7 Steps For Traveling & Working Remotely, According To A Digital Nomad Coach
When I first decided I wanted to become a digital nomad — someone who travels non-stop while working remotely — I was terrified and unsure if I would actually go through with it. I worried my work would suffer from all the travel and time zone changes, I didn’t know how much it would cost, and I knew there’d be logistical complications I didn’t even anticipate. Then, out of sheer luck, I met Chris Backe, a coach for current and aspiring digital nomads, through a digital nomad Facebook group. Over the course of two Skype conversations, he helped me figure out how to get my ducks in a row and realize I definitely wanted to do it. So, it’s very fitting that Backe is now the author of Becoming a Digital Nomad: Your Step By Step Guide To The Digital Nomad Lifestyle, which can give aspiring nomads the information and encouragement Backe gave me, and more.
If you’re thinking of becoming a nomad, this is Backe’s advice: “Go into this with the same mindset you have when you're dating — take it slow, use your brain, trust your gut,” he tells Bustle. “If it's a fit, go to the next step. Better to go slow and make a thought-out decision than to make one you'll regret later on. It's pretty easy to test the lifestyle, though — make your way to the next state/province/country over, rent an Airbnb, and start making a new routine for yourself.”
The path toward becoming a digital nomad is a long and winding one, and you’ll have to read the whole book to get a comprehensive grasp of it. But in case you’re curious what the whole process is about, here are the basic steps Backe lays out. He also created a series of worksheets to help people through their digital nomad journeys, which are publicly available online and hyperlinked below.
1. “Know Yourself And What You Want”
To help you figure out if you want to be a nomad in the first place, Backe created a worksheet with a list of questions like “What talents or skills of mine are going underused?” and “Am I happy right now, or is something holding me back from being happy?” Do some self-reflection to determine how a digital nomad lifestyle would fit with your goals.
If you're sure you want to do it, move on to this worksheet, which will help you decide where you want to go first by having you rate the importance of various factors, like how many other expats are around and whether you’re close to home. Obviously, you’ll also need to consider logistical questions, like whether you have a valid passport and where you can get a visa (or get in without a visa). Lastly, this worksheet will help you further narrow down your options by reflecting on where you’d like to visit.
Once you have an idea of what places might interest you, Backe recommends researching them on sites like Nomad List and Numbeo. It’s also a good idea to research the place’s political climate to figure out if you’ll feel comfortable and accepted there. Lastly, you can use this worksheet to narrow down your options.
2. “Clarify Your Desires And Acknowledge Limitations”
Reflect on what about the digital nomad lifestyle most appeals to you and what places you might be able to get those things in. (Here’s a worksheet to help you do that.) It’s also worth considering whether you really want to be a nomad (someone who bounces from place to place) or an expat (someone with a long-term home in another country).
If you do want to be a nomad, you have five main living options: a host family, a co-living space, your own space, a house you house-sit, or an RV (if you’re not traveling across any bodies of water). When deciding what to take with you, consider your stuff’s weight, replaceability, and cost. What you can’t take, you can sell, give away, or put in storage.
As you refine your plan, you can use this worksheet to keep track of it. If you’d prefer to just test out the digital nomad lifestyle temporarily, this worksheet will help you figure out a plan and this one will help you evaluate your results.
3. “Making Money As A Nomad”
If you’re concerned about your finances, one strategy to make enough money fairly easily is what Backe calls “geo-arbitrage”: live someplace with a low cost of living, and get a remote job from a company someplace with a higher cost of living, which will probably pay you more than you actually need where you are.
Professionally, nomads usually fall into one of four categories: full-time or part-time remote employees, freelancers, entrepreneurs, or consultants/coaches. Whatever you choose, Backe cautions against the common trap of working so much, there’s no point in being a nomad. One way to make more time in your day is to limit the amount of time you can spend browsing the web or on social media.
In many places, you don’t have to give up the social environment of an office to be a nomad. Programs like WeWork and ImpactHub have coworking spaces all around the wold where you can meet like-minded individuals.
Here’s a worksheet to figure out what you want to do to make money.
4. “Get Affairs In Order”
Give yourself plenty of lead time before taking the leap to becoming a nomad. Backe recommends two to three months to move out, get rid of your stuff, quit your job (if you need to), and figure out work. You may still need to choose an “anchor” person to get any mail still sent to you, keep some of your stuff, or do anything else you need. Some nomads choose not to move out and to keep their apartment as a “home base.” This could make sense if you either plan to use it often or could make money by renting it out.
Before leaving, Backe recommends setting up electronic banking, a Paypal account, and a Dropbox account, selling your car or ending its lease, canceling your utilities and internet service, canceling your newspaper and magazine subscriptions, collecting your last paycheck, unlocking your smartphone so you can put in a new SIM card if you’re traveling to another country, getting a checkup, researching how to get any medications you need in another country, downloading Whatsapp, Viber, and Google Maps, and — finally — throwing a going-away party!
Then, it’s time to book your travel. Backe recommends arriving at your destination while it’s still light out so you don’t have to navigate an unfamiliar place in the dark with few people around.
5. “Gear Up And Slim Down”
You want to be able to take everything you need with you in one trip. Whether that means a laptop bag, a backpack, suitcases, or a combination will depend on what you want to take with you. Whatever you do pack, Backe recommends avoiding packing boots, dress shoes, more than one or two formal outfits, books, and kitchen supplies. Stick to the necessities.
6. “The Big Move And Settling In”
Backe created a very handy checklist for what to do in the week leading up to your departure and the first few days after you arrive, which you’ll have to download the whole book to read. But here are just a few tips you probably wouldn’t have thought about: You’ll have to buy a SIM card for internet access in another country, and you should always tell customs officers that you’re a tourist.
7. “Start Enjoying Your New Life”
Once you’re settled in, fill out this worksheet to take stock of how things are going. Reflect on what’s been working to create a routine. Do you prefer working from 9-5, or do you like to sleep late and work from 1 to 9? When do you like to exercise? Eat? It’s your choice, but try to create some consistency. And make sure you’re sticking to your budget by filling out this worksheet.
Another thing to think about is self-care. Are there any emotions the nomad lifestyle has brought up that you need to attend to? How has your physical health been? Think about what could help you feel better emotionally and physically, whether that’s sleep, exercise, or calling friends back home. Consider talking to an online therapist through a site like Talkspace or 7cups.
People often believe that travel will improve them or make them wiser, but this will only happen if you get to know the people and the culture, Backe points out. Make sure you’re not staying in a bubble, especially if you’re around other nomads.
The book concludes with these parting words: “No more 'path of least resistance', no more 'doing as you're told', no more 'doing what you're supposed to do', and no more 'doing what society wants you to do'. Your life is yours to live.” That's advice we could all stand to take, nomads or not.