A couple of years ago, I took an incredible trip to Peru, where I visited my friend who was living and working there as a "digital nomad."
Over the course of that year, she traveled to and lived in a total of 10 countries for about a month at a time -- and the whole time, she was working remotely.
I was fascinated by her setup. (And, let's face it, I was a little jealous.) It seemed like an incredible way to see the world without maxing out your travel credit card or your allotted vacation days. And as it turns out, it's becoming more common: According to a 2018 survey, 4.8 million Americans described themselves as digital nomads, and 11% of those surveyed said they planned to become digital nomads in the future.
If you're wondering what exactly makes a digital nomad, or how you could possibly do your job while traveling the globe, keep reading for our definitions, suggestions, and options.
A digital nomad is a person who works remotely from a variety of different locations through the use of technology. Unlike traditional remote work, digital nomadism is location-agnostic and not based in one specific place, such as a home office. Digital nomads often work from coffee shops, co-working spaces, or while traveling.
The difference between working from home and working as a digital nomad is that, although both groups of people don't work from a traditional office, digital nomads aren't tied to working from a specific remote location, versus remote workers who usually work between their home base their office.
If this sounds like the life for you, then keep reading. There are typically two paths to becoming a digital nomad:
1. Asking your current employer to allow you to continue in your role as a digital nomad
2. Finding work that allows you to work as a digital nomad by design
If you love your job and believe you can fulfill your responsibilities just as successfully while working as a digital nomad as you would in the office, make a compelling case yourself and ask your manager if they would be open to it. The worst thing they can say is "no," and if you've evaluated all of the responsibilities and contingencies that come with your role and have determined that you could do it all from different locations through use of technology, they might say yes.
If they do, here are a few steps you should take before transitioning to life as a digital nomad while you're still based in one office or location:
Dedicate time before you start your journey as a digital nomad to meet with the people you work with closely to answer their questions and make an action plan for how you'll work together going forward. You'll want to ensure team members understand the changing nature of your schedule and time zones if you're traveling, as well as how often you'll be visiting the home office in-person. Use this time to make a plan for how you'll use tools like email, instant messaging, live video conferencing, and asynchronous video recording to communicate when one or both of you are offline -- it's easier to tackle in-person than it will be once you're on the move.
If you're a digital nomad, your working hours and daily schedule may change according to the time zone of wherever you're working. Make sure you're over-communicating your hours to the people you work with and setting expectations with them about when you'll respond to messages, turn in projects, and be available online. Use your calendar and instant messaging apps to update your schedule and availability whenever you change locations or time zones so you don't leave any of your coworkers in a lurch if they need help.
To that end, make sure you're booking meetings to accommodate the most predominant time zone amongst the entire group you're meeting with. If you're traveling in a time zone that's more than eight hours from the folks you're meeting with, consider using meeting recordings or other asynchronous video tools so nobody has to wake up too early or stay up too late in order to connect.
Set up your team for effective communication and collaboration while you're traveling and working remotely. We recommend instant messaging tools like Slack, calendar booking tools like Calendly, asynchronous video recording tools like Loom, video conferencing software like Zoom, and smart video conferencing cameras like the Meeting Owl to make sure technology keeps you connected while you're on the move.
If your manager says "no" to your proposal, or if your employer's policies strictly prevent remote work, you might consider pursuing other job opportunities that would allow you to work and live as a digital nomad. That way, you could inquire about opportunities for remote and flexible work during the interview process and ensure that your transition would be smoother than it might be transitioning from office to digital nomad life. Below are several common careers among digital nomads to consider exploring:
Freelancing is a fantastic option for digital nomads because they work for themselves, not a company, so they can set their own policies. You can find freelance or contract opportunities that will allow you to work from anywhere in your given specialty by searching for opportunities on Upwork and Fiverr, and by inquiring among your professional network on LinkedIn.
Project managers can successfully work as digital nomads, depending on the organization and the project scope. Project managers can specialize in different areas, such as web or software development, marketing or public relations initiatives, or bringing a new startup or product to market. Project management software will be helpful for working on the project effectively while you (and possibly other team members) are in other locations.
Digital nomads can write content or copyedit it from anywhere. Whether you're working on blog posts, website or landing page copy, or ebooks, aspiring digital nomads can seek out freelancing opportunities or permanent positions within a company.
Developers can ship code or make web design changes from anywhere. You might need a second monitor for some projects, so you'll want to consider shipping or traveling with one for setting up a productive nomad home office.
As long as you have photo editing software on your computer, you can be a successful nomadic graphic designer. You might be working with marketing, development, or product teams to get things done, making graphic design an ideal way for digital nomads to work on multiple different projects as needed, depending on your schedule.
If photographers and videographers deliver images and footage to editors for editing and cutting, a digital nomad can do these jobs as well. Depending on where you're traveling, you might be able to secure work capturing images and footage, too.
If you speak another language fluently, translation work is in high demand on a freelance basis or working as an employee. You can do it on a per-document basis, or you can find work translating different web or app content on a regular basis.
If you're an experienced social media marketer, this may be another good option for you to make money as a digital nomad. Most social media publishing platforms allow you to schedule posts in advance, so changing time zones won't be an issue.
If you've caught the travel bug and want to do it more often than one or two vacations per year, then becoming a digital nomad may be right for you. These steps will help get you started, but to be successful as a traveling professional, the most important piece of the puzzle is doing excellent work. If you're achieving great results while traveling and working remotely, there will be no reason for employers to say "no."