So you think you’re ready to be a digital nomad? You’ve:
- Quit your job
- Figured out how to afford it
- Decided where to go
- At least thought about how to begin freelancing
Congratulations. That means that the hardest part is over! But, there are some steps you should take right before you leave that’ll make your transition much easier.
When I quit my job to travel, I was so excited! As a result, glazed over these minor yet important details. Had I taken them, I’m confident that I would’ve had a much smoother experience.
1. Prepare for the lack of structure
Perhaps among the things I was most excited for when making this leap was to have more flexibility in my life. By nature, I’m a very much a planner. When I was working my 9-5 job, I planned my time before and after work down to the last minute (using this planner). I sort of assumed I’d do the same thing when I didn’t have a structured job and that I’d finally have more time to get the things done I cared about.
While the flexibility is amazing, going from intense structure to none is a bigger change than we realize. The trouble kicks in when you feel like you don’t have as much purpose.
Before leaving, identify the staples of your daily routine that you would feel weird without and continue doing them abroad. Do you go on a run every morning? Journal every day? Speak to your mom on the phone at some point? Squeeze in yoga before bed? Whatever your staples are, recognize them and take them with you, especially at first. It may seem unnecessary and you might think you’ll be so engulfed in your new life that you won’t need those structures, but trust me. You’ll need that sense of structure in a new place more than ever before.
2. Find some co-working spaces
In New York, we have We Work, which I’ve always lusted over. Sadly, the price tag kept me away. Well, that, and I did technically have an office, so I couldn’t really justify it. I just liked the idea of meeting and working with like-minded people. Now, I can! Turns out, co-working spaces are pretty common around the world, and they are digital nomad central. I highly recommend taking advantage of them abroad as they fill a lot of gaps that come with digital nomad-ness.
There’s a whole list of seemingly small yet proven significant bumps that can pop up in the beginning of the digital nomad road. Bad wifi, isolation if you don’t know other digital nomads or expats, and a lack of community.
Co-working spaces usually have very reliable wifi and internet access, as well as other office essentials you may be challenged to find. They also are a great place to meet other digital nomads and expats, rather than just meeting other travelers or backpackers out at a bar. I’d try to have one or two in mind to check out before your arrival so that’s one less thing you need to deal with when you get there.
Grab my guide to finding co-working spaces abroad in my travel resource library below.
3. Have an elevator pitch nailed
When I first got to Southeast Asia, I was taken aback by the struggle of explaining to new friends what I was doing there. I was volunteering, yes, but only part time, because I was also freelance writing and writing a book. On top of that, I ended up bartending for the first month. So, what was I? A volunteer? A digital nomad? An expat? It was confusing and emotionally difficult to struggle explaining to people what I was doing there. It made me question what was I actually even doing there. As I’m sure you’ve caught on by now, there’s a difficulty for new digital nomads in identifying their purpose. So if you can’t easily explain it to others, it can be easier to forget yourself.
You know that when you travel, you’re going to meet travelers, locals, expats, backpackers, and everyone in between. If you’re a digital nomad, it can be hard to identify where in between those categories you fall. That’s actually a good thing! But, it can be exhausting searching for an explanation every time someone new asks your story.
Before you leave, sit down and physically write down a 2-3 sentence elevator pitch to give about why you’re there. It doesn’t have to be all inclusive or perfect. Frankly, if you don’t want to explain everything, you don’t need to! That’s one of the perks of traveling, after all. For me, I could’ve said something like: “I’m traveling throughout Southeast Asia for a couple of months and work part-time remotely, part-time locally.” Bam!
4. Join Expat Facebook Groups
I really felt like Facebook was dead until I discovered Facebook Groups. They are alive and well, and excellent resources. In most countries, even specific cities, they’ll be at least one Facebook group dedicated to the expats of that location. Join those groups and immerse in them. The first day I arrived in Cambodia, I posted on the expats Facebook page and made two coffee dates for that day with expats that totally understood what I was going through. It helped so much.
Some countries, particularly developing countries, don’t have great organized systems for managing communities. Google isn’t readily available to everyone, phones aren’t as reliable, establishments don’t have set hours of operation, and so on. I’ve found in these places, they basically run on Facebook. That’s how you’ll find where to eat, what’s open, who to meet, and where to go if things are in trouble.
Join the Facebook group before you leave. It’ll likely have lots of helpful information for you before departing. Then, when you arrive, you won’t be overwhelmed with it. Trust me, you’ll be overwhelmed with just about everything else.
To find a local group, search:
“Expats of (country)”
“Backpackers of (region)”
Once you find a group related to that demographic, Facebook will suggest similar groups to join, too.
You also can find groups for other travelers, volunteers, and expats globally. Even if not in the same location, the support in those groups is powerful! You’ll receive help and can help others.
Grab my guide to Facebook for Digital Nomads in my Travel Resource Library below.
5. Remember: all you need is wifi and a dream.
The world really is your oyster. Think of whatever it is you do in your day-to-day life, no matter what your job is. The likely truth is that you spend a lot of time on your computer, whether you’re coding, answering e-mails, writing briefs, researching, or preparing presentations. Don’t let anyone tell you that in leaving your 9-5 job to become a digital nomad, you’re leaving your secure career. The truth is that so long as you have wifi, you have no less accessibility to the tools to work than you did in your office job.
To eloquently conclude these lessons, being a digital nomad is kick ass. Perhaps my favorite lesson (and a theme throughout all of these) is how complimentary to my career this is. This does not feel like a break from my career or from my life in New York. Rather, the lessons I’m learning, people I’m meeting, and experiences I’m having are all contributing to my career path.