A lot of “influencers” you see on social media platforms seem to embody the perfect nomadic lifestyle. They work on their tablets and laptops aboard yachts, or while lying on hammocks in the middle of nowhere, and generally seem to have no need of four walls surrounding them as they go about their day. Blissful, right?
If you’ve ever met (and admired) a digital nomad, you should rest assured they did not start out that way. I know I didn’t. What appears to be a sophisticated, worry-free, and glamorous way of life could likely be the result of plenty of hits and misses when it all began.
There are many sources and references that can tell you to avoid potential pitfalls in this kind of career choice. But at the end of the day, other people’s experiences – and especially your own – are still the best lessons you can learn on the journey to become a digital nomad. Here are five of the most important ones I had to learn on my own. I hope that you find them helpful, in turn.
Recognize that there will be difficult choices to make
From the seemingly smallest and most petty details, to ones that are potentially life-changing, difficult decisions have to be made. First, consider the inconveniences. There will be places without your favorite food, scenery (I’ve been somewhere that hardly had any sunsets and sunrises), music, luxury items, and a host of other stuff you’ve gotten so used to. The harder part will be the people and things you can’t bring with you, including loved ones, close relationships, pets, and objects you have sentimental attachments to (unless they can fit in a bag). Choosing the digital nomad lifestyle necessitates change, and you have to be ready for it.
Stay in one place first
It’s a pretty ironic advice to give, because being nomadic does mean going from one place to another on a regular basis. But a lot of people tend to romanticize the nomad aspect of it and begin making travel plans straightaway – without having a stable client base yet! I know of several people who actually thought that once they are in a certain place, they can instantly attract digital nomad jobs. This will very rarely happen, if at all! The best thing to do is get some steady income first wherever you are at the moment. Once you’ve built up a suitable budget and client network to go nomad, you can start making plans to travel.
Do prior research at all times
This advice not only applies to actual projects, but to the whole digital nomad lifestyle. This includes the general laws, driving and traffic rules, language, traditions, quirks, financial transactions, and products and services of a certain place. For instance, I’ve gotten so much into the habit of tipping that I usually leave some extra money once I’ve paid for a meal or service. But there are places that consider gratuities unnecessary (and even rude), so it’s best to research on potential social gaffes like that in order to avoid them.
Always charge accordingly
Never sell yourself short. That’s a hard lesson I had to learn when I first started on my digital nomad journey. If you have the portfolio, experience, skills, and talent to show for it, don’t charge cheaply because you simply want to hook a client. Doing this could potentially influence the rest of your career, the quality of your work, and how clients will pay you.
I’ve discovered that some of my clients actually talk to each other about how much they paid for my services in the past, and they use that as a gauge to the offer they will make for a future project. If you’ve made it a habit of charging low in the past, it can come back to haunt you. So always charge accordingly and don’t undervalue your work. This means taking into account the scope, difficulty, and other details of a project before coming up with a fee.
Structure your lifestyle according to your needs
When people ask me “What is a digital nomad?”, they usually expect me to come up with an exciting answer by way of an imagined James Bond-ish lifestyle filled with elegant outfits, lots of jet-setting, excellent gourmet meals, booze, and being in the company of attractive people. I want to disabuse you of this notion right off the bat. In reality, there is usually plenty of budgeting involved, and most of the time, nothing exciting happens. There could be long stretches of travel, or there could be weeks and weeks of being in a hotel room hunched over a desk and eating leftovers.
The bottom line is, whatever works for you to get you to be productive, would have to work for you wherever you may be at the moment. If you work best minus the noise and flurry of an exotic new place, then lock yourself in a quiet room for how long a project needs to be done. Plan meals ahead of time so you won’t need to pause work to prepare them when you get hungry. Let go of your FOMO (fear of missing out) instincts even if other people goad you to start enjoying more of this strange place you’ve found yourself in, and focus on the job at hand. Festivals, concerts, and parades will always be there, but clients might not be.
There is no real right or wrong way on how to be a digital nomad. It’s more of a series of minor and major adjustments before you hit a sweet spot and can comfortably work with what you currently have. Finding the perfect balance between work and play could take years, but when it comes, it will all be worth the inconveniences and potential heartaches. It pays to be practical, pragmatic, and patient in this chosen lifestyle. So if you truly think you have what it takes to be a digital nomad, I wish you strength and luck on your journey.