Has becoming a digital nomad been a dream of yours, but does it continue to seem out of reach? Well, I feel you. Before finally becoming a full-time digital nomad in 2022, I dreamed about the life for nearly a decade. Somehow, I managed to follow the right path that turned my high hopes into my dream life. To help you do the same – and save a few years in the process – I’m breaking down the 8 exact steps that were needed to become a digital nomad.
Ever since I first embarked on a big 5-month trip at the age of 19, I dreamed of strolling the streets of Bali with nothing but my laptop. I craved the ultimate freedom as a digital nomad, to never have to give up travelling in order to work. The dream. However – to be honest – I’d never really imagined it’d actually be possible for me. Somehow never completely lost track of the dream and managed to unknowingly take the exact steps needed during the years that followed. Today, I’m a digital nomad – and I honestly still can’t fully comprehend it. It’s both completely unexpected and amazing. And I’m here to tell you that if I can do it, so can you.
Ready to become a digital nomad? Here are the 8 steps to make your dream life a reality!
How to become a digital nomad in 8 practical steps
Let me give you my real-life, very practical guide to becoming a digital nomad!
1. Find something you love to do
This one is simple, but not easy: find a skill you love to do and that people are willing to pay you for. This is the basis for the work you’ll be doing while traveling, the basis for your income on the road. It all starts here. Don’t settle for a job that sucks – I mean, we’re creating your dream life here! So, if nothing comes to mind right now, that’s okay. Take your time to explore what you’re good at and love doing.
Now, before you leave a comment or DM me on Instagram and say that “there’s NOTHING I can do that people will pay me for”, hold up. 😉 There really is! I know from experience that everything can be made into a valuable skill. Everything. As a freelance marketing professional, I work with a lot of other freelancers: copywriters, designers, social media experts, virtual assistants, technical support staff, you name it. In the internet and serviced/gig-based economy, there’s opportunity everywhere. You’d be surprised how specialized and highly-payed some freelancers and digital nomads are. You’ll find your sweet spot, too!
Don’t know where to start?
Here are a few ways to get started:
- Gather all the work experience you have – even if it’s just a bit – see what you liked to do and which parts of the job you’d rather never ever do again. Loved answering emails? Become a virtual assistant. Need to be creative? Start thinking along the lines of website, ad, logo or social media design.
- Browse job sites like Upwork, Fiverr and RemoteOk as well as Facebook groups to see what people are asking for. What do you see a lot of freelance job or task listings for? Following the demand is never a bad idea.
- Go to educational platforms like YouTube or Skillshare and start simply learning about new things. What catches your attention and stays on your mind? Can you match those with some listings you came across in the step above?
2. Build experience & proof
Before you can confidently and consistently get paying jobs, it’s important to build proof that you know what you’re doing. Enough people are competing for the same jobs, so it’s time to stand out! I’d say there are pretty much two main steps involved in this:
STEP 1: Start honing your skills & expertise. You can try and find real-life, paying clients or assignments, on sites such as Upwork or Fiverr. But at this point, it’s also simply valuable to do low-paying or free work. Ask around in your network if anyone needs help with copywriting, virtual assistant tasks, designer jobs, a website or whatever your jam of choice is, as identified above. Be clear on the amount of work you’ll do for cheap or free. If they want to continue working with you after that point, you can start asking regular prices. Still no luck finding jobs or tasks? Start your own project! Grow a social media account from scratch, start writing blog posts for companies you like or build your own website.
STEP 2: Showcase your work. Create one of more killer representations of the great work you’ve been doing, that’ll make you stand out among competition. Depending on the niche you’re in, this can mean different things. As a social media manager, it’s smart to have an Instagram account to showcase creativity and the ability to grow. You might also want to build a simple website to display your portfolio. (No need to learn to build one from scratch, you can hop on Wix or Squarespace and get a template!). Or, for more traditional jobs, you can create an awesome digital résumé in Canva.
Now, of course, it’s also possible to put your skills to use in another way and become a content creator on Instagram, a podcaster, or to start a YouTube channel. The first few steps focus on finding paying clients or assignments. So, if you’ve got these parts covered, skip onto step 4 here!
The inside look: here’s how I did it
I know, it can seem daunting. Let me talk you through my experience. Personally, I just started doing/experimenting with a lot of things I loved to do. One is working on this blog that has, in some form, been around since 2018. It thought me how to build & design websites, improve my photography skills, grow on Instagram and Pinterest, write blogs and much more. On top of that, I was a hands-on intern and later employee in an online startup – getting sales & marketing experience – and built a web shop from the ground up.
Obviously, this wasn’t an overnight success, but the result of several years of hard, unpaid work, honing skills I simply loved to do as a hobby. All while working, traveling, doing shitty backpacker jobs (seriously, the worst of the worst) and getting a Master’s degree. I’d never want to give you the wrong idea that it took me just a week of watching YouTube videos. But believe me: with some commitment and consistency, everything is possible. For you too!
3. Find paying jobs
Time for the real deal! Now that you’ve got your portfolio covered, it’s time to find yourself your first paying jobs. Here, you can simply in the ways outlined in step 2: hop on a freelance job listing site, ask around in your network or browse Facebook groups to see what other professionals and nomads are asking for. The most important thing, though, is to take small steps. Don’t worry about making $1000, $5000 or even more in the first weeks or months. Simply focus on earning your first $100 dollars. Then set a new goal at $200, then onto $500, and so on. You’ll get there!
Here’s how I did it: in the beginning, it was mostly a matter of grabbing any and every chance I got. I got my first few jobs from my network and Facebook group listings – and then worked my ass off to deliver good results. Even if that meant working twice the number of hours I was getting paid for. However, it truly paid off, because it wasn’t long before my clients started coming back. Even better, they started recommending me to others!
Pro tip: create recurring business
Once you know what your skill(s) of choice is/are and have built up a bit of a track record, see how you can retain clients. From both personal experience and as a marketing professional, I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to hold on to existing clients (aka, sell them more), than it is to find new ones. On top of that, it provides you with a much more stable income, which is especially great as a digital nomad. So, get to brainstorm: can you offer your services as an ongoing subscription? Or send reminders every 1 or 3 months to remind them to purchase from you again? Get creative!
4. Find your dream digital nomad destination
Yes, this is where the real fun starts! Now that you are getting a taste of making money online and providing for yourself, we’re going to design. Now, I’ve placed this step in a very particular order in this list of steps. After creating some proof that you can do it, make some money online! But before deciding on a budget. Why? Because I urge you to dream big! Don’t settle for a destination because of a (still limited) budget. Start envisioning your digital nomad dreams as if anything is possible. Then, figure out how much money you’d need to make, and how you’ll do so.
Where to start? Hop on Pinterest, follow your favorite travel creators and think about a few practical things:
- Internet speed. How fast do you need the internet to be, in order to be able to do your job? Now, this may seem like a dumb first consideration, but trust me… it only took me 2 weeks to realize the struggles. 😉
- Desired lifestyle. What kind of life do you want to lead? Do you need to be by a beach (like me!) or would you much rather hike high up in the mountains every day? What kind of climate would you prefer to live in?
- Digital nomad culture. What kind of people match your vibe? For most digital nomads, a social life is an important part of enjoying the digital nomad life. How do you connect with others? Would you rather sip ceremonial cacao in Tulum or find speakeasies in New York City? Would you want to live in a co-working / co-living space with others in Central America, or stay in your private Airbnb with a view over Miami South Beach?
5. Figure out your budget
Though the first steps have been pretty straightforward – as in, you’ve probably heard/read them at least 10 times before – here’s where my advice gets a bit controversial. Like I said in step 4, don’t settle for a destination based on your budget. Make your budget fit your dreams. While a lot of platforms and travel influencers tell you to cut down on costs and live cheaply, I’d rather encourage you to figure out a plan to live your dream life.
Hostel-life or luxury – what kind of digital nomad do you want to become?
Even though the typical digital nomad seems to live, eat and move as cheaply as possible, I’d never tell you to ‘settle’ for a backpacker-in-a-shared-dorm life for the rest of your life – unless you want exactly that life, of course! In fact, within a few months of becoming a digital nomad, I started living in Miami and New York City. A lot more expensive than a hostel in Thailand? You bet. But for me, it was exactly what I needed and wanted to do at that point.
That’s not to say that Thailand or other cheap-ish backpacker destinations aren’t awesome. I’ve loved traveling to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and the like. Actually, I have lived a digital nomad life in Guatemala, too and have had some of my favorite experiences there. However, my point is to not narrow down your ideas on what you can do based on what you see other digital nomads do. You can make it completely your own! Just figure out your budget and how much money you have to make to live comfortably the way you’d like – and then start making that much.
That’s where steps 2 and 3 come in, on repeat, as well as the following tip.
6. Build a savings buffer
Before jumping on a plane (or your transportation of choice) to embark on your digital nomad trip, it’s important to build a financial buffer. Having some money saved up will give you more flexibility and save your ass when needed :). After all, unexpected things can and probably will happen – good and bad (trust me, I’ve been there). Moreover, having some financial safety will make the big leap of becoming a digital nomad feel less daunting. So, how much should you save?
Personally, I’d recommend trying to save enough for a plane ticket and at least one or two months of living expenses. Preferably a bit more even, but it’s not necessary to feel like you need to endlessly postpone leaving – you’ll never feel fully ready. Realistically, how much you’ll need will depend on the destination of your choice. Similarly, it’s also practical to consider the kind of safety net and support system you have either locally or back home. Can you crash with friends or move back in with your family, if shit would hit the fan? Ask yourself questions like that to figure out your personal situation and customize your saving plan to your digital nomad dreams.
7. Go on one (or multiple :)) test trips
Need an excuse to book a trip, like now?! Well, I’ve got just the thing for you ;). Book a trip to test-drive your digital nomad life! Preferably pick a destination or type of trip that’s similar to the dream destination you decided on in step 4. So, if you’d want to live in a van and explore Australia’s west coast or go on an epic road trip through Europe, don’t book a comfy, Pinterest-worthy Airbnb in Bali – and vice versa.
Without consciously knowing it at the time, going on a few test trips helped me gain a lot of confidence in my abilities as a digital nomad. Before actually packing up my bags to go and live a full-time digital nomad life, I went on at least 5 smaller remote working trips. I visited Marrakech, Mexico, Ibiza, Lisbon and the Caribbean island of Curacao. Some trips only lasted for a few days, some a few weeks, but all taught me a lot.
Here are some of the things that planning small working-holiday-trips helped me get used to:
- Building discipline to get sh*t done when – let’s be honest – you could also be on a tropical beach
- Being productive on travel days, e.g. when you need to take a long bus trip or hop on an international flight
- Working on time zone differences (aka 5 am mornings to sync up with a 6-hour difference between me and my clients in the Netherlands)
- Handling unreliable (read: sh*tty) wifi on days when you so desperately need it to be good
- Finding what works for me in terms of accommodation – I now know, for example, to opt for an Airbnb over a hostel
- Discovering how I’m still able to meet new people and make friends when I can’t stay in hostels and have a busy work schedule
8. Get your practical sh*t together
Yes, almost there? Feel ready to jump on a plane? There are just a few things I’d recommend to check, organize or get in order. These will not only help make your trip go super smooth, but also make combining the work and travel of your new lifestyle a piece of cake.
Things to get together before you leave:
- Documents: a valid passport, international driver’s license, and the appropriate visa
- Traveler’s vaccinations
- VPN for secure internet
- A cloud-based system to safely save your work (you never know when something might happen)
- Two-factor authentication on important log-ins to keep everything secure (for the same reasons)
- A convenient calendar to give an overview of multiple time zones
- Official photographs
- Last but definitely not least: travel insurance that’s fit for long-term working abroad
… and the list goes on.
Don’t worry, though, as many things are pretty straightforward and not as daunting as they may seem. In fact, I’ve compiled an overview of all details to help you get started. It’s the final step to take, you’re almost there!
That’s it! These are the exact 8 steps I took to become a digital nomad. With these tips and tricks you can start living your best travel life too, without having to go home broke every time ;). What’s your next destination going to be? Let me know on Instagram, I’d love to hear from you! And whether you’re still planning your trip or want to make more money while on the road, check out all digital nomad tools here to help you out.