In our previous post on How Much Does It Cost to Travel Around the World, we talked about travel costs and budgets you’ll need for long-term travel. But what if you don’t have a budget at all, yet still want to live on the road?
Digital nomad jobs can be the answer.
In 2021, living and working on the road is more accessible than ever. We have virtually unlimited access to digital tools and resources, and all you need to become a digital nomad is – literally – a laptop and a strong internet connection. No matter what your skills are, you can transfer them online.
We have been living the digital nomad lifestyle since 2017, Egle working on the road for over four years now and Lennart, for a year. We’re not saying digital nomad jobs are easy, but they do allow us to ride around the world.
We don’t need to worry about running out of money or having to return home to work. We can travel as much or as little as we want. We’re free to choose destinations we love exploring, or stay in places for longer periods of time if we feel like it. Our office views vary from beaches to forests and from Old Towns to countryside vistas. We can work from a desk, a hammock, a tent, or a couch, and we set our own deadlines and goals.
A Quest for Freedom
However, just like everything else, the digital nomad lifestyle has its ups and downs. It can be challenging, especially when you’re just starting out. It can be discouraging and downright terrifying at first because you don’t have an employer writing you a check every month. Instead, you have to generate income yourself relying on your own skills.
For us, though, this is the most beautiful part. Digital nomad jobs allow us to take responsibility and find our own path instead of relying on a corporation to look after us.
We are constantly learning new skills so we can work less and make more (more on that later). We’re always up for a challenge, because the more you expand your horizons, the more you grow.
And, sure, sometimes you find yourself frantically trying to connect to McDonald’s Wifi because you have an important video call and you’ve just run out of data. Or you bid on a large project unsure if it’s going to pan out, all while your account is looking sadder and sadder. You work like a maniac, you sometimes question your own sanity, and you never know what tomorrow brings.
But for us, being a digital nomad is all about freedom.
If you’re looking to escape the rat race and live on the road, we hope this post will help you get started.
We’re going to share:
- What is a digital nomad
- The reality of a digital nomad lifestyle
- How to become a digital nomad
- Best digital nomad jobs for beginners
- How much money can you make as a digital nomad
Ready to start working online? Keep reading!
What Is a Digital Nomad
Okay, first things first: what the heck is a digital nomad in the first place? If your mind is conjuring up a bearded hipster pawing away at his laptop at Starbucks, you’re not that far off. Lennart has been spotted working on both his breakfast and his computer, and he does possess a beard.
But being a digital nomad isn’t about stereotypes. Essentially, a digital nomad is someone who:
- Works online
- Is location independent.
In other words, due to the results of the pandemic, just about anyone can be a digital nomad these days. If you’ve been working from home (and in your pajamas) for the last year or so, you qualify for the “digital” part. If you hit the road while still working online, voila: you are a digital nomad!
In other words, digital nomads are people who make money by working online and who travel the world. As a digital nomad, you’re not tied to a desk, an office, or any particular place at all.
You choose your own places, and you work whenever you want to. (That’s not to say you work less, mind you, but you do set your own hours. Huzzah!).
Some digital nomads travel often. Others choose to live in the same country or city for several months at a time. There’s no cookie-cutter formula for a digital nomad lifestyle, and that’s the beauty of it.
You make it your own.
Digital Nomad Jobs vs Online Businesses
Anyone with access to a laptop and good WiFi can become a digital nomad, even with no previous experience. However, there are two main categories of digital nomads: freelancers and business owners.
Freelancers look for digital nomad jobs. While they set their own rates and working hours and can choose which projects they want to work on, they still depend on their clients for income.
For example, digital nomad jobs like:
- web design
- social media managing
- or video editing
are gigs you get paid for by the client. The client may be a magazine editor, a website owner, a company, or an individual. The bottom line is, you find freelance work online and get paid hourly or by the project.
If you start an online business, on the other hand, you don’t have an employer or a client to answer for.
Running an online shop, selling digital products (books, courses, tutorials), drop-shipping – all of these are online businesses rather than jobs. As an online entrepreneur, you control everything from product to marketing to sales, and you work directly with your customers rather than clients or employees.
Should You Freelance or Become an Online Entrepreneur?
Ultimately, even if you’re a high-paid freelancer, you still work for someone else, and the value you create is most likely higher than your compensation.
Don’t get us wrong, freelancing is hands-down the best way to start getting digital nomad jobs. This is how we started out, too, and freelancing still accounts for more than 70% of our income.
However, we’re slowly working towards our own online business. It won’t happen overnight, and it will take hundreds of hours of hard work, failures, and investments.
Eventually, though, it will be something that we fully own and control. While we love working as freelancers, we’re always aiming for more freedom, and we believe running an online business and creating passive income streams is key if we want to check out of the rat race permanently.
The thing is, though, everyone is different. What worked for us may not work for you, and vice versa.
It’s best to first test the waters, get your first digital nomad job, build your skillset, and then see what else is possible. You can build both your freelance work portfolio and your online business simultaneously. For example, if you write magazine articles for a living, you can start blogging on the side. When the income from your blog exceeds your freelancing income, you can quit your freelance gigs and focus on your blogging business full-time. Freedom!
Digital Nomad Jobs for Beginners
If you’re just starting out and you’re looking for digital nomad jobs for beginners, first take stock of what skills you already have. The fastest track to success working online is using your existing strengths and leveraging them when looking for digital nomad jobs.
For example, if you’re a teacher with a passion for poetry, don’t try to become a social media guru overnight. Instead, look at your specific skills – teaching, empathy, ability to explain complex things, patience, creativity – and cross them with things that you love, in this case, poetry.
The perfect starter digital nomad jobs for you would be:
- Teaching how to write poetry online
- Creating online courses for creative writing
- Online student tutoring
- Selling poetry books online
Most people assume that being a digital nomad means you have to be a writer, blogger, web designer, or YouTuber.
That couldn’t be further from the truth – you can transfer virtually any skill online and make it your job. Even if your current job is very much hands-on, for example, you’re a car mechanic, you can still:
- Teach people DIY car maintenance online
- Start a blog about custom cars
- Sell online courses on car maintenance and repairs
- Consult companies on security issues
- Start a YouTube channel on vintage car restoration
It doesn’t matter what you currently do: you can transfer your existing skills online. On the other hand, if you’d like to change your career completely, you can also do so…online. Pick your passion, enroll in online courses, learn, and get to work!
Don’t Overthink It
The important thing to remember is that done is better than perfect.
Plenty of people dream of becoming digital nomads, but few actually follow through. It’s easy to get hung up on the fact that you’re not an expert, that you still lack some skills, that you don’t have a website…
Forget all of that and just get to work.
You may get paid less at first, you may get lots of rejections, and you may not land that dream gig right off the bat.
But you will already be working online, building your portfolio, and improving your skills.
And that is what will set you up for success in the long run.
Egle’s first online job was writing an article about Chile for an overland travel magazine. It paid $20 – not even a full tank of gas. But instead of looking at the measly $20 as a sign of hopelessness, Egle saw it as a victory: sure, the pay was bad, but she had just gotten her first online gig.
All she needed to do now was get a gig that paid $200, not $20. And then, $500. And then…
The point, though, was to start no matter what – and then stick with it.
Where to Find Digital Nomad Jobs
Now that you know what you want to do, it’s time to go and do it. The easiest way to get started working online is by signing up to freelance work platforms such as Upwork. It allows you to create a profile on the platform, list your skills, and start bidding for work.
For example, if you’re looking for a job as a virtual assistant, create an Upwork profile listing your skills and rates and look for “virtual assistant” jobs in the search bar.
It’s that simple. And, sure, you may not land the best-paid gigs at first. On Upwork, you need to put in the work first, get good reviews from clients, and build your portfolio. Once that’s done, you can start charging more and getting gigs that pay well.
For Egle, it took six months to get the Top Rated badge on Upwork with a 100% success rate; she started out with no reviews or Upwork experience whatsoever, charging $15 an hour. Within six months, she was able to raise the rate to $45 an hour, and there’s no shortage of job offers coming her way.
Upwork isn’t the only freelance work platform out there. There are plenty more, but Upwork is one of the biggest and most widely used.
As an alternative to freelance job platforms, you can start pitching clients on your own. For example, as a fitness coach, you can set up a website, create several digital fitness courses or programs, and start selling them yourself.
If you’re a copywriter, you can cold-email companies and pitch your proposals. As a writer, you can pitch publications.
However, if you’re starting from zero and need an income right now, freelance work platforms are a great stepping stone.
How Much Money Do Digital Nomads Make?
This is the question we get asked the most: how much money can you make as a digital nomad?
The short answer is, however much you want.
According to this excellent post on what an average digital nomad salary is in 2021, one in five digital nomads makes over $100,000 a year. Not bad for beardy, laptop-wielding hobos, right? Of course, this number isn’t going to happen right from the start. Realistically, though, plenty of digital nomads make $30-$50 an hour within their first year.
If you look at Upwork profiles of other freelancers, copywriters make $25-$75 an hour, coaches make $80-$150 an hour, translators charge around $35 an hour, and so on. Your rates will depend on your skills and your experience, and if you’re willing to learn and improve on a constant basis, you can start earning $45 an hour and up after the first six months or so.
If you’re looking for online work as a freelancer, always charge per project rather than per hour worked.
Projects are typically paid better because the overall value of the entire project is more obvious than the value of hourly work.
For example, if you’re a copywriter and you create a landing page for $800, and that landing page earns your client $8,000 in sales, paying you the $800 is clearly a great investment.
But if your hourly rate is $45, and you can write that landing page in three hours, you only get $135 for the same amount of work and the same quality.
See where I’m going with this?
Personally, I think there’s nothing more tedious than tracking and logging your hours while you work, especially if you’re in the creative space. It’s always best to agree on a project price and deliver your best work on your own terms.
Digital Nomad Lifestyle
While being a digital nomad is all about freedom and travel, you still need to make smart choices when it comes to budgeting and planning.
One of the most common rookie mistakes is getting your first online gig, then traveling to an expensive city and seeing your hard-earned cash disappear.
If you’re familiar with Tim Ferris and his 40-Hour Work Week book (a must-read for any digital nomad, by the way!), you know that the first rule of a digital nomad lifestyle is to earn dollars or euros and spend pesos or rupiahs.
In other words, look for jobs and gigs that pay North American, European, or Australian salaries and travel in countries where the cost of living is cheaper. $400 will last you much longer in Mexico, Colombia, or Bali than it will in LA or Paris.
Once you make it online and become a highly successful entrepreneur making seven figures and enjoying several passive income streams, by all means, live and travel wherever you like.
For now, however, plan to travel South America, South-Eastern Europe, or Southeast Asia so you can live comfortably but cheaply and reinvest your income into learning new skills, updating your website, getting a better laptop, or starting your own online business.
Digital Nomad Visas
Working on the road as a digital nomad is still somewhat of a grey area when it comes to working permits and visas. Let’s say you’re a German citizen traveling to Spain, and you work online for a US-based company.
Should you get a work visa for Spain?
It’s hard to figure this one out, and most digital nomads still rely on tourist travel because few countries have specific rules when it comes to digital nomads.
However, it’s 2021, and some countries are catching up: check out this comprehensive list of countries that offer digital nomad visas. From Barbados to Croatia, countries are now issuing special work and sometimes, residency visas for digital nomads, and it can be a great opportunity if you’re planning to stay in one country for more than three months.
In addition to visa questions, you’ll also need to set up an international SIM card and a bank account that lets you hold different currencies and withdraw cash at ATMs worldwide without charging fees. We will cover digital nomad tools in more detail in another post, but as a quick cheat sheet, here is what we recommend:
- Wise account. Wise lets you hold 50 currencies in one account, which means you won’t have to deal with painful conversion rates. They’ll send you a card anywhere in the world, and you can use Wise to get paid, transfer money internationally, and connect your Wise to your PayPal. Use this link to sign up – it’s an affiliate link which means we may earn a small commission, but it comes at no extra cost for you!
- If your work requires a lot of phone calls, use a service like One Sim Card to save on mobile service costs. You can have several international numbers directing to the same SIM, and it makes it easier to keep an US, European, or Australian phone number while traveling internationally.
For more useful tools, check out this post listing things like mobile internet devices, budgeting apps, travel insurance options, and more cool digital nomad stuff you’ll need when you’re starting out.
Ready to rock and roll?
We hope this post has given you a rough idea of what the digital nomad lifestyle looks like, what are some of the best digital nomad jobs for beginners, how much money you can expect to make working online, and how to get started.
Remember, overnight success is usually years in the making, and the road will be bumpy at the beginning. Once you get the ball rolling, though, the world’s your oyster – and we hope you’ll kick some serious butt out there!
If you have questions or would like to chat with us about becoming a digital nomad, shoot us a message using the contact form below. We always read your emails, and we’re stoked to meet like-minded wandering souls!