is run by Matthew Karsten, and he’s built a resource that I often go back to before I take a trip or pick up any gear.
In terms of mindset, Mark Manson is an intelligent blogger who seems to have his finger on the pulse of what’s important in life. He covers a lot of different topics and I read his blog whenever I need to get “un-stuck”.
Finally, there’s the Chiang Mai Digital Nomads Facebook group –even if you’re not headed to Chiang Mai, Thailand I suggest you join.
Everyone who’s anyone seems to be present in that group. Use the search function before you ask a question, chances are it’s already been answered.
Knowing your budget a year or two before becoming a digital nomad is another must. But how long is a piece of string?
The formula could look something like this;
- What’s the cost of living?
- What are all the things I need to pay for? (Utilities, transport, phone plan, bike rental)
- How many months backup emergency money do I uniquely need for myself?
- How much are flights and insurance?
Bonus points if you keep some cash aside for the rare amazing things that make your destination special –the stuff of bucket lists.
And then there’s those accounts and software tools you might need to pick up in advance. Like web hosting, autoresponders, SEO tools –plan the plan, then make a budget.
Burn all your vices
Got a drinking problem? Not anymore.
Video game addiction the only reason you need that massive data package for? Now you don’t.
Is your widescreen LCD going to be worth $300 less in six months from now? Sell it after work.
You get the idea; burn your vices.
Take stock of all the silly things you spend your money on and start living as a digital nomad in your own home. Sell the bed frame, put the mattress on the floor. Pull that stuff out of storage and sell it.
Sell it. Throw it away, recycle it, give it to charity.
It stings at first but it eventually becomes addictive.
Does your life fit into a backpack?
Practice packing your backpack on a monthly basis until everything fits. Toss the chaff.
I had my post-departure storage down to a single banker’s box after packing my back 6 times over the course of a year before I hit Thailand in 2013. And it turns out I’m not crazy; upon discussion, I’ve met others who packed their bags several times in the months leading up to their departure, too.
It’s cathartic. Savor the moment.
Today I’ve got nothing back home. I don’t even have a home I’d call home to go back home to.
I’ve written about all of this stuff on Hobo with a Laptop and I’m pretty sure Ivana and Gianni have, too.
Simply put, the key accounts I’d suggest you put on your digital nomad checklist are;
- Bank account with Transferwise or Payoneer
- Health insurance
- Online tools for your business –only you know what those should be; bank account(s), phone numbers, email autoresponders, website hosting, etc.
- Find an accountant before you leave and figure out how to help them do their job for you
- Mail forwarding service or a PO box a family member can check for you
- A local back-home phone number you can hold onto from anywhere
That’s just a few off the top of my head. A mail forwarding service is a godsend –especially one that will scan and email your snail mail.
Get a remote job
A side hustle is good, a location independent job in advance is even better. Find a remote job 6 months before you head out on your digital nomad journey if possible and get into the swing of things while you’re still in your home country.
This will eliminate any issues you might have down the line and allow you to establish a reliable rapport with your remote employer while you’re reliable.
There might be hiccups in your first few weeks on the road like poor WiFi connections, flight delays, lost or damaged equipment –and they’re more forgivable when they’re the first hiccups your employer has endured since you started.
Need help getting your first entry-level remote job? I’ve got you covered.
Digital nomad gear
The gear you choose –from the backpack to the things you put into it, that’s on you.
However, I think there’s no post more entertaining to read, or to write, than a “digital nomad packing list”. And the internet is full of them. Here’s Ivana’s.
Wherever you’re planning to take this, there’s probably going to be a digital nomad community already.
Search Facebook for groups with the destination name and “digital nomad” in the title and you’ll more than likely find your people.
Of course, respectfully be sure to use the group’s search function before you start asking questions.
Consider looking in advance for a place to stay for a week while you find something a little more long-term.
Look for meetups that relate to your interests, local watering holes that are popular among nomads, and coworking spaces where you can play catch-up after your 30 hour flight(s).
Basically, land in your new destination like a cat. You never know when you’ll need a friend.
Making friends in advance can be easy, everyone’s looking for someone like-minded to hang with.
Digital nomad hotspots aren’t just marketplaces of ideas —they’re marketplaces of gestures, too.
Perhaps you might barter with someone; when I was new, I made a friend that offered to show me the ropes if I brought them a particular food item they’d been missing for three long years.
That about wraps this one up, did you find it useful? Anything to add? Let everyone know in the comments and maybe Gianni and Ivana will have me back on next year.
In either case -you got this. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai or Palawan, look me up.