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How to Become a Digital Nomad

by Marina Utami

It’s been 8 years since I took my backpack and moved to Bali to start travelling solo for the first time. It feels like it was yesterday. And I admit, it was a nerve-racking decision, plus my mom was worried more than ever. But living in Ubud and met many various people from different countries gave me inspiration of what kind of lifestyle that I want to pursue. Therefore I gather some guides below on how to become a Digital Nomad.

I never knew the term “Digital Nomad” until I finished travelling South East Asia and came back to Indonesia. Someone asked me what was I doing for the last months and once I told them I am a freelance graphic designer while travelling around, and he said, “Oh, so you’re like a Digital Nomad”. And there I was, recollecting memories of my journey; for the sake of getting a wifi password, I bought one cup of coffee in the cafe so I can sit there for the rest of the day; finding a good spot for running my laptop in every hostel I stayed in; spending most of my time in front of the screen while commuting in a bus, train or train, just to meet the deadlines. Man, if you knew how much I depend on wifi during my travel…

And after 8 years of being Digital Nomad surrounded by the most inspiring travellers all over the world, I am happy to share how I manage my life being constantly on the road while having an income that could pay my passion. It wasn’t easy for sure as being a solo female traveller means you got to stay alert all the time. Once you have overcome the fear of being alone travelling, I am sure being a digital nomad would be easy enough. Therefore, I have assembled a guide on how to become a digital nomad down below. But first, let’s start from the beginning so that we have covered everything.

First time experiencing working in Co-working Space

What is a Digital Nomad? 

“Digital nomads are people who are living life as an adventure, empowered by technology to break free of the constraints of the physical workplace.” – @upworkinc 

Digital Nomad has become more popular than ever thanks to the abundance of Instagram Influencers across the globe. Then again, since the Covid-19 pandemic began, many people have relied more on the Internet for getting their work done and the concept of “Digital Nomad” becomes extra widespread. But the fact is, ever since the Internet became famous back in the 2000s, loads of people determined to rely on it to make an income. I first noticed how brilliant the idea was when I observed many travel bloggers able to pay off their travel by writing their stories on the internet. And then it hit me, people are capable to use it to make an income and travel anywhere they want.

Digital Nomad has become a preferred lifestyle for people who don’t like to be stuck in a cubicle. For those who have wandering souls and have the world as their oysters. For a lot of people who doesn’t want a life of 9 to 5 and settle in one place only. If we were meant to be in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet, doesn’t it?

Working in Hubud, Bali, Indonesia

What work do I have to do to become Digital Nomad?

During my travel, I met many other digital nomads that introduced me with this kind of lifestyle. And I found out that digital marketing and anything related to online activities are the popular ones. Some even work remotely with the company based in their home country or have their own online business. Then again, it’s related to your skill and experiences, as I always think that, wouldn’t it be great if you get paid for your passion?

Here are a couple of ideas for you to try:

  • IT – software engineer, web design and development
  • Graphic design
  • Writing – content writing, journalism, copywriting
  • Accounting and bookkeeping
  • Translation 
  • Photography
  • Digital marketing – email, social media, content marketing and SEO
  • Administration – virtual assistant
  • Online business owner
  • Teaching English online

I think the most important question is “Do you really need an office to do your job?”

There are a couple of options that you can explore for independent location work: 

1. Remote employee

In 2012, I decided to quit the comfy job that I had for the last 3 years and move to Bali. You see, the mistake that I had back then was even though I got some side jobs, it wasn’t enough to pay off my travel. Luckily, my former employee contacted me again to see if I wanted to work for him again; full-time for 4 days, all process by chat and emails, plus the internet cost is covered. Of course, I said yes! I was even able to negotiate to work in a co-working space where I expanded my network and meet many inspirational people.

Not long after that, I discovered the book entitled “The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere” by Tim Ferris, and I regretted that I didn’t read this before I quit the full-time job. The book gave an insight into how you can live and work remotely and still be able to work for your employer. It described step by step on how you can gain that independence. This decision has turned my life upside down, and heck I enjoyed it! I was happy that I finally able to balance the time of professional job and my own time. I had my 9-5 jobs, earning similar to what I had before, but I got to live in an amazing island where I got to visit beaches and temples every weekend. I had time to learn how to dive, snorkelling, or hike a mountain for sunrise. Met many international friends where I got to polished my English language. Abundant of experiences that I always wanted to do, and I was able to pay my bills and travels!

The main point to become a remote worker is that you need to build up trust to your employer. Convince them that you’re reliable and make sure that this process won’t do any harm. Great communication is the key. Always be responsible, reliable and efficient with the time. Working remotely means you got to be focussed on the job desk wherever you are.

During this pandemic time, many people have been allowed to work from home. And yes, that means they have expanded the network to find their worker remotely around the world. Take a look at the job lists on LinkedIn or even Facebook Group, and I am sure you’ll find many companies offer remote work instead. Talking about how the glass half-full, this could be a good stepping stone!

Dinner Farewell with other digital nomads in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

2. Freelancing

  If you want to be a full-time freelancer. consider NOT to quit your fulltime job first. Get some sidekick projects and make sure that it’s enough to make a full income for yourself, at least with the same salary in your fulltime job. 

I remember that my early 20s were filled with the deadline and juggling side jobs that I barely even have time to go to the mall or hang out with friends. Any free times that I could have; weekends, early morning, after work, or midnight, I would just be in front of my laptop for my freelance works instead. Remember that you are sacrificing these available time for a better purpose in your future. 

Here are some tips to start becoming a freelancer:

  • Portfolio & CV anywhere

Upload any portfolio you have in any digital platform that matches with your profession. This would enable you to be found by people who need your skills. I got most of my freelance just because they found my profile and portfolio in Dribble, Behance or Coroflot. In a matter of time, I realised there was more platform for Graphic Designer, and so I sign up for all portfolio site until I came across the Elance (present: Upwork). The site where people post up jobs to find freelancers for their needs. And then there are also Fiverr, 99Designs, and many more. Get to know your skills and found out what platform most people use to get a job in your area. 

  • Start small. 

Get a cheap paid job in the beginning to gain reference and portfolio, and build your way up to become a professional. Earn a good badge on the website and let clients find you instead of you hunting them down. It takes time, but trust me, it’s going to be worthy.

  • Research on other users.

Find users that similar to your skills and already have a high rating, research on how they would do their profile. Check our their tagline and description and match it with yours. Find out what makes them stand out and how they could attract clients in your area. 

Freelance jobs are slow but sure, as long as you are serious and passionate about what you do, I believe this could be a major income for you in the future.

Joining Bali Startup Weekend, Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

3. Entrepreneurship

Now, this could be a really easy way for you if you already have your own business and growing, especially if you’re are in e-commerce. I also have a friend who already has a team set up in his home country that keeps the business running while he was away on the other side of the world. Read this article in Medium for more insight on how to do your business while being on the road.

Meanwhile, the concept of start-ups happens to be growing fast and recognised by many digital nomads to be their solution for digital independency. Consider settle down working in co-working spaces on your trip to meet other talents that you might need or other people that would share their ideas and knowledge that could benefit your start-ups. 

4. Passive income

Another great idea from Tim Ferris’s book is that generate a passive income that would let you travel without having to worry about your finance whatsoever. The most popular ways to generate passive income are eCommerce, especially dropshipping, blogging, and affiliate marketing. Another idea is getting into stock and trading, it’s a bit of gamble and risky, but if you learned it properly, I am pretty sure this could be a way to earn an income.

Lunch event with other Digital Nomads in Hubud, Bali, Indonesia

How is Digital Nomad in real life?

The thing is you could never rely on only one of these models. It’s always good to have a bit of both to secure your finance. When I was working as a remote worker, I also did a few freelance works to save my money to start my own business and passive income. All in all, never put your savings into one model. Always spread them across.

If you are interested in getting remote jobs or freelancing, refer to Facebook Groups for Digital Nomads (there are tons of them!). They have lots of tips, insight and jobs opening that would suit any skills. Furthermore, it is nice to meet other buddies that were trying on the same boat as you do. I also recommend working in Co-Working Space in any big cities, as there are tons of these spaces across the globe. They have good fast internet provider and it would be fun to meet other digital nomads from around the world. I got to expand the network, earn new information on what’s trending globally, and I even got project offers so many times!

Working in the hostel at Labuan Bajo, Flores, Indonesia

Even though it all sounds promising and great, you need to know there is an exception that sometimes we couldn’t rely much on the internet especially in remote countries such as Laos or Myanmar. So instead of depending much on digital life, I would also suggest that you should try working in a real-life situation. I don’t mind to try any kind of manual labours during my journey. Staring non-stop on my laptop, actually got myself missed interacting with the human being. And when I had a chance to experience working with the locals, I always take that opportunity. I got to work as a waitress in a small remote city in Laos, even learn a bit about their language, I also befriended with some locals who taught me about their cultures. I volunteered to be a hostel staff in exchange for beds. I also worked as a receptionist in a hostel to replenish my English and meet new people. So, you see? There are so many chances you can take to keep going. 

Now, can you see yourself becoming a Digital Nomad? Do you think this kind of lifestyle would suitable for you?

© 2017 Writing & Images copyright of Marina Utami.


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