For several years, I’ve had a yearning to wander and travel. A lot of people wait until retirement, but I really wanted to do it while I’m young. In mid-2018, my boyfriend and I decided to leave our desk jobs and make it happen. We spent a few months backpacking abroad. When we returned to the U.S., we bought a used RV, put our stuff in storage, and hit the road. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple. There was a lot of planning beforehand!
If you’re like me, the drive to travel and see the world is high in your blood, and you want to become the kind of digital nomad you’ve dreamed of for years — starting your workday in a beautiful, remote, or exotic place, and maybe ending it somewhere else entirely. However, you can’t imagine how you’d be able to afford this lifestyle, even if it would ultimately pay off for you with better business opportunities.
Fortunately, a growing number of individuals have learned how to step outside the grid and travel the world while making money. This lifestyle change can minimize many types of payments, but will also create some new ones. The shift can be managed by preparation and logistical planning, so make sure to read the following tips to learn how to become a successful digital nomad.
1. Start with a Budget
Take the time to imagine everything your new mobile life will need and create a workable budget from there. You’ll need to plan for the logistics of your travels, such as transportation, accommodations, food, mobile data plans, entertainment options, and much more. Brainstorm what you like to do when you’re on the road and then create a budget that meets these needs. Always look for things that you can trim out of your expenses, such as learning how to cook simple meals in hotel rooms instead of eating out every night. This process can be a challenging one if you aren’t smart with your cash and your travel plan.
If you choose to keep a home base while you’re on the road, your costs will go up considerably. Yes, sometimes even the busiest nomadic businessperson needs a base where they can rest when they need a break, but maintaining such a place incurs its own expenses separate from your travel costs. Set up automatic rent and bill payments, if possible, to ensure that you keep your bills paid.
You may also want to consider renting a cheap apartment anyplace you frequently visit. For example, if you’re not a fan of winter weather, living expenses in Tampa are surprisingly affordable and may make the nomadic lifestyle easier for you. After all, even the busiest Viking warriors had several bases throughout their territory where they would stay when they needed to relax.
2. Find a Way to Make Money
Before you plan your travel route and the places you plan on visiting, you need to find a way to make money while you’re traveling. It’s important to have a career option that will provide you with a stable and consistent source of income. If you already have a job, talk to them about working mobile. Many companies will let you work in this way, particularly computing, writing, and networking jobs. Alternately, you could start a new business or become a freelancer and expand your operating range while traveling.
When we put our full-time digital nomad plan into action, I was already working remotely some of the time. I’d worked intermittently during several months traveling Europe and Asia (and later South America), so that helped me work out a lot of kinks related to connectivity and data usage, etc. With the domestic RV travel we’re doing now, the issues are partially the same, partially different; we’ve mostly traded RV parks for AirBnBs and hostels, but it’s still a daily puzzle finding solid internet access — and enough time — to get work done.
Altogether, though, I’ve found that the right technology has made it much easier to connect with clients and collaborators — and sometimes a networking opportunity shapes the itinerary in a useful way. For example, you could travel to trade shows in your industry, connect with new potential business partners, and get their contact information. Traveling to trade shows from a typical static living situation can be tough, but as a digital nomad, you can go where you want to go and do what you want to do. With some strategic planning, you could hit all of the most important trade shows in your field.
Another smart way to make money is to rent out your home while you’re on the road. This step is significant because it keeps your home “working” for when you’re ready to take a break, but turns it into a money-making machine while you’re away. Make sure that you find a renter whom you can trust, though, as some people may leave your home in a mess and refuse to pay for repairs.
During your travels, make sure you track all your expenses and calculate your tax burden accordingly. Since your digital nomadic lifestyle encompasses your business, you can write off many of your travel expenses and save yourself money. Talk to a tax agent if this step makes you nervous, though, to ensure that you don’t make any expensive mistakes.
3. Create a Simple Travel Route
Once you fully understand your financial situation, you need to make plans for your travel route. You shouldn’t move randomly across the country or the world, but instead create a path that makes sense. Pick cities where you know you can make money or where you’ve never been before. Visiting new areas increases your chances of making fresh business contacts and also makes your travel more exciting.
Start by pinpointing the cities you want to hit on your trip and designing a simple and efficient route between them. Try to avoid doubling back on any area unless you can’t avoid it. Make sure your route takes into consideration the transportation options, timetables, and changing weather conditions in and between each of your destinations.
It doesn’t always go perfectly — another nomadic lesson I learned. On our very first outing after storing our stuff in Tampa, my boyfriend and I decided we’d drive straight to Michigan, then spend the summer wandering back south through the Midwest to take advantage of nice weather. But in Tennessee, a spur-of-the-moment side trip meant to take us from Dollywood to Graceland ran us instead into a massive thunderstorm. Sitting roadside in a swaying RV buffeted by tree branches is not a great feeling! After we’d weathered the storm and got back on the road, we sat for hours in what we later learned was festival traffic during Nashville’s music festival season. Since then, we’ve kept a close eye on events calendars and weather reports for the areas we’re heading into.
4. Create a Coping Method for Post-Travel Blues
If you have a home base where you retreat to after your travels, you may feel comfortable and relaxed after every trip. However, sometimes extended trips as a digital nomad can create a different situation: People often become used to life on the road and come to prefer that lifestyle. You may become uncomfortable or even anxious at home. This situation can be challenging.
If this describes you, try to give yourself time and space to re-acclimate to your home. Find a way to “come down” from the excitement of traveling, such as meditating during the trip or revisiting places you know well, and reconnecting with the people who make you feel happy. This can help calm your nerves and to make unwinding at home between travels easier to handle.
These tips can help you cultivate your best chance to become a digital nomad and live the life you want for yourself. With some preparation and smart planning, you can live that nomadic life to its fullest.
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