What you need to know to become a digital nomad

With good quality broadband available in ever more destinations, an explosion in online platforms aimed at helping freelancers find work, and the appeal of the travelling lifestyle, it’s no surprise that the number of digital nomads is skyrocketing.

‘Digital nomads’, people who use the borderless nature of the internet to sell their products or services from wherever they want to be in the world, seem to have the dream lifestyle – especially compared to the drudgery of the daily commute and your annoying colleagues.

But what do you need to start out as a digital nomad if the lifestyle appeals to you? And, are there any gotchas you need to be aware of?

The essentials for life as a digital nomad

Unless you’ve got a trust fund to pay for your global travels, you will need to pay your way while travelling the world. To become a digital nomad, you’re therefore going to need the following skills and tools to get started:

  • A digital skill you can market
    As long as you have a couple years’ experience in industry, chances are you will have a skill you can sell over the internet – you just need to work out a way to package it up for potential clients.
  • A laptop, plus any additional tools you need
    A laptop is the bare minimum that digital nomads need in terms of equipment. But, you might also need other tools for your trade, such as a camera or specialised software.
  • A Skype account
    You will need some means of calling your clients – Skype is the most widespread software and if you top up your account, you can call landlines and mobiles form anywhere
  • Other business tools
    As a digital nomad, you’re still a business owner, so if you see this as more than something fun to do for a few weeks, you’ll need to invest in proper business technology – like a CRM, accounting software, software to manage and delegate projects and tasks (Asana for example), a decent website where people can contact you an book your services, and maybe even a professional email domain
  • A credit card with free international transfers
    You’re going to need to accept and make payments all over the world, so you should shop around for a credit card that fits with your lifestyle

Being a digital nomad isn’t all cocktails and beach bars

There’s a lot to love about the digital nomad lifestyle, but make sure it’s right for you. A couple of questions you need to consider before making the leap:

  • Have you paid off all your debts? Disappearing to the other side of the world is not a good way to boost your credit score!
  • Do you just want to go backpacking? If you don’t want to deal with the stress of finding work while abroad and constantly searching for WiFi, this might not be the right path for you
  • There are unglamorous things to remember: you’re still going to have to pay taxes, you will often miss the comfort of home and few digital nomads become millionaires while on the road
  • The digital nomad lifestyle seems idyllic – by making sure you’ve got these essentials covered, you’ll be all set to start your business from wherever you want.

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    Len is a tech and business writer who covers small business and startup advice and has appeared in many print and digital publications. He lives in London, UK, where he's also a sub editor on a national newspaper. He loves to travel and has lived in France, Spain, Senegal and Rwanda.

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