Do you find the work you do truly fulfilling, or is it simply a means to an end? If you find yourself pondering this question often, the chances are that true job satisfaction eludes you.
The circumstances may be different, but the longing for fulfilling work is universal. Abe Maslow ranks the need for self-actualisation as the pinnacle of human growth for a reason. If you are anything like the average 9 to 5er, you are probably so conditioned to putting your ‘needs’ before your ‘wants’ that you barely notice the difference. The coronavirus pandemic may have convulsed much of the world over the past year but, this is an even bigger pandemic hidden from plain sight.
Its magnitude only becomes apparent when one looks at research figures published from time to time. According to Pew Research, 30% of Americans work “jobs just to get by”.
The slowing economy, rising political uncertainty, and the ravages of COVID-19 are also compounding matters with most people choosing to lead lives of quiet desperation rather than true career freedom. However, a small minority of people has shown, time and again, that it is indeed possible to escape the cubicle and live a life of fulfilment and meaning. All that is needed is a bit of grit, gumption, and some technological skills!
A new revolution has been underway in how humans live and work since the late 1990s. The arrival of Paypal and WiFi in 1998 was perhaps the biggest turning point in the history of organized work since the Industrial Revolution. For the first time, workers could offer their services to more than one employer and get paid without having to set foot in an office tower or bank branch. Thus, Digital Nomad was born!
Over the next decade, the idea of working from a beach or one’s front porch began to go mainstream with several books like the 4 Hour Work Week written on it. The 2008 lending crisis in the US accelerated the trend with more workers opting to take charge of their destinies rather than relying on greedy billion-dollar corporates for their livelihood. #FinancialIndependence and #Lifestyle freedom began to trend on Twitter, and Dell Computers launched ‘Digital Nomads’, a website dedicated to the new-found way of earning a living.
Technology kept pace with the aspirations of a growing tribe of people who wanted something ‘more’ out of life. The growth of the World Wide Web and with it dozens of sites like Craigslist and eBay allowed people to monetize their skills and talents in ways that would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago.
Businesses began to see the value of hiring digital nomads as research showed them to be more productive than the average office goer. Today, digital nomads are the peers that newly-minted remote workers turn to for advice on how to handle the change.
You are probably going to get a different answer every time you ask someone this question. This is because being a digital nomad means different things to different people. While some value the lifestyle freedom it brings, others swear by the ability to build multiple streams of income. A digital nomad is someone who works digitally while travelling from place to place. The key distinction between a remote worker and a digital nomad is that the latter is a way of life in itself and not just limited to one’s style of working.
Digital nomads can be found working in coffee shops, co-working spaces, or public parks just like their remote worker cousins, but they rarely stay on in a city or country beyond 6 to 12 months.
Given the rise in inflation, falling incomes, and employment benefits, there is little incentive for millennials to continue living in the same town or city for years. Digital nomads want to reassert their right to choose how they will live and work rather than follow the writ of large corporations. They believe that money is only a means and not an end in itself. If you are comfortable living a minimalist lifestyle or at least conscientious about what and how much you spend, you will probably have no trouble adapting to living and working as a digital nomad.
To help you clarify your motives for choosing to live as a digital nomad, here are a few questions to ponder over:
Write your answers down on a piece of paper and go over them again the next morning to see if you still agree with them.
If you have decided to take the plunge, congratulations!
However, the truth is that the path to living as a digital nomad is different for everyone. Unlike what you see in the movies, it is seldom a spontaneous decision. You need to put some serious thought into planning for your big move. Here are some useful pointers to get you started:
Thinking on paper can help you introspect and make a balanced decision. So, go ahead!
Now that you are clear on your reasons for becoming a digital nomad, it is time to proceed to the next step. Make sure you have a valid passport and visa. Though many countries provide visas on arrival, you may have to queue up at an embassy abroad in case additional paperwork is required.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an exclusive digital nomad visa! Visa requirements may differ from region to region. For example, multi-entry visas are a must for travel to Schengen countries. You probably already have drawn up a list of the countries you want to visit, however, make sure you have the most popular destinations on the list – Prague, Czech Republic, Koh Lanta, Thailand, Playa del Carmen, and Mexico are among the most sought-after destinations for digital nomads today.
For a first-time digital nomad, cities are a better bet than living in the countryside, given that internet connectivity may be spotty the further you go from a metro. Other than that, think about the living expenses and health insurance you are likely to need. As a digital nomad, health insurance can save you money and provide access to emergency evacuation services if you are living in the countryside.
From where to live to dietary needs and language barriers, a lot of thought goes into travelling across different countries. While there are plenty of options to choose from, the same can be overwhelming. At the lower end of the scale, you have homestays, couch surfing, and Airbnb while budget hotels or renting your apartment may be a good fit if you prefer a more private accommodation.
There are a plethora of sites with neatly curated listings that you can rely on, no matter your budget or preferences. Craigslist, homestayfinder.com and Airbnb are highly rated on social media communities and groups dedicated to travel. Think about security deposits, medical, transportation, and entertainment costs too.
If you are travelling with a spouse or partner, use your existing budget as a baseline to calculate how much you will likely need to spend as you frequently move from city to city and country to country. The cost of doing business can vary depending on the location you are in. Factor in the costs of web hosting, software subscriptions, internet, phone, etc. into your budget to arrive at a realistic estimate.
Your dream of travelling the world is a non-starter unless you can build and sustain a steady flow of money. Living in a low-cost country while working for a company based in North America or Europe is what most digital nomads swear by. This strategy allows you to earn much more than a local job and live comfortably even on a budget. There are plenty of jobs for digital nomads to make money online by selling products or services as a self-employed consultant or entrepreneur such as affiliate marketing, eBay reselling and Amazon FBA to choose from. Check job-listing sites like Indeed and Glassdoor for tips and advice on pay scales and employer reviews.
Besides, you can even develop online courses, start a YouTube channel or self-publish e-books in an area of expertise.
Executive coaching, mentoring, personal training, virtual assistant, coding, graphic design – if you already have or are developing the relevant skills, you can easily find paying customers in any part of the world. However, each option requires consistent effort before you will see some returns.
A good number of digital nomads choose to work full-time for employers on a remote basis. If so, you will need to account for changing time zones as you travel from country to country or work with distributed teams spread across the world. If you need some handy tips on how to handle the transition, google for digital nomad Reddit threads!
Remember: Being jet-lagged is no excuse for missing deadlines or skipping conference calls with your team!
If you haven’t already, sign up for PayPal so that you can receive payments directly from across the world via wire transfer. A credit card can be handy when you need to pay the deposit on your rental apartment unless paid for by the company you are working for.
Digital nomads are also adopting digital banks- or neo-banks as they have better known- as an all-in-one solution for all their financial needs. They have little to no fees and come with built-in analytics that helps you keep track of your spending as you travel the world.
In case you are looking for an alternative to Paypal, explore Payoneer or Transferwise, which also offer the ability to withdraw cash at an ATM.
There is something to be said for doing a trial run to check your preparedness for being a digital nomad. Nothing prepares you for the situations that will come your way while living and working abroad than immersing yourself in the experience for a while. It will also help you test your assumptions about what to expect when you finally become a digital nomad.
Before you leave, check if there are any health advisories from the government for the regions you will be travelling to – the coronavirus pandemic is far from over.
Vaccinations are mandatory in many countries, and so is a strict quarantine for 14 days. Hence, you will need to develop the patience to pull through a period of isolation.
If you are already on some kind of prescription medicines, check with your doctor about the dosage and ask for travel-related advice.
Lastly, break the news to your family and friends if you have not already!
Switching to the digital nomad lifestyle can be liberating as well as perplexing all at once! If you have solid reasons for making a move, you will find the experience rewarding. Proper preparation will undoubtedly play a huge part in how you feel when you finally board the aeroplane and strap yourself in for your flight to freedom. If you are travelling with your spouse or partner, you already have a distinct advantage over someone travelling solo.
But that is not to say that as a solo traveller your journey will be any less exciting. A vibrant digital nomad community is flourishing around the world, ready to welcome you! Here’s to a new life filled with endless possibilities!
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