The day I was let go from my corporate media job in New York City, I packed up my cubicle into a cardboard box and walked out the front door during the lunch hour. I immediately called my mom and told her, “I’m going to Europe.” The questions and comments started pouring in: “How long will you be gone? When are you going to start working again? You don’t have a lot of money. How are you planning on supporting yourself while you travel? Just start looking for a new job in New York.”
The thought of starting a new 9-5 job made me feel queasy, but without an income, there was no way I could afford to stay in New York City. After one month, I left and moved back in with my parents and started working from home. That’s when I realized I could continue working and travel simultaneously; I haven’t looked back since. If you are considering a location-independent lifestyle, here are some tips on how to get started, what you should know beforehand, and advice on how to balance work and travel.
1) ANYONE CAN FIND ONLINE JOBS
While you may think remote work is only meant for designers, writers, or web developers, anyone can make money online. Are you a people person? You could be an online sales rep. Are you interested in nutrition? Consider offering online consultations via Skype. Are you a scientist? Offer mentoring or tutoring for high school or university students. There are always ways to apply your skills online, no matter what your background is in. I’ve had a lot of luck using indeed.com, remoteOK, and pangian.com. There are also sites that you can pay membership for like FlexJobs to find an even wider range of online work.
2) EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE TRAVELING, YOU STILL HAVE TO WORK
One week, you might be backpacking through the south of Spain. A month later, you could be camped out in the deserts of Morocco. But when you have a deadline to meet, sit yourself down and actually do the work. I prefer to get the bulk of my work done at the beginning of each week to free up time for sightseeing or relaxing later in the week. Regardless of your adopted office space of the day, remember that you still have a responsibility to your clients to get sh*t done and get it done well. Sometimes you’ll be working on your laptop from a hostel or a hotel or a cafe or a public library. And sometimes you’ll be sitting at the beach working from your phone while drinking out of a coconut. You can find WiFi almost anywhere these days, so do what works for you!
3) YOUR TRAVEL POSSIBILITIES WILL SEEM ENDLESS
When I first went remote, I was overwhelmed with the possibility of traveling everywhere. London? Why not. Paris? Oui, oui! Bali? I’m there. Not having to commute to an office gives you the freedom to work from virtually anywhere (pun intended), and there are even specific programs now catered towards digital nomads such as Remote Year and Hacker’s Paradise. It will feel like you’re on a constant vacation at first, and you’ll probably have more than a few, “How is this my life?” moments. Last year, I visited and worked remotely in 17 countries! While I loved having the freedom to just pick up and go wherever and whenever I wanted, coordinating your work and travel schedule can get incredibly exhausting, especially when you’re doing it every couple of days. This brings me to my next point…
4) CONSIDER STAYING PUT IN ONE PLACE FOR LONGER THAN A MONTH
Ticking off as many places as you can from your bucket list can be exhilarating at first, but eventually, you get burned out and might even stop enjoying the nomadic aspect of the digital nomad lifestyle. When this starts to happen, try staying put in one place for a while. It is much easier for you to settle into a routine when you aren’t thinking about the logistical details of reaching your next destination. Staying in one place can really ground you and help you stay focused while you travel. And thanks to an increase in remote opportunities, digital nomad friendly places are popping up worldwide.
Some of the most popular locations for digital nomads include Chiang Mai, Ubud, Berlin, Medellin, and Cape Town because of their low cost of living and young, lively local cultures, and international crowds. Many even have co-working spaces where you can buy daily, weekly, or monthly memberships to use the space, network, and not have to worry about finding WiFi. Another great way of staying in a place and exploring one place is by doing a volunteer exchange; two popular sites for opportunities include Workaway and Worldpackers.
5) RESEARCH VISA POLICIES FOR THE COUNTRIES YOU WANT TO WORK FROM
This is definitely something important to do before you go. When I decided that I wanted the first part of my digital nomad journey to be Europe, I kind of just assumed I would spend six months there and come to find out there are very specific and strict rules when it comes to traveling in Europe. As an American citizen, I only had 90 days to travel visa-free in the Schengen Zone.* But, there are ways to stay in non-Schengen Zone countries within Europe for longer than 90 days without paying a fine, getting detained, or getting banned from a Schengen country for five years. In short, knowing how long you are allowed to travel in a country can help you plan your trip a little better and save you more money whether you’re working or not.
6) TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES WILL HAPPEN, SO HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
When I was working in Bali, my MacBook screen broke. There were no Apple Stores or resellers that could repair my screen because they said my model was too new and not yet available anywhere on the island. I was without a working computer for three whole weeks! Through a combination of using other traveler’s computers/tablets, and my iPhone, I was able to still complete most of my work. This is how I learned the hard way to always have a backup plan—investing in a cheap tablet and keyboard, befriending other people who are traveling with their laptops, buying extra data and working from your phone, or finding the nearest Internet cafe might end up being your lifelines. If all else fails, the best thing to do is notify your employer and be honest about the situation at hand. If they value your work and time, they will understand if you absolutely have to miss work for a week or two.
7) YOUR TRAVEL FRIENDS CAN BECOME YOUR BUSINESS NETWORK
Traveling and working simultaneously is the perfect chance for you to continually expand your personal and professional networks. One of the most rewarding things about being a digital nomad is befriending and staying in touch with people from around the world, either through casual social media platforms like Instagram or through LinkedIn. That person you met at a yoga retreat, on a trek in the Himalayas, or on a walking tour in Budapest could end up not only being your lifelong friend but may also open up new business opportunities for you in the future and vice-versa.
8) THE LONGER YOU’RE A DIGITAL NOMAD, THE EASIER IT GETS
Starting out as a digital nomad can be really difficult, especially if you’ve never worked remotely before. The first year for me, truth be told, was pretty uncertain at times in terms of having a stable income, not knowing where I’m going next, and dealing with the pressure of my family constantly asking me when I’m going to settle down and finally return to “a real job.” As in any job or career, you will go through a learning curve of how to prioritize your work schedule, manage your finances, communicate effectively with your employers, and still enjoy your free time. As they say, life is more about the journey than the destination.
Are you a digital nomad? We’d love to hear your stories, tips or questions in the comment section below!
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