Going on an Eat Pray Love–style traveling stint is everyone’s dream. But there are two main hurdles that prevent us all from packing up our bags: money and career. Obvious financial considerations aside, the concern of having to choose between traveling and climbing the career ladder is one every wanderlust traveler faces. If you let go of your rung on the career ladder, will you have to start from the bottom when you return?
A decade ago, maybe. In the modern, post–Wi-Fi world? Hardly. The digital nomad movement—comprised of location-independent people who work from anywhere as long as they have a laptop and an internet connection—means many professionals don’t have to give up a successful career to pick up and leave. In fact, you can fast-track your career by forming global contacts, gain inspiration that translates to out-of-the-box ideas, and learn how to face unique challenges as a self-reliant problem solver.
As internet speed and tech developments improve, working remotely is easier than ever, and more companies are outsourcing to freelancers—recent research estimates that 40% of Americans will be freelance by 2020. Combine that with travel being more affordable than ever, plus the boom of co-working spaces, and it’s no wonder the digital nomad is a trend on the rise.
Tempted to trade your cubicle for a hammock in Bali or a café in Berlin? Four women living the digital nomad dream share their best advice for making it happen.
Diversify Your Skills
Digital nomads often use their skillset in varied ways to increase earning potential. Rebecca Georgia started out as a freelance writer, but she’s also a content creator at Skyscanner and manages the marketing for a health and fitness start-up. The 23-year-old Brit has traveled to Berlin, Lisbon, Bali, Thailand, Budapest, Spain, and Croatia this year alone, working as she goes. Georgia says traveling the world has enabled her to quickly build a global client base and contact list. “I’m always finding new clients on the road. You meet new people every day, and most in the digital nomad community are out to create something, so business opportunities arise naturally.”
Former Brooklyn resident Katherine Conaway, 30, left her job doing production for a digital design studio two years ago and since then has been doing website planning, brand strategy, market research, writing, and copyediting—all while working remotely. “I aim to do four to seven hours of billable work a day, which I mostly do from a café, but my schedule just depends on where I am. Right now I’m in Kuala Lumpur. I generally have my days to do whatever I want, such as going for a run to the Petronas Towers and KLCC park or exploring Chinatown. After dinner at night with digital nomad friends at a restaurant, the U.S. is waking up, so I’ll do most of my work and be on hand to talk to my clients.”
Connect to the Global Community
Connections are everything for digital nomads—the person in the hammock next to you could become a client, tell you about new opportunities, or hire your services. Also, the nomadic lifestyle can get lonely. When you’re homesick and thinking about booking a one-way flight back, having a support network of people who understand what you’re going through is crucial. “It took me a long time to find out about the digital nomad community, and I struggled with the lifestyle before that,” Georgia says. “Aside from saving up some cash before you start, joining a community of digital nomads is probably the most helpful thing you can do.”
At co-living and co-working organizations such as Nomad House or Roam, a membership gives you access to any of their spaces around the world—think of it as a lifestyle lease instead of an apartment lease (and it can work out to be more affordable than renting, especially compared to cities like New York or San Francisco). There are also programs like Wifi Tribe and Remote Year, where a group of digital nomads travel together on a planned itinerary for six to 12 months, staying in accommodations with reliable internet and designated working spaces.
Maintain a Routine
The flexibility of the digital nomad lifestyle is obviously one of its key appeals. Melissa Ng, 26, from Singapore runs Melewi, a location-independent design agency with a team of nine across eight countries. “When I managed to do work on the way to a wedding in rural Vietnam, I realized that I could work from anywhere,” she says. However, having zero routines can also lead to burnout. Ng says the secret to success is creating structure. “Go to the same café every day, work the same hours every day, or even just keep the same before-bed routine,” she suggests. “Some consistency is a good way to keep yourself sane with all the other changes you have to adapt to.”
Australian Samantha Thomas, 30, who coaches expats returning home to transition back to normal life, agrees. “My ideal is to stay in a place for at least three months, really getting to know it. Try to develop a routine that matches wherever you are. Different countries or cities have different rhythms, and things will feel more natural if you adapt to your surroundings.”
Learn to Live With Less
The more you simplify your life before becoming a digital nomad, the happier you’ll be—that means taking the minimalist approach to possessions, and not just in terms of what’s in your suitcase or backpack. “I wish I’d set up an affordable storage solution. Going back to New York to move [my belongings] around or manage [them] from abroad has been an expensive hassle,” says Conway. It can be hard to let go of something you have an emotional attachment to, but when storing it is a drain on your funds or time, you might find you’ll become less sentimental.
Embarking on this desk-free way of life doesn’t just change and challenge your possessions, it’ll also transform your mind-set. On vacation, you might treat yourself for working hard all year by splurging on shopping and craft cocktails, but your values and perspective shifts when you’re on an eternal vacation. “One of my favorite moments as a digital nomad was being on a boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap in Cambodia watching the sunrise and waving to excited kids on the shore,” recalls Ng. “It wasn’t especially thrilling, but it was the first time in a long time I’d felt happy and free. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.”