The term "digital nomad" is one that's become quite popular in recent years. It refers to a person who works remotely and travels the world, often using the internet as their main source of income. But what does it take to be a digital nomad? And, more importantly, is it even possible?
The answer to the first question is a bit murky. The answer to the second question is yes, it's possible — but maybe not as easy as you might think
A Digital Nomad's Work Environment
The idea of working remotely isn't new. People have been telecommuting for decades. The internet has made it easier for people to work from virtually anywhere in the world. But there are still some challenges that come with working remotely."I think one of the biggest challenges is finding work," says digital nomad and travel blogger Sara Hendershot in an email interview. "You have to be able to do something that you can do remotely, and then find clients or customers who are willing to hire you."Hendershot has been a digital nomad for about five years now, traveling through Europe and Asia while working remotely as a freelance writer and editor. She says she was lucky because she had experience in both fields before she started traveling."I've met people who have tried different things — like teaching English or working in an office — but they didn't find it satisfying," she says. "They were looking for something else."
Hendershot says her work environment has changed over time as well. When she first started traveling, she worked from cafes or coworking spaces when she was in cities where she knew no one."
But now I've found my own place," she says, noting that it's easier for her to work when she has her own space that's conducive to getting work done.
"I'm also more comfortable being alone," she adds. "It's just me here most of the time, so I don't need a lot of social interaction."
The Benefits of Being a Digital Nomad
Hendershot says there are several benefits to being a digital nomad. But there are also downsides. Hendershot notes that while some people do make enough money through their online business (or businesses) to support themselves financially, many don't make enough money at all.
"I know people who were doing this full-time and they were struggling," Hendershot says. "They were living off savings or family support or they had another job on the side.""It can be very difficult," agrees travel blogger and digital nomad David Farley in an email interview. "It requires discipline and focus — which many people lack."
"People also need some sort of skill set they can leverage online," he adds via email. "If you don't have something like this then you're going to struggle financially unless you're willing to live very frugally (and even then it can be tough)."
Farley has been traveling full-time since 2005 after retiring early from his job as an attorney at a large law firm in New York City (he was only 30 years old at the time). He now makes his living by writing books about his travels around the world (he's written four so far). He also runs several websites related to travel writing and publishing.
"I'm not a digital nomad in the sense that I don't work from a laptop in a cafe," he says. "I'm more of a digital nomad in the sense that I'm able to live this way."
Farley says he's been able to make his living as a travel writer and author for over 15 years now, but it wasn't easy at first."I had to work very hard for many years before I was able to make a living from my writing," he says. "It was a lot of hard work and persistence. But it paid off."
How to Be a Digital Nomad
If you're interested in becoming a digital nomad, Farley has some advice on how to get started: "The biggest thing is not to quit your day job until you have something else lined up," he says. "You need to have some sort of source of income coming in while you're building up your online business."
Hendershot agrees: "I would say start small and don't quit your day job until you have something else lined up."
"I would also say be flexible," she adds. "You don't know what will work so try different things."
Farley also recommends that people start by traveling within their own country or region before they travel abroad. This will help them get used to the idea of traveling while working remotely."It's also easier if you're not far from home if things don't go well," he says.
Hendershot agrees with this advice, noting that she didn't travel much outside of North America when she first started out as a digital nomad because she didn't know how she'd be treated as an American abroad.
"I didn't want people thinking I was rude or ignorant because I didn't know how things worked," she says. "So I stayed close to home for the first couple years and then started venturing further away as I got more comfortable with it."
Both Hendershot and Farley say they've met many other people who are trying to become digital nomads but aren't having much luck. They both agree that it's important not to get discouraged if things aren't working out immediately."I think people can get frustrated when they try something and it doesn't work out right away," Hendershot says. "But it takes time — sometimes years — before things start working out well.
""It's like anything else, you need patience and persistence," Farley adds. "Don't give up too soon."
Hendershot has some final words of advice for anyone who wants to become a digital nomad: "It's possible but it's not easy," she says. "You have to be willing to try new things and be flexible about what works for you."
"And don't quit your day job until you have something else lined up!"