Updated: Nov 19, 2021
As seen in APeeling in September 2020 - Andrew Murdoch
Wikipedia defines a Digital Nomad as the following:
“A type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, coworking spaces, or recreational vehicles. This is often accomplished through the use of devices that have wireless Internet capabilities such as smartphones or mobile hotspots. Successful digital nomads typically have a financial cushion. The digital nomad community has had various events established to host members of it. Common types of digital nomads include retired or semi-retired persons (including snowbirds), independently wealthy or entrepreneurs, and (often younger) remote workers.
People typically become digital nomads for positive reasons, such as financial independence and a career that allows for location independence. This sort of lifestyle may present challenges such as maintaining international health insurance with coverage globally, abiding by different local laws and sometimes obtaining work visas, and maintaining long-distance relationships with friends and family back home.”
Is the laptop lifestyle for you?
Let’s dig a bit deeper to make sure you are on the right path. This probably goes without saying, but people who choose this lifestyle typically enjoy travel.
However, this was the case before early 2020. The vast majority of remote workers have recently been forced into this lifestyle and probably were not offered the luxury of picking the destination.
When traveling is again accessible, this inherently brings certain pros and cons. It means having a minimalist mindset and narrowing down what you need for your day-to-day living. You’d be surprised by how little you need to be happy. Think back to various vacations you’ve had throughout your life. Did you pack too much or not enough? During the very rare times I forgot something it was just as easy to buy the item.
For me, it’s far more likely that I overpacked. Trust me when I say that traveling with less is a blessing, whether due to lugging heavy baggage or the exceedingly common airline fees for extra and overweight bags.
Do you really want to be that person holding up the line at the airport while you move items from one bag to another? I’m sure it gives everyone a good laugh until it’s their turn to have a bunch of strangers eyeing up what they have in their luggage! Plus, depending on how you
handle your accommodations, you won’t need to bring that much.
One item you won’t get away with leaving behind is your laptop. Although, some can make do with a mobile cell phone or tablet. These circumstances are rare, and for the purposes of this
book, I will assume you already have a laptop. If not, keep your eye open for deals around holidays, liquidation sales, or even purchase something second-hand on a site like Craigslist. If you are on a budget, you can usually locate a good refurbished model too. The type of remote work you will be doing dictates what type of device you will use.
On that note, a good purchase is a universal power converter. A digital nomad is nothing without power. We don’t require much, but power is our heartbeat.
You may also require special equipment like an external mic, cameras, lighting, tripods, etc. But please keep this to a minimum. A stack of books on a chair is tripod enough.
You may find adequate wifi hotspots in public places like coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, airports, and malls. However, internet speeds may not be the best since you are sharing the broadband with numerous others. Something else to consider is that public (free or otherwise) wifi is not the most secure.
There’s always a lot of talk about which devices are safer and have better privacy. Sorry to break it to ya, but Facebook and social media aren’t the only concerns around data protection. If you use public wifi, you are exposed. If this is a concern, accessing your own password-protected wifi in a recreational vehicle, Airbnb, house sit, or a mobile hotspot device is preferred.
It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. If electricity is the digital nomad and remote worker’s heartbeat, then the internet is our lifeblood!
Nobody has achieved a single thing without the help of someone else. Stepping into a new remote lifestyle will take effort and a steep learning curve. You can collapse this learning curve if you surround yourself with other like-minded people. Join Facebook groups, Telegram chats, meetups, webinars, and seminars.
Do a search for these three terms and you will naturally find a conversation that will feel right: Digital Nomad,
Telegram is a chat app and you can join the Digital Nomad Journey chat here. There are dozens of Facebook groups for digital nomads. There are far too many groups to mention in this book.
People tend to find the most value in the Group pages that are focused on the part of the world they wish to travel to or are already located. A simple search and you will find what you are looking for. For example, Bali Digital Nomads is a Facebook Group that provides Bali localized knowledge.
Not a fan of Telegram or Facebook? No problem. This LinkedIn Group called TRT Remote Work & Travel Community Worldwide is full of remote professionals. But a small warning. Do not, I repeat, do not join a community and start demanding answers! The law of reciprocity is a very real thing.
Try your best to contribute to the conversation and bring value to the group. People will be more willing to help you out if you start things off on the right foot. Plugging into the right network will get you access to resources, and you might even find employment and business opportunities as well. As they say, birds of a feather flock together. Be with your people and you will make more progress in a shorter period of time. I cannot stress this enough. Do not take advice about the laptop lifestyle from someone who has not lived it.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
- Mark Twain
When I was growing up, I used to think traveling the world and living that exotic lifestyle was only for older retired and/or semi-retired people. Perhaps, at that time, I was right. The digital revolution wasn’t here yet. But these days, the internet has made the world smaller and more accessible. Opportunities to explore new parts of the globe are no longer out of reach. You no longer have to wait for retirement. The laptop lifestyle isn’t reserved for independently wealthy or successful entrepreneurs. True, the transition may be easier for those who are better off. You may already have a digital job and never considered packing a bag and booking a one-way flight. Or perhaps your current profession is already location dependent? You could be a janitor making minimum wage or a high-earning investment banker. Either way, you are still “stuck” in a particular location. That demands you clearing some time in
your calendar to develop a new skill set that can be used in a digital and remote way.
Find a way to solve a problem, create value, or reduce risk and you WILL be compensated for that skill set. Ideally, it will be something you are already familiar with or have an interest in.
But if you are starting out, I’d suggest picking something easy and locking in a quick win.
How I Became a Digital Nomad
The reasons for seeking a laptop lifestyle are different for everyone.
I found myself newly divorced and sleeping on an air mattress in a friend of a friend’s spare bedroom.
I was drowning in my own debt with an added five figures that my ex left on my credit card. I felt like the world’s biggest loser. A failed marriage coupled with a mountain of debt that was overwhelming. I was choking on my situation and sick to my stomach because I had
created that crippling situation.
I had a choice. I could bitch and moan or I could take control. It was a painful and expensive lesson: you will never control someone else’s actions. Complaining about someone else saying or doing something is like complaining about the weather. You are wasting your time and breath.
I knew the only way I had a shot at improving my financial mess was to increase income and/or reduce expenses. So, I got off that air mattress, and I took action. I got rid of
almost all my belongings, including selling my car. I studied my digital nomad options and realized that I could live on a fraction of what my expenses were in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. Not a big surprise since Vancouver is widely known to be a very expensive location.
I share all of this because financial independence is a very REAL possibility when choosing the laptop lifestyle. I shudder to think where my life would be had I not taken action when I did. I doubt that I’d still be on an air mattress, but I would not have realized such a profound sense of freedom. I certainly would have been much worse off when the pandemic and associated economic downturn hit in early 2020.
Some of my loved ones were concerned about my life choices and worried that I was taking on too much risk. It is clear to me now that I have reduced my risk in a meaningful way, and I hope the same for you.
Life can be unpredictable, and it’s only prudent of us to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Tony Robbins likes to say, “Anticipation is the ultimate power. Losers react; leaders anticipate.”
Have you thought of a plan or how you would “react” if you were to get sick or injured while living remotely? Financial protection might not be the sexiest topic, but it’s a necessary one. A last minute flight back home and an unexpected hospital bill in a foreign country have the reputation of causing lasting negative consequences.
Insurance is a dirty word in some circles. But a policy is far cheaper ten years too early rather than one minute too late. There are a number of financial institutions and products in the marketplace today who cater to digital nomads such as Safety Wing. Please research your options as the specifics exceed the goals of this book. However, some points to consider and chat with your Agent about are:
How does this policy complement/supplement my employer policy or national health coverage?
How long is the elimination period? (This is the period of time you must wait BEFORE you receive your benefits. Typical Disability coverage has a 90-day elimination period which would cause severe financial harm to most people. Data shows us that 88% of the time you are recovered before this period expires.)
What are the exclusions? (Reasons you would not receive your benefits. You want to make sure what you are and are not covered for! An example might be scuba diving activities.)
Have your agent explain what the process of submitting a claim looks like, and ask if they are able to assist with that. This might be a complicated process, and keep in mind that if you are dealing with an illness or injury, the simplest task might feel difficult and overwhelming.
Clarify if your coverage is worldwide or restricted to certain parts of the world. Starting out as a new digital nomad, you can lower your financial risk if you have some savings built up, already secured reliable remote income, and/or have the added benefit of sharing this
lifestyle with a partner. If one of you falls on hard times, the other would be in a better position to carry the burden until good health returns.
Obeying local laws and obtaining work visas can certainly be an issue but goes beyond the scope of this book since it’s heavily dependent on where you currently claim residency and where you plan on traveling. This requires some good old-fashioned Google searches to start. Depending on the complexity and your goals, it might also make sense to speak and hire an expert. There are advanced tax strategies and Specialists that can assist you. It also might make sense for you to acquire residency elsewhere or even get dual citizenship.
I’d suggest keeping the complexity low if you are only considering this lifestyle change for the first time. After a year or two, you will have a better understanding of your needs and who to speak with regarding legal or tax matters. On that note, I can suggest Nomad Capitalist for further details. They specialize in helping six and seven figure entrepreneurs and investors.
Until traveling is once again available, now is a great time to start the process of getting an additional passport, opening a foreign bank account, and learning about the benefits of each.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Maintaining relationships with friends and family can be challenging, especially if they do not support your lifestyle choices. My mom was not very happy with my decision to live and work remotely. I know that she had good intentions and my best interests at heart, wanting the best for me. However, there is a lot to be said about the law of attraction. You will naturally attract those you are “like” and repel those you are not. To avoid losing touch with those who are important to you, please consider creating calendar reminders. Perhaps every second week or month even.
This calendarization will set you up for success, and I’m sure your loved ones will appreciate hearing from you on a regular basis.
What’s the point of having all of these amazing adventures around the world if you have no one with whom you can share?
You might even inspire them to make some changes in their own life so that they can become remote workers. Recent events have forced many people to become comfortable with facetime and virtual communication in order to stay connected during times of
social distancing and self-isolation.
If you’ve ever wondered if digital nomads are legitimate, my hope is that by now the answer is fairly clear. There are many reasons why so many people feel pulled towards this way of life.
Have you ever met someone who regretted traveling? I haven’t.
There is so much to be gained by exploring this beautiful planet and the people on it. It seems crazy to me to put that experience off for a few decades. There is no need for that. Keep reading!
Andrew Murdoch is a Digital Nomad