If the lure of exploring the world while working from anywhere that has WiFi sounds appealing, you’re not alone. According to recent estimates, 17 million independent workers aspire to be “digital nomads” who embrace a career that’s reliant on cloud technology, not location. From freelance writers to graphic designers, photographers, web developers and even customer support representatives, travelling remote workers are becoming increasingly common in a wide range of industries.
But before you ditch your nine-to-five grind and break free from corporate shackles, it’s important to determine if the nomad lifestyle suits you, and how to set yourself up for success.
The Current State of Digital Nomads
It’s estimated that about 4.8 million Americans are already taking advantage of this nomadic lifestyle on a full- or part-time basis, fuelled by cloud-based technology and the ability to work from anywhere while they travel, including coffee shops, hotels, and libraries. While demographics vary, one study cites that digital nomads are most frequently married, female Gen Xers with a bachelor’s degree (or higher) who already have corporate work experience.
While you can find digital nomads in almost any city, many tourist destinations have secured an abundance of remote workers thanks to their low cost of living, transportation links, and strong WiFi connection, including Thailand, Bali, Berlin, and even Austin, Texas.
For those who prefer flexibility over income, these salary figures won’t be as staggering. About 46% of independents report making less money as a digital nomad than they would in a corporate environment, and 22% cite earning between $50,000 and $99,999 in income while they travel. Despite these numbers, 79% of independents still say they’re happier working solo than under a corporate umbrella.
How to Succeed as a Digital Nomad
The nomadic lifestyle comes with mixed reviews, with many noting that a travel-focused digital career often outweighs office politics, commuting, and having to answer to a single boss. But before you take the leap as an independent, it’s essential that you ensure you’ve set your own stage for success.
Secure a reliable source of income. Before you hit the road, make sure you’ve nailed down a steady stream of projects that will sustain your adventures. Nothing is worse than being stuck abroad without enough money to fly to your next stop. Resist the urge to “figure it out as you go,” and instead build up a client base before you set sail, allowing you to cover the cost of your venture and any expenses back home.
Learn to live below your means. Your wanderlust lifestyle will quickly run into roadblocks when client projects wrap up or fall through. Without a salary to fall back on, you may need to reduce your spending until you can replace any lost clients. Preparing a simple budget forecast for your travels can help you determine which luxuries you can cover, and which you can’t. Many nomads advise beginning an independent lifestyle at home first, especially for new industry entrants who often have to work for free to build up a professional portfolio.
Continue to build your brand. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a reliable project load, you never know when that might change. Always keep your own marketing top of mind in order to secure new leads you can turn to when business slows down. This is especially true during July, August, and December, seen as slower work months due to summer vacations and winter holidays, where many corporate clients have less work for independent contributors.
Connect with a community. Without a team of co-workers to turn to, many digital nomads cite isolation and loneliness as drawbacks to their wandering lifestyle. Be sure to remain connected to your loved ones back home for support, but also build up a community near you by looking into networking groups hosted by co-working spaces or online resources such as Meetup and Couchsurfing.
Focus on work first. As you scour the globe for your next destination, it’s essential that you ensure you’ll be able to sustain your working lifestyle there. If a remote rainforest in Costa Rica won’t provide reliable WiFi to remain connected to the cloud or the time zone down under in Australia doesn’t coincide with your Canadian client calls, you may need to adjust your plans accordingly.
While many corporate workers will cycle in and out of an independent lifestyle throughout the duration of their career, becoming a permanent digital nomad will take strategic planning and forethought. Being in tune with your finances, building a connected community, and having a back-up plan can help to ensure sustainability in your career, no matter where your travels take you.
Michelle Novielli | Contributing Writer