If you’ve been wondering how to become a digital nomad, this is the post for you. I break down the process into easy to understand steps to help reduce your overwhelm and help you get started.
We have been traveling as digital nomads for five years. It hasn’t always been easy but the freedom lifestyle makes it all worth it. We are no longer restricted to staying in one place and asking someone for permission to travel. Our mission is to help you do the same.
Wait, What’s a Digital Nomad?
Being a digital nomad means having the freedom and flexibility to travel when you want, where you want, for how long you want.
It also gives you the time to work on passion projects, such as blogging, photography, yoga, video editing – whatever you’re interested in!
How to Become a Digital Nomad
In addition to sharing our 5 steps for how to become a digital nomad, we walk you through our entire journey.
Spoiler alert – we did the steps out of order!
Watch the video above (or continue reading) to learn why you should follow them from 1 to 5 and learn from our experiences.
Even if you’re not sure whether the digital nomad lifestyle is for you, watch the video anyway to see what it’s like living in China, Bali, and Mexico and backpacking Southeast Asia and South America! We share clips from 10 years of travel in this video.
Without further adieu, here are the 5 steps.
Get Used to Being Uncomfortable
The first thing you have to do is get out of your comfort zone because this will help you be more adaptable.
Figuring out how to work online is one thing. But if you crumble under pressure when things don’t go as you expect, you won’t make it very far as a digital nomad.
Murphy’s Law heavily applies to travel. Everything that can go wrong most certainly will go wrong. If you have the ability to quickly adapt and make changes, you’re less likely to get overwhelmed.
Knowing how to deal with uncertainty all the time is an important skill. It’s probably the number one reason people struggle with how to become a digital nomad.
How we did it: We moved to China to teach English.
In 2009, we were down and out, unable to find decent jobs and living on food stamps. Sasha had taught English in China before so it wasn’t that uncomfortable for him. As for me, I had traveled internationally before but hadn’t lived abroad.
Even though Beijing was quite the contrast from my tiny hometown in East Tennessee, we bought one-way flights with no idea of a return date. We didn’t even have a place to live.
It was hands down the best decision I ever made.
We found a nice apartment, made great friends, found well-paying jobs, and got to travel a lot. But it was on a trip to Bali that Sasha decided he was over having an apartment and job to return to. That’s when we decided three years was enough in Beijing.
We wanted to try our hand at full-time travel. So we sold all of our stuff, moved out of our apartment, and set off on a 14-month gap year trip.
The way we achieved step 1 of how to become a digital nomad is a bit extreme. Don’t feel like you have to do the same thing. It could be as simple as getting a passport and taking your first international trip.
Find a Way to Earn Enough Money Online to Pay Your Bills
Step two for how to become a digital nomad is to find a way to earn enough money online to pay your bills and meet your basic needs.
This will give you the financial stability (and ultimately the courage) to leave your job or current situation and start traveling.
Don’t get caught up thinking that you have to find the best-paying online job that you’re super qualified for. You can simply think of this online job as a stepping stone to get you to your ultimate goal.
Remember, becoming a digital nomad is a marathon, not a sprint. You gotta take baby steps.
How we did it: This is the part that we did out of order. I tried to jump to creating an online business before I made any money online.
The years 2014 and 2015 were really big for us. In 2014 we wrapped up our gap year trip and settled back into “normal life” in Kunming, China. I thought I would be okay with going back to a job but I realized very quickly that I didn’t like having my newfound freedom taken away.
Asking a boss for time off to travel sucks. Scratch that, having to ask a boss permission for anything sucks. Figuring out a way to earn money online became my number one priority. Sasha was already doing that as a freelance writer and I wanted to join the party.
Before I get too wordy (as I tend to do) and go off on a major tangent. I need to tell you how we completed this step to become digital nomads:
We found jobs teaching English online.
But that didn’t happen until after I tried step #3. The story above continues in the next section about step three.
Start Thinking About Other Income Streams
Step 3 for how to become a digital nomad is to start thinking about other income streams and/or starting your own online business. This is what will sustain your digital nomad lifestyle. If one income stream decreases, you don’t have to freak out because you have others to fall back on.
You can do this in a number of ways; you can find other remote work or you can start your own online business. The two most common types of online businesses are:
- service-based: providing services to other people/business owners
- product-based: create your own products
How we did it: We started a blog! But we tried to do that before we made any money online.
Continuing on with the story in the previous section….
On New Year’s Eve 2014, Sasha proposed at the Phish concert in Miami! So in 2015, we got married and Sasha got accepted into a cultural immersion program called the Darmasiswa Program at a university in Bali.
Our honeymoon plans were set! I mean, who wouldn’t want to have a year-long honeymoon in Bali.
The problem? It was going to be difficult for me to find work in Bali.
We launched this blog that you’re reading before we set off on our gap year trip. So I bought an online course and decided I would spend my new free time growing it into a business.
It was going to be great! We would get sponsored trips and make passive income.
But I couldn’t figure out how to use WordPress. Beyond that, I couldn’t figure out how to write a blog post anyone wanted to read. I realized it was going to take a long time to start earning an income from the blog. Not to mention all the visitors we hosted during our time in Bali. That made it difficult to even find the time to learn.
In 2016, our time in Bali was coming to an end. I either needed to figure out a way to make money online or start applying to English teaching jobs back in China or elsewhere.
That’s when I found VIPKID and completed step #2.
Ease Yourself into Working and Traveling
Step 4 for how to become a digital nomad is to ease yourself into working online while traveling. It’s going to be a bigger transition than you think.
You shouldn’t go balls to the wall and start doing heavy, international travel. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Instead, you should start slow and travel in a place that’s easy for you. Your home country or a country you’re familiar with and can speak the local language is a great place to start.
How we did it: In 2016, we left Bali and went back to the USA. After living and traveling around Asia for six years, we made big plans to spend several months there.
But we didn’t sit still. We traveled all over visiting friends and family and we saw a ton of live music. We called it the month of music even though it was longer than a month.
Most of our travels were on the west coast, which is not the best time zone for teaching students in China. But I was able to make it work because we were staying with really great friends who were understanding about our situation.
It was a great way to ease myself into traveling while teaching English online because there were no language barriers and I knew most places would have strong enough WiFi.
Throughout the summer, Sasha was watching and getting a sense of what it was like. In the fall of 2016, he also applied to VIPKID and got the job.
That’s when we realized that we didn’t have to start looking for jobs in a specific place. We were both earning a steady income online and I was still determined to grow this blog.
Thanks to the practice we got from teaching online while traveling in the US, we were able to move on to step 5.
Experiment With Different Strategies
Step 5 for how to become a digital nomad is experiment with different strategies to find what works for you. This is the best step in my opinion because it means you’ve completed everything else and you’ve hit the road!
This step is all about finding a travel pace that you feel comfortable with.
How we did it: After spending nearly 7 months in the USA in 2016, we were starting to run out of money from all the traveling we were doing there. The US is NOT a cheap place to travel.
Rather than head back to the other side of the world, we decided to keep it close to home. So we followed the lines going south and hightailed it down to Mexico. 😉
We held on tightly to our backpacker roots and decided to travel there by bus. Also keeping in line with our backpacker ways, we planned to go at the same pace as our gap year trip, which, looking back, was a terrible idea.
Our gap year trip went at break-neck speeds. The longest we stayed in one place was seven days. And that’s what we planned to do on this trip.
In the first month, we went to Monterrey, Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and Guadalajara.
Hello, burnout! I can’t believe we ever thought that was a good idea.
Thank goodness we had planned to stay a full month in Puerto Vallarta because we were exhausted by the time we got there. This is when we realized traveling as a digital nomad is a lot different than backpacking. Your time as a digital nomad is split into three main categories:
- working time
- sightseeing time
- socializing time
It’s hard to do all three in one day. Even doing two can be tough.
What’s it Like For Us Now?
If we were going to make this lifestyle work, we needed to slow down.
Our one month in Puerto Vallarta turned into three months, and then six months, and then seven. This was also due to the fact that Sasha needed a root canal. It took a lot more appointments than we thought. But this is another great advantage of being a digital nomad….he was able to get it taken care of for a fraction of the price. They quoted him $2500 in the USA and he only paid $550 in Puerto Vallarta.
Read more: Cost of Living in Puerto Vallarta
That’s how Puerto Vallarta became our part-time base. There are so many kickass things to do in Puerto Vallarta that we keep going back.
In between our stints in Puerto Vallarta, we get to do incredible things. We backpacked around South America for seven months from the end of 2017 into 2018. While there, we went to some incredible places like the Galapagos Islands, Torres del Paine, and the Salt Flats of Bolivia.
We got to see our favorite band Phish play a mini-festival at a resort in Mexico. Sasha got to tick off one of his long time bucket list items of spending Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala (that’s Holy Week for those that don’t know). We also got to spend two weeks in Costa Rica seeing tons of wildlife including sloths!
Ready to Become a Digital Nomad?
In short, being a digital nomad isn’t easy but it’s worth it for the freedom. There’s nothing better than being able to travel when you want, where you want, for as long as you want. Not having to ask anyone for permission is the cherry on top.
Here are the 5 steps for how to become a digital nomad again:
- Get used to being uncomfortable because it makes you more adaptable
- Find a way to make enough money online to pay your bills and meet your basic needs
- Start thinking about other income streams and/or starting an online business
- Ease yourself into working while traveling
- Experiment with different strategies to see what works best for you
At this point, you might be wondering the fastest way to make this happen.
My FREE guide will teach you how to get started. It’s called How to Live Abroad and Travel the World as an Online English Teacher. Enter your info below and I’ll send it straight to your inbox.
Thanks so much for checking out the post.
Can you do me a favor? Come back once you’ve completed some of the steps and let me know how it’s going in the comments, k?? I’d love to hear about your progress.