Can you picture yourself with a laptop by a new beach each week, making money and taking a dip whenever the urge strikes? That’s the popular image of a digital nomad lifestyle and it’s one that’s taken the world by storm. It’s not surprising, given that it’s a dream come true for many, to get out of the nine to five grind and into the world, while still making a living.
You’ll find a whole industry offering courses about how to have a digital nomad lifestyle. Many of them are useful, however it’s not as complicated as it appears. All you really need is the guts to leave the ‘norm’ behind, online skills and the willpower to actually work while your feet are in the sand.
First steps to having a digital nomad lifestyle
I’m a travel and lifestyle writer, which lends itself perfectly to online work to keep me fed and travelling the globe. You don’t need to be, however you do need to find your online niche, before becoming location independent. There are so many online careers available, you’re bound to find one that matches your skill set. Or, something that you like enough in order to study it and launch a business.
The keyword here is ‘like’, because you’ll never get any work done while you’re travelling, if you hate what you do. Once you’ve matched your skill set or interests to an online job, you can get your foot in the door by signing up to job boards or via agencies.
Here are some options:
- Web or app development
- Graphic Design
It can take some time to build up a client base or jump on board with a company for regular income. Take it one step at a time and don’t worry about starting off small. If your main goal is to be location independent, kick that one first. When you’ve had a taste of nomad living, you’ll find the inspiration you need to springboard into bigger and better things in your career.
Take a deep breath, pack your bags and get ready to take the plunge. You won’t regret it.
Best digital nomad lifestyle locations
If you’re making truckloads of money, the world is your proverbial oyster. However, that’s not how most of us start off. You’ll be happy to know there are locations across the globe that offer cheap living expenses, complete with the stunning scenery, cultural highlights, adventures and exotic food you’re probably craving. These are my four favourite spots for digital nomad living.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Vietnam offers everything a digital nomad on a budget requires, including fast internet, cheap accommodation, an epic food scene and co-working hubs for travellers. If you love the frenzied vibe of the city, Ho Chi Minh ensures your senses are alive every second of the day. For a more chilled-out experience of nomad living, Hoi An captivates with rice fields, idyllic beaches, friendly locals and fantastic infrastructure for long term stays.
You can ride your bike everywhere, stop off at laptop-friendly cafes like the Dingo Deli, pop over to An Bang Beach for a swim and spend your nights within the lamplit splendour of the UNESCO-listed Ancient Town. Local food is incredibly cheap, however Western options abound, when nothing but a pizza will do. For accommodation, it’s best to look around once you’re there. It’s possible to find houses for rent on a monthly basis for as little as $300 AUD, lovely hotels for $20 a night and cheery rooms in homestays for $10 or less.
Along with Thailand’s Chiang Mai, Bali usually takes top billing as one of the best digital nomad lifestyle locations in the world. This is an island that’s truly blessed by nature’s paintbrush, where you’ll explore monkey-filled jungles, surf famous reef breaks and dine with views of emerald rice paddies. There’s an overriding sense of peace within the organised chaos of Balinese life and inspiration is available on tap.
Tourist areas in Bali are just as expensive as anywhere in the world, but you’ll find pockets to immerse yourself in local life, complete with cheap prices. Ubud, Uluwatu, Sanur and Canggu are hot spots for co-working spaces, budget villa and homestay rental and backstreets filled with local warungs to eat your fill on a shoestring.
Prague, Czech Republic
When you’re looking for awe-inspiring history, cheap beer and architecture so beautiful it cracks your heart open, Prague is the digital nomad lifestyle city for you. It’s a walker’s paradise, so you can sling your laptop over your shoulder and head off each day to find a new quirky cafe beneath the shadows of turrets, palaces and Gothic churches. I was inspired to write my first novel here and, if you’re a writer like me, there’s no better place to get the creative juices flowing.
In terms of practicality, you’ll find high speed, reliable internet, markets for budget groceries and long-stay apartments for about $600 AUD a month. There’s an active expat community in Prague and excellent coworking spaces for networking, including LOCUS and Impact Club. When your feet start itching, it’s an easy drive to explore the rest of the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Wake up every morning in Luang Prabang to the visual feast of saffron-robed monks lining the streets, for the morning alms ceremony. Encircled by the Mekong and Namkhan Rivers and backed by dramatic, green mountains, Luang Prabang heightens your senses while soothing your soul. I went for a week and stayed for a month, enchanted by the easy pace, spectacular outlooks and charming culture of the UNESCO-listed town.
Homestays are character-filled, friendly and private in Luang Prabang, for as little as $10 AUD a night. Or, you’ll get luxury apartments, infinity pools and jungle views for $50 upwards. The internet is fast and reliable in most places, plus delicious food is cheap in non-touristy restaurants and at street stalls. Sunset beverages are a treat, at bohemian bars overlooking the water. You’ll find you’ll want to work from the cozy environs of your hotel or homestay, however cafes like Joma make the digital nomad lifestyle a breeze.
Practical tips for an easy digital nomad lifestyle
One of the first things you quickly realise as a digital nomad, is that your needs are quite different to those of a traveller. It’s all about changing your mindset, so you can organise a nomadic life that’s both conducive to work and play. The number one priority is finding a comfortable space to work.
- Digital nomad workspaces
Taking your laptop to the beach or a trendy inner city venue is a highlight, but sometimes it’s just not practical. Trying to concentrate in the burning sun, with traffic noise, loud music or colourful distractions isn’t always easy. What is easy, is falling into procrastination and forgetting to hit your deadlines. The best thing to do is book hotels or apartments with everything you need, so you always have a ‘go to’ spot.
For me, this includes a desk with a comfortable chair, a balcony or outdoor space, free internet and a basic kitchenette. A pool with a swim up bar is a great bonus, but it’s a mistake to base your hotel research on holiday facilities, while neglecting the necessities for work life. Always make sure your destination offers fast internet, laptop-friendly cafes with free internet or coworking spaces, before booking a flight. There’s nothing worse than being stuck with no internet or nowhere to work, when you’re up against a deadline.
- Find your most productive times
One of the best things about the digital nomad lifestyle is having the freedom to do what you please, when you please. However, it doesn’t always work that way. While you’re not likely to have to set an alarm ever again – except for an exciting early morning flight to a new country – you will need to figure out when you’re most productive if you want to keep making money.
I’m usually on fire with writing first thing in the morning, so I’m happy to get up early, write a few articles and head off on adventures after lunch. Others prefer to have most of the day free and work after the sun goes down. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in paradise with 12 hours of work to do and no time for play. This can be excruciating, if you’re susceptible to FOMO. Flexibility is key, but so is the ability to focus on working every day during your most productive hours, to get the job done and leave more time for fun.
- Ignore the myths
When you decide the digital nomad life is for you, it’s likely you’ll find yourself barraged by misconceptions. A common one is people in your life thinking that you must be going through a phase, running away from something, avoiding responsibility or doing the ‘Eat Pray Love’ thing. If you do want to be a digital nomad for any of these reasons, it’s not likely you’ll succeed, so they do have a point.
If you want to be a digital nomad because you’re passionate about your work, value the benefits of freedom, love immersing in new cultures, embrace minimalist living and find constant change stimulating, then it’s a conscious decision just like any other lifepath. I can’t imagine returning to a nine to five job, with a boss who determines when I can have lunch, let alone go to a new country. I love creating my own income, my own schedule and using my time to learn, explore and expand.
Being a digital nomad isn’t a phase, it isn’t a solution to problems at home and it isn’t for everyone. It is a career path that could make you very rich, or at least get you by in order to discover the next destination. The point is, you decide how much effort you’re willing make, in terms of generating money. Families with small children are digital nomads, as are highschool graduates and grandparents. Travelling doesn’t discriminate and age has little relevance in the online world.
When you know it’s right for you, it’s a choice that offers freedom from restrictions you didn’t even realise you were subject to. It’s all about living life, rather than letting life live you. For many of us, this is the type of freedom that makes your soul sing – and there’s no going back.
Do you have any questions about becoming a digital nomad? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.