So, you want to be a digital nomad — someone who travels nonstop while working remotely? Props to you. You’ve already rejected one of society’s most stringent standards: That everyone must have a place to call “home.”
We learn as kids that our most basic needs are food, water, and shelter — and we usually learn a narrow definition of “shelter," like a house or apartment you own or at least rent. It takes a lot of guts to say you’re different from most people in this way — or least from how most people seem. The truth is, the static life isn’t for everyone. Hopefully, as we start realizing that monogamy, the gender binary, and other things that supposedly work for everyone actually don’t, this will be another norm we take down.
That said, the digital nomad life isn’t for everyone. And if you’re going to do it, you should first get your ducks in a row so that you can do it responsibly. After realizing I wanted to be a nomad, I waited over a year to go for it so I could focus on my career instead of worrying about travel logistics — because there will be logistics to worry about, many of them unanticipated.
"Be willing to adjust almost any part of your life to fit your circumstances," Chris Backe, a coach for current and aspiring digital nomads, tells Bustle. "For the first time in your life, you'll be able to work (almost) whenever you want. You'll be able to eat, drink, be merry, meet up with friends, take care of family, go out, and so forth on your terms."
Here are some things you should ask yourself to figure out if you truly want to become a digital nomad and prepare yourself to make that move.
1. Am I Happy With Where My Career Is?
Some people want to become nomads because they think that'll give them motivation to find remote work — that once they're out of the hustle and bustle of their city, they'll finally get down to writing or making art or building their app. In my experience, it's actually the opposite. Travel puts extra stress on your body and mind, so it's not a good time to take your career to the next level. You might find new work, but don't rely on it. Ask yourself, "If my work doesn't change at all within the next year, will I still be satisfied with it?" If not, focus on building your career and achieving financial stability before adding another thing to worry about.
The one thing you may gain career-wise is new experiences and perspectives, which will probably find their way into whatever work you do. So, the digital nomad life is more for an already successful remote worker who wants to improve their work by growing as a person than someone who wants a better job.
2. How Well Can I Sleep In Unfamiliar Places?
Since I was used to sleeping on my memory foam mattress every night, I never realized I actually suck at sleeping — until I was forced to sleep in less comfortable places. It turns out most couches and hostel beds won't cut it for me, so it's sometimes worth splurging on an Airbnb or hotel. I've also had to cut back on my caffeine consumption so I spend less time tossing and turning. You can be a digital nomad if you're a light sleeper, but first, figure out how you'll manage that (and whether you have the budget for it), and be thoughtful about where you crash.
3. Where Would I Actually Go?
I wouldn't make this consideration your #1 priority, because once you're a nomad, ideas for where to go end up finding their way to you. Nevertheless, when you're first starting out, research where the biggest digital nomad hubs are. Or ask your friends in other places if they'd be willing to host you. Getting ready to leave without a clear plan can stress you out, and it won't feel totally real until you get your ticket. I tend to get my tickets about a month in advance, or else it's just impossible to make any plans for the future.
4. Who Can Help Me Through This Process?
Before becoming a nomad, I scheduled phone calls and meetings with all the nomads I knew — and all the nomads my friends knew. If you don't think you know any nomads, post on social media that you're looking to talk to some, and you might be surprised by how many people know someone. You should also join Facebook groups like Digital Nomads Around the World. (There are also local groups for nomads in specific places.) That way, you can post questions for other nomads to answer. Or hire a coach like Backe. He and I talked before I set off on my journey, and he helped me go from seeing nomadism as a distant dream to viewing it as an actual possibility.
5-7. What Changes Do I Need To Make To My Work, What Would I Prefer But Not Need To Change, And What Should I Keep The Same?
You should ask yourself all three of these questions, because people make mistakes in both directions, and often, things actually fall into the second category. I, for example, underestimated my ability to adjust to new time zones, so I thought I'd have to drop more work than I really did. I also underestimated how many things I had the power to change. Then, another nomad convinced me to try negotiating with my clients before just quitting or keeping work that was difficult for me. Instead of resignation emails, I sent scheduling requests, and I was surprised by how accommodating they were. I was also surprised by my ability to keep shifts that led me to work at odd hours.
Don't let these considerations discourage you. None of them should make or break your decision. They should just help you get a sense of what being a nomad is like so you can figure out if you really want it — then prepare for it if you do. "I really am of the opinion that it's possible for literally anyone," says Backe. "It isn't limited to twenty-somethings with backpacks."