2020 was the year of the pandemic, 2021 will be the year of the digital nomad. In this guide, Dustin & Noami Grevemberg of Irie to Aurora shares some tips and advice on how to become an overland digital nomad. 

This article was adapted from Irie to Aurora’s Digital Nomadism 101: A Complete Guide to Becoming and Overland Digital Nomad. Check out irietoaurora.com where Dustin and Noami Grevemberg share eco-vanlife tips and remote work and digital nomad resources.

What is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who uses technology to earn an income while traveling. That’s a very broad definition, so in this article, we’ll break down many of the ways one can become a digital nomad. 

Reasons to Become a Digital Nomad

The digital nomad lifestyle comes with many perks. For Noami and I, our driving force has been the ability to travel and spend as much time in nature as possible. And escaping the corporate world and the confines of the daily grind offers us the space to pursue passions and create the life we want to live. 

Truth is, there are many reasons why someone would want to be a digital nomad – location independence, freedom to travel, flexible schedule, be your own boss. For some, being a digital nomad means forging your own path and never looking back. For others, it means being able to spend more time with family and travel part-time. 

Remote work has become a trend in recent years. And if the COVID-19 pandemic has proven anything, it’s that the ability to work remotely is incredibly valuable. On the recovery side of the pandemic, more companies will likely recognize the viability of remote work. 

Pros & Cons of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

Challenges:

The lifestyle of a digital nomad certainly sounds appealing – work from anywhere, travel, and stay as long as you want, create your own schedule. But digital nomadism is not without its challenges. 

  • Working from anywhere often means working from less than comfortable places like noisy coffee shops, or camping out in a Walmart parking lot so you can get a good cell signal. 
  • A flexible schedule means it’s difficult to establish a routine. 
  • Traveling anywhere you like can lead to a loss of sense of place or belonging. 
  • Stepping away from the corporate world means having to pay for your own insurance and losing other benefits like 401k. 
  • Working from the road means sacrificing face time with clients and colleagues. 
  • Leaving behind the 9-5 can mean a pay cut and having to work harder than ever to maintain the lifestyle you’re used to.

Benefits: 

Though the digital nomad lifestyle is not a one-way ticket to the easy life, for many the benefits far outweigh the challenges. 

  • It’s true that we sometimes have to spend time at coffee shops and libraries for a WiFi connection, and we’ve spent more nights in Walmart parking lots than we’d care to mention. But more often than not we’re working from beautiful locations in nature. 
  • Establishing a routine as a digital nomad takes intentionality. But once you have it down, daily life becomes much smoother.
  • With technology like Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime, it’s easy to connect with loved ones, clients, and colleagues no matter where you are. 
  • There are other options for health insurance and retirement savings. 
  • While you may take a pay cut leaving your 9-5 career job, you’re likely giving up a lot of expenses as well. And having the space to create your life can lead to greater financial opportunities. 

Primary, Secondary, and Passive Income

Primary income is the work you do to pay the bills. It’s likely the job you have now or a remote position similar to the job you have now. You may not love the work, but you already have the skills for it, so you don’t need to spend time learning new skills for something you’re not passionate about. Bonus points if you don’t hate it. 

Secondary income is something you do on the side (your side hustle). Take your passions, your hobbies, your interests, and find a way to make some money off them. It may not be much money at the beginning, but that’s ok, that’s what your primary income is for. Your goal should be to grow your secondary income until it surpasses your primary income and becomes enough to sustain you. Then you can put all your effort into doing what you enjoy. 

Passive income is money being earned regularly with little or no effort on the part of the person receiving it. This should be your ultimate goal. It’s a long-term strategy that requires a lot of work on the frontend with little to no monetary gain for several months or years. 

Diversify Your Revenue Stream 

Work as a digital nomad is far less stable and predictable than the 9-5 you’re leaving behind. That’s why you should be looking to diversify your revenue streams. You’ll need at least one source of primary income while you develop your side-hustle. But, as the saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The point of digital nomad life is to allow space to pursue our passions, so try new things until you find something that sticks. 

Freelance & Remote Work 

What’s the difference between freelance & remote work?

A remote worker is a full or part-time employee of an organization who works from home or any remote location away from the company’s office. Remote workers still fall under the category of a traditional employee, the only difference is the work location. 

Freelance jobs are usually project-based, come with a flexible schedule, and typically end once the project is over. Freelancers are self-employed whereas remote workers are employed by an organization. 

How to Find Remote Work

So we’ve broken down primary, secondary, and passive income. But let’s dive deeper into number one. You need to make money now and get your primary income going, otherwise, you’ll never be able to make it to number two. 

The first option is to parlay your current job into a remote position. If you have the right type of job and the time to commit, create a strategy to transition into a remote position. Start by taking your work home with you, then convince your boss to let you work from home a day or two per week. Performance is key, if you can prove that you are just as effective working from home as you are in the office, you’re more likely to keep it going. Finally, make a push to take your position fully remote. If that fails, at least you’ve proven that you’re capable of working remotely. If your job is not a position that can be done remotely perhaps there is another position in the company that can be done remotely such as a support role.

If parlaying your current job into a remote position is not an option, the next step is to find something you can do remotely. Chances are, there’s something in your field that can be done remotely. Think of jobs similar to the one you have now and search for positions in that field that offer the potential for “working from home.” I recommend seeking a job you can do competently that does not require too much time learning new skills. That way any new skills you learn can be geared towards your side hustle and/or your hobbies and interests.

How to Find Freelance Gigs

Many people may not have the option to land a long-term remote job. And many people may not want to be in a traditional employment arrangement. That’s where gig-based freelance work can be the gold to drive your digital nomad dreams. 

Freelance gigs offer a ton of flexibility, putting you in control of what jobs you take and what hours you work. And companies are often quicker to hire a freelancer than a remote worker as the freelancer comes with much less risk to the company. 

As with remote work, there’s a good chance the skills you have now can translate into viable freelance skills. If you can, explore these things before you hit the road, try to land a few freelance gigs even if the pay is less than you would like. Your goal should be to hone in on what types of gigs are out there that meet with your skillset.

Search sites like FlexJobs and Upwork.com to see what kind of freelance gigs or remote jobs are out there. There’s a good chance you’ll find something you’re capable of doing that you never thought was an option. Build your profile/resume on these sites around your skillset. Gear it toward the jobs you’ve found that you feel confident you can do competently without having to learn any (or minimal) new skills. 

Check out our guide on irietoaurora.com for more insights on how to find remote jobs and freelance gigs

Finding WiFi on the Road 

The beauty of digital nomadism is the ability to work from anywhere. Well, to be more accurate, anywhere with WiFi or a strong cell signal. This may be the biggest challenge of the digital nomad lifestyle, but fortunately, there are plenty of options and tricks of the trade. 

Smartphone with a mobile hotspot: 

A smartphone with unlimited data plan is a must if you’re working on the road. With an unlimited data plan, you can use your phone as a mobile hotspot. Though, most unlimited plans are not truly unlimited, especially when it comes to hotspot data. 

Stand-alone hotspot devices: 

No matter what cell phone carrier you choose, they all have limitations when it comes to coverage. Combine that with the previously mentioned data caps, and investing in a secondary hotspot device becomes an attractive option. While adding a hotspot device with your current carrier will increase your data limit, another option is to diversify and add a hotspot device from a different carrier. For example, let’s say your cell phone carrier is Verizon and you have a hotspot device through T-Mobile or AT&T, your chances of finding service would increase, as each carrier uses different towers. 

Libraries, coffee shops, & public WiFi: 

Using a mobile hotspot is ideal because it allows you to have wifi anywhere you have a cell signal, even at your campsite. But inevitably you’ll run into instances where you need an actual high-speed internet connection for uploading/downloading large files, etc. One convenient option is free wifi from coffee shops and libraries. Unfortunately, this has not been an option with COVID. Instead, we’ve worked from the Starbucks parking lot a few times. Grab your coffee through the drive-thru and don’t forget to tip, wear your mask, and wash your hands. 

Campgrounds: 

Many paid campgrounds and RV parks offer free WiFi. This can be a great option if you need to crunch out some internet heavy work, but would rather work from the comfort of your van. The downside is that high-end campgrounds and RV parks are typically costly for the average vanlifer’s budget. And if there’s a large number of campers the WiFi can run slowly, especially in the evening when everyone’s streaming Netflix. But on the plus side, they often offer additional amenities like hot showers, laundry, and electrical hookups. 

Extending your range with a cell booster: 

We tend to gravitate towards free, remote campsites. The problem we often run into is that these sites are often just beyond the reach of our Verizon cell coverage. That’s where a cell phone signal booster comes in handy. This is one of the best additions we’ve made to our rig. It extends our range and allows us to get farther off-grid than before. An important thing to keep in mind is that a cell booster will not create something out of nothing, if you have no service you’re pretty much out of luck. But a good booster will turn a weak signal into useful data. And you’d be surprised how often the best campsites are just outside the reach of a useful cell signal. That’s where our booster has allowed us to post up and enjoy. 

To find out what cell booster we use as well as the rest of our favorite gear, check out our guide to essential digital nomad gear for the overland traveler on irietoaurora.com. 

Setting Up a Conducive Workspace in Your Rig 

There are a few key components to a comfortable rig: a bed, a seating area, and a cooking space. But while you’re setting up your rig to be a comfortable living space, keep in mind that it will oftentimes double as your office. Good lighting, an ergonomic desk setup, and a good seat for your seat are crucial aspects. No matter how you choose to set up your rig, make sure it’s comfortable and conducive for you. 

Creating a Routine on the Road

One of the perks of being a digital nomad is flexibility and the ability to create your own schedule. But flexibility does not mean a complete lack of a routine. If you don’t have at least some structure to your day, you’ll find it can quickly turn into chaos. And if you speak to successful digital nomads, you’ll rarely find one that doesn’t have an established routine.

Productivity is the most important and possibly the most challenging part of being a digital nomad. But developing a routine on the road can be a challenge, especially when you’re not always sure of where you’ll be sleeping at night. Fortunately, there are some tools you can use to create and stick to healthy habits on the road. 

Here are some of our tips:

  • Wake up at the same time every day, or roughly the same time. 
  • Avoid checking your phone, email, social media before you get out of bed. 
  • Journal. Noami and I use Best Self Co daily journals which have been a game-changer in helping us structure our days. 
  • Set aside some time each morning and evening for self-reflection and gratitude. 
  • Get dressed for work. It can be tempting to roll out of bed in your p.j.’s and get right to work in all that comfort. But spending the day in your p.j.’s makes it all too easy to slide right back into bed. And getting into fresh clothes can have a psychological effect that can tell you it’s time to start the day. 
  • Set working hours and try to stick to them. You’ll no doubt need to flex from time to time but return to your regular hours as soon as you can.
  • Take naps. You are your own boss for a reason, right? Schedule a nap into your workday. You’ll likely come back feeling refreshed and ready for round two.

Conclusion

Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you are serious about becoming a digital nomad. 

Remember, digital nomads come in all shapes and sizes, flavors, and styles. Whatever your reasons or concerns, the best way to get started is to jump in. Trust in yourself and know that you will figure it out. 

The best piece of advice I can give for a happy and successful life on the road is to connect with other digital nomads and road travelers. And the Diversify Vanlife community has opened up the road travel world like never before. Reach out and connect with others. There is no better encouragement than finding people who are trying to figure it out just like you. 

If you’re looking for more, check out Irie to Aurora’s Digital Nomadism 101: A Complete Guide to Becoming and Overland Digital Nomad