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What is a Digital Nomad (And Why Should You Care?)

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Digital Nomadism is nothing new. In fact, becoming a digital nomad has become increasingly popular. This is especially true since the global crisis that graced our presence early last year. But what is a digital nomad anyway?

When most people think of remote work, chances are they think of people who work from home (possibly with a white picket fence).

It’s easy to understand why — the pandemic has forced people and companies to rethink how we approach the workplace.

However, working from home just to pay down the mortgage isn’t the only way to work remotely, not by a long shot.

In fact, an estimated 7.3 million Americans describe themselves as digital nomads, according to the latest study by MBO Partners. Beyond that, an additional 17 million Americans aspire to one day become a nomadic entrepreneur. 

So does that mean you should quit your day job and pursue the dream of working with your laptop on the beach sipping pina coladas every day of every week? 

I suppose you can do that if that’s what you really want. But buying into that reality isn’t really what being an internet nomad is all about.

It’s also not about being a social media influencer or a famous blogger with millions of followers. Sure, it wouldn’t hurt, but that’s not what it takes to be a digital nomad.

So what is it about and what does it take?

I’m glad you asked. Let’s dig in and find out! 

Free PDF: Download this step-by-step Digital Nomad Guide now to go from 9-to-5 job to location-independent entrepreneur.

So… What Is A Digital Nomad?

Digital nomad woman working remotely from her international apartment with an ocean view. This is a common work setup for nomadic entrepreneurs.

Okay so what is a digital nomad? 

Here’s the deal:

A digital nomad is anyone who has the ability to use “digital” (online) tools to work from anywhere in the world. 

Could that be at the beach sippin on a pina colada? Again, sure.

Could it be from a van as you road trip across the country? Absolutely.

Could it even be away from home at the international destination of your choice? Now you’re talking!

At its core, remote work simply means you have the ability to work online and away from the office. But digital nomads aren’t simply people who work from home. They’re people who leverage that freedom to live a nomadic lifestyle.

Location independence means that you have the freedom to create a work-life balance that allows you to travel, experience new cultures, and meet new people all while still making a living. It’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

(Okay I know you didn’t ask, but I’m telling you anyway.)

There is a common misconception that digital nomads are people who are “always on vacation and never work,” but in reality, it’s more like being a traveling entrepreneur than it is a trust-fund jetsetter. It’s not always as glamorous as it may seem and to be clear, most digital nomads still need to work in order to survive. The difference is that their work is location-independent.

Let’s dig a little deeper:

The definition of a nomad, according to Merriam-Webster, is “A member of a people who have no fixed residence but move from place to place usually seasonally and within a well-defined territory.”

The secondary nomad definition is “an individual who roams about.”

Based on these definitions, it’s clear to see how leisure jetsetting can be easily conflated with digital nomadism. It’s a fine line that distinguishes the two, but the line is still there.

After all, a traveling nomad still has to work!

What Does an Internet Nomad Do for Work?

Internet nomad taking a break from his remote work position. Traveling and working online is not as difficult as it may seem.

There’s an ever-growing number of location-independent jobs out there. If anything, the pandemic will only permanently increase these remote work opportunities.

A few years ago when I first began traveling and working online, I wrote a blog post titled 50 Location Independent Business That You Can Work From Anywhere in the World. To be honest, most if not everything I wrote then still applies today.

Some skills and jobs that you can do from anywhere include, but are not limited to:

  • Copywriting
  • Facebook Advertising/Google AdWords
  • SEO Services
  • Graphic Design
  • Computer Programming
  • WordPress/Blogging/Social Media Consulting
  • Photography/Videography
  • Proofreading
  • Video Editing
  • Language Translation Services

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to dive deeper into this specific topic, you can check out my previous article.

In general, there are three types of internet nomads: 

  1.  Remote employees who have a traditional employer, but their position allows for location independence. (Or you could always just convince your boss to allow you to work remotely.)
  2. Freelancers who are continuing to build their businesses while traveling.
  3. Digital business owners who simply need an internet connection and device to run their business. 

Sometimes, it can even be a combination of the above. For example, some remote employees continue working their jobs for stability while starting a side hustle; when that side hustle becomes stable enough, they make the jump into being a full-time freelancer or being a digital business owner.

Aside from billable hours, another way that nomads make money is through passive income. It’s not uncommon for online workers to dip their toes into blogging, YouTubing, and podcasting.

Some even start their own digital nomad blog, chronicling the ins and outs of their personal and professional journey. 

However, building a sizable audience takes time, so many entrepreneurs will often juggle multiple jobs. Passive income isn’t some get-rich-quick scheme. Getting there can take some time, but achieving it will make it easier to travel the world.

Just as there are different types of people and different types of professionals, there are different types of digital nomads. The end goal (financial and location independence) may be the same, but the specific journey to get there will look unique for everyone.

In my travel blog, I’ve interviewed several successful digital nomads. Some of my favorite interviews were with CarouLLou, who’s been traveling for nearly three decades to almost 100 countries with her husband, and Brett Golding, who now lives in Thailand, and vlogs about his journey on his YouTube channel.

Each of these interviews showcases the wide range of experiences, goals, and reasons people choose this lifestyle.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Being a Digital Nomad?

When you're contemplating a nomadic lifestyle, it makes sense to weigh the pros and cons and see if it's a good fit for you.

If I had to do it all over again, I would. For those who have the desire to live a fulfilled life as a freethinker, I have good news:

There’s no reason why you can’t seize the opportunity to take control of your own life and live it for all its worth.

There are many upsides to this lifestyle, which include, but are not limited to:

  • Cost-savings. Most people would assume that this lifestyle is expensive because of the travel, but the reality is that you can save money by living in a low cost-of-living region, especially if you’re coming from a western country like the United States. The flexibility to live where you want also gives you deeper experience in finding value for your money all around the world.
  • Improved mental health. Of course, the nomadic lifestyle is not an end-all-be-all solution to mental health challenges. However, the flexibility allows you to say goodbye to toxic work environments or dead-end jobs. Better yet, you don’t have to engage in petty office politics or unhealthy gossip. The mindset shift allows you to see that you can create the career you want without having to rely on the traditional 9-5 grind that burns out so many people.
  • A growth mindset. Experiencing new cultures and cultivating an international circle of friends from different places not only requires a growth mindset, but it also makes that mindset stronger. Being a nomadic entrepreneur, you’ll be faced with scenarios that will challenge you to learn new professional and interpersonal skills. You may even learn a new language or become more proficient in one you already know. While so many people stay static in their corporate jobs, you’ll keep growing in every facet of your life.
  • Freedom. At the end of the day, living as a digital nomad provides an opportunity to create your own schedule and shape exactly what you want your life to look like. You can even take time off work without having to worry about asking your manager or supervisor. Oh, and let’s not forget about the most adventurous part: the freedom to travel and work anywhere.

Becoming part of the digital nomad community is awesome, but it’s not all beaches and mountaintops. 

This lifestyle does have its downsides and challenges — then again, what lifestyle doesn’t?

Consider the following:

  • Nomadic travel requires responsibility and accountability. Without an office or boss to report to, many entrepreneurs discover that their productivity suffers. Fortunately, proactive planning and time management can help you maintain your productivity. Some digital nomads even find that their productivity improves in the right setting. In addition to time management, the freelance lifestyle, in general, requires stronger financial planning since work stability can sometimes be difficult, and when you’re traveling full time, it’s especially important to have your finances in order.
  • It’s easy to feel lonely in more ways than one. The ability to work remotely is incredibly freeing, but how many people can actually relate? When you tell people what you do, they’ll probably ask “What does nomad mean?” or “What is a nomad?” There are few people who can understand your joys, fears, triumphs, struggles, and nomadic experience. Additionally, moving constantly means that dating can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve your love life on the road.
     
  • The new eventually becomes old. The unpredictable becomes predictable. Sooner or later, travel will lose its luster and wow factor. Initially, some nomads get antsy if they stay in one place for too long, then they find themselves staying in places longer and longer until it becomes home or they return home.

Despite the downsides, many remote workers in the digital nomad community continue to find unexpected benefits to this lifestyle. 

Something as simple as no longer having to commute to work and sit in traffic can relieve so much stress, even if you don’t realize it at first.

Others find that because they’re regularly traveling, they don’t accumulate extra “stuff” they don’t need. After all, you’re responsible for carrying that “stuff” around when you move.

Not only that, but less need for material things also translates to fewer bills, which means you have more money to save, invest, or spend on experiences.

There’s a reason the number of digital nomads continues to increase year after year. Based on the fact that 17 million Americans aspire to be traveling full-time while working, I don’t see this trend changing anytime soon.

FREE Digtial Nomad Guide: Download Your Guide now to build a digital business you can work from anywhere.

Where Do Digital Nomads Typically Live?

Where you live as a nomadic entrepreneur is a personal choice. Most start from an economically cheap travel destination so they can establish their business and make money online.

Many nomadic entrepreneurs from the United States frequent the same cost-efficient countries. Popular foreign countries with fast internet and a low cost of living include Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Hungary, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Tahiti, Ireland, Scotland, and Vietnam.

For strategic travelers, the low cost of living means their earnings go further and they can afford to save more than living in their home country.

However, choosing where to live shouldn’t be entirely based on the cost of living.  It may make sense for those transitioning to becoming a full-time traveling entrepreneur to begin in an economically cheap country as you build and develop your business.

But remember that true location independence means that you can live and work from anywhere — and I mean anywhere. If you are dependent on a specific location because of the cost of living, have you truly found the freedom you’re looking for? Or are you just location-dependent, but in a different place?

No matter where you choose to live, there is still the legal side of things, namely tourist visas.

Tourist visas typically expire in as little as 30-90 days (There are some exceptions, but this is the typical range) and can be challenging to renew. 

One of the workarounds is to complete a “visa run,” which is when you visit a neighboring country to “reset” the clock on your visa. 

For example, if a non-citizen of Country A crosses the border to visit Country B for a short time, when they return to Country A, the clock is reset on the number of days they can stay in the country.

Another way to extend your stay is to apply for a visa extension with the immigration office. Some countries like Thailand even have special programs that allow you to get a visa for 6 months to a year by simply learning the language formally (or enrolling in another form of schooling that may stimulate the local economy).

If you don’t want to worry about your visa expiring and the various ways to extend it, you’ll want to look at a country that has visas for digital nomads.

More and more countries are recognizing the need for these “remote work visas” or “freelancer visas” because they realize the value of these foreign workers contributing to their local economies.

Some countries are even hoping that these visas will help make-up for lost revenue from a lack of international tourism due to the pandemic.

For example:

As I write this post from Split, Croatia, a local (Croatian) news channel interviewed some digital nomads (including myself) in order to emphasize the lifestyle and push the agenda of their Digital Nomad visa. 

And that’s great news! It means that the world and its governments are starting to view this lifestyle as the future and are specifically catering towards those who live it.

The list of countries with good remote work visas (“digital nomad visas”) include, but are not limited to:

  • Anguilla (UK)
  • Antigua & Barbuda
  • Barbados
  • Bermuda
  • Cayman Islands
  • Costa Rica
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Dubai (UAE)
  • Estonia
  • Georgia
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • Mauritius
  • Mexico
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain

While traveling to a foreign country is appealing, the truth is that you don’t even have to leave the United States to be a digital nomad.

Remember, location independence means you can work from anywhere. It doesn’t mean that you have to go overseas. For example, if you’ve always lived in the Southeastern United States, why not try living in Colorado, California, Washington, New York, or Utah?

No matter where you choose to live, experienced nomads recommend becoming part of a digital nomad community. Still, it’s helpful to alternate in and out of places that are hubs for remote workers so that you can fully experience the best of both worlds.

Though this lifestyle is growing in popularity, it isn’t quite mainstream and most of us don’t have first-hand role models in this space to look up to. By joining a community, you can network and learn from others who are already living the lifestyle.

You’ll be better equipped to plan everything from travel to work, food to friends, tech tools to living arrangements. This is why so many beginner nomads opt to hire a coach so that they can smoothly transition into this freeing lifestyle. 

If you have questions about nomadic living or traveling entrepreneurship, please feel free to contact me at any time or just book a call with me. (it’s free!)

Is It Legal to Travel and Work as a Digital Nomad?

Is it legal to be a digital nomad? There are many answers to this question, but there are different laws for traveling entrepreneurs in each country.

Earlier, we touched a little bit on visas. This is a bit of a legal grey-area, as the laws are constantly changing, especially due to the pandemic.

Technically, you are not supposed to “work” while using a tourist visa. However, most digital nomads traveling overseas do so using tourist visas without getting a work visa.

You see, the general purpose of a work visa is to prevent foreigners from coming in and taking jobs away from locals.

But think about it:

 Digital nomads with US-based clients that are working remotely aren’t threatening any local jobs in a different country. 

Nomads are technically “working,” but for all intents and purposes, they’re not actually being employed by anyone where they are traveling and therefore are not circumventing the reason work visas exist in the first place.

During the immigration check when they ask for the reason why you’re visiting their country, most nomads say “tourism” or “I’m just visiting.”

This is then typically followed by the question, “What do you do for a living.”

Many nomads recommend saying “I work in marketing” or “I work in digital design and am traveling on vacation.” 

The typical advice from experienced nomads is to keep it simple. Complicated explanations, though truthful, can be difficult to understand, especially since digital nomadism isn’t universally understood. Anything too wordy can result in more questions or even being denied entry if they don’t understand your answer.

This is not legal advice and if you have any additional questions, it’s always best to seek legal counsel. 

As stated in the section above, several countries are updating their work visa system to cover digital nomads, but because the concept of digital nomadism is so new, it’s not well understood in many parts of the world. 

Fortunately, progressive-thinking governments are creating special remote work visas and it will only be a matter of time before other countries take notice.

Until then, remember that it is possible to stay simple and truthful when using a tourist visa.

How Do Digital Nomads Make and Manage Money?

There are many ways to earn money online. It's also important to manage your money effectively while traveling.

There are resources such as UpWork and Fiverr that make it easy for remote workers to find clients and work from anywhere. 

However, not every digital nomad is a freelancer.

Others are entrepreneurs who own e-commerce stores or have learned how to sell products on Amazon. Some are even able to manage digital marketing companies remotely.

The reality is that there are endless possibilities of how you can make money online, no matter where you want to travel to — assuming you have internet there.

The unexpected challenge is how to manage your money while traveling. For example, have you ever had a credit card declined while traveling? Heck, sometimes you don’t even need to leave the United States. If you live on the West Coast and travel to the East Coast, chances are that the credit card company will flag the East Coast transaction as fraud and put a hold on your account.

Imagine how much worse this would be while traveling and living overseas!

Fortunately, most credit card companies allow you to set up a travel notice. They’ll ask for where you’re going and how long you’ll be there, which will whitelist any purchases you make in the area during that time frame.

This isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be, but it’s still better to be safe than sorry.

Another unexpected issue is how to actually handle your money. Fees from currency exchange and regular ATM visits can quickly add up.

Two platforms that digital nomads prefer are TransferWise (now called Wise) and Payoneer, both of which allow you to handle multiple currencies without all the hefty fees.

Again, this is why pre-planning and healthy money management are so important. For example, it helps to carry cash as a backup to exchange money on the spot from a currency exchange kiosk.

Also, I personally recommend taking out enough cash for the month to avoid paying fees every time you use the ATM.

This is yet another reason why working with a coach can help ensure that you are prepared for challenges you might not be aware even existed!

Free PDF: Download this step-by-step Digital Nomad Guide now to go from 9-to-5 job to location-independent business owner living life on your own terms.

Why Become a Digital Nomad?

Becoming a digital nomad isn't for everyone, but if you're adventurous enough to travel and work from anywhere, it might be worth a try.

At some point, most people ask, “Should I become a digital nomad?” or some variant of the question, such as, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could live and do remote work while traveling for a bit?”

Unfortunately, the fantasy of working on a beach with one hand on the laptop and the other holding a pina colada can muddy the waters of what it means to actually become a digital nomad.

Some people already have the baseline characteristics that make them a perfect fit for this lifestyle… 

They’re organized yet free-spirited, ambitious yet relaxed, love meeting new people yet love being alone. The idea of constant change is more than a challenge, it’s a thrill. And they have a profound love and desire to travel. 

Of course, they must also have the ability to work remotely.

However, these goals and characteristics can’t be used to describe everyone. There are those who would prefer to plant their feet firmly in one place as they build a life there.

The real question is: what are your goals and priorities?

If there’s nothing tying you down to a geographical region, you have the ability to work remotely, and you have some of the key characteristics of an open-minded person, nomadic travel might be something worth pursuing. 

Even if you absolutely love it, the reality is that most digital nomads eventually do want to settle down. Whether it’s to be closer to family, start a family, or simply put down roots, the majority of digital nomads find a place they can call home. 

The best part? They can still bring the freedom of living life on their own terms with them.

Can You Become a Digital Nomad or Location-Independent Entrepreneur Without Any Skills?

If you don't know what a digital nomad is, you need to understand that it will require skills, particularly if you're looking to establish a business online that requires  working knowledge of the industry.

Let’s say you’re interested in traveling full time but are unsure about your ability to work remotely or to earn a living online. Is it possible to be a digital nomad or is it a pipe dream that will never go anywhere?

Unless you’re a trust fund baby and can afford to travel without working, then yes, you will need skills. 

Ideally, these are skills that you can use to work online. And no, you don’t have to be a blogger or influencer. Anything that you can do remotely on a laptop such as video editing, customer service, teaching, or any type of remote work can help you work as a digital nomad.

Fortunately, if you are interested in becoming a digital nomad, this likely means that you are both open-minded and have a growth-based mindset. People with growth mindsets are always looking to learn more about themselves, the world around them, and their trade. 

This means that if you don’t have any skills that can be done online remotely, you are certainly capable of learning

If this isn’t the best time for you to travel, you can start building your skills now so that you can monetize those skills from anywhere when you’re ready!

If you’re currently working remotely from home but are considering living as a digital nomad, try incorporating these 10 remote work best practices to seize your day. These are tips that, if implemented now, will help you on your journey to traveling and working online from anywhere.

Reaching your goals is all about making sure that preparation meets opportunity.

Do you have a growth mindset so that you can continue to grow personally and professionally?

Do you see yourself pursuing the nomadic lifestyle for a while and owning your freedom?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

And if you’d like to learn more about how the Launch Your Lifestyle digital nomad coaching program can help you on your journey, click here to get your FREE Lifestyle Transformation Game Plan!

Otherwise, stay free, live happy, and travel on!

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