Imagine responding to emails on a Monday. The familiar I hope this finds you well flashes on the screen as you try to trudge through a 9-to-5 routine.
Now, instead of your normal desk view and the deafening hustle and bustle of the city outside your window, imagine a completely different environment. It can be white sand beaches and coconut trees, the remote wilderness, or busy cafés with foreign yet comforting chatter — any place, really, that can ease the stresses of your job.
Do you like this set-up better? With the growing popularity of digital nomadism, it’s become a reality for many people.
The pandemic, which forced companies to roll out remote work arrangements for their employees, served as a boon to this type of workforce. In fact, there has been a 50% rise in the number of digital nomads in the US since 2019, with about 10.9 million Americans now identifying as one. And with travel back on the horizon, that number is only set to go up.
With this work-and-play lifestyle growing, the question you might be asking yourself is: Should you become a digital nomad, too?
But wait. Before you pack your bags and join the droves of workers heading to faraway destinations, here is a list of other questions to ask yourself that might just help you make your decision.
Question 1: What Exactly Is a Digital Nomad?
This year, Merriam-Webster added 455 new words to its dictionary. Among those terms is digital nomad, which they’ve defined as “someone who performs their occupation entirely over the Internet while traveling” and “a person who has no permanent fixed home address.”
These definitions shed light on what you can expect from the lifestyle.
Firstly, telecommunications technology empowers you and your work. The basic requirements are a laptop, tablet, or phone, as well as a high-speed internet connection to keep in contact with your employer, colleagues, and clients. Other tools are dependent on the line of work you’re in.
Secondly, being a digital nomad means you’re not tied to a permanent address because you don’t have to show up to an office day in and day out. You’ll never have to see a punch clock ever again, as this aspect of being a digital nomad means you have the freedom to work from anywhere across the globe and incorporate more adventure — and balance — into your life.
Just picture it: Today, you might be surrounded by idyllic farms in Bali that you can tour after completing a project. Tomorrow, you could be choosing from the different cafés and co-working spaces in historic Budapest to set up your “office” space.
Question 2: What Are Your Skills and Job Experiences?
In other words, you have to ask yourself: How will you make money on the road?
If you Google the top-paying jobs for digital nomads, the results don’t stray too far from each other. Writing, graphic design, and social media content creation are some of the most common lines of work because they fit a remote setup.
These jobs are typically dependent on output as well as minimal collaboration and face-to-face time with others. If you can’t do your job alone or don’t have the means to meet your colleagues or clients virtually, becoming a digital nomad is probably not right for your occupation.
That said, many employers are now hiring remotely or allowing their staff to work out of the office. Some notable companies that have gone remote — or have at least given their employees the option to work wherever — are Twitter, Meta, Shopify, Slack, and Upwork.
Moving to a remote-first setup makes sense for many of these employers and their employees, especially when it comes to Upwork, as the freelance platform connects digital nomads with paying jobs worldwide. Finding a company that supports telecommuting could be your ticket to the “work and travel anywhere” way of life.
Question 3: Can You Adapt to a Change in Routine?
Transitioning from a 9-to-5 to a nomadic work-life arrangement can be a big and overwhelming adjustment. Before handing in your resignation at your current place of employment, ask yourself whether you are the type to easily adapt to a different environment and level of pressure.
Or perhaps working from the same desk and around the same people is better for your productivity? As exciting as travel can be, a lack of structure — or daily routine — can also result in higher levels of stress and anxiety. This, in turn, can affect your ability to focus on a given task, making working in changing environments challenging for your productivity.
It might be hard to answer this question without experiencing it firsthand, so try and test the waters before going for a full dip. If you have an option to work remotely at your company, start small by shifting your workspace from, say, your home office to a café or co-working space. Instead of moving across countries or continents, see how it feels to hop cities across the US. This way, it’ll be easier to go back to your normal routine if you feel the need to.
That said, being a successful digital nomad is something that you can grow into through the help of those with more experience. In a list of tips for digital nomads compiled by CNBC, online mindset and business coach Ashleigh Ramshaw suggests taking a couple of weeks in one location before moving on to the next. This has given her routine more stability. If you can find a rhythm and minimize uncertainty, you’re in a better position to focus and thrive.
Another tip worth noting is from Lindsay Maisel, a freelance industrial engineer who highlights the importance of setting boundaries with the people you work for and with. For instance, working from a different time zone can be challenging when it comes to communication, so set work hours that are reasonable for you and for your clients or bosses.
You might need to find a compromise — that is, if you want to stay employed or keep finding freelance gigs. Establishing boundaries can help you stick to a routine and allow you to enjoy the nomadic lifestyle outside of work.
Question 4: How Much Money Do You Need to Start?
A fact that many of us know all too well is that as the cost of living in the US has steadily risen, the minimum wage has remained pretty much the same. In fact, entry wages are still just $7.25 an hour across the country.
Meanwhile, the proposed $15 — an aspirational amount — is not even considered enough of a living wage for Americans, as it should cover food, housing, and transportation, among other basic needs. (The fair amount, if you’re curious, is estimated to be at $22.)
The expensive American way of life has driven workers out of the country and into places like Indonesia and Thailand, where the costs of living are much lower, and they can continue to work remotely.
For instance, entrepreneur Jubril Agoro, originally from Chicago, estimates the cost of living in Bali to range from $1,156 to $3,160, depending on your lifestyle needs. The province has unofficially become a hub for digital nomads, due in part to how cheap it is to live — and actually enjoy life — there.
So whether you’re writing or consulting, staying in places like this can help you come out ahead in terms of savings, compared to if you had stayed put in good old America.
That said, you’ll still need capital to set up in a new location and savings or an emergency fund to fall back on. A budgeting guide for digital nomads by The Balance states that you first need to estimate your earnings and expenses.
If you haven’t moved yet, do diligent research on how much it costs to stay in one location for an extended period of time. Ask around in forums or look at statistical data and reports. Then, subtract that from how much you expect to earn doing what you do.
It’s important to note, however, that if you’re freelancing, your income will be irregular. Gig economy workers experience feast and famine cycles, in which some months are busy with projects while in other months, they’re hard to come by. You can plan ahead for these periods by padding your savings, adjusting your lifestyle to suit your means, and building your client base, so you’re not likely to run out of work.
All that said, it’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all answer to how much you’ll need in order to start a digital nomad lifestyle. The amount ultimately depends on several factors, including your job, projected expenses in your chosen location, and your time frame.
A good rule of thumb, though, is to come with at least 3 to 6 months’ worth of savings to cover your recurring expenses and costs of living — as well as a plan to make money, not just to spend on travel.
And Finally, Question 5: Where Are You off To?
If you feel that the digital nomad life fits you personally, professionally, and financially, the next question to ask is where you want to go and for how long.
Statistically speaking, Canada is the leading destination for digital nomads because of the advanced tech infrastructure, supportive legal and tax frameworks for international citizens, and availability of affordable housing in the country. The Great White North is followed by countries like the UK and EU nations like France and the Netherlands, as well as New Zealand and Thailand.
Don’t worry if you don’t see yourself living and traveling in any of these places for more than a couple of weeks. The beauty of being a digital nomad is that you are free to up and leave any time you want — so you can go and explore a new destination that suits your work and lifestyle more.