“Digital nomad” sounds like the quintessential dream job:
travelling the world armed with little but a laptop and the essentials, making your own schedule in a foreign coffee shop or while sipping cocktails on a beach, hopping from destination to destination as you cross yet another country off your bucket list.
However, as is often the case, the reality has been romanticized.
“Digital nomad” isn’t a job title but a lifestyle choice—an option now available to many thanks to a trend that’s changing the way we balance our careers and our lives:
The same developments in technology and attitudes about work and life that let employees and entrepreneurs work from home are also enabling a new generation bitten by the travel bug to work from, well, anywhere with a WiFi connection.
What is a Digital Nomad?
A “digital nomad” is a person who chooses to embrace remote work as a lifestyle choice, using technology to make a living that enables themselves to be as mobile as they want to be.
Digital nomads leverage remote work to fund and follow through on their desire to see the world.
There’s no prerequisite where you need to stay in a certain number of countries for a certain amount of time in order to qualify as a digital nomad. It’s simply a choice you have as a remote worker or entrepreneur who can make a living that doesn’t necessarily have to keep them in one place.
It’s also a choice that has become easier to make for many thanks to changes in the way we work.
Employers are rethinking the 9-to-5 work day
The 8-hour work day is a relic from a time when optimizing output meant balancing manual labor and life, where you clock in and you clock out.
But with the rise of “knowledge work”—jobs where employees contribute through thinking and knowledge—strict working hours don’t make as much sense when you’re answering emails on the weekend at home or you feel more creative at night.
In fact, in one study at a call center, giving employees the option to work remotely not only increased their job satisfaction, but also resulted in a 13.5% increase in productivity.
Technology has fundamentally changed “work”
Thanks to the technological innovation of the last 20 years, a laptop and the cloud offer us all the tools we need to work better both independently and collaboratively.
Technology has made it so work can get done over a great distance, and it’s really what makes being a digital nomad possible. The rest depends on your how you choose to make a living.
How to Become a Digital Nomad, From a Digital Nomad
According to Martina Russo, a travel-loving translator who I spoke to about her nomadic lifestyle, the question you need to ask yourself isn’t “how to become a digital nomad”, but rather:
“What am I good at? What do I like to do? What do people need? And can I do this and take it online, so I can fund my lifestyle?”
There are no specific skills that you need to be a digital nomad. You just need to be good at what you do and be able to sell your services or product, or whatever it is, online.
In order to make the transition to a digital nomad lifestyle, you need three things:
- An income stream (or a couple) that you can maintain 100% remotely.
- A laptop and a good internet connection wherever you plan to work.
- A solid grasp of personal finance and cashflow management to live within your means.
What enables Martina to maintain her nomadic lifestyle—making her home in Milan, Italy while spending months at a time in the Galapagos Islands, Cambodia, Ecuador, and other parts of the world—is her freelance business, translating from English, German and Spanish into Italian and Swiss-Italian.
She says she didn’t plan on becoming a “digital nomad”. But she studied translation and turned it into a freelance business that she could operate completely online—work she loves to do in a new setting every once in a while.
On the side, she also runs an ecommerce store called Freelancer At Work, which sells laptop decals that let other remote professionals show-off what they do.
Her side business got its start when she was in Croatia, working from a coffee shop. People would often give her sideways glances, curious about what she was up to. So she created a “translator at work” decal, slapped it on her laptop to tell everyone: “I was not there just using up their internet connection and watching movies, you know. I was working.”
Her product idea resonated with other remote professionals in her network who saw it (copywriters, editors, developers), and so she turned it into an ecommerce business, partnering with a trustworthy supplier so she could fulfill orders remotely.
In a way, Freelancer At Work is a reflection of Martina’s belief that being a “digital nomad” isn’t a job but a decision to embrace remote work in an unconventional way.
That begs the question, though: What careers are conducive to realizing a digital nomad’s lifestyle?
The Best Jobs for Digital Nomads
The only prerequisite to embrace a nomadic lifestyle is whether you can work 100% remotely from your laptop and phone to fund your adventures.
It turns out there are a lot more jobs that fit the bill than you might expect.
SWC designs engaging and effective web experience and is a Shopify Partner – first published here.