Becoming a digital nomad seems like an attractive option these days.
After a year of not being able to travel, who wouldn’t want to ditch the home office and start working on a tropical beach?
Speaking from personal experience, being a digital nomad is a mixed bag of experiences.
In some ways, it’s truly incredible, in other ways it can be incredibly isolating and stressful.
I’ve met people who struggled with the lifestyle, and others who thrived.
What’s the difference between the two?
Let’s take a look.
What Skills Do You Need to be a Digital Nomad?
The necessary skills you need to be a digital nomad can be separated into two categories: marketable skills and general life skills.
When people ask about what skills they need, they generally only think in terms of what skills can get them a job.
This is a mistake.
Being a digital nomad requires skills for traveling and adapting to new cultures in addition to their job skills.
How Can I Become a Successful Digital Nomad?
1. Define your own version of success.
Before you book any tickets, the first question you should ask yourself is why do you want to become a digital nomad?
If your answer is “to make a lot of money,” you’re probably not going to be very happy as a digital nomad.
You’re more likely to find avenues for more income in your home country rather than elsewhere.
If your version of success involves getting a chance to interact with different cultures, see the world, and try new foods, you can probably find success as a digital nomad.
The key is understanding what success means to you and working from there. So ask yourself: what experiences do you want to have in the next five years?
If you would like to experience things like homeownership and starting a family, a dramatic lifestyle shift will not bring you closer to your goals.
If you want to experience new places, try new foods, and learn a new language, then digital nomadism may be the right choice for you.
2. Create a game plan for your departure.
Digital nomads are often stereotyped as free-spirits, but the reality is that moving countries takes some preparation.
You will want to have your ducks in a row pre-departure.
a. Save money for moving
Moving is expensive, and moving to a different country can be even more so.
A good rule of thumb for a budding digital nomad is to look up the country (or countries) you plan to live in’s cost of living and save enough for six months’ living expenses.
Look into your country of choice’s visa requirements.
Some countries will require a bank statement verifying you have sufficient funds to support yourself before they issue you a visa.
b. Get paperwork in order, passports, visas, medical records, etc
Do you have a passport? Is it still valid for at least six months?
If not, you will not be allowed on an international flight. In reality, you’ll probably want more time on your passport than that.
Most people spend several years living as digital nomads, and getting your passport replaced through an embassy can be a hassle.
Make sure to look up the visa requirements before entering the new country. Some countries will issue a visa-on-arrival, others do not.
You do not want to be turned away at the airport due to a clerical error on your part.
Do not forget to obtain a copy of your medical records. You may end up adopting a new home country, and eventually, you will need medical care in your new home.
Explaining your entire medical history to a doctor who does not speak your native language is a hassle.
c. Sell your possessions
Large and expensive items like cars and gaming consoles will not be coming with you.
Many digital nomads end up wasting a lot of money over time by placing large items in storage that they never return to.
If you are attached to large items like instruments, you can give them to family members for safekeeping, but realize that you may never come back.
Many digital nomads find new homes abroad. Even if your full intention is to return to your home country eventually, your entire life needs to fit into a bag you can carry.
3. Develop marketable skills for jobs that can be done remotely
The biggest difference between a digital nomad and a tourist is that a digital nomad is working.
If you’ve done your job remotely during the pandemic, ask your boss if you can continue your remote role.
If there are any courses available for developing your marketable skills between now and your departure date, enroll now.
The internet needs infinite content.
If you have a knack for writing, a new career in copywriting could be for you!
Even if you never finished that novel, people need writers for product descriptions, SEO blog posts, ad copy, landing pages, YouTube scripts, and even Twitter threads.
b. Digital Media
Do you have any skills in graphic design? Did you get an “A” in your photography class?
Can you edit videos? As stated before, the internet needs infinite content.
Every website or piece of marketing material requires visual components.
c. IT/Web Development
It’s no secret that tech tends to be a high-paying field, and it’s great for those who want to be digital nomads.
Many programmers enjoy the lifestyle because they’re already used to working on a computer all day, and enjoy a higher purchasing power in countries with a favorable exchange rate.
d. Stock Trading
These days, stock traders are no longer confined to high-rise buildings in big cities.
Many tech-savvy people get their start in the financial world through apps and platforms like the ones you can find on youngandtheinvested.com.
4. Develop soft skills
a. Coping with loneliness
While there are many amazing experiences to be had as a digital nomad, you will not be sharing them with any of your friends and family back home.
You will need to know how to enjoy your solitude and how to make new friends.
b. Time management
When you are a digital nomad, no boss is breathing down your neck to get things done.
It is entirely up to you to manage your time correctly.
Some get entirely lost in the experience of travel, some see every beach as a great place to check their email.
You need to find a balance.
c. Communication through language barriers
If you go to several countries in a year, it is unlikely that you will learn more than “hello” and “thank you” in the local tongue.
You will often need to rely on body and language to communicate with locals.
Are Digital Nomads Happy?
Speaking from personal experience, yes and no.
The people I met who weren’t happy had left with the expectation that they would become a different person in their new location.
There’s a saying among travelers trying to escape themselves, “wherever you go, there you are.”
If you have issues with self-esteem, the lifestyle of a digital nomad can be torture because it can be profoundly lonely.
Every time I moved to a new country, I had to make a new set of friends all over again.
The first month of living in a new country almost always involves spending a lot of time alone, so you better enjoy your own company.
The happy digital nomads had similar qualities in common with happy non-nomads. They defined success on their own terms, they valued friendship and connection, and they held an optimistic view of life.
Becoming a digital nomad is an attractive lifestyle choice, but it also comes with a few drawbacks.
If you already have a location-independent job, maybe it’s time to take that show on the road!
Ellie Lott is passionate about millennial financial planning and uses her website to help educate her generation on making smart decisions with their money. Looking back upon her upbringing, it’s scary to see how a lack of fundamental financial knowledge can really disadvantage a family… and a generation who grew up in that household. She made a decision to help educate others who haven’t been so fortunate as she was.