How To Make Money As A Digital Nomad

So, for millennials lifestyle is important. The definition of lifestyle and the definition of millennials both seem to have been in a position of flux over the past 18 months. So for my purposes here, I’m defining myself as a millennial (I was born in the ’80s) and I’m defining lifestyle as something very personal. For my personal lifestyle definition, I love the idea of freedom to work anywhere, and thus it means I need to find a way to make money as a digital nomad.

how to make money as a digital nomad

Historically for me, lifestyle was something that got sacrificed for work – and this was my choice. The only lines I drew between my work life and my personal life were weekends. I remember saying to my manager

“you can have as much of my time as you like in the week, but the weekends are mine.”

and I meant it at the time. My boyfriend lives miles away, and the only time I see him is at weekends or holidays and for me, this seemed normal.

What I hadn’t considered was the importance that I should be putting on having a work/life balance to refresh, re-energize, and de-stress. When I finally did consider this, I had to struggle with the ingrained habit of putting my perceived work requirements ahead of everything else. This only stopped to a certain extent when I set myself a deadline for leaving the office every night – unless there was a categoric emergency I would be gone by 17.15 every night (and I had to reward myself with a CrossFit class at that time just to convince myself that work would still be there tomorrow).

It was at this point that I realized how much making money as a digital nomad suited me:

  • I’m eager to put all of my effort into whatever project I’m working on
  • I’d be much happier if my sacrifices were for my benefit rather than that of a giant company
  • I want the freedom to work when I am the most effective, rather than when the companies defined hours require it
  • I learned while doing a remote MBA that I don’t need the physical contact with my colleagues, virtual contact works for me too **this is key – if you are a very social person, you might need to consider how you are going to satisfy the requirement for physical interactions**

First off, How Do You Define Digital Nomad?

So, what exactly is a digital nomad you’re probably quite rightly asking? The very broad definition of a digital nomad is someone who leverages telecommunication technologies to earn a living by working remotely while often conducting their lives in a transient manner. This may involve working remotely while exploring different cultures, countries, time zones or even areas of their own country.

If you’re new to remote working, check out my checklist for setting up a remote or home office.

I have a friend who has a digital magazine, I met him before he was a digital nomad but he was always a travel enthusiast. His nomadic existence periodically involves exploring various cities via Air BnB’s for weeks at a time. This lifestyle always gives him an amazing perspective on the culture of the city in which he’s currently residing and has made me incredibly envious of his position. As a bonus, his magazine explores a lot of elements of travel – making the majority of his lifestyle actually research!

If you fancy checking him out, his name is Donnie Rust – I’ll agree with his assessment of handsome and talented… I’m on the fence about the incredibly modest claim (although I’m jealous that he’s been pursuing this for the past 5 years while I’ve been in corporate land), and as for hung like a bull elephant, I’m afraid I’m not in a position to comment. But if anyone would like to leave feedback….

Donnie’s rather successful site that makes me so envious is The Lost Executive, I highly recommend you check it out, especially if you are exploring the art of the possible! At the moment he has an aggressive expansion policy and he has an affinity for working with talented, proactive digital nomads so I’d recommend hitting him up with your unique value proposition, I certainly will be!

What Is A Digital Nomad Lifestyle?

For me, a digital nomad lifestyle will involve being able to run my business from wherever I happen to be located. A couple of years ago I became a weekend nomad when I bought a VW T4 Transporter. It’s now 17 years old, passed its annual safety inspection (MOT) yesterday and has spent the last two years being both my daily driver (although I usually chose to run, walk or cycle to work) and my weekend getaway.

what is a digital nomad lifestyle

This van and I (and it really is both of us in this photo taken on our first camping trip together), have been through a lot. We’ve been on road trips, stealth camping, muddy running training expeditions and competitions and the obligatory van owner obligation of helping friends move house. This van even saw me through writing papers for my MBA curled up on the rock and roll bed both opened and set up as a seat!

A mobile workspace (be it this lovely van or not) is a key element of my remote business plan. This van is very convenient in that it’s transportation, less than two meters high (so fits in most car parks, even multistories or parking structures), six meters long so fits in standard parking spaces, handles like a car and yet still has a full-sized double bed and some storage. It also means that with some planning and careful equipment selection you can set up your office with the most inspirational and changing views!

Why Become A Digital Nomad?

So, why become a digital nomad? For me, as we’ve already touched on, it’s a lifestyle based decision. I hold dual citizenship and find that about half of my life is located in each country. With a traditional job I’m constrained as to where I live and work, and even with the generous holiday, holiday purchase scheme and voluntary unpaid leave on offer in the role that I’m fleeing I can’t spend enough time in the other country.

why become a digital nomad?

Having really enjoyed spending the last couple of years as a weekend nomad it was an obvious choice when I was deciding to implement my new lifestyle! So, what are my top reasons for becoming a digital nomad:

  • Slow travel – without the constraints of being back at a specific date or time for work I can spend more time enjoying the journey as well as the destination
  • Freedom – control over my location means that I can choose to be physically present for family events and friend’s occasions, no more missing birthdays because there is a travel embargo over month end!
  • Adventure – I moved countries almost 15 years ago, intending to work for a bit and then have an amazing adventure. The work happened, but it constrained the adventure! This way the two can coexist!
  • And finally the unlimited workspace opportunities – I’ve already mentioned my van parked in suitably stimulating environments but some of your other options include:
    • Coffee shops, pubs or cafe’s
    • Air BnB’s in new locations for short term stays or rentals for longer stays
    • Sofa Surfing with friends or family
    • Co-working holidays or retreats
    • Local co-working spaces
    • Outdoor stimulating environments

How To Make Money As A Digital Nomad? (And How Do You Become a Digital Nomad in 2020?)

So this all sounds amazing! But can I afford this lifestyle? And how do I make money as a digital nomad?

So, how much money do I need to make?

Addressing the affordability question first, this is something that you need to figure out for yourself. Doing a deep dive into your finances and determine what you actually need to spend (for example, unless you’re planning on selling your house you’ll still need to cover your mortgage payments somehow). I know it is a lot of unpleasant work looking at how much you’re actually spending and it’s going to be followed by another painful word… BUDGET!

Once you know how much you need to have to sustain yourself, you need to make sure you can stick to it and the way to do that is to create a plan (sounds less scary then budget doesn’t it?) and then track your expenses against your plan. There are some great free or paid tools to help you with this – a few I’ve used include:

  • Creating or downloading a spreadsheet and manually entering all the figures. If you search for a personal budgeting spreadsheet the internet can help, but as always, make sure you are downloading any content from a reputable website and not putting yourself at risk of malware.
  • Using an app or computer program – there are many out there, the two that I have first-hand experience with are:
    • MoneyDashboard – a free UK based fintech startup that is starting to scale. They connect (read-only) to your UK based accounts using open banking and allow you to classify your individual transactions into buckets and assign them against budget elements.
    • YNAB – You Need A Budget is an American personal finance/budgeting software. Their tagline is that they teach you how to manage your money. I really liked the interface when I used it a couple of years ago, and they give you 34 days to try it for free; however, as good as it is in the US and Canada, in the UK it still doesn’t connect directly to UK accounts via open banking. This means in the UK you have to manually import your transactions rather than having it automatically update or make use of a third party connection – something that makes me nervous.

How Do I Make Money as Digital Nomad in 2020?

Refreshing ourselves on the digital nomad definition – leveraging telecommunication technology to work remotely allowing a transient lifestyle, lets breakdown what this means for earning opportunities.

Money Making Opportunities Need:

  • Freedom of location (no physical office)
  • Technology-based (can be completed on a phone, computer or tablet) with rare exceptions

This seems easy! So the next question is do we want to find a job with the above attributes or do we want to create our own business? There are a few additional key differences between employment and self-employment within your current locality that need to be considered.

  1. You are competing against a much wider pool of candidates for all opportunities
  2. Some of the competition will be located in a lower cost of living country than yours, which offers them a competitive advantage
  3. Employment contracts may not be under the jurisdiction that you are used to – therefore you may not have the protections under the law that you are used to in your current contract of employment. Things like no-compete clauses, notice periods, sick pay, and employer/employee obligations should be checked thoroughly before signing an employment contract. Time zone and availability expectations should also be double-checked for alignment to your nomadic plans!
  4. Are you a contractor or an employee, and potentially, what are your residency and tax implications?

Where do I find these remote jobs?

digital nomad lifestyle

There are a number of websites that specialize in posting remote-jobs, although they will not all be suitable for digital nomads. You will also find that some come with residency and/or time zone requirements. Here is a non-exclusive list of websites with remote jobs:

https://weworkremotely.com

https://www.flexjobs.com

https://www.workingnomads.co/jobs

https://angel.co/jobs

https://remotive.io/remote-jobs

What about creating my own business?

This is my preferred route. Being an extremely analytical person this is both a fascinating challenge and a very scary route! I’ve done a significant amount of research prior to starting this adventure and there are a number of remote business opportunities that I’ve considered.

If the entrepreneurial journey makes you a bit unsure, why not check out our Beginners Guide to Planning your Transition to Entrepreneur.

Selling Product

Drop-shipping – creating an online store and promoting/selling items from a third party catalog

  1. Upside – no inventory to hold, so upfront costs are small and low risk
  2. Downside – low margins to compensate for the low risk, products are not unique and therefore high competition

Retail Arbitrage – buying reduced goods in the retail marketplace and selling them on platforms like Amazon or eBay for a markup.

  1. Upside – online shopping is increasing and people are willing to pay more for the convenience
  2. Downside – inventory management and its associated risks are high-cost elements. And dragging a big warehouse of stock around with you doesn’t really define remote – but paying a logistics company to manage it is a high-cost option.

Selling Services

Consulting and Contracting – I have a number of valuable skills across business systems, data analysis and project costing

  1. Upside – consulting tends to be defined term contracts in industries that I already have contacts
  2. Downside – business can be very sporadic and can require location constraints, paid in arrears and often have to chase clients for payment

Freelancing – I view this is contracting mini! The projects tend to be much more “bite-sized” and can be done through dedicated websites (https://www.upwork.com, https://www.guru.com, https://www.peopleperhour.com, https://www.fiverr.com, etc) or by developing your own network of contacts for whom you freelance.

  1. Upside – as its effectively gig-based, there will be few location or time zone based issues.
  2. Downside – the freelancing websites are very competitive and you will find yourself starting out competing for desirable jobs with a multitude of others with more reviews and cheaper rates. Freelancing for local businesses requires you to be local long enough to build the personal relationships to get the work, however; if your freelance work is remote based there is no reason why once these relationships are in place they can’t move with you to your new location!

Passive income-generating business – Personally, I found this the most attractive option because passive income is when you continue to get paid long after the work is complete – some examples of passive income would include:

  • Royalties – ongoing payments from movies, songs, books or advertisements
  • Investment income – things like dividend payments or rental income on a property
  • Digital Products – think online courses and ebooks that may be downloaded for years to come

Or find out some more about it by reading this post about Why I Chose Wealthy Affiliate and then make up your mind.

  1. Upside –  it’s passive so an ongoing fairly steady income is the end goal.
  2. Downside – this is hard work or investment intensive and will not be for everyone. Whether you’re blogging or creating a digital product you will need to define your audience and deliver true value to generate an acceptable return on your effort. There are no guarantees of income and just like all investments (time or money) you will not see an immediate return, rather you are trying to build a long term sustainable return.

If you need some content tips, I’ve got 5 Simple Steps to Content Creation to help you through.

Is the Digital Nomad Lifestyle for you?

By now you have a pretty good idea of what is involved in becoming a digital nomad, and I’d love for you to follow my story as I work through this journey. If you’re still thinking the digital nomad lifestyle looks pretty good to you, I’d recommend the following summary steps:

  1. Scrutinize your finances – know how much money you need!
  2. Make a money plan and stick to it!
  3. Define your escape route – does it involve working remotely or working remotely for yourself?
  4. Visualize what your ideal nomadic lifestyle looks like, is it solitary or social? Is it local, international or a combination of the two
  5. Make sure that your escape route includes diversified income streams and can support your money plan and your ideal lifestyle – with a buffer for lean months!
  6. And when you’re ready, action your plan! Don’t feel like you need to jump in with both feet to start, my plan eases in over 6 months of slowing reducing my hours in my current job – making the transition gradual might be just the thing for you too!

I’d love to hear about your digital, remote, or nomadic lifestyles, experiences, or desires. Any tips and tricks would also be greatly received so please drop me a comment! Also, any comments on Donnie’s … um, attributes I’m sure are better kept as lovely personal memories – it would titillate him too much to have the whole of the internet know, and it would be the size of his head that we’d all struggle to deal with!

9 thoughts on “How To Make Money As A Digital Nomad”

  1. Great call to action for anyone looking to live the digital nomad life, absolutely possible and a very great explanation on how to achieve that goal.

    I’ll be sure to follow your adventure on this blog and I wish you much love and success.

    ~Johannes

  2. Thanks for sharing a great piece of content. What do you think, are the terms digital nomad and laptop lifestyle one of the same? I personally think they are and whichever name might be correct, I think it’s a great idea. Having time and space freedom is something more and more people are after and this article give a great insight into it. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Hi I think you’re correct on the interchangeability of the terms. Although I would like to think that there are some other forms of nomads still in existence that make their way without replying on the digital or laptop prefix to support themselves – although that may just be my romantic side!

      In light of this, I would also like to thing that there is a way embrace the time and space freedom following a more traditional creative trade type path although I suspect now it might be much more unique than the laptop lifestyle.

      Cheers,
      Lisa

  3. I wish I had come across your site 20 years ago. If I had I know I would of being a digital nomad. But then again it wasn’t so easy back then. I love your idea of traveling where, how, when and with who you decide to. Ya that beats the work time crunch thing hands down.

    Just a few years back I would of checked out some of the links for remote jobs but I think the passive income sounds like a better route to go for sure. Thanks for sharing your story and all the great advise within. Looking forward to your next post.

    1. Hi Rick,

      Thank you very much for your kind comments! I agree digital nomadism is very much of this time. In a way, I think it has also removed a lot of the stigma associated with the traditional nomadic lifestyle.

      While I’d love to go with 100% passive income, I am planning for it to take me several years to get there – so you can live vicariously through my various forays into both business development (active and passive income streams), and remote working via this blog – welcome to the journey!

      After all, as Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own “It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

      Cheers,
      Lisa

      1. Yes that is true isn’t it. And as Jim Rohn says, “Don’t wish it was easier!, Wish you were better!”
        Thanks for your reply
        Cheers to you as well

  4. Joining people working in the gig economy are digital nomads, a new type of worker that’s the changed the way we think about careers and travel.

    Simply put, these are people who don’t rely on a fixed location to do their job. Instead, they use technology and connectivity to complete their tasks as they explore new countries. They work remotely and can telecommute from anywhere on the globe, providing they have reliable internet access.

    Digital nomads typically work in fields like design, marketing, development, content creation, media, consulting and online tutoring. It’s a growing band of people, with predictions that their number will reach one billion by 2035.

    A new Stanford University study showed remote workers were 13 percent more productive than in-office workers and took less sick days. It would also seem that remote workers are more prepared to put in the extra hours to complete their tasks.

    A recent Joblift stuft revealed that vacancies for digital nomads have increased by 8 percent month-on-month in the UK, four times the rate of the traditional job market.

    So, while remote working positions currently account for only 0.03% of the UK job market, they are steadily rising.

    Most of the available positions are geared towards developers and programmers, with 20% of the vacancies being in these fields. Consultant positions were the second most requested, at 8 percent. Data entry processors followed this at 6 percent, sales managers at 4 percent and help desk staff at 3 percent.

    Is this the life for you?

    There will always be some risk associated with being a digital nomad, but if you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person there can be few things more exhilarating or rewarding than traveling the World, discovering different cultures, and experiencing life in new and exciting ways.

    If you value certainty over adventure and would worry about running out of money and having to deal with foreign food, it may not be the right choice for you.

    1. Hi Dave,

      Valuable info well put! Although I have spent a lot of time in the corporate world having to deal with foreign food as well – so that can’t be uniquely linked to a digital lifestyle.

      At the moment, the biggest risk to my future nomadic lifestyle are the current constraints on movement associated with Covid-19, but no matter – it means I will have to build a sustainable remote business from the comfort of home first and then take it on the road when the time is right.

      Thanks,
      Lisa

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