Over the last two years, more people have chosen to work remotely. However, there are many people like me out there who have chosen to live as a digital nomad long before the pandemic started. While it wasn’t the original career path I had set out to pursue after grad school, it has brought me more job satisfaction than I could have ever hoped for. In addition to a steady income, it allowed me to work and travel for the last decade. If you have ever considered this kind of lifestyle, here are a few things you should know before you take the leap.
What is a Digital Nomad?
The first humans were nomadic. So, it makes sense that we have adapted this trait as we evolved. Nowadays, technology allows us to work and move freely without being tied to a single location. Digital nomads can live in whatever location they choose, relying on telecommunications to perform their jobs. Unlike remote employees, we don’t need to have a base camp or a corporate network to log into.
Although many careers can accommodate a nomadic lifestyle, I work as a freelance writer and copy editor. I can handle all my job responsibilities and communication as long as I have my laptop and a good wifi signal. For someone like me who embraces adventure, needs flexibility, and can quickly adapt to change, it is the perfect job.
During my years abroad, I set up shop in Belize, Mexico, Taiwan, and as I backpacked across Europe. I’ve held conference calls in cafes, interviews from hotels, and produced content from train stations and overnight buses. As long as I kept bringing in clients and meeting my deadlines, I was able to support myself as I explored the world.
The Daily Logistics of the Digital Workspace
As the pandemic continues, more people are getting used to a hybrid environment and working from home. What once seemed like a logistical nightmare has become more attainable with technological advancements. Email, chat, and videoconferencing have also facilitated faster communication. Although they will never replace the social value of face-to-face interactions, it allows for instant communication and quick resolutions.
Freelancer marketplaces such as Upwork and Fiverr have also made it easier to market your skills and connect with potential clients. Not only does this mean more opportunities for a digital nomad, but also better chances to secure regular income streams.
But, your bottom line comes down to the quality of your equipment. If you are unable to depend on your tech to complete your work, then you will never be able to maintain a steady workload.
- First, you’ll need to invest in a reliable laptop. Mine definitely shows its battle scars after years of being crammed into bags and jostled through security checkpoints. Yet, it still runs like a champ.
- Secondly, you need to have unlimited access to a strong internet connection. My phone usually works well as a mobile hotspot. However, it may be worth purchasing your own portable device if you want to live in more remote areas.
- It’s also a good idea to carry your own external hard drive. I perform regular backups of all my documents just in case something happens.
While it may seem like a huge initial cost, I know my technology will withstand the test of time and the rigors of travel.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Nomadic Life
While the nomadic life can be very appealing, life as a digital nomad is not as easy or convenient as some would like to believe.
I have been fortunate enough to visit over 30 countries, earning an income to support myself along the way. I saw many incredible places and experienced many diverse cultures firsthand, immersing myself in them. As I gained professional and personal experiences, I also realized that the value of my skills had increased. After increasing my rates, I actually started to save and invest rather than making enough to survive. Achieving greater financial freedom gives you the power to decide when, where, and how you work.
However, this life isn’t for everyone. And, it isn’t as simple as some make it seem. Starting your own business is challenging enough. But, it can be even more so if you are in a foreign location where you don’t have local contacts or speak the language. Then, you have to contend with visas and your legal status with immigration. The applications and runaround can be extremely frustrating and leave you with a mountain of red tape to cut through.
The total independence you have as a digital nomad is both a blessing and a curse. It’s true that you have complete autonomy to travel, work, and schedule your life as you please. However, after the novelty of it wears off and you settle into a daily routine, you eventually start to feel the weight of isolation and loneliness.
While I made friends that were more like family, many of them moved on to new locales within a few years. Even today we still keep in touch, but it leaves you with a relatively small support network. I grew increasingly homesick, especially during the lockdown. When my dad’s health took a turn or the worst, I decided it was time to return home. I wanted to be closer to my family and not miss out on any more important moment than I already had.
Starting Out as a Digital Nomad
Although I’m closer to home these days, I still maintain a career as a digital nomad. Looking back, I spent many years getting underpaid for my services. If you want to be successful, you have to know your skillset, the true value of what you can offer, and how to market yourself.
There are no guarantees that you’ll earn a sustainable income. But if you are self-motivated and ambitious, it is possible to turn it into a full-time job. Your success directly depends on the effort and time you put into building a career. Once you establish yourself, build a good reputation, and find your niche in a digital community, the world is at your fingertips.
If you are currently working as a digital nomad, what has helped you find success?
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.