Becoming a Digital Nomad – How Do You Make It Happen?

Becoming a digital nomad is often a slow, steady process. You don’t wake up one day and suddenly decide to start traveling and working remotely. For many, it happens gradually, step-by-step. Sometimes there are a few lucky accidents. For the most part, it is planned. The best part is that there are plenty of ways to switch over to the location independent lifestyle. For those interested in beginning this new adventure, there are several important points you need to cover before you jet off.

Any major lifestyle change takes a lot of mental and emotion energy. The nomad lifestyle is no different.

You can read all the blogs and articles you want on digital nomadism. You can follow the many well-known nomads on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc… But if you don’t actually take the steps yourself, you’ll still be sitting in that open-plan office.

If you want the nomad lifestyle, you need to be honest with yourself. Do I have the right skills to travel and work remotely? If not, do I have the attitude and initiative to learn them – and overcome the obstacles that may be presented to me?

And what are these skills?

  • The ability to put up with a high level of discomfort and frustration. As a nomad, you’ll travel a lot. You’ll plan trips that go awry. If you’re freelancing, you’ll deal with the trials and tribulations that it brings. You need to be incredibly stress-resistant. The same can be said for physical comforts: get used to sleeping on sofas, futons and having to use your mobile data efficiently.
  • The ability to be alone. Being a digital nomad means being alone sometimes. You’ll go to a new place, make lots of great friends and then leave again. Sure, you’ll stay in touch with them. Maybe meet them again occasionally. When you move on to your new residence though, you’ll need to make a whole new group of friends. And that’s not to mention the reduced contact you’ll have with friends and family in your home country.
  • The ability to work independently. You’re not just a digital nomad: you’re a remote worker (whether freelance or employed). You need to take your work seriously. You need to be proactive and disciplined: your clients and your company are counting on you. They won’t be looking over your shoulder. Additionally, they won’t accept many excuses for not handing in work on time or being communicative.

You must either have these traits or be willing to develop them. If you’ve never traveled much, then this lifestyle will be a big change from what you already know.

The first (basic) steps to becoming a digital nomad

If your job ties you to one place, becoming a digital nomad is impossible. If you work as a nurse in a hospital, for example… Well, they kind of need you there. You can’t fix bandages and take blood tests without being present. Not yet, anyway. If you work in a shop – the same applies. And a great many other places.

For some, switching to this lifestyle also means changing careers. And that can be a HUGE leap.

On the flipside, you may have an in-office job where you don’t leave your desk. Literally everything you do is on a computer. You’re surrounded by colleagues and you travel to that office daily. Good examples are accountants, programmers and even project managers.

The change here won’t be as big, but you may have to argue your case with your employer. Which brings us to the skills of remote working. And I would say…

One of the most important telecommuting skills is communication. Effective remote working is sloppy at best without consistent, clear communication.

When switching to a remote work environment, you must make sure…

  • You’re GOOD at clearly and proactively communicating over text, voice call, video call and email… Whatever method of communication your clients/employer needs.
  • If you must change careers, see how many of your skills can be transferred to a remote work environment. Are you a good copywriter? A visionary graphic designer? Or are you a diligent account? All of these are standard, well-paid remote jobs.
  • Know what you are looking for in a remote job (not just the other way around). In truth, it’s not that different from finding a regular one. You’re just not going to be physically present.
  • If your current job can theoretically be done remotely, see how easy it could be to make the switch. Your current employer may surprise you.

Remember: Having a remote job (whether employment or freelance) is an integral part of being a digital nomad. If this is unfamiliar territory to you, get learning!

Beyond work, know what the digital nomad lifestyle entails

You don’t truly know if you like digital nomadism unless you try it.  But let’s just say you’ve managed to become location independent. You work from wherever you like: your home, a coffee shop, whatever. You’ve got a full-time remote job, or perhaps a couple of steady clients. What then? Well, now it’s time to move.

This means being organized. You have to book flights. Take care of visas. If traveling to a country that doesn’t speak your language, you may have to learn a few words and phrases in a foreign tongue.

Becoming a digital nomad is about becoming a traveler. For many, it’s their first step on the path to becoming a global citizen. It can a beautiful, enriching and exhilarating experience. But you have to put the work in.

I Didn’t Appreciate the Benefits of Working Remotely… Until I Lost Them

At one point in my early career, I got bored of working remotely. I’d never worked in an office, so I was willing to try it out. I’m glad I did – but I will say I’m also glad I took up remote working again. After working two years in a standard office job, I started to sorely miss the benefits of working from home.

I seriously appreciate the benefits of working remotely now. It’s not something I’ll take lightly again… However, my two-year experience in an office was invaluable. It taught me a lot about different working styles, dealing with different people and how I can improve my general productivity.

After all, I thought the experience of working in a brick-and-mortar company was invaluable. Back then, I thought my CV was lacking because I had only been “freelancing” for a couple of years (years later, a job coach specifically told me not to play down my experience as a freelancer).

“Besides,” I thought, “I’ll obviously get paid more, get better benefits and be taken more seriously…” All for showing up at a specific time, sitting at a specific desk and keeping up appearances.

So I gave up freelancing and went straight into my first 9-to-5 job. And you know what? It wasn’t so bad: stable money, health benefits, even subsidized transport. It was great!

The first thing to go… Enthusiasm

I never liked school. Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoy learning. In digital marketing, you have to keep updating your knowledge. But I didn’t actually enjoy going to school and being in the same place every, single, day. My new office was the same: I sat at the same desk for two solid years.

This type of routine works well for a lot of people. It gives them a sense of structure. Unfortunately, it made me feel trapped. All of my days blended into one. I lost track of time: life became a series of getting up, coffee, sitting, typing, lunch and going home…

The work was interesting, to a point. But that paled in comparison. I began to dream of days when I’d use my remote working benefits to sit in a new café down the street… Or take my laptop and work from a hotel room in Portugal.

“Forget it,” I told myself, “you’ve a proper job now. And more money than you’ve ever had. This is what “grown up” work is like. Deal with it.”

I realized how independent working remotely had made me

Remote work had turned me into a self-starter. As a freelancer, I had to be organized and make sure I knew where my work was coming from. I had to hit people up and do a bit of marketing. There was no one on my back to get me to do things. I had to be my own boss.

Working in that office had turned me into something else. I became content to wait for tasks. If there wasn’t much to do, we’d sit around and chat. I lost my proactivity… And only waited for directions from my manager.

Basically… I turned into an office drone.

Two years after started, I asked to switch to a remote working set up (Germans like to call it “home office”). It worked out well… Then I found a new job and thankfully, I can be as remote as I like.

I will never take remote working for granted again!

Are All Remote Jobs Flexible?

With remote jobs, flexible work options are a given, right?

Not necessarily.

The main difference between a telecommute position and one based in a office is really quite simple. Work at home jobs are just that – jobs where you work in your own home. All other aspects of the job are the same: you may still have to go to meetings, be available at certain times or even bend to someone else’s schedule.

Essentially…

’Remote’ does not always equal ‘flexible’.

It’s food for thought when you’re looking for new challenges. Admittedly, working remotely often does mean that you’re on a flexible schedule. Especially if your colleagues are scattered throughout different time zones. Often, you’ll have to adhere to only a vague or loose routine in order to facilitate efficient communication.

That’s why it’s important to look at the fine print before you decide to continue with that application.

Remote Jobs: Flexible or not? What I noticed when searching

Whether remote jobs are flexible or not depends on several factors. These are often the same factors that determine whether any other office-based position offer flexibility:

  • The nature of the job: If your job is tending to the needs of customers, you may be required to work in shifts. Call-centers spring to mind.
  • What your colleagues need: Your work could theoretically be deadline-based, but if your colleagues want you on call at certain hours, you may be required to work specific times.
  • Meetings: If you’re needed in a bunch of important meetings throughout the day, it could leave you with very little wiggle-room.
  • If the company is more traditional/corporate then it’s likely you’ll only receive a certain level of flexibility.

Not everyone who wants a work from home position necessarily needs to be on a flexible schedule. For many people, scheduled breaks and lunch hours are usually enough.

Types of jobs which may not be flexible

The Western world at least is moving towards a more flexible work mindset – which is a good thing! However as stated before, the nature of your job may only allow for a certain amount of flexibility. The following remote jobs may not offer as flexible a schedule as you might think.

Human Resources

You may need to be in regular meetings or on-call throughout the day to answer certain questions. This is especially true if you have a lot of different meetings throughout the day. If anything, remote HR jobs aren’t very different from the in-office variety: you just have the luxury of sitting at your kitchen table.

Customer Service

It probably doesn’t matter if you’re mostly answering emails. But if you’re on the phone to customers or chatting with them online, you’ll probably have to work in shifts.

Virtual Assistants

A lot of VAs actually work in accordance with a rather strict schedule. That’s because people need to know when their VA is available in order to speak with them, give them tasks etc.

While these are three of the most common types of job with limited flexibility, there are many more. At the end of the day, a job isn’t just about your skills or the specific tasks you’re needed for. You’re there to help a company get things done and grow: sometimes, that means less flexibility.

 

The Path to Location Independence

Maybe you can imagine how excited I got when I learned that location independence was actually a thing.

I mean, I got really excited. Having grown up in several countries, I never liked the idea of being tied to just one.

It does sound like a flight of fancy. Though practically speaking, it’s possible (especially for full-time digital nomads). Yet how many people actually achieve it? For the most part, it seems to be the domain of successful business people and/or the independently wealthy. Certainly, the rise of remote working as a more accepted style of employment has also helped. But for the individual who simply wants to choose where they live -regardless of employment- it can seem that bit more daunting.

mountain range mist feet
I wouldn’t advise moving to the top of a mountain, though. The wifi usually sucks.

Here’s the thing, though: Being location independent doesn’t mean you want or have to flight from one country to the next. Since you’re independent, you can choose to stay in the same damn place for the rest of your life.

That’s the whole point…

…your choice of location is up to you.

The Real Definition of Location Independence – and how to achieve it

Location independence can be considered a lifestyle. It means you’re not dependant on being a specific geographical location – for any reason. Of course, there are many implications that come along with this. Many take it to mean that they can work from anywhere, but it goes further than that: you don’t have family obligations, you don’t have property that you must oversee, there isn’t a wild tiger that you have to defend your bear cubs from, etc.

When talking about digital nomadism though…

The only factor limiting most aspiring nomads is the job they work to earn money, survive and live.

The truth is that even today, most companies don’t offer full-time remote work straight off the bat.

But for most people, the path to location independence requires work and planning. Just like anything in life. There are lots of industries that provide the possibility – in theory. But it’s not as simple as getting a new job.

Often, it helps to have a bigger plan:

  • Look at your current situation. Ask yourself just what it is about it that you don’t like. Do you hate going to the exact same building every day, at the exact same time? Does your daily commute knock ten hours out of your week? Look at these problems closely and see how they can be solved.
  • When thinking of career, consider whether freelancing is a viable option. The truth is, not everyone is built to be a freelancer. Or to set up their own business.
  • Would you be happier maybe with a mix of both? Perhaps commuting to the office one or two days a week isn’t so bad. You can do most of your work from wherever you want, but you still get a bit of facetime with your boss.
  • Or perhaps you really just want to get out there and see the world, and holidays are NOT enough. For digital nomads, this makes total sense!

For digital nomads, work and career are still highly important

As a digital nomad, you’ll miss out on a lot of career opportunities by refusing to be tied to one place. This is a sacrifice you’ll have to seriously consider. For those who find it difficult to get a full-time remote job, there are alternatives. Freelancing is one of them, but also consider contractual work.

If you’re in an industry that doesn’t lend itself to location independence, it may be time to switch careers. See what transferrable skills you already have – and apply them to something new. But with that we’ll give one small hint: don’t just go for a job because it’s remote. You must at least be competent at it and enjoy your work.

 

Europe Remotely – A Jobseeker’s Review

I decided to do a review of Europe Remotely for one simple reason: I live in Europe.

Germany, to be more specific.

During my job search, I found plenty of telecommute positions located in far-flung places. The United States, Canada, Australia… Even New Zealand (not that there’s anything wrong with that…).

I have no problem working for a company in a different time zone. I’m quite happy to compromise occasionally and work a few odd hours during the week. However, certain remote companies do seem to have an issue with me being in Europe.

How do I know?

Well…

’Remote – US & Canada Only’ frequently appears on job advertisements.

Not all of them, mind you – but this notice appears enough for it to get tedious. So I dedicated part of my job search to finding jobs specifically located in a European time zone.

When it came to platforms focusing on Europe… It was slim pickings. Then, I found EuropeRemotely.com.

Is Europe Remotely any good then?

I guess it depends on your definition of “good”. As a job board, it’s laid out in a pretty standard manner. This is the first thing you see when you log on:

europe remotely first page

I mean, it’s pretty much what you want. A list of remote jobs based in Europe… No fancy frills, nothing. As a job seeker, I didn’t really give a hoot. I scanned the list and looked for positions in my field (namely, marketing/copywriting).

And damn… There are a lot of tech and software jobs.

Which is good news for software developers, web developers and IT people. Seriously. If this is your industry, and you either live in Europe or don’t mind working for a European company then keep this platform in your bookmarks.

Scrolling down a little further though, Europe Remotely showed me this:

europe remotely first page 2

Ah, so they do divide it into categories. That’s handy.

After that… There’s not much else. Well, a blog with three posts. Thankfully, the jobs are regularly updated. Even for techies though, they are rather minimal. This platform’s definitely worth a look now and then but don’t rely on it!

Are Data Entry Jobs from Home Worthwhile?

When I started freelancing and working remotely, I was willing to take anything. That included doing menial, mind-numbing tasks. If it made me money. Writing content made sense: even though I initially made relatively little, it still added up to a pretty alright hourly wage.

Then, I stumbled across a range of different data entry jobs that could be done from home. I was intrigued, so I investigated further.

But wait… What is data entry?

Data entry is simply a task. Data entry, in essence, is simply a task. It’s a part of the general work day for a number of professions: copywriters, programmers, virtual assistants and many more. In the olden days, it was a typical “basic” office job. Of course, nowadays it is entirely possible to do this job remotely. After all, only a computer is necessary (and you have to communicate with your superiors… but you don’t need to be physically present to do that!).

…typing various forms of data into electronic formats. This can be Excel sheets, Word documents, etc.

As a fresh-faced freelancer, I thought this would be an excellent way to earn some money. Possible even develop new skills or introduce me to new concepts. There were both full-time and part-time remote positions advertised: naturally, these seemed perfect to me.

After some investigation, I saw what data entry jobs from home really look like

I’m not saying all data entry jobs from home aren’t worthwhile. What I am saying though is: don’t get your hopes up. In this type of remote job, your role is to follow instructions down to a mark. Often all you need is a basic laptop with a good Internet connection. The specifics of what you do is down to the client/company you’re working for.

Tasks could simply include organizing or transferring data. Typically, there are really only two types of legit data entry jobs people do from home. They can be…

  • Small, micro-tasks (such as with platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk) which don’t pay very much. Maybe a couple of dollars here and there.
  • Then the “full-time” variety… Which is often part of a much larger job description, which you will also need other skills for. Virtual assistants, for example.

If you avoid the scams and are looking for something genuine, you need to expand your skillset or look for more specialized jobs. No matter what the Internet promises you, most of these jobs are basic, grunt labor. You’re never going to make thousands of dollars by simply pressing a few buttons. Not legally, anyway.

So what should I really be looking for?

You shouldn’t be specifically for data entry. Remote job positions that often require ‘menial’ tasks are very common… These days, they’re known as VA roles. However, these roles also require a much broader range of skills! The more skills you have, the better pay you’ll command and the better the quality of remote job you’ll find.

Virtual assistants are essentially there to assist others in any time-consuming tasks that need to get done. The creative department needs a few images/videos quickly edited, SEOs need a few articles uploaded quickly, the CEO needs his next trip to be booked… That’s what the VA is for.

VA positions also pay better than a lot of data entry jobs… And they can be done from home!

The Burning Question for Writers: Should I work for content mills?

Getting paid to write on the Internet – sounds like the best gig ever for some people. And I’ll admit: there were times when I really, really did feel like I had it all. I could set my own schedules, and everyone I worked with was behind Skype and/or email (no one used Slack in those days… I think).

As a budding copywriter, I needed somewhere to hone my skills. As I mentioned in a previous post, the first place I started was at so-called “content mills” or “content farms”.

To be honest, I don’t really like the sound of the name. They sound a lot like “puppy farms” or “kitten farms”.

puppies white background bone
And no, puppy farms are not as pleasant as this picture. Look them up if you have too… I won’t be held responsible for the ensuing tears.

Tell us this much then… what are content mills?

In the broadest sense, content mills are money grabbing bastards who suck honest workers dry a business that makes most of its money selling content. This could be content for SEO, press releases, advertising copy, blog posts… You name it.

In essence, the business model is pretty sound. The client pays big, fancy monies for a batch of articles – the more well-written they are, the better. The company then gets money and, of course, pays the writers. Some many content companies/agencies that also hire writers full or part-time and given them stable hours and pay. How nice.

But this particular breed of company, known as a content mill, will almost exclusively outsource all of its writing to freelancers. Not necessarily a bad thing.

But then we get to a rather touchy subject…

How much do content mills pay?

Yuck. The truth is, the vast majority of these word farms (in my experience) pay very, very little. It’s pretty normal to be paid US$3.50 per 500 word article (bear in mind, these articles are churned out one after the other… And fast. Although I don’t do it anymore, I could still easily churn out five or six basic, 500 word articles an hour).

So, in theory, I could be making US$10.50 per hour. Convert that to euro and I’m getting… About 8, almost the same as “minimum wage” jobs.

I’ve also written for platforms which paid upwards of 12 euro (yes, euro!) for a 500-word piece.

And of course, it depends on the content farm itself.

A decent few pay pretty well – but normally at the higher levels (depending on the score you get in their test… which many will give you). Often these companies are more than just content mills, though. They usually have their fingers in many pies.

So, should writers work for these companies?

Let’s phrase the question differently. Ask yourself: What will I get out of it? This is business after all, and you’re a business if you’re looking to do freelance work. If there’s a healthy supply of articles most of the time and you can do them with an average level of effort… Go for it. When I started getting real clients, I kept the content mills for slower times (interspersed with TEFL training work).

The real danger of content mills comes from when you’re earning all your income from them: and have no time, space or energy to find other clients/jobs. But that’s a danger that goes far beyond copywriting – all freelancers are prone to this trap.

I work full-time now, but I run my own projects on the side and pick up the odd bit of freelance work here and there… When I have the time and energy. I would absolutely do some work for a content company again – but only if it were a bit of easy money for a few hours work here and there. Never again will I write for $3.50 an article.

Ever.