I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘digital nomad’ to be honest. Videos like this one, together with all too many cliches, have made it seem a rather idealistic and unrealistic way for people to try to drag out their travels as much as possible. However I might try and avoid it though, a digital nomad is, in fact, what I am these days – and there are a lot of us around. From “virtual assistants” and “social media managers” to the many thousands of travel bloggers and web developers there are a huge number of us trying to make a living outside of the usual 9-5. All of us trying to do so in a way that allows us to indulge in our passion for travel whilst still making a reasonable living.
It’s the ultimate definition of working to live rather than living to work and it certainly seems at first glance like most of us are living the dream… So are we? I titled this becoming a digital nomad rather than being a digital nomad. Several months in, I’m still working my socks off to get to the point where I feel like my work is fully balanced with my travel. Getting to that point is definitely not always as dreamy as it appears!
How Did I Even End Up As A Digital Nomad?
Less than a year ago I was working full time in an office, sitting at a computer and “doing digital marketing” for my clients until unfortunately, redundancy hit me and my partner (who worked at the same company) like a bolt out of the blue. Rather than immediately looking for other jobs we spontaneously decided to take some time out and to use our hard-earned savings to see as much of the world as we physically (and financially) could before getting back to the daily grind. As it turns out, we loved traveling so much that we didn’t want to stop! This meant that we needed to work out how we could afford to continue.
I’m lucky that with my past experience in digital marketing and my partner’s in web development, our old careers lent themselves perfectly to working remotely online. This is true of so many other roles these days, from copywriting and administration to accounting and many types of consulting. If there’s an internet connection that’s quick enough – paid work can be done! However there is definitely a degree of luck involved with this. We were fortunate enough to work in the digital industry for 7 years; however if you didn’t set out on a career path that suits online and remote working it may be more tricky to convert. I do feel though that if you think creatively, many jobs or perhaps the fundamental skills involved in them can be twisted to suit the life of a digital nomad.
I’m not going to lie, getting up and running is hard. It’s so much easier if you have the opportunity to use any previous connections you have built up and any solid industry experience you have acquired. In this regard, there’s a definite advantage to building a life and career before you go traveling, rather than traveling before gaining this knowledge and experience. It just makes things a lot simpler and easier to get off the ground. With a few years experience and connections you’ll find yourself with a useful network that you can check in with for opportunities. One of our first steps was to contact old colleagues, companies we’d associated with in our old jobs and even old clients who had been in touch with us previously about freelance opportunities. With my focus on writing I was able to pick up several roles creating online content and proofreading for people I knew prior to our travels.
How To Become A Digital Nomad
Use social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and even Twitter to search for opportunities. One of the best projects I’ve worked on recently was picked up purely from a random search on Linkedin for remote content writers who were needed on a short term freelance basis. I’ve also pitched to many people who have tweeted or posted messages to groups on Facebook when they’ve been looking for similar work. Everyone is online these days and whether you know them or not it’s a great way to connect and try to pick up work as a digital nomad.
You need to consider your portfolio as well – another reason LinkedIn can come in handy as a place to store and easily update your resume. For me, after deciding my main focus would be writing, I had to make sure our blog showcased my ability to write meaningful articles. That then led to other paid writing opportunities, mainly in the travel niche, which was what I was really passionate about getting involved in.
After several months of hustling, both to people in my professional circle and outside of it, more projects started trickling in and the reality of becoming a digital nomad seemed to be getting closer. To this day I continue to supplement my income with websites like Upwork and Freelancer which help connect companies and business owners with freelancers who have the skillsets they require. Everything bad thing you’ve heard about these sites is true – expect to apply for tons of vacancies and receive very few responses, to get paid below the minimum wage at times and to feel pretty downhearted. On the flip side though, these networks are huge and if you are persistent (persistence is key!) they are a great way to get started and to keep a steady stream of income trickling in.
So 9 months into our travels I think I can now call myself a digital nomad – as a couple our earnings are supporting our cost of living and traveling, and we’ve managed to create a sustainable way to continue living our dream. I wouldn’t say we’re living THE dream though, it’s not all cocktails and luxury resorts! So if you’re planning to give it a go then take care to manage your own expectations from the start! It’s hard work a lot of the time, not as glamorous as it seems in all those instagram pictures and those dry spells of work and the wait for invoices to be paid can be nail bitingly tense. All in all though, we absolutely love our travel jobs and are proud to have created a digital nomad lifestyle where we can carry on seeing the world at the same time as working.
Top Tips For Aspiring Digital Nomads
For anyone else who is looking to do the same as we did my best advice would be:
- Prepare to Hustle.
It’s my least favourite part but the work isn’t going to come to you so you need to put yourself out there whether it’s to people you know or new people.
- Get Social.
Use LinkedIn, join relevant Facebook groups, pitch companies who you think you can help. Keep it friendly and relevant and it should pay off.
- Create an Awesome Portfolio.
It doesn’t have to be a blog but consider the best way you can showcase your skills.
- Be Thick Skinned.
It’s not going to happen overnight and you will get rejections and sometimes have to accept jobs that don’t pay as much as you would want, but it’s all part of the journey
- Persistence is Key.
As above, it’s not a quick transition to go from 9-5 desk work to working from anywhere in the world and earning a living, being persistent and consistent will really help.
- Expect to Work Hard.
Sometimes for not a lot in return, or so it might feel – it’s really hard work a lot of the time and it’s not all sightseeing and laptop poses on the beach.
If you’re happy to take a risk and put in some serious leg work, creating a lifestyle that allows you to earn money by doing something you love as well as traveling the world is an amazing feeling. Above all, I’d say what do you have to lose? There are so many ways to combine work with travel these days that there’s no real reason to stick to an office-bound traditional 9-5!
This is a guest post by Sarah Edwards.
Sarah is busy trying to balance work and play as she travels the world with her other half – read more of their adventures at Not Another Travel Blog.