A few years ago, when I was struggling to find myself and still living in my parents house, I stumbled across a new lifestyle concept: Digital Nomad.
Apparently, there were people traveling from one country to another, working remotely (usually using a computer and an internet connection), and making a living freelancing or owning their own business.
I didn’t know it at the time, but a few years later I would embrace this lifestyle myself: I would become a nomadic illustrator.
My Story as a Digital Nomad
As I related in my First Steps in the Illustration Business, I took an unconventional path to becoming an illustrator. It consisted of working a lot on developing myself and my work before starting to look for jobs and getting assignments.
That meant a few extra years living in my parents house and not having money. But it also meant having a lot of time to think, learn, experiment and work on building my future.
When I finally started contacting Art Directors and getting assignments, it was time to decide what I wanted to do with my life.
At that time, I was lacking something very important: I wasn’t confident with my English skills. I struggled when having a conversation in English. I was also feeling stuck with my personal life. I needed a change.
It was clear to me that I had to move out of my home town of Vilanova, Spain. I needed to go somewhere to keep challenging myself, learning, improving, and growing.
Without ever having visited the UK or knowing anyone there, I decided to move to Bristol. Somehow, I felt very attracted to the idea of starting a new life in a completely challenging and unknown environment.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but that was the starting point of my Digital Nomad adventure. What began as a step out of my comfort zone ended up being the initiation of a new life—a nomadic life.
After nearly a year in Bristol, I started traveling from one place to another, having many different experiences and embracing the nomadic lifestyle.
Then I spent a few months in the countryside of Finland, 7 months backpacking in Southeast Asia, a year in Madrid, followed by a year in Helsinki. During that time, I also took shorter trips to places as New York, Dubai or Japan.
In September, I’m moving to Budapest to start a new adventure in Eastern Europe.
The Digital Nomad Lifestyle
As a digital nomad, I don’t have a permanent house. I travel and work at the same time. Sometimes I stay a few months in a place, while sometimes just a few days.
My studio fits inside of my backpack, and I always bring it with me wherever I go.
I’m used to working from nearly anywhere, including cafes, airports, train and bus stations, hotel rooms–basically anywhere I can sit for a while comfortably (preferably with a table). I only need an internet connection and a way to charge the batteries on my devices every now and then.
I travel with a backpack which contains almost everything I have (the rest of my belongings are basically books and are stored at my dad’s house). This forces me to live a very simple life without owning many things.
While there are many benefits to being digital nomad, there are also a lot of challenges. It requires a lot of mental work and discipline. Sometimes it’s very hard to find motivation, time or even a place to work.
As a freelancer, you also have to take care of taxes, healthcare, and other factors that are a bit tricky to handle with when you are traveling.
You are very far from your friends and family, and sometimes you can’t even properly communicate with locals. You are on your own.
After all, being a digital nomad means having more freedom. Freedom implies more decisions and being responsible for, and aware of, their consequences.
This article is just an introduction—I’m going to dedicate specific articles to each aspect of the digital nomad lifestyle. I will cover in detail how to work, travel, and live as a digital nomad. I aim to give you a realistic view of what being a digital nomad means.
How to become a Digital Nomad
As the years go by, more and more companies are transitioning to systems that allow people to work from home or building decentralized teams from all over the world.
Becoming a digital nomad is more feasible than ever before.
After all these years traveling and moving from one place to another, I’ve learned some essential skills and lessons to keep in mind when you are wanting to become a digital nomad.
It doesn’t really matter what field you work in; the following list applies to any kind of digital nomad.
1. Analyze your financial situation
If you have regular freelance work or you work for a company that allows you to work from home, you are most likely not going to have financial struggles.
Perhaps you don’t have a regular income yet, but you have some savings and a solid plan to start freelancing. In that case, you may be ready to start traveling.
Some destinations are very cheap and can even help you to save money since it’s cheaper to live there than living in your country of origin.
In any case, it’s important to understand your financial situation and be realistic about your plans.
2. Create a monthly, weekly or daily budget
Create a budget that works for your financial situation. Having a budget and sticking to it is essential, because when you travel you can end up spending a lot of money without noticing it.
Your budget should include accommodation, food, leisure, transportation, and any other kind of expense you may incur. Depending on where you are traveling to, your budget can be surprisingly low.
I will write an article later on the series about budgeting as a digital nomad.
3. Get your business in order before you depart
You might consider hiring other people that take care of several parts of your business when you are overseas. For instance, having a bookkeeper or an accountant can be an invaluable resource.
You can also consider someone who takes care of your mail, online shop, or anything else that you can’t take care when you are traveling. Delegating is the key.
4. Get a travel insurance
Traveling with an insurance that covers possible health issues and other undesirable situations is crucial. Fortunately, there are many affordable solutions that will cover anything that might happen while you are traveling.
5. Understand the importance of planning and being organized
Being a digital nomad requires a lot of planning and being organized. Just like working from home requires more planning and organization than working in an office, so does being a digital nomad. Being a digital nomad is a step above working from home, in that it requires even more pre-planning.
Doing some research and planning several options in advance can save you a lot of headaches.
6. Embrace minimalism
If you want to easily travel and move from one place to another, it’s very important to travel light. You should have only the essential items needed; keep it as minimal as possible. Also, don’t buy stuff you don’t need as you keep traveling.
This applies not only to personal items but also to your work. It is helpful to have the simplest and lightest work setup possible.
Going paperless and moving to digital solutions rather than the traditional paper options is also a great idea. For instance: use a Kindle instead of carrying books, use a digital calendar instead of a physical agenda, use Google Maps instead of bringing a map, etc.
7. Get used to being on your own and out of your comfort zone
It doesn’t matter if you travel alone or with someone else. When you are a digital nomad, you are far from your friends and family–you are on your own. Expect no help from anyone to solve anything that occurs during your trips.
You will often be in situations that you never experienced before. Being open minded and optimistic is essential.
If you embrace being out of your comfort zone, you will enjoy the experience a lot more.
8. Just start
You will never know if the nomadic lifestyle fits you unless you try it out. You have nothing to lose—just start!
If you have doubts, you can always start small. Go for a couple of months and don’t go too far. The experience will give you confidence, and then you can move on from there.
If you are responsible, organized and professional, being a digital nomad is simple and very affordable.
It requires a mindset adaptation, and sometimes it can be hard to find the right balance between traveling and working, but it has many great advantages.
In the upcoming articles of the series I’m going to get in deep on every aspect of a digital nomad. Let me know if you want me to talk about something specific!
Have you ever consider becoming a digital nomad? As always, I would love to hear your comments !
PS: My online course Strategy & Business for Illustrators is now available for pre-order!