The fact that you’re reading these lines shows that the Digital Nomad term got your attention.
What exactly is so fascinating about Digital Nomads?
Are we just curious about these “lucky” people who travel the world, enjoy cocktails at the beach while earning money from their laptops? And we just wonder how the hell they did it?
Or is the concept of location independent working and earning money while traveling that fascinates us most?
The imagination of sitting at the beach, watching people chilling in the sun and enjoying fresh coconut juice while doing work only 3-4h a day is quite intriguing, isn’t it?
Well, this is what most people probably picture in their head when they come across the term “Digital Nomad”.
Having all the freedom to do whatever you want and to go wherever you want. And the best part of it? No boss who tells you what to do and how to do it.
What is a Digital Nomad?
For those who never heard of Digital Nomads before here is a quick definition. Simply put, a Digital Nomad is someone who runs his location independent business by leveraging digital telecommunication technology.
The idea of the Digital Nomad is existing for quite a while now and is nothing that just came out of nowhere. In the past many people were already working while traveling but it’s worth mentioning that the whole concept of working location independently got a big push since the 4-hour workweek by Tim Ferris.
Another thing that helped to increase the popularity is the advancement of computer technology and high speed Internet access that made working from anywhere in the world easier than ever before.
Why do some people become Digital Nomads?
Recent surveys and statistics of the working force in America are forecasting that until 2020 more than 40% of people will be contractors. This shows the tendency of people moving away from working in cubicles and becoming more independently is increasingly gaining more traction.
By offering their services to companies or starting their own businesses they become more independent and flexible.
With the advancement of technology it becomes more easy to find jobs than ever before. Now looking for work is not strictly limited to your location anymore but platforms such as Upwork help people to connect with clients across the globe.
But not only digital platforms are popping up like mushrooms but also physical Co-Working spaces, such as Wework are about to explode in popularity. Working in Co-Working spaces gives you a sense of being part of a community. You can connect with people and learning from them which helps to avoid the feeling of being isolated and just working on your own.
Yet, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone wants to become a Digital Nomad. Many are just attracted by the fact that they don’t have to commute 3h each day to get to work and then being stuck in a cubicle to do work they don’t love.
Only a few are really interested (and also willing to take the risk) to take the whole concept to the next level and become really location independent.
How does a Digital Nomad make money?
But the most burning question everyone probably has: How do these people make a living? How do they work, earn money and travel full time at the same time?
Traveling the world and working from anywhere seems like a dream job for many. There are many ways of earning money online but from what I’ve seen these are the most common ways how Digital Nomads make a living:
This is the way of least resistance. Many Digital Nomads start out by providing their services to other people: aka freelancing. This is the easiest way to start and generate money to support their lifestyle. There is no upfront monetary investment necessary. Just time investment to build your portfolio / website and connect with potential clients.
Platforms such as Upwork (previously oDesk), Fiverr or freelancer.com are very helpful in order to find clients and the right job based on your skill set. Especially if you travel the world, live in cheap places and earn hourly rates like in the western world, you can have a pretty good life.
2. Affiliate Marketing / Ads
Combining their passion for traveling a lot of Digital Nomads start with travel blogs where they share travel tips and tools. Very often these blogs include advertisement and affiliate links. Due to the high popularity of youtube and the advancement of camera technology video blogging (vlogging) becomes a popular option to generate money as well.
Especially with a high number of followers and massive views, people can make quite a bit of money by turning ads on before the video starts. Yet, in order to make a living out of ads and affiliate links, you need high traffic with at least 30.000 visitors a month in order to be really profitable.
3. Selling Products online
Another (more obvious) way to make money online is to sell products through an online shop. This method is more time consuming and requires more effort, therefore it’s not the first choice for most people. There are different approaches when it comes to selling products online, but Amazon FBA and Dropshipping seem to be the most popular ones.
With Amazon FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) you order ready made products and send them to Amazon Warehouses. Storing, Shipping and Customer Services are handled by Amazon so you don’t need to worry about any of that.
The downside are the fees that you need to pay for storing, shipping and services which pushes down your margin. Amazon FBA also requires a lot of upfront investment in terms of time and money (you need to do research and order samples).
On average Amazon FBA costs between 5.000-10.000 USD to get started (e.g. if you order 100 items of 5 products in different categories for 20 USD)
With Dropshipping you also sell products off the shelves but the biggest difference to FBA is that you don’t need to order and store products upfront. You just build the online store and once you get the order in, you forward the shipping details to your Wholesaler who sends the product to your customer.
With Dropshipping your margin will be higher because you handle customer service yourself and don’t need to pay for storing.
The most tricky part about Dropshipping is that you have to build the online store yourself and promote it heavily in order to get traffic on your site. This can take a while until you are profitable enough but the initial costs are very low compared to Amazon FBA where you have to order a couple of hundred products in order to keep costs for logistics low.
Publishing in the past was a pain in the butt because you had to go through a publisher. This outdated system was really time consuming and could took months until your book faced any customers.
Nowadays with ebooks and kindles becoming more popular it is so much easier to publish content and make it available to everyone. With Kindle Publishing your ebook can be published within hours and all you need to do is to upload a word document. With CreateSpace amazon also offers authors the possibility to create a printed version of their books.
Digital Nomads create their own ebooks and sell it through amazon or their website. The advantage with amazon is exposure but if you publish on your own website your margin will be higher.
5. Coaching & Teaching
The last popular way for Digital Nomads to make money is teaching or coaching people. It is a bit difficult to draw a line between all the different concepts but in general it is about knowledge sharing and helping people. You can either teach people by publishing a book or creating an online course on udemy.
Coaching in my opinion goes more into the direction of helping people on a more personal and emotional level and creating stronger connections to individuals. Popular topics seem to be business coaching, life style coaching and health and fitness (mindfulness: yoga + vegan). Many Digital Nomads offer coaching sessions via Skype.
The challenges as a Digital Nomad
After knowing how to make money while traveling, you probably ask yourself if you should jump into the cold water and just give it a try?
To help with your decision, let’s not only have a look at the ups but also downsides and challenges Digital Nomads normally face in daily life.
1. High Speed internet is not available everywhere
When you are traveling and your whole business is running online high speed internet becomes a necessity. Especially when you do a lot of vlogs it can take ages to upload videos. Therefore as a Digital Nomad you have to make smart decisions about your destinations and plan ahead. Websites such as nomadlist.com are very helpful to find places that offer a great eco-system for Digital Nomads to survive.
2. It can be tiring to be constantly on the move
The biggest issue you probably run into as a Digital Nomad are probably visa challenges. Because most of the time you are traveling with a tourist visa, you are only allowed to stay a limited time in a country. After that you have to either move on or do a border run where you leave the country and enter again to reset your time limit.
This can be challenging because it prevents you from building a solid home base.
Being on the constant move can also be heavily contra productive and decrease your output which has direct influence on your business.
3. It can be lonely at times
You probably know the feeling when leaving university. Starting a new job and getting into a new environment can create many challenges when it comes to maintaining friendships. Now imagine you are switching places constantly. Although you will meet new people every day, maintaining relationships becomes very hard. Especially if you are far from family and close friends, it can become very lonely and if you are not constantly putting effort in maintaining friendships, they will disappear at some point.
4. Working with clients in different timezones
If you decide to follow the path of a freelancer and being on the constant move it can become a tough challenge when it comes to collaboration. Collaborating remotely is already difficult enough, but if you are in a different timezone with 6h time difference or more, it’s another challenge. Because you have to please the client, you sometimes have to make sacrifices and probably need to even wake up in the middle of the night to take calls.
5. The constant fear of running out of money
Depending on the type of business you have, as someone who doesn’t work for a company you will not be able to enjoy the benefits of having a monthly paycheck. The fear of running out of money can be quite disturbing when you start out and the psychological impact should not be underestimated. Especially if you are freelancing the fear is bigger, because if you don’t work you will not earn any money. Whereas if you create a business that generates passive income you will likely have more stability. Nevertheless, I believe if your back is put against the wall it will push you to another level which is a great for your Personal Development.
The reward for taking the risk
The challenges mentioned above may sound quite intimidating but if you consider what benefits you gain along the way you might want to rethink.
1. You have ultimate freedom
This is probably the main reason why people pursue the path of a Digital Nomad. The thought of commuting 3h to work every day, being stuck at the desk and having only 2 weeks of vacation every year for the rest of your life is not really the most compelling one. Digital Nomads are not driven by money, but seek to take full ownership of their time and focus on experiences instead.
Millennials are highly energetic and explorative. The will to fulfill their dreams and live life on their own terms is so much stronger than in the past. And with todays technology it was never easier to start a business with your laptop than ever before.
Yet, too many people are picturing that Digital Nomads are just having fun all the time, sitting on the beach drinking cocktails and working only 3h a day.
But reality is that if you are actually taking it seriously and want to get more out of your life you will be working more than in your full time job.
If you are a hustler and can pursue your own projects you will be likely working 12-14h a day. At this point work doesn’t seem like work anymore because you love what you do.
2. You are investing in yourself
You probably came across the wisdom before that you should live for the experiences rather than money are climbing up a career ladder. If you travel the world, you get exposed to so many new impressions that will let you grow incredibly on a personal level. Experiences will define who you are and stay with you forever.
Because you also have to take care of your own business, you will learn skills that you wouldn’t normally learn in your corporate job. If you are working for a big company, you are usually responsible for one area whereas a business owner has to deal with many different challenges at a time.
3. You will meet amazing people
As a Digital Nomad you will become a great networker and communicator. Why? Because you need to learn selling and therefore you need to learn to connect to people.
Especially because you have the opportunity to travel to many countries and work from different places in the world, you will meet so many different types of people that will not only add value to your personal but also to your professional life.
Expanding your network will open new doors and reveal new opportunities to grow.
Making friendships for life and being surrounded by lovely people will create happiness and isn’t that the most important thing in life?
Should you become a Digital Nomad?
To answer your question if you should become a Digital Nomad or not it really depends on your personal circumstances. If you are young, energetic, single and unhappy with your job right now, you really have nothing to lose and should give it a try.
Because the worse thing that can happen is that you fail and have to move back and find a job.
Nevertheless, the experiences you will gain along the way are already worth taking the risk. And life will go on anyway.
If you have family and need some stability in your life then you probably should not do it. Freedom and independency can also be achieved differently. You don’t have to travel the world to be happy or to grow. The most important thing is that you are content and keep learning. In a later article I will explain how you can start a side hustle while having a job.
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