How do I even get started as a digital nomad?

People see the work-from-anywhere lifestyle all over Instagram, and one of the most common questions (that always comes up) is how do you do it?

How do you get started?

The good news is it’s far easier than you think, and if you’re reading this it’ll give you a nice little “high-level” overview on what ducks you need to get in a row so you can start living this lifestyle for yourself. Whether you want to travel the world and still make a few bucks, or just have the independence to live wherever the hell you want.

How do I get more money?

Now here’s where most people get stuck. Money. Without income coming in, your savings are going to be heading out, and eventually you’re going to run out of cash. It’s just math.

You need a way to make money.

Google “make money online” and you’ll find hundreds if not thousands of courses, and consultants all willing to tell you their secrets. I’ve paid money, done the summits, and ultimately, there is no silver bullet. No sure-fire way to get cash flowing in.

Most of its common sense. Trouble is, people want the easy way out. Doing this for 7+ years now, I can tell you the vast majority of successful, long-term digital nomads are doing one of three things.

  • They’ve convinced their employer to let them work remotely
  • They’re running their own business or set of side-projects remotely
  • They’re freelancing and selling a unique skill or talent online

That’s it.

Sit down for a minute and think about your situation.

Could you convince your employer to let you work from home? If so, then it’s just one more step to hop on a plane and connect in from the other side of the world. There’s also plenty of job boards advertising remote-only positions you could start applying for too.

Could you start your own business? The internet lets you work from anywhere, and it’s just one more step to turn this into an actual business. Find a way to sell your products and services online, and run it all remotely. Then it doesn’t matter where you are in the world.

Could you sell your own skills? If you’ve got a marketable skill, (everything from virtual assistants to excel is in demand, let alone expert-level freelancers like developers, copywriters, you name it. Sell directly (from a website), or use a platform to find gigs.

Or if you’re like most of us, you end up with some weird combination of the three…

How do I choose a destination?

I like being able to live and work wherever I choose, but there are two things to keep in mind. What’s the WiFi connection like, and how long can I stay?

These days, most places have a decent connection, unless you’re planning to live like a nomad on a remote little island off the coast of Indonesia. But without the internet, without a connection, you’re going to struggle. Think of this first.

Then it comes down to how long I can stay.

Cost of living is important, because it realistically, the further your money goes the less stress you’re going to have. $100 in your pocket in Thailand or Latin America will go a lot further than it would in Norway. If cost is a concern, look for the “cheaper” destinations.

And finally, comes your visa. I’m no expert, but in general most digital nomads use tourist visas in each destination, giving them anywhere from a few weeks to a few months in a country before they need to move on again.

This can become a hassle if you want to live in one place forever, and some countries are cracking down on “visa runs” with the “back-to-back-to-back” tourist visa stamps, but hey. Don’t overcomplicate it too much at the start.

For me, I wanted to stay in Thailand long-term, and after entertaining a couple of local job offers I realized I could earn more online than working a 9 to 5 in a local company. So, I started freelancing, eventually opening the doors to my own business in Thailand, to ensure everything was above-board with work-permits, visas and the like.

Go to an aggregator like NomadList to see your options, and choose a location that’s got everything you want, and an easy tourist visa to get started. You can figure out the rest later (and your plans will change once you get on the ground).

How much money do I need?

The cash situation is probably the hardest to answer, but what the vast majority of you are most concerned with. You need cash to fund your lifestyle, but “how much” is the question.

Unfortunately, there’s no right answer.

The guy spending under $500 a month in the cheapest hostel possible could be very happy. For others, they might be paying a few thousand dollars and enjoying a higher class of hotel and a better quality of life. I can’t tell you what’s right for you.

Because I really only know what’s right for me.

But what I recommend, is to find your own number.

  1. Figure out where you want to live
  2. See the rough cost of living figures
  3. Add some buffer (around 50%)

And you’ll get a number. Perhaps it’s $1,600 to live per month in Chiang Mai.

Now before you tell me either (a) that’s far too much, or (b) that’s nowhere near enough, remember – this is exactly the problem. Everyone has a different set of expectations, which result in a different number.

So now what you need to do is…

  1. You save up at least 6 months before you go “full nomad” (i.e. 6 x 1600 = $9,600)
  2. You find a way to get some income coming in, that can scale to $1,600 a month

That’s the safe route.

Of course, money is a very personal question and you may be a bigger risk taker too, so just remember these are guidelines. Figure out what you’re comfortable with, the risks you’re willing to take, and go get started. If it doesn’t work out, just make sure you’ve got enough for your ticket home.

How to work day-to-day?

It sounds easy, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. Sit down and do the work.

Of course, this can be a challenge if you’re in a hostel full of people who would rather go on snorkeling tours or get stuck into afternoon beers because they’re on holiday, but you need to exercise a little bit of discipline. What I’ve found works is setting up in the early mornings in a quiet spot, be it a table in the corner of a café, or a desk in an AirBnB.

Then just do the work.

I write out a list the day before of “things that need to get done” and work through it. There’s a bit of satisfaction I get crossing everything off the list.

But at a higher level, I work Monday to Friday, and when I first started I wanted to make $2,000 a month. There’s a little over 20 working days in a month, but let’s keep it incredibly simple, to make $2,000 I really just need to be making $100 a day.

That’s it.

When you look at it like this it becomes very achievable.

Then you just need to do the work that enables you to hit this target.

  • If you’re a writer, perhaps it’s a couple of blog posts.
  • If you’re a designer, it might be a logo design or two.
  • If you’re a coder, it might be a few hours working on a clients’ site.

But the best part? If you’ve hit your goal for the week, or the month – you’re now free. You can loosen up your schedule a bit, perhaps take a few days off, or if that’s not your style, you could always start working towards next months targets (or raising yours)

Because as you get better, more experience, and clients willing to pay you what you’re worth, it becomes very easy to hit numbers like these. And as you grow, you can move your monthly targets higher, and I also stress less on my daily income, but I do try to hit the weekly goals.

For the longest while it was 10K a month, but I’m stretching this now to 20K.

That’s $1,000 a day, or $5,000 a week.

It’ll be tough as hell, but when I first started I thought $100 a day would be a challenge.

But with experience, good clients, a higher hourly rate (just shy of $200/hr) it can be done.

Then once work is finished, it’s time to get out and enjoy.

What challenges am I forgetting?

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses, there are a few things to watch out for.

  • You need a rainy-day fund, a few grand easily accessible for whatever comes up, whether it’s an accident, a deposit on a longer apartment stay, whatever.
  • You need to organize travel and health insurance. For god’s sake, hospitals even in Asia become ridiculously expensive, and will ruin your finances if you’re not covered.
  • You need to realize chasing WiFi signals and power sockets will become your new normal, and it can be a challenge to stay connected 100% of the time.
  • You need to realize your motivation to work when there’s fun things to do and the beach calling can drop to zero, and that’s why I don’t work weekends.
  • You need to realize it can be lonely and not everyone can do it. Make a point to stay in touch with people back home, and find ways to make friends wherever you are.

Easiest way to get started?

Why not just dip your toes in the water?

Unless you’re currently out of work, don’t quit your job.

Take some time off, be it paid or unpaid, and do a test run. You could come over to Asia for 3 or 4 weeks and make a go of it. Or just book a short-stay AirBnB in that city youv’e always wanted to visit. Or you could even stay home and keep your costs low.

  • See what work you can drum up.
  • See what it’s like working from cafes and hostels.
  • See if you actually enjoy this kind of lifestyle.

And at the end, you’ll be far better equipped to make the right call.

Getting started as a digital nomad isn’t hard, but you do need to plan ahead, just a few key points, to ensure you’re going to make a success of it.

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