At this point of my life, I’ve been a digital nomad for about six years. And no matter where the job scene takes me, it is not a lifestyle that I am willing to give up. Thankfully, digital nomadism is the way of the future, and I am confident that I will always find a job, or jobs, that will allow me to work remote and travel the world.
Six years ago, when I started my remote job, this way of life was not common. I am proud to say that I helped pioneer digital nomadism; I was truly one of the originals. Because I was able to work from anywhere, I held on to my corporate travel job for so long. But when the reigns tightened at my job, and I was told that I could basically only work from home, which is a lot different from working remote, I quit. After a five and a half years of that sweet life, there was no keeping my free spirt in a (home) office.
A lot of people ask me how it can be done. Since I want to see more and more people have this lifestyle, if they choose, I am here to share a few tips with you.
Tools of the Trade
I do not leave home without my MacBook air. Yes, that adds considerable weight to my baggage, but there are many things that can not be done from a smartphone alone. I always have my smartphone with me, everywhere I go, to take notes and photos. That is essential for my specific line of work. Finally, my Skyroam Hotspot is a lifesaver. Yes, just about everywhere in the world offers free WiFi at this point, but you try connecting and working from the WiFi in a shared space or in a developing country, and you will soon realize that you need your own private connection. For $8-10 a day, you can use unlimited WiFi on your secure connection. And sure, I do not use it every day. I always try the local WiFi first, but if I have a deadline or work to do, and the local WiFi isn’t cutting it for me, I have no problem connecting to Skyroam. The other big plus: you can bring your WiFi anywhere. To a beach, to a park, on a train or a bus. Skyroam really gives you the flexibility to work from (almost) anywhere.
Harnessing Your Skills
The typical digital nomad is a programmer or web designer. But I am none of the above. My professional skills all center around the travel industry. That is why I am hoping this blog one day makes me some money. But in the meantime I have my travel consulting business which I can do from anywhere with a good WiFi connection (see above). Eventually I will be hooking up with a remote based travel agency to sell flights and land (hotels, tours, etc) as well, but that is down the road. Oh and I also sell travel insurance. Everything I offer my clients I stand behind 100% and these are the products I use in my own travels. I am working on adding more affiliated companies to my business, but I am just getting started with the self hustle. That’s me though. Depending on your unique skills, there is different work you can do as a digital nomad. For example, are you a teacher? Online schools are popping up all over the world! You can also get your TEFL certificate and teach face to face abroad. The possibilities are endless based on your professional skill set. We work remotely is a great resource to see what is out there.
Self Motivation/Self Discipline/Time Management
Here I am in Koh Tao, Thailand staring at the ocean wanting to jump back in it, as I did this morning. But I can’t because this afternoon/evening is a workday for me. I often find myself working 12-14 hour days, sometimes odd hours, just so I can get everything done. Self discipline and time management are essential skills for your life as a digital nomad. I am working today so I can snorkel tomorrow. You also have to have the mindset that travel is not all play and is definitely not all vacation. I will admit the first time I worked abroad as a digital nomad, almost six years ago, it was a bit depressing at times. All I wanted to do was explore Buenos Aires, but I had to work. Another tip is (if you have a corporate job) save up your vacation time. That way, you can go work abroad and then take vacation in a foreign land for a few weeks before your travels end. That helps remedy the “I am in a new place and I have to work” blues.
Whenever I book an Airbnb listing, a hotel, or a guesthouse, I always check on the WiFi situation in advance. Especially if I am going to be setting up shop and working from a specific location for several weeks. While I have my MiFi device, $8-10 a day becomes very expensive when the WiFi is not reliable at “home.” The three questions I always ask my perspective Airbnb hosts are: 1. Is the WiFi signal strong? 2. Is the WiFi router in the actual unit where I will be staying? (You will be surprised at how many Airbnb hosts run multiple units in one building and only one unit has access to the single router) 3. Is the WiFi a private connection, or is it shared? Protip: always use the official Airbnb messaging thread to ask these questions. That way, if there is a problem with the WiFi and you need to cancel your reservation and rebook a new listing, you will be protected and Airbnb can override the host’s cancellation policy. Some digital nomads will require a dedicated desk space. Since I prefer a standing desk anyway, and have put together make shift standing desks all over the world (books and bookshelves work surprisingly well), this is not as important to me. But if this is something you require, ask before you book!
There will be times that you will need to work from 30,000 feet, especially if you work for someone other than yourself and have set hours. This is why it is important to make sure you are booking flights with WiFi. Be warned though, that inflight WiFi is not very reliable. Expect only to be able to do the bare minimum. If your job requires making phone calls and having video meetings, you will want to book flights outside of your working hours. I have worked from the air several times, my most memorable being a flight from San Francisco to Istanbul where I had to work almost the entire duration of the flight. Another protip: lounge passes are often worth it for a digital nomad. On that same trip, I had a six hour layover in Istanbul, and I was happy to use the free (and strong) WiFi in the airport lounge to finish my workday.
Naysayers are part of digital nomad life, and everyone of us has them. Whether it is the concerned parent, the jealous friend, the sibling who wants you at “home” all the time, or the hypercritical aunt/uncle. They will tell you that you can’t do it. They will tell you to just stay home and get a “normal” job. They will tell you that you will be homeless, destitute, and broke. And they will try to talk you out of this lifestyle. Do not listen to them. Have wanderlust? Follow your heart instead. People are going to be jealous, and haters are going to hate. Do not let that get in the way of your passion to travel, see the world. and work while you’re doing it.
Ready to Take the Plunge?
As one of the early digital nomads, I am happy to provide personalized consulting to others who are ready to work remote and travel. Contact me and we can this more based on your personal needs. At this point, I’ve worked on five continents (I visited Australia in 1999, way before the days of WiFi) and numerous countries, so I know a thing or two about digital nomadism. As one of the pioneers of the digital nomad life, I can help you get to the point where you can be one too!
My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.