Many people have recently been “forced” out of their cubicles due to coronavirus-induced social distancing measures – and a lot of people would love for it to stay that way. Not only have they (and their companies) discovered that remote work is, in fact, a viable option that grants them an improved work-life balance, but they can finally entertain that secret dream of traveling while working.
Some freelancers, entrepreneurs, and yes, even employees, have already fulfilled this dream of becoming a full-time ‘digital nomad’. But what exactly does that entail, and what could the digital nomad lifestyle look like for you?
Read on if you’re ready to find out.
The Different Ways to Travel and Work Remotely
There’s no one way to work remotely or to travel or, consequently, to be a digital nomad. Which is part of the temptation of this digital nomad lifestyle in the first place: the freedom and independence to shape your days and life in a way that works best for you. So, let’s have a look at how different ways to work and travel manifest and translate to being a digital nomad.
Self-Employed versus Employed
The classic digital nomad is, without a doubt, the self-employed freelancer or entrepreneur whose work can be done 100 percent online. Programmers, bloggers, virtual assistants, web designers, and online retailers come to mind.
But employees are more and more getting the opportunity to work remote jobs, too. Companies are recognizing the benefits of having a remote workforce, from happier employees and the resulting higher productivity, over saving on rental costs for office space, to being able to recruit people who truly are the best fit for the job without having to factor in proximity and location.
From a work-perspective, traveling when self-employed is easier because the job is already set up to be done 100 percent online from the get-go. Whereas even companies who are happy to let their employees work remotely are still working out the kinks in establishing processes, communication, schedules, and information sharing.
On the other hand, being an employee usually comes with benefits like health insurance, pension plans, dental, life insurance, paid vacations, or sick leave – all of which freelancers have to set up themselves or hazard the consequences.
So before you quit that job you love at the company you adore, just to become a digital nomad, talk to your boss. He or she might not be as averse to you working remotely as you may believe. And then, if that turns out not to be an option, after all, you can still transition to freelancing or start your own business. Check out our in-house programs, like the SHIFT Accelerator or our Renegade Freelancer Course, that might be able to help you get there.
Fast versus Slow
If the list of countries you want to visit is loooong and you can’t decide which one to prioritize because they all look amazing, you might be tempted to switch from place to place every couple of weeks. Which is completely normal, especially in the beginning. Trust us, we’ve all been there. We’ve all done it.
And many seasoned digital nomads have also ended up slowing it down. Because we realize that we actually still need to earn money; and whether we do it from an office, a coworking space, or a cute coffee shop, we have to put in those hours to get our work done. ‘Remote work’ doesn’t mean ‘less work’. And hopping from place to place, as exciting as it is, takes up a good chunk of time and energy, and can become exhausting after a while. Especially since you’re giving yourself less time to hit all the sightseeing highlights, too.
The key lies in figuring out your personal work-life balance, your best routine, your periods of highest productivity. Can you truly work from anywhere – even on a plane or bus while journeying to your next destination? Can you push through and be productive on five hours of sleep? Do you start your day the same way every morning, or do you thrive on a more spontaneous schedule?
Then there’s also the question of how deeply you want to immerse yourself in the culture, people, foods, and sights of a place. Seeing the sights and eating your way through the local venues is easy and fun; getting to know the culture and making friends with locals will take more time and effort.
Like the rest of us, you’ll end up testing, analyzing, and adjusting until you find your perfect digital nomad routine and travel speed. Whether that’s two weeks, two months, or even half a year between switching locations – there’s no right or wrong way to go about it.
Home Base versus Homeless
Do you envision yourself giving up everything – apartment, car, most of your possessions – to travel around the world as free and unfettered as possible? Or would you prefer keeping your home base to strike out from and return to in order to take a breather and recouperate in between bouts of travel? Or do you, in fact, want to relocate completely, by switching residency and potentially even nationality, to set up a home base in a new country as an expat?
Answer the following questions to determine what might be right for you:
- Can you afford it? Traveling while continuing to pay rent or a mortgage will put an extra strain on your bank account. If you can’t afford both, you’ll have to give up either your dream to travel or the need for a home to return to.
- How dauntless are you? If you’re someone who has no problem with taking risks, then selling all your possessions and/or moving to a different country might be a fun challenge. If you’re more risk-averse, you might prefer the comfort of knowing you can always return home.
- What’s your definition of ‘home’? Sure, home is where the heart is – but what does that mean for you? For many people, home is where they grew up, in an environment they know and understand completely. For others, home has less to do with location and more with community and family. Of course, your definition of ‘home’ can change over time – and often does as you continue to travel.
In the same vein, nothing you decide on now is set in stone. You can give everything up now and semi-settle back down in a couple of years. Or you might hold on to your apartment for now, and realize in half a year that you never actually return to it. You just need to figure out the starting point you’re most comfortable with and let things develop from there.
Solo versus Group
Striking out alone across the world is one of the most exhilarating experiences you’ll ever make. You’ll get to know yourself on a whole new level, and few other things will give you such a confidence boost. And we whole-heartedly concur with Henry David Thoreau, who said: “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”
Traveling solo means you don’t have to wait for anybody. It means you don’t just get to explore new places, but also yourself. If self-discovery is your main objective, traveling by yourself is the best path to take.
But it can also be a lonely one. Even the greatest advocate of solo traveling occasionally feels the need for companionship, camaraderie, community. We humans are social creatures, after all. So it’s a good thing you don’t have to travel alone.
There are plenty of digital nomad “hubs” all over the world these days (and we’ll get to those in just a moment). These are places where digital nomads congregate because they offer everything we need and love. Go to any of these places, sign up at a coworking space, and you’ll make like-minded digital nomad friends in a jiffy.
Here, you might also find a digital nomad or two – or more – who you end up pairing up with on future travels. Traveling with a few friends can be beneficial in many aspects: sharing accommodation cost and planning responsibilities, companionship, having someone who’ll notice quickly if you don’t come home and will send out a search party.
Especially if you haven’t traveled much before, not having to figure everything out alone can be a huge comfort. So why not take it one step further and join travel programs or coliving groups for digital nomads, like Remote Year or our own WiFi Tribe? Not only do such programs deal with a lot of the organizational aspects of travel, but you’ll automatically make friends with a group of like-minded digital nomads, who might very well turn into travel-besties for life.
The Best Locations for Remote Workers
If you ask seasoned digital nomads about best locations for remote working travelers to make a temporary home in, you might be surprised at how often a handful of specific places come up. The list will almost definitely start with
- Canggu, Bali, and include
- Medellìn, Colombia,
- Chiang Mai, Thailand,
- Barcelona, Spain, and
- Lisbon, Portugal.
These are all quite different cities from each other, that nevertheless fit the main criteria of remote working travelers, namely:
- Fast and (mostly) stable internet connection
- Fantastic value for money
- A thriving digital nomad community
- Fun coworking spaces and/or easy-to-work-from coffee shops
- Lots of sights to see and/or adventures to be had
- (Fairly) high level of safety
But there are many more places that fit all of the above criteria and are further favorites among remote workers. Check out our overall list of best places for digital nomads to stay here. Or click here if you already know you’re looking for a tropical destination; or maybe you’re looking for a starting point specifically in Europe, especially at this point during pandemic-times. And while you consider which locations call to you the most, why not sign up to our digital nomad community for regular updates on remote working and traveling, coliving and coworking, and our awesome WiFi Tribe community that even the pandemic hasn’t been able to separate?