Digital Nomad Guide

Being a digital nomad around South America has led me to land jobs in running a hostel in Ecuador, shoot stunning travel photography, and experiences I’ll never forget. In this post, I’ll show you the exact plan I would follow if I could start over again. But first, let’s get a little background information.

What is a digital nomad? A digital nomad is a traveler who earns money through technology like the internet, computers, and other digital mediums. Since their lifestyle is mainly location-independent, they can find it beneficial to work in foreign countries, coffee shops, and in coworking spaces.

What is Digital Nomad Lifestyle?

Digital nomad lifestyle means earning money through the internet in while moving from place to place. Not having to stay in the same town or city in order to work means that you can live a location independent life.

The idea actually came from some very simple concepts. Nomads in the traditional sense are people who move from place to place in order to increase their chances of survival, and doing the same in digital format is not much different.

Suppose you live in a place where rent costs you $1,000 USD, car insurance, medical insurance, groceries, entertainment, and taxes all cost you too much.

If you’re from the United States, you’ll have a couple of options which include working three jobs, or you may want to move to a cheaper place to live, where the cost of living in lower. Well, with the introduction of the internet, that’s all changing.

Now, you can write an ebook and sell it on your own website or through digital marketplaces. You can be a freelance writer and email your work in exchange for payment. You can design a website for a client 5,000km away from you and charge through an online payment system.

Architects can design floor plans for clients in other countries, programmers can make Android apps for clients or sell them on their own, and developers can make websites for clients around the world.

This is all happening right now.

For a low end project, I charged as little as $400 for a website design for a client in Australia, and the money would last me an entire month in South America. From just one project.

Digital nomad
As a digital nomad, overlooking the city of Cuzco, Peru

How to Become a Digital Nomad

A nomad basically follows one of a few of several models to earn money. Figure out which one you’re most likely to succeed in, and learn more about it before jumping in. Here they are:

  • Freelancing or consulting
  • Telecommuter or remote job employee
  • Established online business
  • Earnings on investments

You’ve heard about it from reliable sources, from “bro marketers”, and from jerks making an income through Instagram with fancy cars and girls in bikinis.

But it doesn’t always work out that way.

I was in a position where I had no money saved up, no real plan, and a sense of desperation. Staying in the same place (California) was going to cost me around $1,200 USD per month just to pay an apartment.

My plan was to freelance abroad as a web designer, teach English, and volunteer at hostels, while working on building an online business. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that things didn’t turn out that way.

Analyze Your Current Situation

These plans don’t fit everybody, but the paths to success as a nomad are unlimited. Some people already have a head start if they have a large savings account, or have a strong advantage just from being born in a different country than you. So you might have to work extra hard.

For the purposes of this guide, I’ll pretend like I’m writing to myself, a desperate U.S. citizen with student debt, a passion for travel, and not much saved up.

What are your options? Answer these truthfully. Take inventory of everything you owe and income that you’re currently making. Do any members of your family depend on you? Do you have children? Some families can travel indefinitely, so not all hope is lost.

If you are in debt, can you go on a consolidation plan to lower your payments? Here’s where I get a lot of criticism, and it is completely understood. Why would anybody be traveling while they have debt? For me, it came down to priorities. I was falling ill, started losing my hair, and had serious symptoms of depression. If I didn’t make a sudden change, I would probably get sicker and die. Live your life for yourself, and if you can power through and get rid of debt before traveling, by all means, do what’s best for you.

Can your job offer a remote option for the work you’re already performing? You’d be surprised at the options available if you just ask. Do you run an existing business? Can you make it run without you? Have you thought about selling it?

Come Up with a Strategy

Don’t just jump in! Sure, you might be a risk taker and thrive on hard challenges, but I’ll tell you right now: You don’t know everything. When people are learning how to perform dangerous stunts, they always do this with a safety net, and so you should you. You will not have a friend’s apartment to crash on for a night if you’re in a foreign country.

I screwed up. My chosen strategy was:

  1. Go somewhere and find jobs doing anything
  2. Volunteer at hostels for room and board
  3. Work on an online business while I’m there

The sad truth was that there were hundreds of other backpackers doing the same thing. Some food-stealing hippies gave us all a bad reputation, and finding a place to stay was much harder than I thought. The pressure gets intense, and it becomes tiring after a while.

The choices were much better the second time around. My recommended strategy is the following:

  1. Tally up all of your costs including cost of living expenses, travel, food, emergency funds, and your escape money, in case you need to abort mission and fly back home.
  2. Get your money in order by saving up that amount, and begin experimenting with freelancing online while you’re still in your home country if you haven’t already. Freelancing has saved my butt several times.
  3. Remember, the more money you have upfront, the longer the runway will be to really create a business you can live off of, especially if you’re planning on a business that depends on traveling such as a travel blog, a podcast, YouTube monetization, etc.
  4. Get some clients online while you’re still at home, or begin finding some other way to earn cash through the internet. Start off as a freelancer. Once you break an average earnings that equals or surpasses that of the standard of living in your starting country, you’ll feel more confident. Don’t spend that money on dumb stuff.
  5. Begin planning a long term online business, something that can generate an audience. I’m not talking about an Instagram account, or a YouTube channel. I’m saying a genuine business that belongs to you. Create a website and use it as your main hub to begin connecting with your audience. This will take the most time, so start right away.

What Are Your Skills?

This is a work in progress. Last update: 04/25/2019