You’ve probably seen the videos on youtube or other platforms showing the adventures being had by seemingly overly lucky people, while travelling the country or world in a van or yacht or motorbike etc., and you’ve dreamed of doing something similar.. just living where you want, how you want, and somehow making money online along the way to keep you going. Well the good news is you don’t need to be overly lucky, or rich, or look like a supermodel.
There are many ways to become a digital nomad, and in many ways it is now easier than ever (and also harder). Read on to find out how you too could live the dream and make bank from home, even when your home is constantly moving…
Of course these days we’re still in the middle of the Covid pandemic, which has brought certain challenges to those wanting to live the digital nomad lifestyle. Many international borders are closed to tourists, proof of vaccination and/or negative covid tests are required to enter many places. This can limit your nomadic options in terms of where in the world you’d like to travel or live, but the lifestyle can be done in your own country as well, and in fact doing that can be a great way to do a trial run in a safer place until restrictions are lifted.
Additionally, the pandemic has forced many employers to allow their staff to work remote, which is just what a digital nomad needs. Companies that previously were against having remote workers, have now embraced it, and found that it works and in many ways can be better than the old way.
So Covid has been both a curse and a blessing, a challenge and opportunity – reach out and grab that opportunity!
How to travel
There are many kinds of digital nomad, some more mobile than others. Some nomads may stay in one location for months at a time or longer, while others are constantly moving from place to place, often with their own transport which doubles as home and office.
YouTube is full of videos of people living in vans and travelling all over. Often the videos will show the whole process starting from converting an old Transit van into a campervan (or just outright buying a campervan).
These days a van can be made quite comfortable with all the luxuries of home, as well as being a mobile office or workshop. Some people go for a more minimalist van conversion, perhaps just a mattress, portapotty, a few jerrycans for water storage, and maybe a solar charger to stick on the roof when parked.
Either way is fine if it gets you where you want to go and allows you to live the nomad lifestyle. You can and surely will adapt and upgrade along the way, so don’t delay your journey just to get the van “perfect”.
For the more intrepid nomad, a motorbike can get you to those exotic faraway locations that a Transit van could never reach. It’s also going to be a lot cheaper to buy a bike, maintain it, and fuel it.
Of course there’s a very limited carrying capacity on a bike, you certainly can’t live in a bike, but with a decent set of panniers you can carry quite a lot – including a tent, which you can live in.
For the solo digital nomad adventurer, a bike may be all you need – just get yourself an adventure bike like the Royal Enfield Himalayan, and hit the road.
For those nomads that dream of the deep blue sea, spending their days sailing the world and exploring exotic islands, a yacht is the way to go, or a boat of some kind, and there are many kinds.
There’s an old age along the lines of “a yacht is a hole in the water you throw your money into”, which can be uncomfortably close to the truth, as boats cost a lot to buy and a lot to maintain and require lots of special equipment that helps keep the crew alive on those epic ocean crossings.
However, there’s another adage that says “go small, go now”, which basically means don’t spend your life saving up for that megayacht you think you need, just get something small and affordable now and go forth. Of course it still needs to be safe and suitable for the type of voyages you plan to take, but there are people who have spent years travelling the world on tiny sailboats.
For some inspiration, check out “Sailing Alone Around the World” by Joshua Slocum, or the 8 year voyage in “Shrimpy”, an 18 foot sailboat, by Shane Acton. Another old but good one is The £200 Millionaire.
Not every nomad brings their house with them, or has their own transport. Many, perhaps even most, simply travel on public transport in the usual way. Just hop on a plane (COVID restrictions permitting), to whatever part of the world you want to hang out in for a while, then train, bus or taxi to a hotel, hostel, or airbnb and get to work.
For some, the best way to travel is on foot (or maybe bicycle) because you get to see more along the way, you’re not in a hurry, and you keep fit! Sure you can’t cross oceans on foot, so may have to take a plane or ship to reach the next continent on your route. You can still make epic journeys though, and build a huge social following along the way, which brings in the money to keep on living the digital nomad lifestyle.
Where to travel
The world is your oyster (subject to the latest pandemic waves), so go wherever your heart desires. Perhaps an exotic island in Thailand, or a misty mountain in India, or maybe jungle is your thing, or the desert, or a big metropolis like London, Tokyo, Paris, Sydney, Delhi, Seoul…
These days it’s relatively easy to apply for visas from anywhere, as many countries allow you to do that online, and all the info you need regarding travel to and in a country, and where to live while there, can be found online.
Where to live
Wherever you decide to go on your nomad journey, you will need a place to stay while there. If you brought your home with you, such as a van nomad or boat nomad, then most of the time you won’t be looking to rent a room anywhere, you just need a place to park your van or an anchorage or marina for your boat, or even a campsite (organised or wild) for your tent.
For everyone else, you will be looking for a room, apartment or house to rent for a while.
If you’re travelling on a shoestring or just like the backpacker vibe, there’s always a cheap, character filled, hostel to be found. You may just need a bed in a shared room, and that’s one of the cheapest options. However I’d recommend getting your own room if you plan to work while there, which is likely as a digital nomad, rather than just someone on a long holiday. Most hostels do have private rooms as well, so just make sure they have decent wifi and go for that option.
If your digital nomad business is doing well, you could go for a proper hotel room with room service and all the luxuries. For longer stays, you can often negotiate a significant discount, making it far more affordable. A decent hotel typically provides benefits such as improved security, professional management, reliable wifi connectivity, peaceful nights, and sometimes even business networking opportunities.
Of course airbnb is ubiquitous these days, and you can find some great deals in cool locations. Longer stays usually provide big discounts, and you can “live like a local” to some extent. In the big cities, they can be very expensive though, but probably you can find something suitable even if it means being a little further from the city center. Perhaps even get a house or villa and share the cost with other nomads.
Who doesn’t like free? Couch surfing can be a great solution when you need a place to stay while on your journey. However, this is more suited to short stays of perhaps one or two nights. Most people won’t really want digital nomads moving in for weeks or months (unless they are paying).
How to make money
A true digital nomad makes a living while wandering the world. Otherwise you’re just on an extended holiday and living off your savings. It’s now easier than ever to work remotely. That is partly due to COVID forcing employers to allow staff to work from home, and partly due to advances in technology, particularly communications and social networks.
There is a somewhat skewed impression that digital nomads all make money with video channels and live streams, since those that do are the only ones actually seen, but there are in fact many more who make a living is other less public ways.
There are of course many ways to finance the digital nomad lifestyle, but here are a few…
By its nature, one of the more visible ways to make money as a digital nomad is with videos and streams on YouTube, Twitch and other such platforms. People love to follow along with adventures, dreaming of doing the same, and so you can earn money just by recording your travels.
But of course there are other ways, often far more lucrative, to make money with videos. Do videos talking about or teaching what you know, or even what you eat (mukbang is a mystery to me but hugely popular), or gaming, or tech, or crypto or tech and crypto (TechLead apparently makes around $50k/month from his channel!).
If writing is your thing, rather than video streaming, you can easily create a blog using a service such as WordPress. Publish articles regularly and build up a following there, tied in to your social networks as well. Stick some ads on (Google Ads, WordPress ads, Adroll for retargeting, Amazon affiliate links, etc), and also start your own mailing list using a service such as MailChimp to give you greater reach beyond your web site.
If you have a skill that can be offered online, such as graphic design, web development, marketing, translation, audio production, teaching, writing, etc etc, you can easily do that from anywhere in the world. Freelance marketplaces such as Upwork and Fiverr provide all the tools and resources you need, as well as a built-in pool of potential clients.
Many digital nomads sell their own branded merchandise as a sideline income source. This is of course harder when you are just starting out and nobody knows you. When you have built a sizeable following though, you can sell these things to your fans. Services such as CafePress and Zazzle make it easy to do – you can create and sell your own branded facemasks!
Of course online money making is not the only way. There are often places you can pick up casual work or temporary jobs to earn some money to keep you going until the next stop of your journey. Jobs in agriculture, or Amazon warehouses, or perhaps offering some service of your own – maybe you are a sailmaker, mechanic, carpenter, or teacher of some kind. Once you find a place you want to stay for a while, put the word out and see if you can pick up some odd jobs.
Are you musically inclined? If you’re staying in a busy place, and have a guitar or some other instrument, or even just your voice, you could earn a nice income just performing on the street (where allowed).
Cryptocurrency & NFTs
Disclaimer: not financial advice – crypto trading is very high risk. Never spend more than you can afford to lose!
Most people have heard of Bitcoin these days, and if you’d heard of it 10 years ago when it was in its early days, and had actually bought some and held on to it, you could be extremely wealthy now.
These days there are many more crypto coins and tokens available to “invest” in. Ethereum is another popular one, and you can see thousands more at CoinMarketCap. There’s even one created recently by a popular YouTuber, which you can learn about at milliontoken.org. It’s a “social token” and very much depends on the community to get involved, build use cases, and promote it (see lionrun.io for example). Maybe one day it will be worth a fortune, the next bitcoin, only time will tell.
It’s getting easier than ever to get into the crypto space, but still not exactly simple and there are many dangers, many scams..
You’ll need a wallet such as Metamask, and a way to buy whatever crypto you are interested in – centralized exchanges such as Binance, Crypto.com, Coinbase are popular choices – note that they will require identity verification due to “KYC” laws (know your customer), which can be off-putting to some.
You can even earn interest on crypto by “staking” it – this is offered by many exchanges (such as those mentioned above), and some wallets. The interest is typically paid in the same cryptocurrency though and the value of that can go either way. But it’s potentially a nice source of passive income.
There are various strategies to potentially make money with crypto – day trading, scalping, or just holding (“HODL“) for the long term in the hope that value increases (as it did with bitcoin).
NFTs are another facet of the crypto world which is very hot right now – you can buy and sell NFTs (non-fungible tokens) which are typically digital art works of various kinds such as pixelized avatars, photographs, or even just bits of text. They can be traded on platforms such as OpenSea, and can even be used in games, such as the aforementioned lionrun.io. You can easily learn how to create NFTs and make money with them, even if you are as artistically challenged as me!
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – multiple income streams help ensure you can keep on your journey. You never know when once source will dry up so don’t pin everything to that.. diversify.
There’s so much fancy tech around now, making it relatively easy to get online anywhere in the world, keep in touch and make a living, and stay healthy wherever you may be.
Pretty much every smartphone nowadays can function as a mobile hotspot, allowing you to connect your laptop or tablet to the net using WiFi. But you can also get dedicated mobile hotspot gadgets that allow you to keep your phone free for other uses (and not drain its battery), and work with simcards all over the world.
If you’re going to be off-grid, in a sunny part of the world, a portable solar charger can be a life saver. They can be small and foldable, and quickly deployed to charge up your phones or other devices.
Staying healthy is critical and clean water is not always easy to find. A portable water filter can save the day – these can be very small, such as a “life straw“.
If you’re camping, or even living in a van, a portable shower may be needed. There’s loads on amazon, but basically they consist of a hose pipe, a pump (often manual), and a curtain/tent.
If you plan to busk along the way to make some money, or just like to play guitar, a travel guitar is invaluable.
You will of course need a laptop of some kind. Whether you’re an Apple fan or Windows, or even Linux, I recommend something with at least 16GB of memory and the longest battery life you can find. One of the new Macbooks with the M1 processor for example.
If you do get into cryptocurrency, you should probably get a hardware wallet for safety. Popular choices include Ledger and Trezor.
If photography is your thing, you may want to invest in a decent SLR camera, rather than rely on your phone camera, perhaps also a GoPro for those action shots, and perhaps a camera stabilizer.
When your health fails, your journey ends. Make sure to take care of it! Keep fit, eat a healthy diet, don’t smoke or drink too much alcohol, wear sun screen… the usual things. Take care of your mental health as well.
It is also very important to have suitable health insurance if you are travelling abroad. If you need emergency medical treatment, or even just routine in some parts of the world, you can quickly end up out of money or worse…
Hit the Road
What are you waiting for? Make a plan for earning on the journey, get some starter funds saved, and go for it… escape the rat race, quit the 9 to 5 (not financial advice), and live your life the way you want, while you still can.
If you are a digital nomad, or planning to be, let me know in the comments!