How to Be a Digital Nomad When You Work a 9-5

Digital nomadism is on the rise – and not just for freelancers or VanLifers. Coined in a 1997 book aptly titled “The Digital Nomad,” these traveling workers are defined as someone who uses technology to do their jobs, and eschews one fixed location to work from in favor of traveling like – you guessed it – a nomad. And while the book treated digital nomads more like a pipe dream, these days, a digital nomad is more than just a sci-fi fantasy for millions of workers worldwide.

A 2020 report from MBO Partners recounts that traditional nine to five workers transitioning to a digital nomad lifestyle has grown by 96%, and up to 6.3 million workers are now spending their time abroad. While the majority (53%) are interested in continuing the nomadic lifestyle for over two years, a large chunk (34%) plan to be digital nomads for less than a year. The majority of those in the former category are freelancers or self-employed, but the remaining 41% are all traditional workers who have found that wandering the globe has changed their lives for the better.

In general, digital nomadism is both feasible and rewarding for those working in full-time remote digs. Roles most conducive to digital nomadism are IT, education, consulting, coaching and research, as each category represents around 11-12% of digital nomads. Sales, marketing, creative services or PR also each constitute 8-9% of the digital nomad sample. And as for the quality of life of these white-collar workers, a little over 81% of digital nomads report being highly satisfied with their living and working situations.

Upsides and downsides

If the life of a digital nomad is starting to sound good to you, before you call the movers and book your airline tickets, you need to consider if the benefits of digital nomadism will be better than the inevitable issues.

1. Traveling

The best part of being a digital nomad is the reason you decided to do it in the first place – you love traveling! Whether it’s backpacking through the Alps or sitting with a cappuccino in a Brazilian beach town, your wanderlust has taken you around the world and back. And being a digital nomad means you can up and leave one country and hop to another just as much as you want to – just make sure that you have all your visas lined up, as these days, travel restrictions can produce a serious amount of infuriating red tape.

2. Freedom to work different hours

If you’re not usually beholden to meetings or calls, being a digital nomad can grant you something you may never have had before – the freedom to choose your own work hours. If there’s a large time difference and you have a job where most of your weekdays involve sitting in front of a computer for eight hours straight, you may end up working through the night, and miss out on the fun daytime touristy activities of your new location. That being said, if your boss is accomodating, or your job doesn’t require a lot of in-the-moment communication, being a digital nomad may grant you the opportunity for a much more flexible work schedule.

3. Loneliness

Unfortunately, the problem of loneliness is a painful reality of digital nomadism. Being away from your family, friends, and home base, perhaps somewhere you don’t even speak the language, you could feel a bit isolated. This sense of meditative seclusion can be really beneficial for someone who’s looking to adopt the digital nomad lifestyle as a means of learning more about themselves. And if your only communications are with coworkers through a screen, it might not seem like that much of a difference to go elsewhere. But immersing yourself in a new society while juggling the draining daily dramas of remote working can be more exhausting than you’d anticipate if you don’t go in with eyes wide open.

4. WiFi connectivity

You may be interested in becoming a digital nomad if you don’t feel beholden to the stability that others may crave. But on a more practical note, if there’s one piece of stability we all require in the modern world, it’s a WiFi connection. So just as the pastoral nomads of yore wandered to find fields for their oxen to graze, you too will wander this big, beautiful earth in an attempt to find WiFi hotspots. While you might assume that everywhere has reasonable WiFi these days, you’ve got to be prepared for the possibility of a shaky internet connection in a foreign country.

How to start

If you haven’t been scared off by the potential hiccups in your future nomadic journey, congratulations! You’re ready to get planning – all you need to know is where you’re going, how you’ll get there, what the cost will be, and if your employer will allow you to go in the first place. Then, you’ll be all ready to hit the road.

1. See if it’s feasible in your role

If you’re really looking to travel the world for the sake of your mental and physical health, you can always discuss taking a leave of absence or work gap from your company if you’re high enough on the food chain. If you have a proven record of solid, reliable work, you may also be in a good position to ask for some leniency, as long as you prove that your travel lifestyle doesn’t get in the way of your work duties.

2. Find your mission

Once your job clears your travel plans, the next thing you need to do is figure out where you’re going, and why. If you just set out on a road to nowhere, you may end up financially and socially destitute before you know it. But if you venture out into the nomadic lifestyle with a goal in mind (or at least a few places you’ve always wanted to explore) you’ll get more out of your trip.

3. Do a little budgeting magic

Many digital nomads report having a passive income that they live off of. But chances are you’re a full-time nine to five worker, and you may not have wealthy parents or a rental property funding your Eat, Pray, Love experience. Situationally, you may decide that you need some supplementary income dependent on the location you’ll be in, as some places There are plenty of in-person opportunities to do so on international work program job boards, or you can dabble in the worlds of freelancing or consulting, ss long as it doesn’t interfere with your main role.

4. Work out the logistics

Finally, it’s time to get serious about the ins and outs of your trip. There are plenty of companies who will move your items into a storage unit and store them as long as you’d like – there are even companies that will pack your stuff for you if you really loathe moving. There’s also a mega-list of which countries require tourist visas, and how long you’re permitted to stay in each place. Once you’ve got all the paperwork out of the way, you can always find lodging with the help of technology, as companies like Airbnb report that stays of over 28-day stays are at an all-time high.

5. Make a backup plan

Ultimately, while it may seem overwhelming or discombobulating to pack up your whole life and move across the world (or just the country), the emotional strain is far greater than the logistical strain. Being a digital nomad isn’t for everyone, and some may crave a drastic change when they just need a vacation. If you do plan on leaving for a life of international intrigue, make sure you have a friend or family member back in the states with a couch to crash on in case you decide that the life of a nomad isn’t for you.

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