The Virtual Life: Can You Really Be a Digital Nomad?

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Ready to chuck the cubicle and live life on the road? A career online makes it possible. Get ready to become a digital nomad.

Constant travel doesn't appeal to everyone, but a growing number of people today are adopting the life of a digital nomad. The opportunity to work online from anywhere in the world makes travel both affordable and feasible.

For people fed up with the daily grind, independence can be pretty appealing.

Work whenever you want, travel to exotic locations, earn enough money to be comparatively wealthy and still put money in the bank.

Related Article: Remote vs. In-Office Workers: Which Employee Is Actually Better?

Digital Work Opportunities

While most digital nomads are entrepreneurs, more and more companies are hiring remote workers.

Many creatives – graphic artists, writers, editors, photographers, game designers – are already working from home. It's also not unusual to find project managers working with remote teams, programmers, consultants, engineers in the field, and anyone in social media or marketing working remotely. So there is a wide range of careers that adapt well to travel. Even the medical and teaching fields have a system in place for traveling professionals.

The bottom line: if you have a computer and a business idea, freelance skills, or a job at a company that allows remote workers, you aren't tied to a location.

Travel Lifestyles

The lifestyle of a digital nomad can vary greatly, from first-class travel to the finest hotels to backpacking around and sleeping in a tent. You can travel to exotic places, but you don't have to. You can be a nomad without venturing too far off the beaten path.

Daniel Golding, CEO of goldinggroup.org, prefers the luxury lifestyle. He said, "If you have to travel for work, the key to success is to travel in style." If you're a successful entrepreneur or a highly-paid employee, a luxe lifestyle may be completely within your reach.

Phyllis Khare, Founder of TimeBliss.ME, spends most of her time on the road, but she's not a big fan of flying. She spends a lot of time driving, stopping wherever she pleases to work for a few hours or spend the night in a small town along the way. She chooses extended-stay hotels with kitchens, where she can get comfy and cook her own meals. But she has made longer trips, to Ecuador and the Barbados.

The view from Phyllis' hotel balcony in the Barbados
Spectacular view from Phyllis' hotel balcony in Barbados 

“Hands down the most wonderful place to work recently was the balcony of my hotel room overlooking the beach in Barbados," Phyllis reminisced fondly. "I had little birds as company and I could watch the sailboats glide in the sun while I crafted posts and images for myself and clients.”

Freelance coder Chris Curzon is unusual even in the world of digital nomads. He doesn't live to work, he works to live. He spends most of his time traveling to the most exotic places in the world, mostly living in tents (or yurts). When he starts to run low on operating cash, he checks into a WiFi-enabled hotel and contracts a coding job or two - enough to keep him in hot cocoa and yak jerky for the next adventure. Chris likes to stay so far off the grid that he doesn't have a work website or even an active Linkedin account.

On top of the world in El Chalten/Fitz Roy, Patagonia
On top of the world in El Chalten/Fitz Roy, Patagonia 

In five years, Chris has logged 272 destinations on every continent. He's climbed the Himalayas and explored the incredible White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Just recently, he started a new adventure with a first-ever trip to exotic Los Angeles. Next year, he plans to code his way across the United States.

Making the Decision

Adopting an alternative lifestyle may be doable, but is it affordable and practical for you? Here are big things to consider before taking your act on the road:

Cost

The lifestyles of digital nomads are as varied and interesting as the people who live them. It's up to you to decide what level of comfort you will accept, and whether you'll make enough money to sustain it.

Traveling in other countries is the economical answer for many nomads. Places like Mexico, Ecuador, and Nepal offer a much higher standard of luxury, for example, an apartment on the beach, than you might be able to afford in a more developed country. In many places, you'll find a thriving community of English-speaking expats you can communicate with.

You may find economical options in the U.S. as well, especially if you have a big network of family and friends and are willing to couch-surf for short periods of time to cut expenses.

Do the math. Add up all the living expenses you'll no longer have if you give up your permanent home, figure the new expenses you'll incur – including travel and a lot of restaurant food - and decide whether it is enough to sustain you on the road.

Medical Care

If you plan to travel within the U.S., you probably already have medical insurance. Outside the U.S., you'll need to take a close look at your planned destinations and make sure there is adequate care for any medical concerns you have or accidents that might occur.

Isolation

Will you be traveling alone? It's often impractical to take pets on your trip, and expensive to take family members. As a result, many digital nomads wind up traveling alone, enjoying only the companionship of people they meet along the way. Cell phones and internet ease the feeling of being cut off from friends and family, but can't really replace the dining room table. Some people can handle it, others can't.

Parting with Your Stuff

As silly as it sounds, it's harder than you might imagine to walk away from everything you own. If it won't fit in your suitcase, it's unwise to haul it around. We're used to everything we need or want at our fingertips. Will you be able to leave it all behind?

Methods of Travel

Travel isn't limited to arriving at your destination. You need to consider both getting there (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?) and getting around once you're there. Learn the laws and restrictions of driving in the country, and make sure you know which side of the road to drive on!

Related Article: Are They or Aren't They? How to Keep Employees Productive When Working From Home

Are Your Systems in Place?

Travel can be exhausting and distracting. Getting your work done requires organization and tools to help you deal with the day-to-day. While you may not need a strict schedule, you do need to commit to setting aside a certain number of hours each day, week, or month to work. Storing your work online will ensure you don't lose everything if something happens to your laptop.

Imagine living your life wherever you want to be. In the mountains, on the beach, overlooking a peaceful lake. Doing your work from a new location each week if you like. Meeting new people and trying new things. Online work opens up a whole new world of possibilities for anyone who can make a living with a keyboard and an internet connection.

Perhaps life in paradise is within your grasp. If you could work from anywhere, where would you go? What kind of nomad lifestyle most appeals to you?

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