We asked experts how to run away forever and become a digital nomad
With some marketable skills, a lot of hard graft, and a Wi-Fi connection, anyone can live an untethered life. Yes, even you.
In 2018, digital nomads are all over Instagram. When they’re not hiking through the Andes, they’re skiing in Japan or lounging in Southern Thailand; they’re sipping coconuts and swimming in infinity pools.
Seemingly armed with nothing more than a MacBook Pro and a tan, they’re an enviable bunch. They get to work from wherever they want and live a carefree lifestyle. It’s not hard to see why everyone wants to be a digital nomad these days.
But not so long ago, the concept of travelling the world while working from your laptop was almost unfathomable.
21 years ago, a book called 'Digital Nomad' predicted this new way of life. The authors forecast that the Internet would allow white-collar workers to do their jobs from anywhere, including their homes, from a café, or at a beach resort on the other side of the world.
It was a radical idea for 1997. At the time, most people were using dial-up internet – which would cut out every time you got a phone call – and Google was still a couple of years away. So it’s no surprise that the prediction of digital nomads was largely ignored.
But here we are in 2018, many of us with the means to live the digital nomad lifestyle. So in the interest of spreading the joy, we asked a few digital nomads how we can do it, too.
1. Identity your skillset
Michael Craig, who owns a co-working space in Bali that’s set up for digital nomads, says it’s all about finding a specialised skill. “They need to specialise in different areas and find their little niche and build their client base,” he says. “The ones who are treating it like a business are quite successful. But it isn’t easy.”
The single factor that all digital nomads have in common is possessing one particular marketable skill. Some work a regular job remotely while others are freelancers or entrepreneurs who essentially work for themselves.
Digital nomads do a whole bunch of different things for money; some work on artificial intelligence, app development, and social media management, while others do more traditional trades, such as copywriting, marketing, and design. The first step is figuring out your skill.
2. The business comes first
“A lot of the people who come in here are already kind of successful,” says Michael about the members of his co-working space, Dojo Bali. “It's a very small percentage who have given up everything and moved here. It's not like that – most have already established an income for themselves [and] they work on it while they travel.”
So rather than just dropping everything and leaving, most digital nomads have set themselves up as freelancers first, then hit the road with a solid client base and a tried-and-tested business model.
One of the other obvious bonuses of heading to a cheaper country – like Bali – is that you'll have far lower overheads than you would in somewhere like Australia, the UK, or America.
If you're based in Australia and making cash from your business but struggling to make ends meet, a well-timed move to a cheaper country could help alleviate some of the pressure and help your business grow.
3. One month here, one month there
Sarah Hill is an Australian digital nomad who works as a graphic designer at Dojo Bali. After realising she could work from anywhere in the world, she travelled extensively around Asia and Europe. “A month was kind of easy because you get cheaper rentals if you’re there for a month and most of the visa situations [in many countries] are monthly," she explains. “I found it was a good amount of time to get into a place, familiarise yourself with it, make some friends and come to understand what it’s all about.”
That said, one of the joys of the moveable office is that you can choose how long you stay in a spot. If you move to a new city and it kicks up a bunch of new work opportunities – you can stay for longer. One of the biggest benefits of being mobile is the luxury of meeting and networking with people from all over the world.
4. Self-discipline is essential
“You’ve got to be more disciplined than if you worked in an office because you’re the one who’s responsible for everything,” says Michael. “People think it’s all about sipping coconuts by the beach and using your laptop. But that’s not the reality of it.”
It’s not always glamorous. When people talk about becoming a digital nomad, this is one of the points that they tend to skim over. By far, the biggest challenge of this lifestyle is finding the self-motivation to create and stick to a productive work schedule. After all, when you’re the boss, anything goes.
5. You have to put the hours in
“I think the biggest challenge for me, when I started doing this, was getting my head space right,” says Sarah Hill. “You’ve got to find your balance and find your routine and not blow out. I found it quite a difficult thing to get my head around at the beginning.”
Evidently, when nobody knows whether or not you’re going to show up for work the next day, it’s easy to ditch it and do something else instead. The complete freedom and lack of routine means that digital nomads need to impose their own rules and routines if they want to make their lifestyle work.
It's great to have nobody breathing down your neck but, at the same time, that means there's nobody else to pick up the slack of you decide to skive off. Work hard, play hard.
6. Find a community
In addition to the lack of structure and routine, working as a digital nomad can be isolating. Co-working spaces are designed to facilitate collaboration, but also to build friendships.
“Being a digital nomad is very individual, it’s a lonely thing,” says Michael Craig. “That’s why they come to places like this: so they can meet people and build a tribe.”
Paradoxically, digital nomads often choose to mimic the routines set out in the workplace: they set routines, go to co-working offices and seek out colleagues. The big difference? There’s no boss telling them what to do and when to do it.