What is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad works from any location and uses technology to perform their job while moving to new destinations.
Some working nomads stay in one area for a few weeks or months before moving to a new location. However, some choose to change cities or countries frequently and work in coffee shops, cafes, libraries, planes, hotel rooms, coworking spaces or anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection.
The digital nomad lifestyle is possible with internet access, smartphones and voice over IP to call clients.
The growth of both the gig and creator economies has created jobs for independent workers who don't want to be tied to one particular location. Nomads use remote jobs to fund their travels.
During the pandemic, many people shifted to remote work, and the Great Resignation began, with people quitting their jobs to find employment that offered work-life balance. Toxic workplaces were a big reason people wanted to work remotely and continue to have flexibility in their careers.
Digital nomad jobs
Any job that can be done remotely is a possibility for a digital nomad. These jobs are typically done online and don't need a lot of equipment.
Examples of digital nomad jobs include the following:
- Project manager.
- Graphic designer.
- Online teacher or tutor.
- Social media manager.
- Virtual assistant.
- App developer.
- Customer service representative.
- Video editor.
Digital nomad vs. remote work vs. bleisure traveler
With more people working from home, trendy terms have emerged such as bleisure and digital nomad. People are realizing that if they can work from home, they can work from anywhere with a reliable internet connection. However, there are some differences between a digital nomad, remote worker and bleisure traveler.
A digital nomad works location-independent jobs, so they can work virtually anywhere using technology. Digital nomads typically change work locations frequently to travel and experience new cultures. They also pay their own way as they travel.
Many remote jobs have location requirements. Remote jobs might be tied to specific times and geographic locations due to employment laws. They also require a secure and protected internet connection.
Bleisure travelers are similar to digital nomads because they blend work and travel. However, the employee uses a scheduled business trip to bring other family members or friends. The employee then extends the trip and takes time off to stay at the destination longer and enjoy a vacation. The employer covers the employee's airfare and accommodations while they work, and the employee covers the added costs of additional airfare, extended stay and meals.
Pros and cons of being a digital nomad
Because digital nomads value travel and freedom, they typically don't have many physical possessions. They put down temporary roots in new locations and don't want to move items. Digital nomads might work nontraditional hours that they set based on time zones and personal outings.
But there are some pros and cons to consider with this style of work.
- Freedom to control work hours and personal time.
- Opportunity to engage in outdoor activities such as skiing, surfing, diving and hiking.
- Opportunity to learn about new cultures.
- Opportunity to explore multiple areas of the country or globe.
- Less stressful work environment.
- Simplified lifestyle.
- Better time management to complete work faster without interruptions.
- Must be highly organized.
- Loneliness or isolation when traveling away from family and friends.
- Can be expensive to travel regularly.
- Need to accommodate various time zones.
- Internet or connectivity issues.
- Finding the right health and travel insurance.
- Determining how to pay taxes.
- Difficulty creating a routine.
How to become a digital nomad
Before becoming a digital nomad, it's a good idea to figure out what it is really like. Working while traveling might sound adventurous and fun, but it is not for everyone. Digital nomads are on the move, so there can be a lack of the stability people are used to with a standard home-based job.
Before jetting off, put together a budget. First, determine expenses such as housing, food, internet, transportation and insurance. List any other expenses, such as a mortgage or rent at a home base, if needed.
Then determine how much money is needed monthly to cover these expenses, and leave additional money for sightseeing and emergencies. Look at full-time anywhere jobs, multiple part-time jobs or freelance gigs to see what works best to cover this lifestyle.
Pick a starting destination
Figure out priorities when selecting a destination, such as scenery, activities, culture or learning a new language. Research countries to see if there are any work and tax implications for staying a certain amount of time.
Don't forget to determine the time zone when selecting a location if the job involves meeting with others. Some destinations have opposite time zones of clients. For example, Asia and the U.S. have a 10- to 12-hour time difference, making it difficult to have a social life and healthy work routine if working with clients.
Some popular destinations for digital nomads -- based on taxes, cost of living, internet availability and activities -- include the following:
- Bali, Indonesia.
- Bansko, Bulgaria.
- Barcelona, Spain.
- Berlin, Germany.
- Budapest, Hungary.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina.
- Cape Town, South Africa.
- Chiang Mai, Thailand.
- Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
- Krakow, Poland.
- Lisbon, Portugal.
- Medellin, Colombia.
- Melbourne, Australia.
- Penang, Malaysia.
- Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
- Prague, Czech Republic.
- Tbilisi, Georgia.
- Ashville, N.C.
- Atlanta, Ga.
- Austin, Texas.
- Boise, Idaho.
- Charleston, S.C.
- Chicago, Ill.
- Dallas, Texas.
- Houston, Texas.
- Las Vegas, Nev.
- Nashville, Tenn.
- Pensacola, Fla.
- Phoenix, Ariz.
- Portland, Ore.
- Salt Lake City, Utah.
- Seattle, Wash.
Line up work
Be sure to have plenty of gigs lined up before leaving. Before exploring new areas as a digital nomad, it might be best to build up clientele at home. Start working digital nomad jobs before leaving to be sure the pay and workload are as expected.
There are sites that list flexible jobs for digital nomads, such as FlexJobs, The Muse, Remote OK, We Work Remotely and Working Nomads. Keep an eye out for companies that support location-independent jobs, such as Cash App, FluentU, Invisible Technologies and Study.com, according to a list from FlexJobs.
Check insurance coverage
For those working internationally, there are a few additional factors to consider. One is health insurance. For full-time employees, check with HR to ensure health insurance coverage applies in other countries. Look into purchasing travel insurance or travel medical insurance, as most U.S.-based insurance plans do not have international coverage.
Get the right equipment
Before using a cellphone internationally, check with phone carriers to make sure the phone is unlocked for international use and there are no unexpected roaming costs. Consider adding a SIM card to access global carriers.
Internet connectivity is vital to work. Research connectivity ahead of time by either talking to other digital nomads or ensuring there are reputable hotels or internet cafes nearby. For rentals such as Airbnb, ask the owners for a screenshot of Wi-Fi speed.
Because connecting to various Wi-Fi networks can be a cybersecurity risk, use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect information such as banking, emails and sensitive work data. VPNs are a service that will encrypt all information transmitted over the internet to protect it from cybercriminals.
Noise-canceling headphones might also become a necessity depending on the work location. These headphones can drown out distractions and loud noises if working in a public place.
Decide how to handle current possessions
If someone has a current mortgage or lease, they should consider renting it to a tenant to cover the costs with home-sharing sites such as Airbnb or Vrbo. Consider storing other possessions in either a storage unit or with family.
Consider how to handle housing when returning from travel by choosing a certain amount of time highlighted in the lease or planning to stay with friends or family.
Tips for digital nomad work
Balance is one of the hardest obstacles to working remotely in new locations. It can be hard to want to work instead of exploring the area. It is vital to set clear boundaries of work hours and give time for exploration. By planning set time to explore, it will be less stressful because it shows there is time to have fun as well.
Here are some other considerations after starting the digital nomad life.
1. Travel slow
To balance work and travel, know the destinations before traveling. Make a list of wanted activities and sightseeing locations ahead of time. Don't move too often, to avoid being tempted to explore instead of work. Stay in place long enough to build productive habits and routines.
2. Connect with locals
To help combat loneliness, connect with locals. Try to attend local events or cowork with others in internet cafes, coffee shops or libraries. Locals can give advice on places to visit. Networking with others can also help grow a person's business. Check out places such as Meetup.com, local Facebook groups and The Nomadic Network for local events.
3. Log off
It might be easy to work constantly because the laptop and smartphone are easily accessible to check emails or plan projects. Be sure to follow the work schedule, and don't overwork. It can be easy to get sucked in. The goal of being a digital nomad is to enjoy different destinations while earning a living.
4. Join a digital nomad or coliving community
There are plenty of resources for digital nomads to learn tips about the best work locations and how to manage time. Check out digital nomad communities such as Couchsurfing and Nomad List before selecting a destination or for help finding tools to work location-independently.
A coliving community helps arrange gatherings in different parts of the world to help connect remote workers and entrepreneurs. People must fill out an application to join these communities. This application helps match others in the same area.
5. Get the right bank account
Some U.S. banks charge fees for using other banks' ATMs. Select banks that don't charge various ATM fees when withdrawing cash. Also, make sure the bank operates globally. Some banks -- such as Capital One, Charles Schwab and Chase -- offer unlimited global ATM access with fee rebates.
Also, check out a travel credit card that doesn't charge for foreign transactions. Credit cards typically convert currencies, but some charge higher fees.