WRITTEN BY: STACEY LEASCA
The work-from-anywhere movement is here, and those who have embraced it even have a name: Digital nomads. Digital nomads, or those who combine remote work with a love of travel, are on the rise, thanks to a growing number of companies that are adopting a more digital-first format.
Trading in the nine-to-five for a nomadic lifestyle can sound enticing, but is it right for you? Here are some key things to know before you hit the road.
Related: Pros & cons of online and mobile banking
What is a digital nomad?
Digital nomads are professionals who work fully remote jobs and move locations frequently. They are able to do this either because they are self-employed or because their company allows for a more transient lifestyle.
The number of people who describe themselves as digital nomads is on the rise. According to a report from professional talent marketplace MBO Partners, the number of self-described digital nomads in the U.S. rose from 7.3 million in 2019 to 10.9 million in 2020, a 49% jump.
While the digital nomad lifestyle was dominated mostly by freelancers in years past, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted many office workers into new lifestyles. The MBO study found the number of digital nomads with traditional jobs rose a full 96% between 2019 and 2020.
How much do digital nomads make?
Because digital nomads are a mix of full-timers and part-timers, and many only do it for part of a year, their income varies widely, according to MBO Partners.
Their research found that in 2020, 26% of digital nomads reported earning less than $25,000 per year. But 38%, or about 4.1 million, said they earn $75,000 or more. Regardless of how much they made, most digital nomads said that they were satisfied with their earnings
Common jobs for digital nomads
According to FlexJobs, the most popular fields for digital nomads include:
- Education & Training
- Customer Service
- Art & Creative
- Computer & IT
- Data Entry
- Project Management
25 Things to know before becoming a digital nomad
If you’re trying to decide if the digital nomad life is right for you, here are a number of things you may want to consider.
1. You’ll be able to learn about different cultures
As a digital nomad, you get to choose where you spend your time. Maybe you’ve always wanted to know what it’s like to live on the Greek island or in the Peruvian Andes. Or maybe you want to learn more about your ancestors. You can do that as a digital nomad. Making a list of the things you really want to see, do and learn in your lifetime can help you start formulating a plan.
2. You could learn a new language along the way
Beyond meeting new people, you can also choose to learn new things as a digital nomad. Living and working in a place can significantly improve your language skills. So if you want to learn Spanish, you may want to plan on living in Spain for a few months.
Hate winters? They can be a thing of the past. As a digital nomad, you get to choose where you live and work, so if you want to summer in the States, then summer again in Australia, South America or anywhere else where the temperatures are right for you, you can do it.
4. Having a plan B, and maybe even C, is prudent
As a digital nomad, you will likely be moving around a lot, which means you may hit more snags than if you were staying in one place. Because of this, it is a good idea to always have a backup plan, like a second accommodation option in case your first one doesn’t fit the bill, multiple options for reaching Wi-Fi, as well as a starting an emergency fund.
5. Making close friendships can be a challenge
If you’re not staying in one place for very long, it can be difficult to create deep connections with people you meet. However, if you’re willing to put time and effort into making and keeping new friends, these relationships can last for as long as you want.
6. There’s a massive global network waiting to welcome you
Fortunately, if you decide to dip your toe in the digital nomad waters, you will not be alone. There are millions of others around the globe who are currently living the digital nomad life–and plenty of Facebook, Instagram and chat groups to help you connect with them.
7. You may be able to set your own hours
Because you are no longer working in an office, it may be possible to create your own working hours. This can be a major perk for many who do not like to adhere to the nine-to-five lifestyle. For example, you could choose to work early in the morning and take off the afternoons or vice versa. If your working situation allows this, it’s totally up to you.
8. Your entire day will likely depend on WiFi availability
If connecting to the internet to conduct work and communicate with clients or employers is important for your job on a regular basis, it can be a good idea to choose destinations with reliable WiFi. You can also take advantage of websites, such as WiFi Map, that help you track down free WiFi wherever you are in the world.
9. Investing in a VPN could be smart
Depending on where you decide to travel, internet access could become an issue. That’s because the internet is censored in certain destinations. To help you access the websites you want or need for work, you may want to download a VPN (virtual private network) prior to departure. This can help you get around any censorship issues and help protect your privacy online. The cost of a good VPN service is around $10 per month.
10. You’ll likely become a coffee shop connoisseur
Cafe life can be clutch for digital nomads. Not only are coffee shops typically welcoming to those who need to use WiFi, but they can also be excellent places to chat with locals, make new friends or simply soak up the local culture.
11. Maintaining a routine can be a challenge
If you’re traveling on your own, and have the freedom to set your own work hours, your routine will be entirely up to you. For some people, this can become a challenge because they have little structure to their day. As a digital nomad, it can be a good idea to come up with your own daily schedule, such as walking in the morning, working in the afternoon and taking an exercise class at night, no matter where you are.
12. It may be hard to maintain connections with old friends
Just as your life is moving on in a new direction, so are the lives of those you left behind. If you want to stay connected, you are likely going to have to make an effort. You may want to set reminders for yourself to send text messages, make phone calls or go the old-fashioned way and write letters to those you hold nearest and dearest.
13. You may need to learn global visa rules
If you want to become an international digital nomad, you will likely have to learn a lot of the rules of entry into different countries and make sure you have all the necessary documents in advance. For example, some countries require all travelers to have visas, while others only require them for stays longer than 90 days.
14. You’ll need to take stock of your finances
The good news: Being a digital nomad doesn’t have to be expensive. You can save money by spending time in a nation where goods cost less, or you might forgo a car and take public transit, or even couch surf when you can. No matter how you choose to travel and live, it’s a good idea to figure out a budget beforehand, and keep track of your spending as you go so you don’t run out of funds while you’re still a long way from home.
15. You’ll want to have easy access to your money
Traveling the globe, you will want to make sure you can access your money wherever and whenever you need it. And while you can do that with many U.S. banks, many will charge you foreign transaction fees, as well as ATM fees, which could make it expensive to access your own cash. It’s a good idea to read the fine print before you set out and, if necessary, choose a different financial institution.
16. You’ll want to check your phone and insurance plans
It’s a good idea to check your cell phone contract to find out what the coverage is while traveling. Ideally, you want a phone plan that allows for unlimited data while traveling internationally. It’s also a good idea to find out what your insurance will cover if you need care in another part of the country or in a different country.
17. Hiring a tax professional can be a smart investment
Depending on your employment situation, you may need to pay quarterly income taxes. You may also need to pay taxes on income earned while living abroad. Since this can get complicated, it may be worthwhile to hire an accountant who can help you navigate the ins and outs of tax law and even complete your tax return for you, giving you one less thing to worry about on the road.
18. The right housing can be hard to find
As a digital nomad, you may not have the luxury of getting to see a property before renting it. That means you may get there and realize you made a mistake. If possible, you may want to avoid committing to (and paying upfront) a long-term stay before you see the place. It can also be a good idea to have a backup accommodation plan in case things don’t look quite as good as they did online.
19. Storage may become an issue
Depending on how long you plan to travel around the globe, you may need to store your items along the way. When doing so, it can be a good idea to store items in facilities or places that a friend or family member is able to access. That way, if you need something important while you’re on the other side of the world, they can get it and send it to you.
20. You may want to start journaling
As a digital nomad, you will likely be making incredible memories. Even if you’ve never kept a journal, you may want to start keeping a notebook where you jot down a few lines at the end of each day or week, and document things you saw or experienced or simply what you’re feeling. You’ll likely enjoy looking back on this later. And knowing what worked and didn’t work can also help you plan your next adventure as a nomad.
21. ‘Vacation’ may take on new meaning
Because you can live and work from anywhere in the world, “vacation” may no longer mean the same thing as it used to. It can be important as a digital nomad to still ensure you are taking time off to rest and relax and recharge from your work routine. What’s great is that you can now take a vacation without having to hop on a plane to get away from it all because you’re already there.
22. Longer-term stays tend to work best
When transitioning to a digital nomad lifestyle, it can be tempting to hop around from one place to the next in quick succession. However, this can wreak havoc on your routine and become exhausting. It also makes it hard to get to know a place or make new friends. Instead, you may want to plan for longer stints of time, such as several months, in each destination.
23. Being alone can be challenging
If you are taking up the digital nomad lifestyle on your own, you will likely be spending more time than ever before solo. And, you’ll no longer have co-workers to chat with during the day. While this can be a welcome relief for many, others may struggle with loneliness. To help combat feelings of social isolation, it can help to join meetup groups, head to events solo where you can meet new people, or join a co-working space.
24. You may get homesick
Yes, getting to explore the world and go wherever you wish as a digital nomad is a gift. But, the reality is that, at one point or another, you will likely miss home. It may be that you are missing family, friends, or that bit of normalcy you once had. It can help to know that this is normal and expected, and you may even want to give in to it by calling home and letting it out.
25. You may find out it’s not the right life for you
The digital nomad lifestyle can sound wildly appealing. After all, we often see people living their best nomad life on social media. However, there are difficulties and challenges that come with the nomad lifestyle. You may try it and decide it’s not the right choice for you, which is perfectly fine. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ll like until you try it.
Pros and cons of being a digital nomad
Being a digital nomad can bring personal and professional freedom. You’ll no longer have to deal with everyday office politics or have to go to the same place every weekday. And instead of only having a couple of weeks to travel each year, you can see and experience new places all year long.
But being a digital nomad can also be a lot of work. If you’re going freelance or starting your own business, it can take a lot of time, effort and hustle to start making real money.
Also, depending on your budget, you may also have to put up with less than glamorous accommodations. And for some, the nomad life can get lonely.
The digital nomad lifestyle is on the rise, with nearly 11 million Americans now self-describing as such. The nomad life can take more work than some are willing to put in, including finding new routines, more personal accountability and dealing with details like getting visas and finding the best cell phone and health insurance plans.
However, this life-work choice can pay off–nomads not only get to see the world, nearly 40% of them also report making $75,000 or more annually.