By: Jade Doherty, Head of Admissions at Unsettled
So you want to be a digital nomad, huh? Working from anywhere, with the freedom to come and go as you please, and running your life and business from laptop. What’s not to like?
But how do you get from the 9-5 office to the quirky little cafe in Buenos Aires or the beaches of Bali?
Here is my foolproof guide to go from digitally stuck to digitally nomadic:
1 - Make sure it’s right for you
The grass is always greener on the other side, they say. It’s easy to get caught up and think this must be the ultimate lifestyle. It might be. Might not. That’s up to you.
Taking your work and life on the road is usually a major commitment. Find a way to test it out. Dip your toes before diving in. Track down some digital nomads and ask them about the challenges.
How do they ensure they have a reliable place to work if they are moving around all the time? Where do they live so it doesn’t feel like they’re living in a hotel? What’s the favorite and least favorite location? How do they meet like minded people on the road? How long do they travel for before going home?
Think about what you’re going to give up before you realize it too late. It’s a big commitment. Do your homework so that when you make the jump, you know what you’re getting into!
2- Making money while you travel
This is the most obvious step, while traveling can often be cheaper than living in a city (London rents, I’m looking at you), you’re still going to need an income.
As part of the Admissions team I speak to people at various stages of their digital nomad journey - some are already working remotely but a lot of it comprises of working from the sofa, and now they’re ready to really make the most of their travels.
Others are running businesses or working as freelancers and are now established and ready to travel, meanwhile others have just handed in their notices at work and are looking to start a new journey.
I know it can seem daunting to get started, but it’s never been easier or more possible to work and travel than 2018. More and more remote jobs are being created, more and more employers are open to it, as well as many companies are going 100 per cent remote. If you’re an entrepreneur, the internet has dramatically lowered the barriers for starting your own business.
So, be clear on your skills and how they will serve you in the digital world. Maybe it’s a case of finding a new company that will allow you to work remotely, or maybe you need to go freelance and build up clients, or start your own business.
I used to work in Campus Recruitment, and the skills I learnt there have led me to working in the Unsettled Admissions team and doing interview training for corporate people, and I also run an online meditation course with my mum. So a lot of variety, and a mix of a remote job, freelancing and running my own business.
3 - The run up
Ok, so you’ve decided on and found a source of income, so you can travel at the same time. Should you book your flights immediately and head out to somewhere remote and exotic?
You’re going to have to make sure that your work and travels are sustainable and realistic. Rushing off as soon your business makes some money or you land a client puts you in a shaky position.
I would recommend having some savings and getting established in what you’re doing. Take your time; it’s not a race.
Get good at your job, build up some savings from your normal job so that you feel secure when you travel, get a couple of solid clients before you move halfway across the world.
How exactly you do this is up to you. Maybe you want to give yourself six months to save money while also branching out as a freelancer and building up a client base.
Maybe you want to get really good at your remote job so that when you start traveling, the location might be unknown but the job is familiar. Perhaps you work out how much you need to make a month and once your business is consistently generating that, then you’re good to jet off.
It’s tempting to drop everything and go traveling, but if it’s going to be sustainable and enjoyable you need to get your ducks in a row.
In my experience whilst embracing the unknown is an amazing thing, we can only take so much unknown. Something has to be known, otherwise it’s too much. Get to know your work so you can enjoy the unknown cities.
4 - The reality of it
You’ve got some savings, your work is stable, and you’re good to go. Firstly - awesome! Second - what is it really like?
There’s a real tendency to glamourize being a digital nomad. All those Instagram pictures bragging #OfficeForTheDay make it seem like all people do is sunbathe with their laptops.
(Laptops overheat and sand goes everywhere so I’m super skeptical as to how much anyone actually gets done at the beach!)
Spoiler alert - you do actually have to work.
What do you realistically need to be comfortable and productive while you work?
First up - Internet. Maybe you prefer working in cafes and coworking spaces so your accommodation isn’t as significant as you won’t be working from there anyway. But if you need to be on call for certain times during the day, working from home is more your thing rather than a cafe.
I talk a lot - for work and in general - so having a quiet place with good internet to take calls is my number one priority. Cafes don’t work as well for me so I’m all about the house.
Have a think about what you realistically need as this will influence where you go and where you stay.
Something else worth considering is time zones. The Unsettled team is dispersed all over the world, and I currently have a 16 hour time difference with some of my colleagues, which means we often talk at funny hours! Keep in mind that you might need to have calls at strange hours, or that you might like to stay close to your team/clients’ schedules.
5 - Actually building a life
All that talk about work, but what about, you know, your life?
That’s the whole point of this digital nomad malarky, isn’t it? To create a life you enjoy living, with the freedom to travel, and explore the world without being chained to a desk? Truth.
My advice is to take it slow.
If you’re traveling all over the world, all too quickly, spending a few nights here and there, I’ve found you end up seeing the same thing over and over again, just in slightly different locations and you’re continually scratching the surface.
To really build a life and go beyond a famous temple and popular bar, you need to take your time and go deep into the city.
Plus things are often cheaper if you book them for a month (hello Airbnb discount!).
So my advice would be stay somewhere for around a month. It will save you money on accommodation, and give you the time to go beyond the surface, get to know the local culture, make friends and not feel like you’re in a constant state of trying to find your way.
6 - People
Ah yes, people! The people really do make or break an experience, and you’re going to want some friends when you’re living somewhere for over a week. There’s only so many times you can have dinner for one!
Luckily the digital nomad community is pretty strong, with coworking spaces galore, as well as expat communities scattered around the globe. Even if you don’t think you’re a coworking space kinda guy or gal, you might like to check one out near you.
Most run free community events and are a great way to meet people and feel more at home.
Asides from that, I always recommend activities. Whether your people are surfers, yogis, muay thai fighters, artists, coders, flamenco aficionados or foodies; with a bit of research you can find communities of people who share the same interests as you. And in your new backyard.
This can also be a great way to meet locals, practice the local language, and create a feeling of normalcy.
7 - How to not work all the time
Bet this isn’t a problem you expected?! The digital nomad lifestyle is all about glamourous pictures and awesome adventures, there’s no way I’ll be working all the time.
Well, surprise surprise!
One thing I’ve found, and I know a lot of other people encounter this too, is that when there’s no official end to your work day, you don’t leave the office and your work until tomorrow, it can be easy to always be switched on.
Checking emails before bed, asking questions via Slack while you’re at dinner, and the blur that can occur when you don’t officially clock in and out, can mean that you always feel like you’re on call. All the freaking time.
Of course we all have times when we work flat out, but as I’ve said quite a bit, we want this to be sustainable, and working all day isn’t sustainable in the long-run. For your sanity.
You might like to set times with your colleagues, be strict with yourself about “just checking” your inbox, and have a separate work space so you know when you’re on and when you’re off.
I don’t check my emails if I’m not in a position to do anything about what I might read, and make a point of switching off and not doing anything work-related (depending on my schedule that will be in the morning or the evening).
Find what works for you, but keep in mind that you can’t work all the time, from every place you’re in, so mute conversations, switch off email notifications if the constant influx of information is getting too much for your brain.
8 - Overwhelmed? Let us help.
Now this might have left you raring to go, or left you feeling a bit overwhelmed at all the moving plates that have to come together.
If you find yourself on the “oh-there’s-more-to-this-than-I-thought” side, let us help!
Unsettled retreats are an amazing way to travel and a great introduction to the digital nomad lifestyle as we take care of the infrastructure of your life; setting you up with cool accommodation, a great place to work, fun stuff to do and awesome people to do it with, meaning you can focus on getting the job done, exploring and enjoying yourself.
So if you could see yourself exploring Parc Guell between business meetings, or drinking from a fresh coconut while you code away, tango-ing the night away with new friends, then check out our retreats and start planning your adventure.
P.S. Here are some resources I found useful when I moved to Bali a year ago, especially when it came to finding a house in Canggu and meeting like-minded individuals within the expat community: