It’s a crazy idea…
Buying a one-way ticket, grabbing your trusty laptop, ditching your boring life, and launching into a worldwide adventure.
On paper, it sounds thrilling.
But as soon as you start concocting a plan, it hits you…
Learning how to become a digital nomad is a logistical nightmare.
Doubts creep in.
- What if I don’t have any “digital nomad skills”?
- How will I earn money?
- What if I run out of money?
- What about my career?
- What will my family and friends say?
- Is it even safe?
- What if something bad happens?
- Is it worth the risk?
That’s exactly how I felt six years ago.
After blowing my savings backpacking through South America, I couldn’t stand the thought of returning to “normal life” (even if it meant leaving my promising career).
The problem was, I had ZERO idea how to become a digital nomad with no experience or skills.
But I powered through. And today I’m going to give you the blueprint I wish I had as a newbie nomad.
Sure, you can try to piece together random advice you find on Youtube and random blogs, but without a clear blueprint, it’s overwhelming.
This guide will give you a complete game plan for how to become a digital nomad in 2021…even if you don’t have any skills.
Buckle up, amigos—let’s get started.
(Disclosure: If you purchase through links on this page, I may earn a commission at no cost to you.)
Table of Contents
- What Is a Digital Nomad and How Do You Become One?
- The No B.S. TRUTH About Digital Nomad Life
- How to Become a Digital Nomad PDF
- How to Become a Digital Nomad with No Experience (From A to Z)
- Step 1.) Get Your Head Right
- Step 2.) Purge Your Life
- Step 3.) Choose a Digital Nomad Job That Doesn’t Suck
- Step 4.) What Skills Do You Need to Be a Digital Nomad?
- Step 5.) Set Your Travel and Lifestyle Goals
- Step 6.) Pick a Noob-Friendly Digital Nomad Destination
- Step 7.) Learn How to Avoid Financial Disasters
- Step 8.) Master the Digital Nomad Lifestyle Basics
- Step 9.) Avoid Painful Mistakes on the Road
- Step 10.) Take Advantage of Helpful Digital Nomad Resources
- The Decision That Will Change Your Life
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Digital Nomad and How Do You Become One?
Let’s start with a definition:
A digital nomad is someone who works from a computer (“digital”) while traveling from place to place (“nomad”).
They are not only location independent (i.e., can support themselves from anywhere), but they use that location independence to explore the world.
This can take on many forms.
4 Types of Digital Nomads: Which Will You Choose?
#1.) The BACKPACKER Digital Nomad
Travels fast, tries to see as much as possible, squeezes in minimal work to support travels.
#3.) The INTERMITTENT Digital Nomad
Uses one or more home bases around the world, with side trips in between.
#2.) The CULTURAL Digital Nomad
Lives months in each destination immersed in culture; prioritizes work and lifestyle over trying to see everything.
#4.) The DON’T-PUT-ME-IN-A-BOX Digital Nomad – Mixes all styles together.
As you can see from these digital nomad statistics, there are tons of paths and no one “right” way to do it.
YOU choose your reality. And if the reality you create stops working for you, YOU have the power to change it.
Speaking of the reality of being a digital nomad…
The No B.S. TRUTH About Digital Nomad Life
With so much polarized info online, it’s hard to get an accurate idea of what digital nomad life is really like.
On one extreme, you see Instagram feeds jammed with perfect photos working from tropical islands.
On the other extreme, you have posts like these that make you wonder if it’s all a lie:
Here’s the TRUTH:
It’s dangerous to base your expectations on someone else’s experience.
There are so many factors involved in digital nomad life—your job, your location, your personality, your unique experiences, etc.
Your experience won’t be the same as someone else’s.
Only one thing’s for certain…
When you uncover aspects of digital nomad life that you don’t like (which will happen), you have two choices:
- Complain, be miserable, quit, and write a whiny article about it.
- Change those things.
Maybe you realize fast travel is exhausting and unproductive.
Maybe you start to miss your routine.
Or maybe you just get lonely.
If something doesn’t feel right—recognize the problem, then find a solution.
As a digital nomad, you have the ULTIMATE FREEDOM to shape your life however you like…
Don’t forget to use it.
How to Become a Digital Nomad PDF
This guide covers everything you need to know and is GINORMOUS. To download the PDF version for easy reference, enter your deets below.
How to Become a Digital Nomad with No Experience (From A to Z)
I’ve broken down this digital nomad blueprint into 10 steps. If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed, just remember:
One step at a time.
Before you know it, you’ll be chilling on a tropical beach, drink in hand, making money from your laptop.
To skip around from step to step, use the links below:
- Get your head right
- Purge your life
- Choose a job (that doesn’t suck)
- Sharpen your nomad skills
- Set your travel and lifestyle goals
- Pick a noob-friendly destination
- Lock in your financial plan
- Master life on the road
- Avoid painful mistakes
- Take advantage of helpful resources
Step 1.) Get Your Head Right
It’s tempting to jump straight into choosing a job and planning your trip. But that’s a mistake.
First, you need to set a solid foundation.
To avoid wasting time, money, and energy, start by reflecting on one important question:
A travel lifestyle sounds amazing in theory. But the truth is, not everyone is cut out for it.
Before moving any further, watch this video to be SUPER sure this is what you want.
Still with me?
The next step to laying your foundation is breaking the news to your loved ones.
How to Tell Your Family and Friends You’re Peacing Out Across The World
Here’s a secret.
When breaking the news, use these exact words:
“I’m not sure for how long. Maybe for three months.”
I’m not saying to lie. Who knows, maybe it will just be three months!
This will make everything easier.
Saying you’re leaving indefinitely and don’t know when you’ll be back is HEAVY news.
You’ll almost certainly get pushback.
“A few months” is easier to digest and accept.
Once those few months have passed, your loved ones will have slowly adjusted to you being gone. Then when you say you’ve decided to extend your trip, it won’t be as much of a shock.
That said, odds are you will have some nay-sayers.
- They’ll call you crazy for throwing away your career.
- They’ll say you’re irresponsible and running away from your problems.
- They’ll tell you it’s too dangerous and send you scary news stories as proof.
Sure, they may mean well, but it’s your life. It may be hard to tune them out, but you have to.
The best way to do this is to:
- Join groups of like-minded people (like this one).
- Find an experienced nomad to reassure you (like me!).
- Keep your inspiration tank full by reading stories of other thriving nomads (like these ones).
If your family and friends don’t “get” you, look for support elsewhere.
Step 2.) Purge Your Life
If it doesn’t fit in your backpack or suitcase, it’s not coming with you.
Getting rid of your stuff can be hard at first, but it’s also liberating. On the road, you quickly realize how little you actually need to be happy.
Purging your belongings is also a great opportunity to boost your travel fund.
- Sell your car, furniture, electronics, and anything else sellable on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
- Sell name-brand clothes to Plato’s Closet (or directly to your friends).
- Sell everything else at a garage sale.
Anything you can’t sell, donate.
Seriously. Don’t hold back. You will forget you owned it after a few months on the road.
Trust me—Your family doesn’t want you using their house as a storage unit.
After purging, things instantly get “real”. Becoming a digital nomad isn’t just a fantasy anymore. This is happening.
Step 3.) Choose a Digital Nomad Job That Doesn’t Suck
One of the biggest obstacles you’ll have to overcome is figuring out how to support yourself.
Before we dive into your options, we need to have the “money talk”.
How Much Does a Digital Nomad Make? (The TRUTH)
Digital nomads come in all shapes and sizes.
- If you take your job remote, your digital nomad salary may not change.
- If you build up a thriving online business, there’s no limit to your income.
- If you start from scratch, you won’t earn much (at first).
But the kicker is…you don’t need to earn much.
Remember, you choose where you live. In Los Angeles, $2,000/month buys you a cozy cardboard box to sleep under. In Thailand, you’d live like a king.
Many digital nomads don’t consider money their #1 priority.
It’s the lifestyle that matters.
If you fly out of bed every morning, stoked to start your day…
If you’re passionate about your work and building a business you love…
If you have freedom to plan your work around your lifestyle (instead of the other way around)…
…who cares if you earn less than you did back home?
What Type of Digital Nomad Will You Be? (3 Choices)
Digital nomad jobs fall into three categories—each with unique advantages and disadvantages.
Type 1: Remote worker
When most people think of the “typical digital nomad”, they imagine a freelancer or solopreneur.
However, in a Flexjobs’ survey of 500+ digital nomads, most were actually employees working remotely.
Remote work is a great option for slow travelers who value startup speed and (perceived) stability over flexibility.
You can start earning a full salary from Day 1 and have your work handed to you each day (unlike a freelancer who has to hunt down clients).
The trade-off is you still work on company time and have less control over your schedule.
If you plan to travel frequently with unreliable wifi, this could be a dealbreaker.
Type 2: Freelancer
A freelancer is a self-employed service provider that does contract work for clients (e.g., writing projects, graphic design, programming, proofreading, etc.).
You can start earning from Day 1 if you have a marketable skill, but it takes time to fill your client pipeline and reach a decent income.
Freelancing may seem less stable than working as a remote employee, but once you have multiple clients with ongoing needs, I’d argue that it’s more stable. With a remote job, all your eggs are in one basket—if you get fired, you’re S.O.L.
Freelancing also gives you more time freedom. Once you have your projects and deadlines, you can do them on your own time.
Type 3: Online entrepreneur
An online entrepreneur runs their own online business and does not depend on employers or freelance clients. You are the boss.
These types of businesses include:
- Bloggers, Youtubers, Podcasters, Instagrammers, etc.
- A brick-and-mortar business managed remotely
- Ecommerce store owners
- Course creators
- App creators
This option is high risk, high effort, and high reward.
It involves significant upfront effort with no promise of success. But if you do succeed, you’ll have the ultimate flexibility and essentially no income cap.
There’s also the Mix-and-Matcher digital nomad who does a combination of these roles. For example, I earn money from:
- Freelance writing
- Blogging and Youtube (online entrepreneur)
- Real estate investments (managed remotely)
Step 4.) What Skills Do You Need to Be a Digital Nomad?
It’s certainly possible to become a digital nomad with no skills (I did!). That’s because many location independent jobs involve skills you already have.
That said, you won’t want to stay a digital nomad with no skills.
After all, who wants to stay at the first rung of the ladder as an unskilled digital nomad their whole life?
At some point, you’ll have to develop some digital nomad skills. The good news is, you can learn along the way.
Side note: Skillshare is probably the best free place to get your feet wet, learn different “online skills”, and test the waters to see what you enjoy (writing, graphic design, web development, etc.). You can sign up for a free trial with this link, then take as many courses as you want during your trial at no cost.
Until then, I recommend what my buddy Sean Ogle coined a “bridge business”.
This is basically a business that uses skills you already have to start earning money online quickly—something that’ll support you as you build up more lucrative skills on the side.
How to Become a Digital Nomad with NO Skills
Here are five ways to “bridge” to your dream digital nomad lifestyle. For even more ideas, see this guide on digital nomad jobs for beginners.
Bridge #1: Do your current job remotely. If you convince your boss to let you go fully remote (or find a similar position that allows remote work), you won’t have to learn any new skills.
Bridge #2: English teacher. If you’re a native English speaker, you have a skill that millions of people are willing to pay to learn. You can teach English online while traveling or teach in-person while living abroad. For the best opportunities, you’ll need to take a TEFL course (here’s the one I took).
Bridge #3: Virtual assistant. A virtual assistant helps bloggers and small business owners with virtual tasks like managing email, doing research, creating graphics, organizing data, and handling social media—all things you may already know how to do. Here are 50+ VA service ideas you could offer.
Bridge #4: Freelance writer. This is the bridge I used to become a digital nomad. All it takes is:
- Average writing skills (I mean, look at my writing!)
- Knowing where to find entry-level writing jobs
- A willingness to market yourself
Bridge #5: Offline job abroad. If you don’t have any online skills, why not start with an “offline” job in another country? Working as an English teacher, au pair, travel nanny, scuba instructor, cruise ship worker, volunteering—all these let you explore the world as you build up your online skills.
There are honestly tons of bridge ideas out there. Heck, I’ve even met a couple travelers who decided to sell feet pics online to keep their travel fund topped up while they built up other projects.
Ok, so by now you should have your bridge idea. But where should you build that bridge? What’s your dream digital nomad job at the other end?
5 “Next Level” Digital Nomad Jobs to Strive For
There are TONS of “next level” travel jobs to choose from.
Let’s look at five of the most popular options (For more ideas, check out this ginormous list of 100+ travel job ideas).
#1.) “Advanced” content writing
Yes, I know, I just said freelance writing was a “no skill” job. And while you can certainly start with essentially zero experience, you may get stuck with low-paying gigs.
Low rates = more hours working = less hours exploring
This is a recipe for burnout.
To rake in the big bucks with content writing, you’ll have to sharpen your skills. You can either do this for free through trial-and-error (the slow way) or invest in a course (the fast way).
Copywriting is another form of freelance writing. Unlike content writing—which often involves writing informational articles—copywriting is focused on writing material that SELLS something.
It’s more advanced than content writing and requires understanding psychology and persuasion.
Since the words you write are directly linked to your client’s sales, it’s naturally a more lucrative form of writing.
That said, unrealistic info online makes copywriting seem like a foolproof way to easy riches. This is a lie. As with anything worthwhile, it takes hard work.
If copywriting peaks your interest, I recommend getting your foot in the door with content writing (easier to start), then working your way up.
#3.) Computer programming
The quintessential digital nomad—a “coder” sitting at the beach, banging out computer code on their laptop to create different apps, software, and websites.
This is the first image that pops into many people’s heads when they think of digital nomads.
And for good reason.
Computer programming and web development are some of the most flexible, high-paying, nomad-friendly jobs that exist.
If you become a master programmer, you will never run out of work.
You can work as a remote employee, a freelancer, an entrepreneur (create and sell your own apps/software), or a combination of all three.
As a developer, you’re looking at a median pay of around $73,760—and significantly more as a senior programmer, in-demand freelancer, or successful entrepreneur.
Blogging allows you to create a legit income around something you’re truly passionate about. You have no boss and 100% control over your schedule.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
The problem is, most blogs fail.
After immersing myself in the blogging world for the past 2+ years, I’ve concluded that the reason is most bloggers give up too quickly.
IMO, the odds of success are actually quite high if you do two things:
- Follow a proven plan
- Don’t give up
This is easier said than done.
Here are three different proven plans (for three different end goals):
- Fat Stacks – For building high-traffic niche sites that earn passive income with ads (his free course is a good place to start)—see my full Fat Stacks Review for more info.
- Travel Blog Prosperity – Specifically for travel blogging. Her free mini-course alone will set you up for success. See my Travel Blog Prosperity review for a sneak peek behind her awesome membership.
- Freedom Machine – For a more holistic in-depth training on how to create a blog that stands out from the noise (their free mini-course gives a sample of the unique strategies they teach).
Blogging is an epic travel job (check out these successful travel bloggers that make money to see what I mean). You just have to be a special breed to survive.
#5.) Agency owner
While freelancing is a quick way to start earning a location independent income, there’s one problem…
That income is capped. You can only work so many hours per day.
Create an agency or drop servicing business.
As an agency owner, you land the clients, then outsource all the work.
With a solid team in place, your income ceiling vanishes. The more deals you close, the more money you make.
The best way to learn how to do this (and completely automate it) is with the Drop Servicing Blueprint course. I’ve personally taken it and was blown away. You can check out their free drop servicing class to see what it’s all about. (Or see my full Drop Servicing Blueprint review).
Like I said, these are just five of over 100 travel job options. Check out the full list before committing to anything.
And if having to choose from 100 jobs feels overwhelming, this video and free workbook will help:
Self-marketing: The cheat code to boost your income
As a freelancer or entrepreneur, your livelihood depends on your ability to FIND your customers.
Just because you build it, doesn’t mean people will line up to buy it.
It’s not like a “regular” job where paid work magically appears each day.
To succeed, you must learn the art of self-marketing.
Inbound marketing means setting up systems so that customers can find you.
As a freelancer, this might mean:
- Creating profiles on freelance platforms using search-friendly keywords.
- Putting together a portfolio website and sending paid traffic to it.
- Collaborating with others to get in front of their audience.
As an online entrepreneur, it could be building a blog and publishing articles on topics that your customers search for in Google.
Outbound marketing is the opposite of inbound. Instead of customers finding you, you find them.
The most powerful way to do this is by tapping into your network. When starting from scratch (i.e., no portfolio, no testimonials, no experience), the easiest customers to win over are people who are already in your network.
It’s 100x easier to convince a friend (or friend of a friend) to hire you than a stranger.
In fact, I’d say HALF of my freelancing success has come from personal recommendations.
So if your current network is looking a bit raggedy, it’s time to put yourself out there and build relationships.
“Warm” and “cold” outreach are other effective ways to proactively hunt down clients.
Cold outreach means contacting a potential customer who has no idea who you are. Done right, this can work. Done wrong, it’s spammy.
Warm outreach, on the other hand, is contacting someone who already has you on their radar.
For example, maybe you’ve exchanged a few friendly tweets, shared their work, then asked if you could send them an email, call, etc.
This is the more time-consuming approach, but it also has a higher success rate.
Either way, freelancers and entrepreneurs need to get used to rejection. Odds are you’ll have to stomach plenty of “No’s” before you get a “Yes”.
And that’s ok!
What doesn’t kill a digital nomad makes them stronger.
Step 5.) Set Your Travel and Lifestyle Goals
Before we get lost in a nomad-planning rabbit hole, there’s one important decision you have to make:
Do You Want to Be a “DIY Nomad” or Join a Digital Nomad Program?
Digital nomad programs are pre-planned experiences you can join.
Some popular programs include:
Here are some advantages and disadvantages to joining them.
✅ No planning required: Essentially all logistics are taken care of for you (accommodation, transportation, wifi, etc.). All you have to do is work and enjoy.
✅ All inclusive: You know up front what your monthly costs will be, so it’s easy to budget.
✅ Networking: You’ll work, travel, and live with a small group of like-minded digital nomads, allowing you to network and never feel lonely.
✅ Built-in work-travel balance: Your itinerary is scheduled for you, from work to play. That means you won’t fall prey to over-working or over-playing.
❌ Cost: Joining a group costs significantly more than the DIY approach. This makes it less friendly for bootstrapping nomads starting a business from scratch.
❌ Competition: Each of these programs has limited spots. That means not everyone who applies gets accepted (and you may even lose your application fee).
❌ Inflexible itinerary: You have no control over your itinerary. If you think a place sucks, you have to go (and pay) anyway.
❌ Group drama: If the people in your group suck, you’re stuck with them.
So, what do you think?
If you’d rather join a program, you can skip to Step 8—most things in this guide will be taken care of for you (for a price).
If you decide to do things on your own, you’ve still got some work to do.
For starters, you need to choose a travel style, namely:
How fast will you travel?
Your answer will directly shape your experience.
Fast travel allows you to experience more destinations, but is more expensive and harder to stay productive.
Slow travel is cheaper and more conducive to growing a business, but you won’t be able to see as much.
There is no right answer, but here’s my two cents:
Start slow for the first six months to get your bearings, then mix in shorter periods of fast travel every few months.
This will give you the best of both worlds.
And remember, there’s no rush to see everything. You have all the time in the world!
Step 6.) Pick a Noob-Friendly Digital Nomad Destination
Now you know how to make money from anywhere, but where the heck should you go?
Are some countries “friendlier” to digital nomads than others?
The answer is YES.
Here’s how to find them.
Where Should a Digital Nomad Live?
Before getting into the nitty-gritties, let’s do a quick exercise.
Close your eyes and imagine your dream digital nomad day.
Where are you? The jungle? The beach? A bustling city?
Are you immersed in the culture or are you living in a Westernized “nomad bubble” filled with fellow nomads (*cough* Bali *cough*)?
Now, with that image in your mind, consider the following factors.
Where are you allowed to go? Many countries are off-limits due to the pandemic. But even when things go back to normal, you’ll still have visas to consider. Some countries have tough visa requirements and only allow short stays. Other countries offer “Digital Nomad Visas” that allow remote workers to stay for up to a year or more.
Where can you afford to go? Depending on your job and savings, some countries may be off-limits due to a high cost of living. Budding digital nomads should stick to cheap countries. This will let you stretch your savings while you get your business off the ground.
Where can you stay connected? New digital nomads should stick to countries with fast, widespread internet access. Once you get the hang of digital nomad life, you can consider branching out to “internet-challenged” countries.
You might be wondering, “Yeah, but where can I find all this information?”
How to Research Destinations Like a Pro
Step 1.) Brainstorm with Nomad List. The free version of Nomad List is a helpful place to come up with destination ideas. They provide rankings of all the different factors important to digital nomads.
Use Nomad List for idea generation, NOT as the final decider. Just because a city has a low ranking doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with it.
Step 2.) Figure out visas
Armed with your brainstorm list, it’s time to check the visa situation.
The fastest way to start is with a quick Google search: “visa free countries for [YOUR NATIONALITY] citizens”.
For example, when I searched for U.S. citizens, here’s what popped up (super handy, right?).
Now, I would not treat these unofficial sites as gospel. Again, they are just tools to get your juices flowing.
Once you have a handful of interesting-looking countries, go to the official government website for each one to find the most up-to-date visa information.
Step 3.) Investigate in Facebook groups
Next up is to gather some first-hand information on your top destinations.
Try to find specific Facebook groups for digital nomads and expats who live in the destination you’re considering.
For example, here’s a group filled with Chiang Mai expats. This would be your best bet on accurate, up-to-date info on Chiang Mai.
HOWEVER, when asking questions in a group dedicated to a specific city, be aware of any potential biases.
✅ GOOD QUESTION: “What are the pros and cons of living in [CITY] as a digital nomad?”
❌ BAD QUESTION: “Which city is better for digital nomads – Chiang Mai or Bangkok?”
If you can’t find any good groups for your target destination, you could also post questions in general digital nomad groups like Digital Nomads Around the World.
These groups are also good places to get accurate safety information. The media lies. And unless your Aunt Karen has recently traveled to your destination, her opinion doesn’t matter either.
You want first-hand advice.
Step 4.) See it with your own eyes
Facts, figures, and opinions will only get you so far. Before cementing your decision, you’ll want to see what the destination is like with your own eyes.
For this, Youtube is your friend.
For example, we shot this video showing what it’s like to live in Colombia as a digital nomad (one of my all-time favorite countries!)
When searching for these videos, look for channels that share the good AND the bad. You want to know what the destination is really like, not the sugarcoated version.
Step 7.) Learn How to Avoid Financial Disasters
It can be scary to ditch your steady job and leap into the unknown.
If you’re like most people, leaving this zone of financial security can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to starting digital nomad life.
Nobody wants to quit their job to take a worldwide adventure….only to fail and have to move back in with mommy.
Here’s how to prevent that from happening.
How Much Should You Save Before Becoming a Nomad?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
Your savings cushion will depend on:
- Your risk tolerance
- Your current earnings
- The cost of living in your target destination(s)
- Whether you have a remote job or are starting a business from scratch
- How confident you are in your ability to ramp up your income
Here are some good benchmarks (Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor):
If you have a remote job and are already earning a full-time income, aim to save three months of living expenses to use as an emergency fund.
If you’re still in the income-building phase, bump that up to 6-9 months according to your risk tolerance.
Keep in mind, we’re talking about living expenses in the countries you plan to live in. So, in cheap countries, 6-9 months may only be $5,000.
In the end, you need to decide what YOU are comfortable with.
For some, that might mean $30k. For others, it might be leaving with empty pockets and figuring it out as you go.
Most people fall somewhere in between.
Just remember, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your destination is…life won’t be pleasant if you’re constantly stressing about money.
What’s a REALISTIC Digital Nomad Budget?
Your budget will depend on many factors:
Destination: The cost of living in one location could be 2-3x more than another.
Lifestyle standards: Do you expect to stay in luxury resorts and eat at 5-star restaurants all the time? Or are you willing to cook your own meals and live like a local?
Travel pace: The faster you travel, the more you’ll spend. If you move around every few days, you will:
- Spend more on transportation
- Pay the higher nightly rate for accommodation
- Spend more on tours and activities in each destination
- Have less time to work and earn money
On the other hand, if you slow down and spend months in each destination, you can essentially cut your expenses in half.
Nomad List helps compare the cost of one destination to another. But it’s not useful for estimating exact budgets, which vary significantly depending on your lifestyle.
For more accurate estimation, use Youtube and travel blogs.
This allows you to not only gather budget information, but also see what kind of lifestyle that budget can afford.
For example, here’s a complete budget breakdown living in a “cheap luxury” condo in Bangkok:
Here’s another breakdown of how much we spend living van life in the U.S.
And here’s a look at exactly how much we spent over an entire year as digital nomads:
As you’ll see, even though we spend less than the Nomad List estimates, we still have a pretty awesome lifestyle.
Just make sure the sources you use are as recent as possible.
If you’re looking into rapidly developing areas, prices from five years ago may no longer be accurate
For example, the “nomad neighborhoods” in Chiang Mai have become much more expensive over the past several years.
How to Slash Your Travel Costs in Half
The longer you’re on the road, the more hacks you’ll learn to save money on travel and digital nomad life.
- Using rewards points and finding mistake fares to score super cheap (and even free) flights.
- Finding accommodation on the ground (instead of booking ahead) for cheaper rates.
- Protecting yourself with cheap digital nomad insurance.
- Learning the ins-and-outs of living like a local.
- Traveling during shoulder season.
- And tons more.
For more detailed money-saving tips I’ve learned over the past 6 years of travel, grab this free guide:
What’s the Best Bank for Digital Nomads?
Banking can be tricky for digital nomads.
Most “normal” banks aren’t set up for full-time travelers.
- They may require you to visit a physical branch to make changes and solve problems (like getting your card blocked for using it abroad).
- They may charge hefty fees to send and receive money internationally.
- They may not offer international shipping for replacement cards.
The list goes on. Speaking from experience, it can be a HUGE pain.
So which bank is best?
Well, for starters, most digital nomads should have a Wise account (formerly TransferWise). This not only allows you to send and receive international payments as cheaply as possible (usually), but it also lets you transfer YOURSELF money in different currencies.
Apart from Wise, the best bank for you will depend on the country you’re from.
For a country-by-country breakdown, check out this guide on best banks for digital nomads.
And if don’t need fancy banking features and just want to send and receive money abroad, check out this handy breakdown of Remitly vs Xoom vs Wise—three of the most popular international money transfer services available to nomads.
How to Do Taxes as a Digital Nomad?
It’s easy to get so caught up in the excitement of nomad life that you forget boring things like taxes.
Now, since taxes is a HUGE topic, we’ll just cover the basics here.
(For more detailed info, I recommend checking out this digital nomad tax guide written by my financial-savvy nomad buddy, Nora.)
Your tax situation will depend on your citizenship, your legal tax residence, and any other rules your country has.
Regardless of all the factors involved, I have one recommendation:
Find yourself a tax preparer who specialized in expat and digital nomad taxes.
Paying an expat tax preparer can be pricey…especially if you’re still not earning much (and won’t owe any taxes anyway!).
It’s tempting to try to figure things out yourself to save money.
But think of the opportunity cost.
Spending 40 hours studying tax laws means losing 40 hours of work and income—and there will be no guarantee you actually did them correctly.
After testing out a couple expat tax preparers, I found one who is fairly priced and super responsive to questions (this is important!). Shoot me a message if you’d like me to introduce you to him.
Whatever you decide, if you’re a self-employed digital nomad, you need to keep your finances organized.
If you’re a spreadsheet person, you can do this manually for free.
If you’re bookkeeping-challenged (like me), you’ll want to use some sort of accounting software. I found a lifetime deal on Appsumo for a bookkeeping software called Kashoo.
I love it because it’s super simple for people who don’t know anything about accounting (moreso than other popular options).
Speaking from experience, tax time is a nightmare if you’re unorganized. The number of hours that a bookkeeping software will save you makes it well-worth the cost.
Step 8.) Master the Digital Nomad Lifestyle Basics
Now that we’ve got the boring finances out of the way, let’s move on to the fun stuff…
Starting life on the road.
The truth is, starting digital nomad life is the hardest part. But after you get everything set up, it gets easier.
Let’s begin with a checklist of everything you need to do before leaving. Then we’ll move into the nitty-gritties of life on the road.
The “Tying Up Loose Ends” Checklist
Here are some important things you need to remember to do before leaving. These travel planning resources will also help keep you on track.
▢ Gather your paperwork. Passport with blank pages, tickets, hotel reservations, passport-sized photos for future visas, visa paperwork, insurance cards, vaccination cards, photos of everything that you pack for lost luggage claims, etc.
Nowadays with “the cloud”, printing out hard copies isn’t as important as it once was. Just make sure everything you need is saved offline on your phone (and that your phone doesn’t die).
▢ Get vaccinated. You can find everything you need to know about getting the proper vaccines here. Don’t procrastinate on these as some vaccines require multiple doses before you leave.
▢ Buy travel insurance. This guide compares the best digital nomad insurance plans for different types of travelers.
▢ Order an international driver’s license. Some countries require this to drive, and it’s a pain to get after you leave. Depending on where and how you travel, you may never need it. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.
▢ Open a Charles Schwab account. If you’re from the U.S., this free checking account reimburses you for any ATM fee around the world. It’s saved me hundreds of dollars.
▢ Forward your mail. The cheapest option is to minimize the physical mail you receive by signing up for electronic delivery. Then have anything else sent to a trusted friend or family member. If you don’t want to burden anyone with opening and sending you photos of your mail, you can pay for a virtual mailbox that will take care of everything for you. One of the most popular and affordable options is Anytime Mailbox.
▢ Create an internet game plan. Here are the best mobile hotspot and internet options for digital nomads. Depending on the option you choose, you may need to get set up before leaving home.
▢ Cancel subscriptions and memberships. Check your bank accounts to see if there are any recurring subscriptions you can cancel.
▢ Load up on any medical prescriptions. If you take prescription medicines, research how easy it is to buy in the country you’re traveling to. In some developing countries, you don’t need a script to buy many medicines—just pop into a pharmacy and tell them what you want. That said, this can be expensive in some cases. One medicine I take is 6x cheaper in the U.S., so whenever I visit home, I ask my doctor to write me a script for as much as possible—usually 180 days worth.
Also, if you need to carry a controlled substance, get a doctor’s note explaining your situation. You probably won’t need it, but better safe than sorry.
▢ Port your phone number. Before canceling your home phone plan, you may want to port your number to a virtual phone service like Google Voice or Hushed. This allows you to keep the same phone number.
One hassle nomads face is receiving authentication text messages from banks. These often don’t work with virtual phone numbers, so if you want to be super safe, you could buy the cheapest U.S. phone plan possible to use in case you ever need to receive one of these codes abroad.
So far, I’ve survived 6 years without doing this, but I’ve had some close calls and inconveniences (e.g. getting permanently locked out of Venmo).
Just remember—one step at a time.
To stay on track, consider creating a daily schedule with one new task to complete each day.
Digital Nomad Packing List: Things You DO NOT Want to Forget
We’re not going to cover every single item you should pack—that will depend on your destination. And there are THOUSANDS of destination-specific packing guides online.
What I do want to cover are a few tech essentials that’ll come in handy as a digital nomad.
Laptop (duh) – Here are the best laptops for digital nomads.
Laptop sleeve with extra zipper pocket – When you’re traveling with loads of electronics and cords, you’ll be thankful for a laptop sleeve with extra pockets.
Fanny pack – Nowadays the cool kids call these “sling pockets”. While not the most fashionable, they sure are handy.
Daypack for electronics – Everyone seems to recommend fancy bags like this one. But we do just fine with this cheap one:
Bluetooth mouse or trackpad – I’m a trackpad guy, but this all comes down to preference. The magic mouse and magic trackpad are by far the best for Mac users. For something less pricey, this mouse has also served us well.
Mouse pad – If you choose a mouse, don’t forget the pad. I made this mistake and had to use a folded piece of paper during our 3 months trapped on Koh Rong Samloem island.
Laptop stand – This will help you maintain a good working posture and avoid aches and pains. The most popular stand is called The Roost, but this cheaper knockoff works perfectly for less than half the price:
Keyboard sleeve – My first Magic Trackpad cracked in my backpack because I didn’t have a case to protect it. Now I use this handy hardshell keyboard sleeve to protect my keyboard, trackpad, and Day’s magic mouse. It’s also a good place to store small adaptors, thumb drives, and dongles.
Macbook dongle – If you have a Macbook with limited ports, a multi-use adaptor dongle is extremely useful. The cheap knock-off I bought broke, so I can’t recommend any specific models based on experience. Your safest bet would be the Apple brand.
Bluetooth headphones – I use Sony WH-MX1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones for work and Jabra Elite Active 65t earbuds for exercise (and everything else). If you’re traveling super light, you could get away with just the earbuds.
Power bank + Wall Charger Combo – This power bank plugs directly into the wall, so you can use it as your regular charger. There are certainly other options with more battery power, but I like this one because you don’t have to remember to charge it separately.
SSD hard drive – Always have a backup of your work, photos, etc. SSD drives are more expensive than HDD drives, but their smaller size and extra durability make them perfect for travel. We use the SanDisk Extreme, it’s tiny!
Big thumb drive – I’m a little paranoid when it comes to backing up my laptop (it is my financial lifeline after all). That’s why—in addition to backing up onto a hard drive—I also back up on a big USB drive. I store my hard drive in my main backpack and my USB in my daypack.
Unlocked phone – I wouldn’t buy a whole new phone just to become a digital nomad. But if you’re in the market for a new one anyway, look for dual SIM card slots.
Small tripod – This small, flexible tripod helps you take cool travel photos that aren’t selfies. Just be careful not to bend it too hard—they are breakable.
Phone camera lens – If you’re not a photographer and don’t want to lug around a big camera, this cool lens clips over your phone camera to create a wider viewing field that fits more scenery into the image. Some new phones come with this feature built-in. But if not, this lens works wonders:
PacSafe Travel Safe – Basically a lightweight portable safe bag to store your laptop and other valuables when there’s no other secure place to lock them up.
Adapters – Think of any adapters you may need (lightning to aux, USB-C to aux, USB-C to USB-A, etc), and consider buying extra. It may be hard to find replacements on the road.
Universal wall adapter – This adaptor lets you charge your devices in outlets all around the world.
Durable bluetooth speaker – Not necessarily work-related, but odds are you’ll want to jam out at some point on the road. The speaker we use is a beast.
Cord organizer – Avoid losing electronics and cords floating around your luggage. I can’t believe it took me 5 years of travel to finally buy one of these. Choose one based on the equipment you’re carrying. We use this one:
6-foot HDMI cord – This lets you connect your laptop to TVs to watch movies. A 6-foot cord is the Goldilocks length—Long enough to reach TVs mounted high, but short enough not to be too bulky. If you know you’ll only be connecting to a computer with a USB-C port, you can buy an HDMI to USB-C cord (and save yourself from needing an extra adapter).
Kindle Paperwhite – A book-loving traveler’s best friend. The Paperwhite is nice because it’s waterproof. To save money, look for a used one on eBay or Facebook Marketplace.
Ipad or second monitor (optional) – This isn’t essential, but it can make work more comfortable and productive. I use the entry-level iPad as a second monitor using the Duet application.
Microphone (optional) – If you plan on making videos, this starter mic will make a big difference in quality (and if you plan to use your phone to make videos, you’ll also need this adaptor (and potentially a headphone jack adapter).
We’ve found all of these items to be worth the precious real estate in our backpacks…
But if you’re on a tight budget, all you really need is your laptop and a way to stay connected to the internet (more on that shortly).
How to Get Around as a Digital Nomad
But how do you get around after arriving at your first destination?
Here’s a crash course in digital nomad transportation:
Buses – In most cases, buses will be cheaper than flights when traveling domestically (although I have found exceptions). Usually, you can simply arrive at a city’s bus terminal, buy a ticket at the counter for the next bus, and go from there.
That said, nowadays many terminals use online booking systems. Busbud is a popular one, but each country may have its own specific platform as well. Booking online may cost a buck or two extra, but it ensures you have a seat with your desired bus company and departure time.
Speaking of desired bus companies, each country has their own bus lines, and they’re never created equal. When taking a long trip, it pays to research “best buses in [COUNTRY]” to get an idea of the safest, comfiest, and most reliable options.
Public transportation: You can save money by using a city’s metro system, city buses, songthaews (Thailand “red trucks”), etc. This can be a fun, immersive experience, but it also eats up a lot of time. It may not be worth it if taxis and Ubers aren’t too expensive in your destination.
Also, if you’re traveling with all your luggage, crowded public transportation can be uncomfortable.
Taxis, Ubers, etc. – Ride-sharing services are often more convenient, comfortable, and safe than taxis. Different countries and cities may use different apps, so ask a local which one is best.
That said, sometimes taxis will be your only option. In these cases, make sure to research the “taxi etiquette” in your destination.
Walk – If you’re in a safe town, walking is one of the best ways to get to know a place. I try to avoid walking too far while carrying my laptop though (but maybe I’m just jaded from living in Colombia for too long).
How to Find Digital Nomad Accommodation
Finding a place to stay in a foreign country may sound intimidating, but it’s actually quite simple.
Here are some of your best options:
Airbnb – Booking a place online is the most convenient option, but that convenience will cost you. If you’re looking for a long-term stay, you may be able to score a better deal by reserving a few days, then working out a deal off the platform.
This also lets you test the place out and explore the neighborhood before making any big commitments.
To give you an example, here’s a tour of an epic cheap condo we found on Airbnb in Bangkok.
Find an apartment on the ground – This approach works well if you’re staying in a popular nomad hub. Simply walk around the neighborhood you’re interested in and ask for info in different apartment buildings.
This is how we found our apartment in Chiang Mai for half the price as the options on Airbnb.
Facebook groups – City-specific real estate and expat groups often post accommodation for rent.
Local accommodation sites – If you don’t mind sharing a space to save money, many cities have websites where locals list rooms for rent in their house (similar to Craigslist). When I first started, I used CompartoApto to rent a room in a huge furnished house in Cali, Colombia for just $100/month.
Ask in Facebook groups for home-sharing websites like these in your target destination.
Co-living – Co-living spaces are basically living complexes for digital nomads. They usually include accommodation, co-working space, and sometimes even food and activities.
These packages are pricier than buying everything individually, but it can be a cool environment to live, work, and network with like minded people.
Here’s an example of a popular co-living space in Thailand called Kohub.
Hostels – Hostels typically aren’t the most productive work environments, but many are starting to add co-working spaces for digital nomads. If you’re feeling lonely as a solo traveler, a hostel with dedicated work space could be a great option.
That said, if you’re staying over a month, you might end up paying the same for a shared dorm as you could have paid for your own place.
Housesitting – Housesitting involves taking care of pets in exchange for free accommodation. Here’s how to find housesitter jobs with no experience. There are several platforms where these jobs are posted, but Trusted House Sitters is the most popular.
The Secret to ALWAYS Having Internet When You Need It
Crappy internet is the crux of a digital nomad’s existence.
The secret to staying connected is simple.
Become internet INdependent.
In other words, don’t ever depend on others for internet connection.
That way, if you arrive at a new place and realize the wifi sucks, you won’t be phased. You have a Plan B.
Here are two potential Plan B’s:
#1.) Data SIM cards – You can either buy an international data SIM that allows you to charge up data wherever you go (more convenient, more expensive). Or you can buy local SIM cards in each country you travel to (less convenient, less expensive).
Armed with your data, you can tether your laptop to your phone.
#2.) Hotspot devices – Instead of using your phone for tethering, you carry a separate hotspot device. The advantage to this is you won’t kill your phone battery and you can connect multiple devices simultaneously.
For more detailed info, check out this guide on all your digital nomad hotspot and internet options.
Apart from always having a Plan B, here are some other internet tips that’ll save you hassle:
#1.) Ask for internet speed screenshots (and explain WHY it’s important). Before booking an Airbnb, ask the host to send you screenshots of an internet speed test. If you explain to them that you have important work that requires a fast connection, they’ll be more likely to be upfront and honest about the internet situation.
#2.) Don’t travel on important work days. To avoid stressful situations, don’t travel on days where you have to turn in a project, make an important phone call, etc.
#3.) Book accessible accommodation. If you do arrive to a new place with internet problems, you’ll want easily-accessible transportation to find a better connection. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you’re screwed.
#4.) Make an offline plan. Despite all your precautions, there will be times when the internet situation is out of your control. When this happens, you’ll want to be ready. Save documents offline that you can work on if you lose connection.
Alrighty, now that you’ve locked in your connection, let’s touch on staying reachable by phone.
Nowadays, there are several strategies to set up your phone plan.
Here’s my phone setup:
Step 1.) Buy a virtual Skype phone number ($39/year) that has your home city’s area code (so when people call you, it looks like they’re calling a local number).
Step 2.) Buy a local data SIM in the country you’re staying in.
Step 3.) In your Skype settings, forward your Skype number to your foreign number.
Step 4.) When making and receiving international calls, you have two payment options: (1) Buy Skype credit and pay per minute or (2) Pay for a subscription. If you plan to make several calls per month, subscription plans make more sense.
For example, I pay for a $3.49/month subscription that gives me unlimited international calls to the U.S. You can buy subscriptions to other countries as well. These calls require an internet connection (which is where my local data SIM comes in).
This setup works perfectly for me, but your mileage may vary depending on your needs.
Step 9.) Avoid Painful Mistakes on the Road
You’re bound to make mistakes as you’re learning the ropes. It’s all part of the journey.
That said, if you’re smart, you can learn from mistakes of other people (like me) to avoid making them yourself.
Here are some potential issues to prepare for:
Finding the Work-Travel Balance Sweet Spot
Digital nomads tend to be extremists.
They either get so caught up soaking in their destination that their business suffers…
Or they voyage across the globe just to hunch behind their laptop 24/7.
Both these extremes are a recipe for disaster.
It’s a tough balancing act. To succeed, you have to be productive AF.
This requires three key ingredients:
#1.) Master digital nomad productivity hacks. This video will teach you five tricks to get more done in less time, allowing you to close the laptop early and enjoy your surroundings.
#2.) Take advantage of time-saving tools. Leverage technology to automate and cut down on time-consuming tasks. This has been a game changer for me. If you know where to look, you can find most tools for free (or super cheap).
To save you time, I put together a toolkit with over 200 tools and resources that’ll make your life infinitely easier as a digital nomad.
Apart from the toolkit, make sure to join the Appsumo email newsletter, where they offer ridiculously cheap lifetime deals on different tools.
#3.) Slow the F down. Traveling slowly not only shrivels your living costs, but it also allows you to establish a routine and get more done.
This may seem like common sense. But it’s actually easier said than done—which brings us to the second digital nomad mistake to avoid…
Saying “No” to FOMO
FOMO (the fear of missing out) is something all nomads struggle with.
It’s hard watching “normal” travelers zip through countries, bouncing around to new destinations every few days.
When you’re traveling at a turtle’s pace, this can be discouraging. How are you supposed to keep up?
It feels like you’re missing out. Like you won’t be able to see it all.
But the truth is—no matter how fast you travel—you’ll never be able to see it all.
Just accept it. You’ll feel better.
Digital nomad travel is different from backpacker or “vacation” travel. If you expect it to be the same, you’ll be disappointed.
Vacationers have a set period of time to see everything they want to see. Then they go back to their boring life.
As a digital nomad, travel is your life.
There are no end dates. There is no rush. Take your time. Enjoy.
Staying Healthy (and Sane) on the Road
It’s easy to get so caught up building a business and exploring the world that you forget to take care of yourself.
Don’t do that.
I’m not just talking about staying physically fit, either.
Turns out, digital nomads have feelings too. And maintaining relational health is vital to your long-term success.
Physical health is actually the easiest to handle. I carry around packable exercise straps to have a gym with me wherever I go.
I also never leave home without buying travel insurance. Get into an accident without insurance, and you can kiss digital nomad life (and your savings account) goodbye. SafetyWing has saved me over $15,000 in medical expenses (see my full SafetyWing review).
Relational health is a little trickier. If you’re living by yourself in an apartment in a foreign country, it’s easy to get lonely.
To fight loneliness, you can:
- Work at a co-working space with other nomads (this can be expensive if you’re on a budget).
- Join expat Facebook groups and Meetups in your city that host fun social events.
- Find a hobby (e.g., salsa dancing), take classes, and meet locals.
Oh yeah, and Tinder.
Step 10.) Take Advantage of Helpful Digital Nomad Resources
Here are some of the best resources to support your digital nomad journey.
Some of these episodes are a few years old, but they are full of gold gems and inspiration:
- Going Remote
- The Offbeat Life
- Nomadtopia Radio
- Keep Your Daydream
- Screw the Nine to Five
- The Nomad Together Podcast (for digital nomad families)
- Location Rebel Academy (Message me if you sign up and I’ll send you a bonus)
- Reddit (r/digitalnomad, r/longtermtravel, r/solotravel)
- Digital Nomads Around the World Facebook group
The Decision That Will Change Your Life
Becoming a digital nomad isn’t easy.
Logistics are a nightmare. Culture shock is real. And leaving your comfort zone to step into the unknown…
It’s just scary!
But ask yourself this:
What’s the alternative?
Spending the next 50 years living the same-old lifeless routine on repeat?
If you don’t make a change, nobody is going to make it for you.
You now know EXACTLY how to become a digital nomad.
You have all the tools, support, and information for success.
Just take it one step at a time.
Before you know it, it won’t feel scary or overwhelming anymore.
You’ll slip into digital nomad life, and full-time travel will become your new “normal”.
You’ll be making money from your laptop—on your own terms—from anywhere in the world…
…and, yes, you can even be sipping that piña colada 🍹.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any travel jobs for non-native English speakers?
There are many travel jobs for non-native English speakers. One of the easiest to start is to become a virtual assistant. If you have a strong grasp of English, you may even be able to teach it informally. You can also work remotely for a company from your home country, create your own business in your home country (managed remotely), or do in-person work abroad (au pair, volunteering, etc.)
Is it possible to be a digital nomad with a third-world country passport?
Traveling the world with a third-world passport is more challenging, but with the proper planning, it is possible. You’ll have fewer destination options and need to apply for more visas. But no matter which country you’re from, there are plenty of amazing places to travel to as a digital nomad.
Do you need a visa to work remotely?
You typically do not need a business or work visa to work remotely from a different country if you work online and your source of income is outside the country you’re traveling in. However, many countries require you to pay taxes on this income if you live there over a certain amount of days per year (usually > 6 months).
What is a digital nomad visa?
Digital nomad visas are special visas for remote workers, freelancers, and online business owners that allow you to legally stay in a country for longer periods of time—oftentimes up to a year or more. Some digital nomad visas also include other perks such as free co-working spaces.
Is being a digital nomad legal?
It is legal to be a digital nomad as long as you obey the laws in the countries that you stay in. This includes not overstaying your visa and paying taxes where required (both at home and abroad).
What do digital nomads do for work?
Digital nomads typically do all of their work online. This type of work usually falls into one of three categories—a remote job, freelancing, or an online business owner.
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered—where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).