Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Digital Nomad?

May 10, 2017

At first glance, the digital nomad life seems idyllic. You just bounce around the world while earning money working remotely, right? Well, not exactly.

Digital nomads, who earn a living by working remotely from anywhere in the world, have to navigate cultural differences, be apart from family and friends and spend days inside pounding away on work projects when they’d rather be sunning on a beach.

Not everyone is cut out for the digital nomad life, say Kari DePhillips and Kelly Chase, a couple of digital nomads traveling abroad this year while working on DePhillips’ marketing agency The Content Factory .

DePhillips and Chase are “workationing,” a term defined on their Workationing Blog as “methodically bouncing around to different locations around the world, working along the way.”

The women left New Hampshire in January to spend 2017 traveling while working remotely in Europe, Costa Rica, Aguada, Puerto Rico and Medellin, Colombia (the city formerly terrorized by cartel drug lord Pablo Escobar, depicted in the Netflix series Narcos).

Be careful not to get too swept up in fantasies of tapping on a laptop beneath a palm tree on the beach.

Thanks to technologies like Wi-Fi, email and Skype, more people are working from home rather than at the office. A recent Gallup poll found that the number of employees working remotely rose from 39% to 43% from 2012 to 2016.

No wonder more people are eyeing the digital nomad life. After all, why work remotely from home when you can email the same project proposal or invoice from Thailand?

But be careful not to get too swept up in fantasies of tapping on a laptop beneath a palm tree on the beach. At least not until you check off this packing list of essentials you’ll need to make it as a digital nomad.

1. You Are in a Remote-Friendly Profession

You’ll need to be proficient at work you can perform from anywhere. Jobs you can do remotely include freelance writer, graphic artist, marketing and web tech, just to name a few.

If you’re already in a remote-friendly position, consider shifting into freelance work. If your current skills don’t translate to remote employment, enroll in college or online courses to build your skill set. Peruse websites like Working Nomads, The Remote Working Company and We Work Remotely to get an idea of remote jobs available.

2. You Have Money in the Bank and Income on the Way

You’ll need to save at least enough to cover your first destination’s airfare, lodging, transportation and meals. However, you also need a job that you’ve held long enough to anticipate the income stream.

“You can only understand those things if you’ve been on the job long enough and know how long that it’s going to last,” says DePhillips, who recommends working remotely for three years before packing your digital nomad bag.

Track your income for a year before you leave, and stash enough money in a separate bank account to pay for a return ticket home if things don’t pan out.

3. You’ve Mastered Self-Discipline

In your travels, you’ll come across plenty of other digital nomads having too much fun to get down to business. “If you’re just looking to find a party, you will find that party,” says Chase. “And you will lose your source of income.”

“There’s a lot of really cool stuff happening when you’re out on the road,” says DePhillips. “You’re meeting people, and they’re going out for drinks or dinner, which in Latin American countries is a three-hour affair.”

Pay attention to the hours you are actually working, says DePhillips. If you’re not earning money, the digital lifestyle isn’t sustainable.

Set a number of hours you need to work each day or week and stick to it. Keep track of time you’re spending on projects with time-tracking software like Toggl, Hours or Freshbooks.

4. You Embrace Constant Change

You’ve got to possess a desire for novelty since there’s lots of moving around, and it’s hard to get into a specific routine, says Chase. “You have to kind of love it more than you hate it,” she says. “Some people find that they really just want their routine, and the novelty wears off pretty quickly.”

Make a list of past changes in your life and how they affected you. Cover it all, from getting a divorce, losing a job, moving to a new city or even seeing your favorite coffee shop shut down for good. Assess honestly how important your routines are in keeping you secure and grounded.

5. Your Temperament is Cool as a Cucumber

Remember how relaxing your last vacation was before the return flight got rerouted to Chicago via Los Angeles and you missed your connection? Digital nomads deal with setbacks and annoyances all the time. If your first instinct when things go wrong is to throw a tantrum, you might want to rethink your digital nomad ambitions.

If you’re easily irked by last minute changes, you may not be cut out for life on the road, where things constantly go wrong, says DePhillips. “You’re going to find all kinds of different reasons to blow up,” she says.

For example, DePhillips spent three nerve-jangling days in Medellin on what would have been a 20-minute errand in the U.S., shopping for a specific podcast cord while dealing with a language barrier and rummaging through “a million little stores” to meet a pressing deadline.

Keep a journal of daily annoyances and your reactions. How do you handle calls to incompetent customer service agents? Do you stiff slow restaurant servers? Does your neighbor’s barking dog get on your nerves? If you’re easily irritated, it’s probably time to set your digital nomad desires adrift.

6. Your Financial Record Keeping Skills Are On-Point

When you’re constantly traveling, it’s easy to blow through your budget and charge up the credit cards.

When you’re constantly traveling, it’s easy to blow through your budget and charge up the credit cards. “It can be astonishingly easy to tap into your savings when you’re not paying attention,” DePhillips says.

Be meticulous with your finances, utilizing a spreadsheet or accounting software like FreshBooks to keep track of income and expenses.

7. You Have a Potential Traveling Companion

You can always travel solo but when you roam the world with another person, you can split expenses and have a buddy to bail you out if your credit card gets eaten by an ATM or a direct deposit doesn’t come through. Chase and DePhillips trade spare I.D. and health insurance cards and split up debit and credit cards so documents and information are always safe with the other person or at the hotel.

Choose someone you like, know well enough to put up with their quirks and annoying traits and trust implicitly. Set ground rules in advance on the distribution of expenses, boundaries and amounts of time spent together or alone.

8. You Have A Tolerance for Loneliness

Loneliness among digital nomads is a big problem, says Chase. “The loneliness can be really crippling, and having somebody else there is great,” she says. “Even with me and Kari, when we’re out there, just the two of us, for a long time, we start craving other interactions.

Search for online digital nomad communities like the Digital Nomad Network or book an event aimed at digital nomads like the kind you’ll find on Traveling Lifestyle , a digital nomad site. Check out Global Networking Map to find coworking spaces where you can mingle with like-minded people.

Have any pro-tips on surviving and thriving as a digital nomad? Please share in the comments below.

about the author

Freelance WriterDeb Hipp is a freelance writer based in Kansas City, MO, who covers small business, personal finance and legal issues. You can visit her website at

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