Digital Nomad Life: Honest secrets + Top tips from a full time traveller
Congratulations if you have decided the digital nomad dream is for you and your resignation letter is already in the post. Confused? Read our guide on getting started as a digital nomad as chances are it will not only answer your biggest questions but inspire you to make that first step too.
Once your foundations are in place and you’ve successfully swapped your boss for a backpack, I’m sorry to say but that’s the easy part done. It’s easy to open your laptop and decide you want to travel the world but it’s hard keeping it open when the sun is shining and you have a never ending bucket list.
However, this is where this guide comes in. It will ensure your digital nomad dream is not a holiday romance but a long lasting love affair as with these tips in place you will not only fall in love with this lifestyle but be successful at it too.
While it’s understandable that this career choice is desirable, the hard work and late nights are less so, which means many people give up after a few months. But you’re not going to be one of those people, are you? Of course not, as you’re about to read this guide which shares the secrets of being a successful digital nomad…
What Motivates You?
Before you get designing your business logo, stop and consider your why. Why do you want to be a digital nomad? Is it for more freedom? Is it to travel more? Is it to earn more? In order to be a successful digital nomad you need to REALLY want to do it because it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be difficult to stay committed if you are not 100% determined and prepared to roll your sleeves up for some testing times.
Find a Niche and Master it
Although it can be beneficial to be a master of all trades, sometimes it’s better if you find one niche and become an expert in it. For example, instead of just being a “web developer” could you specialise in a specific industry such as food & drink? Instead of being a social media manager, could you specialise in social media for the fitness industry?
By having a niche that you know in depth, it can help you become the go-to person in that field. It can also help you have a focus and fine tune your skills in that area instead of feeling overwhelmed trying to learn about a new industry every time you find a new client.
Not to mention it helps you hop out of bed in the morning if you’re helping an industry that you’re genuinely passionate about. If you’re unsure what that industry may be, Workaway is a great way to help you figure that out!
Create a Portfolio ASAP
This goes hand in hand with the tip above. Having a niche you know well will help you build a persuasive portfolio which is essential if you want to be a successful digital nomad. It’s often the first hurdle that wannabe digital nomads struggle with.
However, while you haven’t had paying clients (yet) chances are you have a tonne of experience that you could put into your portfolio. Consider projects you have done in the past whether it’s Workaway experiences, college projects, side gigs for friends, or even hobbies that could be included.
It’s much easier to apply for projects when you have evidence of your skills. Even if you earned no money from these projects, you still earned skills. Skills which other people need and will pay you money for!
For example, photography: Do you have amazing photos from your travels that could showcase your Photoshop skills? Do your photos get good engagement online? Could you use your own social media as evidence of your social media skills?
Could you mock-up some logos? Write a review of your favourite restaurant? Edit film footage from your travels? Create a website for your Workaway host? Any content you create (for free or otherwise) can be part of your portfolio to attract paying clients.
You only need one client to get the ball rolling and once they’re onboard you can swap out the examples of free work for the paid work in your portfolio.
Master the Work Life Balance
Chances are the reason you want to be a digital nomad is to have more FREEDOM. You don’t want to work 40 hours a week for a two weeks holiday a year like the rest of the world – you want to work AND play. This can be tough when you are your own boss. You need to learn when to switch off and when to embrace the late nights to get those deadlines done.
When travelling you are surrounded by temptation – there are new experiences to be had everyday so it can be difficult opening your laptop when you’d rather be snorkelling/dancing/hiking. However, the hard work now will pay for the good times later so it’s worth learning to prioritise when to work and when to play.
Enhance the Flexibility
On the topic of a work life balance this next tip can take some time to get used to. One of the best things about being your own boss is that you can decide when you want to work. Are you a morning person? Or a night owl? Just because you are “working” doesn’t mean you need to work during office hours.
When many people get started as a digital nomad they are so used to Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 they try and replicate this routine for working online. This results in them resenting their new lifestyle as they’re essentially recreating the same atmosphere they had in their old job. It can take a while adjusting to this mindset but there’s nothing wrong with working when no one else is.
For example, I enjoy working on weekends as it means when I need to do shopping or want to visit “touristy places” I can go during the week when it’s quiet. I am more motivated in the evening and it takes a village to drag me out of bed before 8am so I adjust my working schedule to suit me.
Even if that means all of Sunday at my laptop when the rest of my friends are relaxing – if that’s when you work best don’t worry about what others think.
You'll Work Harder Than Ever Before
When you are accustomed to a steady income, you’ll find the first few months of being a digital nomad an emotional rollercoaster. It can be tough to predict when your next paid project will happen so you may find yourself saying yes to all work and any work. This is a recipe for burn out.
At the same time, you want to gain experience and earn money so be prepared for it to take a few months until you find your groove. Learn when to say no, always charge your worth and don’t take rejection personally. When one opportunity closes, it’s because a better one is on the way.
Earn the Same but Experience More
This is one of the epic advantages of being a digital nomad. You can work ANYWHERE yet you have the potential to earn the same (or more) as you did in your previous role at home. With this freedom you can experience more as your money will go further depending where you are.
Rent in places such as Bali or by staying with a Workaway host are going to cut your living costs considerably. With no commute, no bills and daily expenses much cheaper than home, you’ll not only be able to make money but save money, IF you plan your travels around this lifestyle.
(Go check out these digital nomad friendly hosts on Workaway that are happy to welcome travellers into their families, communities or local projects.)
Expect the Unexpected
When you are used to a commute everyday, to the same office and the same tasks, it can be a shock to the system when you become a digital nomad. In other words, it can become a logistical nightmare if you’re not organised or able to think on your feet.
You will have clients in different time zones, you’ll need to constantly hunt down (reliable!) Wifi and your office could be the airport/cafes/buses. Issues like power cuts and stomach bugs are all too common on the road too and can easily trip up your work. You’ll also need a set up such as a laptop, webcam, microphone etc that can be easily transported, set up quickly and taken down just as fast.
Adaptability is one of the greatest secrets to a successful digital nomad journey. If you can adapt to different time zones, deadlines and technical issues quickly and efficiently you’ll be one of the lucky ones who can call this your career.
It Can Get Lonely
Most people forget this key fundamental when planning their digital nomad escape: people. Being your own boss means exactly that – you are your team. For many people, missing colleagues is the hardest part of this new role. It can feel lonely when you don’t have a team to bounce ideas off of, or a team to celebrate the wins with.
However, this is one of the many ways Workaway can help. Being surrounded by likeminded people is half the battle and Workaway can help you find these people at a click of a button. Other ways include joining digital nomad groups on Facebook or scheduling times in your calendar to FaceTime friends ensures you prioritise keeping in touch.
You Can Find Clients Everywhere
This is such a valuable lesson that sadly, us millennials forget. Many digital nomads take the “digital” too literally and set up branded social media and fancy websites thinking this is how you attract clients.
It can help, but I’ll let you in a little secret. The best way to find clients is offline. Word of mouth is everything! Tell everyone you meet what you do, tell them to let their friends know what you do.
From your barber to barista – tell anyone you know about your new business so when they hear of someone searching for a graphic designer/web developer/video editor they already know just the person!
Give it Time
Many people fall in love with the romantic notion of working from the beach, cocktail in hand with no boss over your shoulder. So, when after two months they haven’t found a single project or client they give up. You need to give it time.
You need time to perfect your routine, to build a reputation, to find the type of projects that excite you (or make you want to log off forever!) No one is an expert on day one, but with commitment and consistency you have the keys to success.
Surround yourself with supportive people, balance the online world with offline experiences and you will already be miles ahead. At the end of the day, you’ll be your own boss so give yourself the same reprimands and rewards that any good boss would.
Master these tips and you my friend, will be a successful digital nomad – with or without a cocktail on the beach.