How to become a digital nomad

By Melanie Keegan Published 02/09/2022

Digital nomadism has seen a tremendous increase in the past few years. With internet and 4G available almost everywhere on the planet and the always-growing need for digital skills, you can now work from wherever you want. 

First things first, what is digital nomadism?

Before deciding whether or not to dive into the world of being a free-spirit digital nomad, it may be a good idea to identify exactly what it entails. Let’s check out the pros and cons. 

Let’s tackle the benefits first. 

  1. You can work anywhere you want, usually at any time you want. Becoming location independent is one of the biggest flexes of this lifestyle; deciding when and where you’ll work from. You can choose to work from the beach for a few weeks at the drop of a hat. Flexibility and freedom, talk about the perfect combo.
  2. There’s a ton of support out there for digital nomads as it’s become an increasingly desirable alternative to the traditional work model. Access online communities for other digital nomads in your area or country, or even reach out to people before you take the leap to see if this lifestyle is truly for you. 
  3. There’s a good chance you will learn a lot. There’s nothing particularly attractive about doing the same thing day-in and day-out for years on end. When you’re a digital nomad, no two days are the same if you don’t want them to be. You’ll be challenged, but also grow and learn to be incredibly self-sufficient.

Now, some not-so-ideal realities about living this infinitely more carefree life.

  1. With freedom comes responsibility. This is not true for everyone, but it can be harder to maintain a work/life balance. You may feel the pressure of making enough income to support yourself and go overboard by taking on too much work or too many clients. 
  2. Strong wifi is not guaranteed everywhere you go; logistical issues may quickly become the bane of your existence if you’re not careful.
  3. Making friends can be a lot harder than you think. When you’re constantly on the move and traveling through countries where you don’t speak the language, it can be very difficult to put down any kind of roots or form long-lasting relationships. Be wary of this and make sure you have a good support system in place. 

full table of laptops wires

You’ve decided that the benefits far outweigh the challenges, and you’re ready to grab a bag and go. But how do you take the leap? How do you go from your 9 to 5 job to being location independent?

There are a few main ways to live as a digital nomad, which you can also choose to combine. Either you find a way to earn money without having to work on a daily basis, or develop a skill that will allow you to work from your computer for a remote client. Sounds simple, right? Here’s how to go about it:

Build a passive income

Passive income is the Holy Grail for digital nomads. I see that got your attention, but be very aware of one thing: passive income does not mean money growing on trees. In order to achieve consistent passive income, there’s usually a lot of work to be done upfront! Here are a few ways to create a passive income stream for yourself:

  • Sell your photos on the web: If you’re a photography lover, image banks such as Getty Images or Shutterstock are a great option. You put up your picture on the platform and let cash flow into your account. Photography platforms like these manage all the technical aspects linked to the sales and usually offer you either a percentage of the sale or a flat fee for each photo that is sold.
  • Build an online guide: This is a niche method. You can make an online guide about pretty much anything, as long as it’s specific in order to rank highly on Google. A good idea could be a guide about wedding planning, explaining all the steps you should fulfill and everything you should think about, for example. Once your guide is up and running, you can make money thanks to advertisements through Google AdSense or affiliate links. Side note: Those two options can be used for any website of yours with proper traffic, like a blog for example.
  • Create an online course: This option will require a lot of work upfront but no work at all once your course is online. Unless you decide to offer on-demand assistance to people purchasing your course. If you have any passions, you are eligible to make a course about it! Platforms such as Udemy or Teachable will host your course and manage the technicalities for you. Your course can take various formats, such as videos or small ebooks.
  • Sell digital files on Etsy: People turn to Etsy to find all types of very specific designs and home decor items. If you’re into graphic design or typography, creating digital files of your artwork and putting them up on Etsy can be very interesting. Once they’re online, customers can purchase and download them directly and print them out themselves.
  • More ideas: Affiliate marketing, selling an ebook, buying expensive material and renting it out…

yellow sweater and laptop

Find a digital skill that will enable you to work online from anywhere

If you already have strong digital skills, then you’re all set to work abroad! That is, of course, provided that you find clients who are okay with that.

However, not everyone who wants to become a digital nomad has the digital qualifications to achieve that lifestyle. Therefore, before leaving, there’s a whole learning process that has to be done. Here are a few skills that you might want to look into.

  • Copywriting and content writing: Copywriting is the art of writing convincing content that drives action. Copywriting is usually used for advertising or shorter forms of communication. Content writing, on the other hand, refers to a longer type of copy that prioritizes the use of keywords, meta, and shareability of the content.
  • Community Management: Community management consists of animating and managing a company’s online communication channels. If you’re already active on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and like communication, you might want to give it a try.
  • Translation: if you can speak more than one language, congrats: you got yourself a job! Some websites, like proz.com, specialize in matching translators with clients, and it’s all done online
  • Coding: We’re talking about building websites, web apps or mobile apps for clients. Don’t run away so fast! Coding has been getting more and more friendly in the past few years and initiatives to learn to code quickly are appearing in every city. Online and in-person coding bootcamps are just a few clicks away. In Belgium, Le Wagon is the best ranked and runs two to three times a year.
  • Building WordPress websites: WordPress now powers 43% of all sites across the web. That is a whopping amount. The first time you’ll build a WordPress website, you’ll probably break down in tears and swear to never do it again. But you’ll see that the second time will be easier, and the third more so, and on and on until you’re a pro at creating aesthetic and functional websites.
  • More ideas: None of the above speak to you? Take a look at SEO, virtual assistance, graphic design, or maybe even consider becoming a coach or mentor for something you’re passionate about. 

And how do you go about learning these skills? Even if these abilities may translate to a digital nomad reality, you need to be able to do them well to succeed. 

There are many online courses available that can help you acquire the skills you need including but not limited to: Udemy, Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy, Codecademy, General Assembly, and Treehouse. Some forums that might prove useful are Quora, Reddit, and Stackoverflow. Bootcamps and trainings are another great way to develop certain skills. Here are some of our favorites: 

If you’re not in a hurry though, you can find a job where you’ll learn those skills.

person working at a cafe, single seat with table

Once you’re ready to take the leap and start making money with your newly acquired skills, you need to find your first clients! There is a whole range of websites that really helpful for this step: FlexJobs, Codeable, Freelancer, Upwork, Fiverr, Peopleperhour, and Guru. Looking for more specific resources to get started as a digital nomad? Check out Nomad List, Remotive, and remoteok.

Cut costs while traveling

Working and living with the locals can really help with your immersion in their culture and getting to know the place you’re staying at.

You have quite a few options to work in exchange for accommodation and/or food. They usually require just a few hours of work per day, which leaves you plenty of time to explore or work on your digital projects. Here are the best ones:

  • Wwoofing: WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Wwoofers are volunteers who live alongside their host and help them with daily tasks while experiencing life as a farmer in exchange for a place to stay and food.
  • Housesitting and Housecarers: Pretty straightforward; you watch the house you’re staying at while the owners are away, and also look after their pets.
  • Workaway: Workawayers help out households or small organizations for a few hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation.
  • Worldpackers: Worldpackers lets offer your skills to hosts around the world in exchange for free accommodation.
  • helpX: This platform aggregates all the organizations that need volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.

Convince your boss to let you work 100% remote

More and more companies are adopting hybrid work models or becoming more flexible with where their employees carry out their work. One option that is sort of the best of both worlds is taking the stability of a full-time job with you. If you are given a green light to work from wherever you want while still having the perks of a stable income, you can really live it up. As a bonus, check out some of the best places to work remotely in Paris, Brussels, and Brooklyn!

Final words

The world has changed drastically in just the last couple of years. The way we work and where we work is no longer set in stone as more and more companies are allowing a hybrid model or going fully remote. There are numerous benefits of becoming a digital nomad, but idolizing the lifestyle and going in blind will not end well. Do your research, be prepared, and have fun! 

About the author Hey there! I'm Mel, perpetually hungry Content Manager at Cohabs.

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