Who are the digital nomads and how to become one of them

More and more people are leaving their desk jobs today to become “digital nomads”. Perhaps you also have a couple of skills to work remotely from anywhere in the world — you just don’t know about it yet.

In this article of an outdoor writer with ten years of remote work experience, you will learn who are the digital nomads, what they do for a living, where they live, how much they spend, and so on.

In the end, there is also an answer to the question of how to become a digital nomad.

Outdoor writer Ivan Kuznetsov
Ivan Kuznetsov
Outdoor writer from the Dolomites, Italy, and Karelia, Finland

Pros and cons

Who are the digital nomads

— Digital nomads are successful specialists in various fields who work remotely via the Internet, and therefore are not tied to a specific place of residence.

They live their lives traveling around the world and consider themselves cosmopolitans. Today nomads can be found not only in the steppe or tundra, they are everywhere: from New York to Tokyo, from Reykjavik to Cape Town.

All a nomad needs is a laptop, a phone, and an Internet connection. And, of course, comfortable conditions for work and creativity.

What work do digital nomads do

With the development of Internet technologies and mobile services, there are more and more professions that do not require an employee to be in the office. Remote work is less and less different from office work, where most tasks are also solved via e-mail and chat, and employees from neighboring departments sometimes do not see each other for months. Progressive managers understand this and let their workforce go free. Often they follow their example, inspired by their employees’ travel blogs on Instagram.

Depending on the format of their work, nomads are divided into three main groups:

  • Freelancers — work on different projects for a one-time fee
  • Remote workers and self-employed specialists — full-time workers in companies
  • Entrepreneurs — create and develop projects and startups

What are the digital nomad jobs? Nomads include programmers, designers, journalists, copywriters, content managers, translators, and tutors. One way or another, different professions in the IT field are good for modern digital nomadism. But it is not necessarily the only case: a successful photographer with a good client base can also be a digital nomad; or the owner of a small store, which he or she runs with the help of relatives or friends, or a popular blogger releasing videos on his YouTube channel and making enough money from it for a living.

Someone just so lucky that he or she can rent his or her apartment somewhere in New York, Paris or Moscow to other digital nomads, and make money from it.

Being a digital nomad at the same time does not mean earning little. It’s about earning from the work you love and living where you want and how you want. This is maybe the main explanation of the digital nomad lifestyle.

Where do digital nomads live

Nomads love to travel, but that doesn’t mean they live on the road all the time. Yes, they sometimes have to work at train stations, airports, cafes, beaches, and city parks, but they spend most of their time in one place, renting housing just like their office colleagues.

The difference is that a nomad chooses where to live, in which he or she has more freedom than a city dweller, and changes places as often as he or she wants. Newcomers move every month in search of new experiences, experienced nomads prefer to rent housing for a period of three to four months to several years.

The most popular regions of the world among the digital nomads are Southeast Asia, then Latin America, Eastern, and Southern Europe.

Answering the not easy question of where to live as a digital nomad, it is not necessary to go to the edge of the world: it is possible to be a nomad in a home country. Let’s take Russia as an example because I’m originally from here. After the fall of the ruble in 2014, many cannot afford Asia anymore. Specialists with remote jobs in Moscow and St. Petersburg are moving to neighbor warm cities and countries: to the south of Russia, to the Urals, to the country of Georgia. Nomads are attracted by nature, better ecological situation in comparison with megapolises, quieter life rhythm, the same time zone as in Moscow and St. Petersburg which is convenient for work.

Nomads work on projects at home or in libraries, but co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular. Some co-working spaces even have gyms and sleeping areas.

As with housing, a place in a co-working space can be rented for a day, a week, a month, or even a year, and more… The cost decreases proportionately, which is another reason why nomads like to stay in one place for long periods of time.

How much does it cost to be digital nomad

There is an opinion that only specialists with obscenely high salaries can travel. In fact, for a thousand dollars/euros a month a lonely wanderer can live in almost any region of the world, except the most developed and expensive: Europe, North America, Scandinavia, Australia… In some countries, 500 dollars is also enough. How it is possible? For example, it is equal to the average Russian salary in the provincial towns. The question, rather, is not about earnings, but about the ability to live within their means. Most nomads agree: “We don’t spend more when we travel than we do at home, and often even less.”

The main expenditures of a nomad do not differ from those of a city dweller.

The same popular idea that financiers recommend for rational personal accounting works with nomads too: 1/3 is rent, 1/3 is other monthly expenses, and 1/3 is savings.

The life of a nomad is complicated only by the fact that the price level and quality of services provided (for example, the availability of the Internet and its speed), varies from country to country. With cheap rent and good weather, there can be expensive (and bad) Internet, which at home is good and costs “pennies”.

For example, when I live in the city of Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Karelia region in the north of the country, I spend just 150 rubles a month on the Internet from the local company. At the time of publishing of this article, it is just 2 dollars or 1.7 euros. In Europe, I now pay at least 20 euros a month — 10 times more.

Learn more about my remote work experience from the article “I work remotely from the Dolomites, Italy. Advice on housing, work places, and more

Other expenses a nomad must be prepared for: visas and their renewal, frequent moves, renting personal vehicles (scooters) in sparsely populated areas, and the high cost of familiar dairy products at home.

Don’t worry. The following service could help you to save on your way to becoming a digital nomad:

  • Nomad List — the largest online community of digital nomads. A place to socialize, share experiences, and find useful information about cities, from free wi-fi to crime rates and environmental conditions.
  • Airbnb — temporary or permanent accommodation anywhere in the world that you can rent directly from locals in a couple of clicks.
  • BlaBlaCar — a leading hitchhiking service in Europe, Russia, and the CIS, allowing you to share a trip with a driver (add on gasoline). Today it is probably the most inexpensive way to get from point A to B on popular routes between cities in these parts of the world.
  • Craiglist — a bulletin board with a terrible design, but you can find anything there. It’s not just in America but in other parts of the world too.
  • Skillshare — online tutorials from experts in various fields. The service is especially relevant for nomads, because in a foreign country without a knowledge of the language is not so easy to sign up for a refresher course.
  • Coworker — service to find co-working spaces where nomads can not only work but also live together, saving on rent and escaping from digital loneliness.

What are the pros and cons of being digital nomad

Cons: unstable wages in freelancing or risks of failing a startup, dependence on the Internet and mobile communications, lack of real professional communication, difficulty in achieving career growth, the need to be your own boss, and others.

If we speak about freelance — still, the main format of the work nomads too, the hardest part is finding regular clients, and building trusting relationships with them. Remote work gives more freedom but is also less binding: the employer and the nomad can be thousands of kilometers (miles) away from each other and in case of a disagreement, the issue cannot be resolved in a personal conversation, even on Skype/Zoom.

Pros: the opportunity to go to any part of the world for a long time, to learn foreign languages in practice rather than on expensive courses, the feeling of independence, a convenient schedule that you choose yourself, project work for results rather than the time you have to “sit through” in the office.

I like all the amazing freedoms and benefits that the remote work format offers, especially the fact that now I just don’t need to go to work every day anymore (I’m speaking about driving across town for an hour or so) and then spend 9 hours in the office where very often I have no really important work to do. Before, I felt sorry for the time I could have spent on creativity and self-development.

What are the goals of digital nomads

Tourism is a 20th-century phenomenon, but two thousand years ago people traveled just as much (it’s was just a bit different travels — trade, military, and a missionary, scientific). Rather, it is sedentariness is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the nomadic way of life is a forgotten norm.

It turns out that digital nomads are reviving the lifestyle of the nomads of antiquity.

At the same time, as it has already become clear, modern nomadism is different from what one is used to understand by this term.

To be a nomad means to treat differently the time, place of residence, work, personal and business relations, and other things. Nomads do not like to go to the office, do not take out mortgages and loans, do not buy unreasonably expensive things and equipment, do sports not in fitness centers but in nature, look for adventures on their heads instead of watching TV programs…

Nomads are not necessarily solitary hermits running away from consumer society. Many travels in pairs and even with large families. It is more convenient for parents to look after their children when they don’t have to be at work all day. Children in such families learn to travel from an early age, communicate in several languages, and acquire useful skills.

How to become a digital nomad

Traveling the world while working (or vice versa) is not as easy as it seems, even for those who are already working in one of the popular IT professions. I guess remote work is often more difficult than office work. The transition from office to freelance takes time: from six months to several years. For me, it took five years.

So the ground for escape should be prepared in advance. The main thing is to find something that you enjoy doing. Regularly pay attention to it, read the specialized literature, share experiences with friends. Can’t design sites or edit texts? You can learn the profession of a designer or editor in less than a year. And these are not just words, but the real experience of nomads who have successfully made a similar journey.

Gradually, by building up earnings and effectively managing expenses, it is possible to reach the usual “office” level of life.

However, the main goal of digital nomads is to find and adapt to a new way of life you choose from scratch.

As for traveling, which is still half of the question, don’t go abroad for a long time right away, but try to live in a country for a month or two to see for yourself what it’s like to be a digital nomad. You might like it.

You can always go back to the office. And such cases among digital nomads are not uncommon. But for me, the straight path to some unknown is much more interesting than going back and forth every day along a road that someone else has made for you. Even if you are well paid for it.

This article was first published in Rusbase — leading Russian language media about business, startups, IT, and everything digital on August 4, 2017, also as a part of my cooperation with BlaBlaCar Russia.

Text: Ivan Kuznetsov

Cover photo: Raman / Unsplash