5 tips for becoming a successful digital nomad

Dec 28, 2018

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

The word ‘freelance’ originates in the 12th and 14th centuries when hired soldiers were crucial for military campaigns. Over generations, the word has morphed into a noun that illustrates a lifestyle for 57 million people in the US (Freelancers Union 2018). Projections show that by 2020 43% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers.

Freelancing has huge advantages including the ability to set your own work schedule (forget the cliché 9-5), control your workload and work relationships, and avoid commuting times. This generation also has the benefit of utilizing technologies like Slack and Trello. Freelancing has evolved into a less-traditional ‘remote work’ classification where 47% of millennial workers fall into place.

I have spent the last year traveling around the world with a program called Remote Year. If you have a ‘remote job’, apply, and are accepted, you have the chance to live in a different city each month for 12 months. With the $2,000 monthly payment, Remote Year sorts out where you will live (usually Airbnb-esque apartments), a co-working space, and major transport from city to city. It’s a deal and really allowed me to embrace my job as an entrepreneurial business owner of a digital marketing company for businesses doing “good” for the planet.

In each place I’ve lived, from Marrakech to Prague, Cape Town, and Buenos Aires, a whole new set of challenges and culture has been provided. In an effort to maintain some sort of consistency, I’ve pulled together a list of 5 tips for fellow traveling entrepreneurs:

Don’t be afraid to spend money… in order to make money

Spending additional money to attend trade shows/conferences comes up most frequently for me. When you’re already out of town, it’s tough to justify spending even more for a new plane ticket and then the show, itself. But if you look at the place you’re in as a launchpad for a whole new region of business opportunities, the spend makes more sense. If you are able to get five leads from a conference and land two, you’re looking at profiting off that conference, and making connections in a whole new part of the world. Let’s also say you do really well with those two clients and they refer you to two more, then you just doubled, tripled, and quadrupled your initial investment and begin making a name for yourself in a place outside of the US.

Take advantage of digital tools

When you’re working as a digital nomad, it’s important to make sure you have all your stuff together. That means organizing client work, invoicing, expense records, contracts, and accounting. There are so many tools out there that can help simplify these tasks and allow for more freedom to travel independently. AndCo is a great accounting software that manages everything from invoices to proposals and expenses. I also use Slack frequently with clients to exchange documents and chat simultaneously. With Remote Year, we also use Slack to coordinate side trips and tap into local resources in each country.

Travel to warm countries

This one is really simple because the sun is always beneficial. But when you think about it, as a traveler who also needs to carry computers and any crucial hardware, the weight of your clothes plays a huge role in travel budget. Winter clothing is heavy ($150 overweight baggage fees are no fun), take up a lot of space, and costs a lot of money. Stay in warm countries and minimize how much you need to be carrying (and overall wellbeing!).

Tax advantage of the tax benefits (!)

This one is huge. If you’re outside of the USA for 330 out of 365 days in the year, you can qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exemption (talk to a tax professional to see if your situation applies). This income exemption covers your first 101.5K. If you were to make $101,500 – you’d be paying $26,246 in taxes. That’s a lot of money to be saving. There are expat tax experts online who can really help with the filing process.

Be prepared for the inevitable logistical nightmares

Shaky Wi-Fi and lack of privacy for client calls came up frequently while traveling this year. Coordinating calls using three different time zones, alone, is nightmarish. Investing in a mobile hotspot can be very useful when you’re, for example, exploring the Sahara Desert. Universal adaptor plugs, a powerful external charger pack, and noise canceling headphones are all tech gadgets that come in extremely handy when you’re facing a remote work headache.

According to the Freelancing in America study, 71% of freelancers say that the amount of work they obtained online has significantly increased in the last year. With that increase comes an even more exciting opportunity for the remote workforce: a nomadic lifestyle. More programs like WeRoam, Remote Year, Hacker Paradise, and WiFi Tribe are emerging to provide remote workers with all the tools necessary to not only work, but to see the world.

Are digital nomads the future or a passing trend? It’s tough to say but as more millennial join the remote work space, the answer is becoming clearer. The world of work is changing on a global level and digital nomads and entrepreneurs are building a fresh support system throughout the world to make sure entrepreneurs are able to thrive.

John Lim is a 24-year-old entrepreneur and full-time remote worker. He founded his company, Ansel, with a mission to help positive-impact companies grow its brand through marketing and advertisement strategy. Prior to Ansel, John moved to South Korea to teach English and “figure things out.” From there, he applied to and was accepted to travel with Remote Year. From 2017-2018, John has been (and continues to be) a “digital nomad.” By the end of Summer 2018, he was able to pay off over $40,000 in college debt from Swarthmore College. John strives to show young entrepreneurs that it is more than possible to succeed professionally while traveling. Homebase right now is Europe, primarily Prague, and plans to continue exploring. Follow John on Instagram here.