Maybe you’ve been living a digital nomad lifestyle for years and you’re working from a very mobile, beachside “office”. Or maybe you’ve never heard of these strange creatures and you want to know why there’s a laptop-tapping backpacker in every cafe you visit.
Either way, this post is for you.
I met Emma during the Travel Massive Hoi An event where I was invited to be a panelist to speak about Media That Matters. As a digital nomad of 6 years, I have the honour of having her today to explain what a digital nomad is, how to be a digital nomad and the tools that can help you along the way.
So let’s get started!
- What is a digital nomad, exactly?
- Sounds great! How to become a digital nomad?
- What tools do digital nomads use?
- Hopefully you’ll find these tools as useful as I do!
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What is a digital nomad, exactly?
Glad you asked. Many of my friends at home – still in their regular office jobs – don’t have a clue what the meaning of digital nomad is! Their eyes glaze over when I try to explain my job as a freelance copywriter and what I’ve gained from losing my hair.
When I tell them about things like “passive income”, they nod slowly before saying, “But what do you actually do? You know, for a living?” Basically, they think that unless I’m working out of an office, or for a company, or in some kind of structured form, what I’m doing doesn’t count as a “real job”.
Digital nomads know differently. We’re the ones who have cracked it – we know how to combine our skills with our love of travel. We’re the people who work online and can make a living as we explore the world. Or as we become expats – when we often link up with co-working hubs, placed in a piece of paradise.
There are many pros to being a digital nomad – you work for yourself, you choose your own hours, and your “tea break” can be a swim in the sea. You don’t have to deal with job search depression and you get to see the world while you earn money. You’re not blowing through your savings; rather, you’re cost-neutral, or even managing to save money while you clock up some serious life experiences.
Of course, there are cons to such freedom. Like the lack of structure, which can make it hard to motivate yourself. Or your fluctuating income, which isn’t always guaranteed. Or just the stress of having to figure it all out by yourself. Not to mention bad WIFI, loud noises and other communication difficulties that you’re bound to come across!
But personally, having worked as a freelancer for the past 6 years – 3 of which I’ve been a “digital nomad” – I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Sounds great! How to become a digital nomad?
Well, the exciting news is that anyone can earn money online. You don’t need a fancy degree, you don’t need to have been top of your class, or a whizz with numbers. Or the blogging version of Shakespeare. You simply need to have an idea, and the right attitude to go about making it happen. Here are some examples of digital nomad jobs:
Digital nomad job #1: Managing affiliate sites
This is a way of earning income from affiliate links – basically, when you recommend a product or service and get commission if these recommendations convert into sales.
All you need is a willingness to work hard, especially while you set things up. Research how others do it and do a lot of SEO-related homework – you’ll need to soak up lots of information like a sponge.
Digital nomad job #2: Running your own shop
Whether you sell handmade baby clothes on Etsy, distribute a range of protein powders or offer a set of educational ebooks, there’s plenty of ways to create a shopfront website.
Digital nomad job #3: Digitising your skills
Whether you’re a copywriter like me, a graphic designer, an accountant or a virtual assistant, you can pimp out your skills to the online world. No need for traditional brick-and-mortar offices anymore – it’s all about going digital.
In fact, many agencies prefer using online contractors and freelancers. You might charge a lot more than in-house staff but it saves them the hassle of getting you on the payroll, especially if it’s only temporary work.
Sometimes, you can communicate directly with clients just as well – if not better – than if you were physically present.
Digital nomad job #4: Be a blogger!
How can I leave this out? Being a blogger can be lucrative business. I’ve seen some travel bloggers earn 6 to 7 figures a year just from blogging and travelling the world!
Me? I’ve had some success since I became a full-time travel blogger from last year, working from Japan. I started earning more than my usual full-time salaried income, which further motivated me to strike it out on my own.
With the right guidance and research, anyone can be a full-time blogger and earn from it!
Which brings me on to my next point, and the main focus of this article.
What tools do digital nomads use?
Here are the 6 tools I use regularly, in my own life as a digital nomad.
This is mainly for freelancers, so it may not appeal to you – but I had to include it because it’s proved invaluable to me as a steady source of income.
You can filter the kind of jobs you’re interested in, set your minimum budget and check your news feed to see jobs you might like to submit a proposal for. Sometimes they’re one-off assignments, other times they could develop into a more long-term contract. Spend some time on your profile and you might even be headhunted for an “interview” – online, of course!
Upwork is a really handy way to make extra cash, quickly – but you will also end up giving them a chunk of your earnings in commission.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 2 decades, you would have heard of PayPal. It’s a particularly useful way to get paid if you work online. Why? Well, pretty much everyone has an email address that you can send a request to. It’s easy to use, it’s instant and you can operate in a range of different currencies. (No more bounced checks or awkward chasing cash payments!)
Unfortunately, the price of this convenience doesn’t come very cheap – unless you try their Business Payments option, which comes with a few restrictions. The recipient of the transaction usually bears about 5% of the amount paid to him/her. Also, if you were to draw out a foreign currency into your own bank, they have absurdly low exchange rates compared to the current market rate.
Definitely a cheaper option than PayPal, Transferwise means you waste far less of your hard-earned cash on annoying currency conversion fees. In fact, with fees as low as 0.5% (compared to PayPal, which can be 3.9%-5% if you’re registered in a different country to your client), it’s almost a no-brainer.
Transferring and receiving money is like a typical local bank transfer. Transferwise provides you with a virtual online bank account, which you can give your client to transfer in local currency to you. Say I don’t have a USA bank account, but my clients are from the USA. With Transferwise, I have a virtual USA bank account that I can give my USA clients to remit money too.
Drawing out a foreign currency into your own local bank currency also bears a much less exchange rate fee, and they lock today’s exchange rate currency.
4. Revolut/ YouTrip
Revolut acts as a virtual money changer that allows you to hold, exchange and transfer without fees in 29 different currencies. That’s right. That means you can change from one currency to another in real-time currency rates
On top of that, this mobile app allows you to bank on the go – without the usual annoyances like bank queues, hidden charges and old-school communication techniques. As an example, I lost my physical bank card while travelling and it took me 3 MONTHS to get a new one!
I had to send a hand-written letter to my bank in Ireland, confirming that I needed a new card, which they would only send to my home address, followed by the PIN a week later…which didn’t arrive, so I needed to start the whole process again. Nightmare!
With Revolut, you still get a bank card, you still get all of the banking services – but you also get instant chat options and none of the expensive currency conversion fees. It’s definitely worth checking out if you travel a lot.
Now, while I still use Skype for face-to-face briefing calls with clients, I love using Slack to communicate with them on a more regular basis. Quick things you need to check, new project ideas, useful links you’ve come across – all these can be communicated and shared here really easily.
It’s basically like a virtual office. Even though that office might be scattered across the globe in different time zones, Slack’s a way of ensuring that everyone stays on the same page. Yay!
6. Google Drive
As a copywriter, this is probably the tool that I use most often. I use it every day. I’m using it right now, to write this post. When I first started working as a digital nomad, I was travelling with my tiny Chromebook – so I couldn’t access things like Word or Excel.
Instead, I used all of the Drive applications. And I became hooked. I love that I can store all these documents in the Cloud, share them easily, comment and get feedback in real-time and access them offline if my connection was particularly bad.
Even though I’ve since switched to a Mac, I still use Drive for all my writing, presentation and spreadsheet needs. Nice one, Google.
7. A sturdy laptop-friendly backpack
Since basing myself in Japan, I’ve been recently getting from home to cafes in town carrying this WaterField Designs‘ Tech Rolltop Backpack simply because of how convenient it is to slot my MacBook in and out of the bag with one zip! The easy slot-in pocket from the back of the bag for my laptop has thick cushioning so I don’t have to worry about damaging my laptop when I move my bag around. This also means that when I have to remove my electronic gadgets at airport checkpoints, I don’t have to go through the whole hassle of having to access the inside of my bag and pulling out my laptop from my laptop case. Phew!
The waxed canvas material is thick and water-resistant, making it a hardy bag. The only caveat is that even with an empty bag, the bag is not lightweight. Design-wise, I like the rugged look — it makes me appear like the seasoned traveller that I am, aye? 😉
The main compartment is locked by a magnetic buckle, which I’m loving because it’s so easy to lock and unlock the bag with one hand. The way the top rolls to close the main compartment makes it expandable (15L) or compacted (12L), allowing me to pack my gym clothes/airplane carry on items easily. Also, a cushioned slot inside the bag allows me to store another laptop/ tablet.
A smaller outer zip pocket at the front which is convenient for putting small accessories like my phone and keys, while the 2 side pockets on the outside of the bag lets me quickly access to my water bottle/umbrella.
Hopefully you’ll find these tools as useful as I do!
If you’re already a digital nomad, check them out. If you’re not and are interested in living the life of a freelancer while touring the world…these tools will come in handy for you!
Being a digital nomad isn’t always easy. You’ll be working on your own a lot of the time, with no boss or HR department advising you what to do next.
But trust me, it’s totally worth the effort! And of course, tools like the above make the process a whole lot easier. You can also find really supportive digital nomad communities, especially in Thailand and Indonesia where the digital nomad lifestyle is rampant.
So, tip the work-life balance in favour of life. Get out there, see the world – and turn your work into your play. That’s what I did. And I’ve never looked back.