What’s a digital nomad? Well, the short answer is that it’s someone who has an online job they can do from almost anywhere in the world. I happen to be one, and am excited to share the story of how I got started, plus 6 tips to help you find online work so you can earn an income on the road too!
How I Got Started
My digital nomad quest started when Mat and I came home from our backpacking trip in 2013 and were feeling sorry for ourselves because we had to stay in one place to work and save up money before our next adventure. We kept wishing that we could work on the road so that the traveling never had to end, but it seemed like an impossible fantasy at the time.
Then one night (cue the inspirational music), a few months after we had settled in for a winter of working, I met some friends for dinner and they offered me a job working for their online store – completely out of the blue! I had known for years that they ran an online business and that they often worked on the road, but for some reason it had never occurred to me that I might work for them one day.
Being the lunatic that I am, I almost didn’t take the job. It was exactly what I was looking for, but I didn’t think I’d be able to figure out how to use all of their online programs, and was scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the rest of the team. I ended up taking the job anyway, because I was even more scared of turning it down and not being able to try out the digital nomad lifestyle we were dreaming about. The whole situation reminds me of a quote from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, that I really believe is true:
When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
1 Year Later
It’s been almost one year since I started my online job, and in that time, Mat and I have been able to travel to places like Iceland, Germany and Spain, spend more time with family and even drive across the country in a camper van – all while earning an income. It’s by far the best job I’ve ever had, not only because I can travel and earn money at the same time, but because I work with a team of amazing, alternative, and open-minded people who make every day a positive and fulfilling experience.
Being a digital nomad isn’t all plane tickets and beaches though – it’s just as much work as my previous office jobs were. There are actually some parts of working online that are even more challenging than a regular job – for example, I’ve had to become a complete slave to WiFi. If I don’t have an internet connection, I can’t do my job…at all. When we were road tripping last month I spent whole days sitting in cafes and sipping cold coffee for as long as I could so that I could poach their wifi signal and get my work done.
I also work odd hours when we’re away from home to make sure that I’m online at roughly the same time as the rest of the team. When we were in Berlin this Summer, I was working til midnight every night; now that I’m on the West Coast, I’m starting work before the sun even comes up. The upshot of these challenges is that when the weekend rolls around, I’m on a trip and get to explore new places :)
I don’t think this lifestyle is for everyone, but if you’re a disciplined person who also has a travel addiction, it could be a good fit for you. I don’t have a perfect recipe for finding online jobs (I’m still not sure how I got mine), but I’ve done my best to put together some tips and ideas about things you can do to increase your likelihood of finding online work.
6 Tips to Becoming a Digital Nomad
1) Start with what you have.
If you’re not sure whether online work is for you, ask your boss or supervisor if you can try working from home one day each week/month and see how it goes. Are you more, or less productive than at the office? Do you enjoy working on your own, or do you miss the office environment?
2) Surround yourself by people who are doing it already.
Spend time observing the people in your life who are doing interesting work. What do they do? How do they do it? If you don’t know any people working online in real life, look for them online. Follow blogs and watch YouTube videos to find out how other people earn a living while traveling, and then take baby steps towards making it happen for yourself.
We did this for all of our alternative lifestyle explorations:
– When we got rid of everything we owned, we followed The Minimalists blog for inspiration.
– When we started traveling, we followed Married with Luggage to find out how they traveled long-term.
– When we decided to become digital nomads, we followed The Professional Hobo to learn about earning money on the road.
3) Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for online work.
The more people you have looking out for online work opportunities, the more likely you are to find out about them. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve found out about a cool travel destination, blog or idea because a friend or family member knew we’d think it was interesting.
4) Apply for online jobs when you find them.
This sounds like a no-brainer but like I told you earlier, it can be scary to take the first step towards your goal. I haven’t found any great job boards that post online jobs (if you know of one, I’d love to share it!), so finding online work opportunities might mean digging through hundreds of job posts until you find the gem you’re looking for.
A good place to start could be the “careers” section of websites whose business is done mostly online because they’re more likely to offer work-from-home opportunities. You might also try joining or networking with a local co-working space like Impact HUB, where all types of people go to get access to office/meeting spaces (which usually means they work from home the rest of the time and might be able to give you tips).
5) Learn new skills.
If you’re finding online jobs but are having a hard time getting hired, you might need to upgrade your skill set. A lot of online job opportunities involve customer service, sales, graphic design, photography, copywriting, transcription, project coordination etc. Think about the kind of work you want to do, then go learn the skills you’ll need to get hired.
6) Start your own business.
If you want to be completely independent, you could become a digital nomad AND be your own boss. Starting your own business is a lot of work from what I’ve seen, and I certainly don’t have the guts to do it, but lots of people do it all the time! One piece of advice I would give if you’re going to take this route, is to make sure your living expenses are low so that you don’t need to earn as much income to survive at first.
I have complete faith that you’ll be able to find an online job that’s perfect for you. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions about anything I’ve mentioned above – I’m happy to help if I can!