How To Become A Digital Nomad – Beginner’s Guide

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You close your laptop and look out at the ocean. The sun is about to set, so you order a cocktail, lean back in your chair, and feel a sense of satisfaction. Tomorrow, you’ll hop on a scooter and explore the island. This is the dream digital nomad life. After living and working as a digital nomad for seven years, I’ve put together this guide to share my tips for becoming a digital nomad. I’ve explained types of digital nomad jobs, the best locations for nomads, how to deal with health, taxes, finances, visas, where to sleep, staying safe, packing tips, and staying connected (with Wi-Fi and people) on the road. Here’s your beginner’s guide to becoming a digital nomad.

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is somebody who works online and is location independent i.e. they can work from wherever they want because their job isn’t tied to a particular place.

How is a digital nomad different from an expat?

Digital nomads typically move from country to country, enjoying freedom of location because their work is online. Visa restrictions often mean that digital nomads need to move on after a relatively short time. Expats usually have a job that has a fixed location in a country overseas e.g. working for the Milan office of your existing USA company. Expats tend to re-root with a fixed home and long-term visa in their new country.

Indiana Jo in a Hammock

Benefits of being a digital nomad

  • Exploring the world while working
  • Meeting new cultures and learning new languages
  • Unplugging from the routine and rules of the office lifestyle
  • Being your own boss (for many)
  • Living in cheaper countries (if you choose)
  • Testing out life in new countries that you may want to move to one day
  • Connecting with likeminded travelers and nomads
  • Freedom to work the hours that suit you
  • Chasing whatever climate you prefer (sun or snow)
  • Taking a chance and experience a lifestyle you’ve dreamt of
  • Generally expanding your experiences and opening your mind

Being a digital nomad has a lot of benefits but, like anything, there are downsides. I’ve listed these near the end of the article.

Types of digital nomad jobs

There are many jobs you can do as a digital nomad. Most digital nomads are self-employed rather than working for an employer who doesn’t mind where you work from. Here are some digital nomad job ideas.

  • Web developer
  • Programmer
  • Graphic designer
  • Website designer
  • Blogger
  • Content writer/copywriter
  • YouTuber or influencer
  • Life coach
  • Therapist
  • Yoga teacher
  • Masseuse
  • Photographer
  • SEO Specialist
  • Virtual Assistant
  • Online teacher
  • Bookkeeper
  • Social media marketer
  • Translator
  • Selling courses online
  • Professional landlord (if you can rent out your home back home)

How to get started with a digital nomad job

On a gap year, a little bored, I decided to do something productive. And the most productive thing seemed to have a go at some travel writering. So, I went on the internet, found some opportunities, and started writing. I got paid $3 for my first travel article and I’m not ashamed of that because I’d made a start. Plus, I was living in India. That would feed me for a day. Over the next few months, I moved to a cave in France (no joke) where I holed up for winter. Within 3 months, I had enough income to live the digital nomad life. My freelance writing and travel blog have been my main income ever since (14 years later). Your route will likely be similar. Here are the broad steps I suggest you take.

  • Brainstorm the kind of digital nomad jobs that appeal to you
  • List your current skills
  • Identify any skill gaps
  • Find out how much you can realistically earn from these jobs
  • Work out how long it can take to scale up your business (Most YouTubers and Influencers don’t succeed at all, let alone succeed overnight)
  • Consider how much money you will need each month to live as a digital nomad (more below)
  • Will your income match your expenses or do you need to choose a different nomad job?
  • If there is a skill gap, look at learning opportunities. Here are the best online course websites.
  • Apply, pitch, and network in your chosen field – start with LinkedIn, friends and family, and old work colleagues
  • Begin! Often the best way to figure out what needs to be done is to make a start

How long does it take to become financially stable?

Of course, I don’t know how long it will take any individual to start a digital nomad business from scratch and make it pay the bills. So many factors are at play – are you taking a steady one-client job? Is your skill set in high demand and well-paid? Do you want to spend 80% of your time on the beach? What I do know is that people have asked this very question in nomad groups and the answers range between 3 months to 5 years. Most commonly, people managed it in 1 to 2 years.

Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire Quote by Jennifer lee

Pivot if your work passion doesn’t pay

Many nomads start a new career at the same time as they become location-independent. It can work out, but often it doesn’t. While you may dream of a six-figure deal for writing novels (me) or getting paid to be an influencer, if it doesn’t translate to enough income in enough time, you need to have a backup plan. There are plenty of ways to earn money and stay a digital nomad even if your first work plan fails. It’s important to be able to pivot quickly. You can always work on your passion in the background, building it more slowly over time. I love this article – 5 things no one ever tells you about following your passion.

travel quote - jobs fill your pocket, adventures fill your soul, Jaime Lyn Beatty

Do you need savings?

Savings is a personal matter. I turned up to University with around $50 in my bank and no plan beyond buying my first beer. It all worked out. Decades later, when I quit my job, I’d sold my house and had a considerable amount more than $50 in savings. I’d recommend putting together a financial plan, even if it’s a back-of-the-beer-mat effort. How much do you need to get yourself overseas and financially buffered while you set up your business? This needs to align with your comfort zone, not just other people’s opinions.

I would always recommend having some emergency money or access to a credit card with enough money or credit to get home if you need to. These days, I have 6 months’ salary in savings stashed away and boy did it help during the pandemic. When I first started, I’d set aside $3,000 to see me through my business launch. It was barely enough for 3 months and I ate a lot of bread and peanut butter.

Life is beautiful sign in France

Quitting your location-based job

My biggest piece of advice is don’t quit the day job too soon – work through the process of figuring out your online business first. If you have savings, it can be beneficial to quit and focus full-time on your new endeavor – there’s nothing to focus the mind more than literal hunger. But strike the right balance. Being self-employed can be stressful enough. It’s harder if you’re worrying about paying rent.

And, when you do quit, be nice. Yes, even if you really want to give your employer the middle finger. You never know if might need that job back (or a reference) one day.

Dealing with your possessions

How you handle your stuff is going to depend on the kind of person you are and the amount and type of stuff you have. If you’re new to being a nomad (only taken a few trips, never had a gap year, never tried to work overseas), there’s a chance you won’t like it. I’d recommend putting your things into storage if you can afford it.

If you’re certain that the nomad lifestyle is for you and you plan to be away for years, get rid of as much as you can. I used storage for a year then eventually sold or gave away almost everything from furniture to clothes. But it was a chore having to return to the UK to do this. I did keep things of sentimental value e.g. jewelry from my nan who had passed away, and stored it at a friend’s house. Long-term loaning items can also work, especially with furniture. If you are going to sell things, start early. It can be a good way to increase your emergency funds.

Telling your loved ones

Not everyone gets the digital nomad life. In fact, most people don’t get it. And there’s a chance your friends and family will find your decision strange. Often, people are just reflecting on how they’d feel about living and working without a home. Usually, that feeling is worried. Try to explain your reasoning but if your reasons are bouncing off a solid wall, don’t get too stressed about it. I’ve had people tell me they didn’t think being a digital nomad was a real thing, that I don’t have a real job, and that my lifestyle would be the worst possible lifestyle for them. Resist the urge to bite back your views on how deadening the static office life is for you. And keep in mind there might be some jealousy in there – some people dream of but are not brave enough to go and work from the Caribbean. I’ve written a guide for BootsnAll about how to tell your parents you’re off to travel the world. It applies for all ages and all trip types.

Sign: my heart is at the beach

Choosing where to go

Now for the fun part! Choosing where to spend your time as a digital nomad is the main highlight of this lifestyle. But you should factor in some practicalities. For example, will you need fast wi-fi (for video editing work) or do you need a super cheap country to get started? Do you prefer cities, beaches or nature (and will you have enough time to enjoy them? I tend to choose a region e.g. Asia, Europe, or Latin America, then bounce around the countries, cutting down the expense of long-haul flights. Within each country, I’ll hop between cities, beaches, and nature depending on how I feel and also the work level I have on – for me, cities are better for intense work periods and nature for when I have more downtime for hiking.

Choosing when to go to each destination

This comes down to the high season versus low season debate. As a nomad you’re bound to hit high and low seasons in various destinations as time unfolds. However, starting out, it’s a good idea to think about what you’ll need most. Low season offers better and cheaper accommodation options which can be good if you’re strapped for cash. However, there will be fewer people, which is less fun if you think you’ll feel lonely on your own. Don’t sweat it too much. If it isn’t working out, you can always move on.

Popular locations for digital nomads

Nomads are drawn to certain locations for good reason. Typically those places have the right balance of facilities, good wi-fi, low prices, sightseeing and culture, and, of course, the digital nomad community. Here are some of the most popular locations for digital nomads.

  • Canggu, Bali
  • Playa del Carmen, Mexico
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Koh Phangan, Thailand
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Canary Islands, Spain
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Medellin, Colombia
  • Penang, Malaysia
  • Athens, Greece
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Prague, Czechia
  • Porto, Portugal
  • Warsaw, Poland
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina

You can find more in-depth details about nomad-friendly countries, including Wi-Fi and living costs on Nomad List.

Hotel Room in Malaga with desk

Dealing with visas

Visas can be complicated for digital nomads, not least because the rules are different for every country. Also, visa rules were written before we all got laptops and decided we wanted to spend March working from Malaysia. Things are changing but it’s slow progress. For now, you have three main visa options when visiting a country – a tourist visa, a business visa, or a digital nomad visa.

Tourist Visas

Tourist visas let you enter the country for a set period, usually from 30 to 180 days. Some countries require a formal visa application even for a tourist, e.g. India and China. But some will let you apply for an e-visa online e.g. Vietnam. And then there’s Europe’s crazy Schengen zone rules which allow you to travel for no more than 90 days in a 180 day period throughout a specific list of European countries.

Is it okay to work on a tourist visa? This is a bit of a grey area since nomads aren’t doing the kind of work anticipated by the visa rules e.g. in a bar or office in that country. In fact, your clients are probably based elsewhere. Even still, it’s most likely you will fall outside the tourist visa rules since you’re not strictly a tourist. However, the vast majority of nomads enter on tourist visas and most fly under the radar.

The downside to visiting on a tourist visa is you have a set period. If it’s 30 days, that’s barely time to get settled. And some countries won’t let you return for another block of time i.e. you must then be out of the country for another 30 to 180 days before returning.

Business Visas

Business visas are an option if you’re nervous about tourist visas but the rules can be strict from the type of work you do to the revenue thresholds. And then you may fall short because you’re not bringing business into the country. As such, many digital nomads don’t qualify for business visas. Plus, applying can take months and hundreds of dollars.

Digital Nomad Visas

Moving with 21st-century work trends, there are now over 50 countries offering a visa specifically for Digital Nomads. Here are 20 of the most popular countries for Digital Nomad visas.

  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Costa Rica
  • Colombia
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Georgia
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary 
  • Iceland
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Thailand

Several Caribbean countries also offer DN visas but are generally expensive to apply to and live in. You can find a full list of digital nomad visa countries on the website Visa Guide.

The trend towards nomad visas is generally good news. These visas offer the confidence and security of knowing that you’re in a country on a legal basis. Also, you won’t have to do a visa run every few months (details below). But what’s the downside? You have to apply in advance, which can take months. Some countries charge fees which can be hundreds of dollars. And, some countries require you to become a tax resident. Often, these taxes are lower than you’d pay at home (if you’re from the USA and moving to Estonia, for example). However, it can mess up your tax status at home and may not be worth it unless you enjoy a country and want to stay there longer term. Do your research and do it in advance.

Checking visa rules

By far my favourite site for checking visa rules is Visa HQ. It’s a UK website but you can check visa requirements from your home country e.g. USA to any country e.g. Thailand. You can complete your application for visas through the site but they do add a fee. I usually check the rules and then apply directly myself.

Doing visa runs

A visa run is where you leave one country at the end of your tourist visa period so you can re-enter and get a fresh tourist visa period. It can be a fun experience, heading over the border to a new country for the weekend. It’s super popular in Southeast Asia, though some countries are clamping down because they’ve gotten wise to our activities. Again, check the rules for where you’re visiting. And plan it in. It’s stressful having a visa run coinciding with a big deadline.

Handling onward tickets

Alongside visas, most if not all countries require proof of an onward ticket. This can be a problem for nomads who typically don’t know where they’re going next. The chances are, you won’t be asked for your onward ticket when you arrive but it can happen – I wasn’t allowed to board my flight in Kuala Lumpur once because I couldn’t show my onward ticket out of The Philippines. I had a mad scramble to buy one at the airport which was stressful and expensive. The better option is to use an onward ticket service. I use Best Onward Ticket. They buy a legitimate but refundable ticket in your name. You pay around $15 for the service and they later cancel the reservation. This is what most nomads do.

What to pack as a digital nomad

If there is one mistake new nomads make, it’s overpacking. I get it. It can be hard leaving behind a house or apartment’s worth of things and fitting it all into luggage. But the liberating thing is that you’re going to have to replenish things over time anyway from toiletries to clothing to tech gear. So, take only what you’ll need for the first few months. Here are some extra tips:

  • Take no more than 3 bags – Main luggage, office backpack, and purse/day bag
  • Try to pack a soft-side wheeling backpack – it is easier to transport
  • Aim for a 50-litre bag or large carry-on if you can
  • Don’t pack more than 70 liters – it will be too heavy to carry
  • Leave space – you will buy things as you go
  • Don’t pack things ‘just in case’ – there will be shops where you go
  • Do pack a large supply of prescription medicines
  • Keep your office items to a laptop, phone, and notebook – peripherals are for fixed locations
  • If in doubt, leave it out.

For more tips, here is my printable packing list, my tips for how to pack lighter, a list of what to pack for a long-haul flight, and how I went from checked luggage to carry-on.

I’ve also got some luggage guides – The Best Carry-On Luggage and The Best Travel Backpacks.

Restocking essentials as you travel

You’re on an open ticket so it’s simply not possible to pack all the essentials you will need. And by essentials, I mostly mean things like medicines, contraceptive pills, contact lenses, and sanitary products. It’s something I stressed about a lot at the beginning. The answer is just a bit of advanced planning. It surprised me that it was hard to find tampons in some countries and even contact lens solution in glasses-focused countries. I do my research first so I know what doctor/optician/pharmacy options are available in my next 1 to 3 countries. Then, when I’m starting to get low, I start shopping around and making appointments. There’s nothing more stressful than needing something and being in the wrong country to find it easily. Digital nomad groups are a great place for getting recommended doctors or knowing what’s available in the location you’re visiting (I’ve listed some nomad groups below).

Over-stocking on the road

Almost worse than not being able to find what you want is buying what you don’t need. You start with a lean backpack of items but by the time you leave your apartment rental after three months, you find you’ve acquired an office chair, six fragile Champagne flutes, a blender, and a cat. Except for minimalists, we’re drawn to possessions. Don’t do it. My mantra: if you buy it, you have to carry it.

Quote Helen Keller Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all

Accommodation options as a nomad

There are many accommodation options for nomads and you’re probably likely to cycle through the range depending on the country you’re in, the season, your work demands, and your social needs. Here are the most popular options for nomads:

Apartment rental – a solid base often with kitchen and desk facilities. You can usually stay a little longer but it can be isolating if you’re alone. Airbnb is the main source and you can filter for business stays.

Housesitting – a free way to stay but usually comes with responsibilities like pet sitting. It can take time to line up but is perfect if you have a flexible schedule and are prepared to travel to wherever the house sit is located. Trusted Housesitters is the best site.

House swaps – this only works if you’ve kept your home back home but it can be a free way to stay. Try Home Exchange.

Co-Working Spaces – relatively new spaces designed for digital nomads offering workspace, social space, and sleeping space all in one area. They’re not in every country and can feel a bit like party hostels. Many co-working spaces don’t include accommodation, so check.

Hostels – the cheapest option if you’re building your income and can be very sociable. Shared dorms can be counter-productive for work. Consider private rooms and quieter hostels. Book on Hostelworld.

Hotels – expensive and potentially lonely long-term but nice as a treat now and again. Booking.com has great filters for business stays as well as a rewards system for loyalty.

Van Life – many nomads do this very successfully. It’s not for everyone but if you can make it work, it solves transport and accommodation all in one.

Getting discounts on rooms

Especially with apartment rentals and even hotels, if you plan to stay for more than a few weeks, contact the owner and see if you can get a discount. I usually pitch 10 places and one of them will reduce the price. It helps if you have a high review score on sites like Airbnb so be careful about being a good renter. Apart from that, keep an eye out for flash sales and try bidding sites like Priceline if you want a nice hotel in a big city at a cheaper rate.

travel quote: travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer

Using geographical arbitrage to your advantage

Geographical arbitrage describes earning money in a strong currency while living in a country that has a weaker currency and is therefore cheaper. One of the main advantages of being a digital nomad is your ability to leverage geographical arbitrage. Of course, you might want to earn in the USA and move around the US states as an American citizen. But if you’re starting a new business, selling graphic design services to customers in Europe, basing yourself in Bali can help you reduce your costs. And, when your business has grown, you can save any extra income.

Juggling international currencies

Another practicality you’ll get used to quickly is juggling multiple currencies. Earning in one currency and spending in another used to come with high fees, and still can if you stick with your traditional bank for overseas spending. The good news is that there are now several excellent banking services designed with nomads and international workers in mind. My go-to is Wise which lets you receive and spend in multiple currencies with low to no fees and great exchange rates. I also have accounts with Starling (UK only), Payoneer (I used it only for income) and Paypal (which I hate because of the fees but it is sometimes unavoidable). I also maintain my home bank account. Here is a detailed list of the most popular digital nomad bank accounts.

Paying taxes

Taxes are another complication of the digital nomad life. For the most part, you retain your tax residency in your home country unless you move to another country for long enough and apply to become a tax resident there. If you’re bouncing from country to country, chances are you’ll simply remain tax resident in your original country. The upside of that is simplicity and maintaining your financial status back home. If you are set on reducing your tax bill, employ a good accountant who understands international tax rules. It may be possible for you to incorporate your business in a tax-friendly country or go via the nomad visa route. You can find out more about digital nomad tax-friendly countries.

Sign: No Budget Travellers Allowed

Maintaining your financial status back home

It can be an exciting time, unhooking from a location-dependent life but do keep some tethers to your old life because you never know if or when you might go home. I had to do that for a spell a few years ago to get surgery on my knee. And then my mum got ill and I stayed for longer. Getting free surgery on the UK’s National Health Service and getting a mortgage was only possible because I’d maintained my financial status. I’d paid my taxes, and kept my bank account, credit cards, and voting registration.

Travel hacking to get free or cheap travel

Being a frequent traveler comes with many benefits, one of which is using past travel to fund future travel. Known as travel hacking, collecting points and air miles to use for free or discounted flights and hotels, I’d recommend adding it to your list of things to do. If nothing else, start collecting points from your first flight. It takes minutes to sign up to a scheme. You can figure out how to redeem your air miles further down the line.

Handling mail

I once paid over $1,000 in fines because I missed a bill payment while I was overseas and my family members hadn’t forwarded my mail. It was my fault for relying on someone else. I paid the painful bill and quickly signed up for a mail-forwarding service. You pay a monthly fee to use their address as your postal address. They open, scan, and forward all of your hard-copy mail to your email. Here are some of the most popular mail forwarding services for nomads.

Managing remote working

I’m not going to lie, balancing working and traveling can be a challenge. On the one hand, you want to explore because what’s the point of being location-independent if you don’t enjoy the location? On the other hand, you need to earn money to sustain your lifestyle. It took me years to get into the real swing of things.

Working securely from unsecured Wi-Fi

My biggest tip is to get a VPN (virtual private network) so you can run your business including your finances from unsecured wifi without worrying. I use Express VPN. It’s affordable and has a 30-day free trial.

Buying local cell data

Signing up for a new cell phone plan or pay-as-you-go SIM every time you hop country can be a chore. When I first started out, way back in 2010 both wi-fi and cell data were tricky and I own a whole box of personal wifi devices and local SIMs. Now, I just use Airalo. It’s an eSim. The prices are affordable, the service reliable and it’s very easy to set up. Just make sure you have a smartphone that isn’t locked to a network back home.

Fitting in time for travel

Many new nomads end up traveling less than regular vacationers. Why? Work. As well as setting up your work situation, potentially limited finances, and the time-consuming chores that take minutes back home (like restocking your favorite deodorant brand), there’s not much time for anything else. Unless you make time. Sure, dig deep in the first year or so to get your money flowing but earmark time for exploration. I had no routine, which worked for me. Typically I’d hike when the conditions were best and worked when it rained. Early morning work stints followed by the afternoon off and more work at night also worked for me. Find your groove. Don’t get so lost in the work that you don’t enjoy the destination.

travel quote - I'm not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world, Mary Ann Radmacher

Connecting with travelers

Birds of a feather flock together and meeting up with fellow travelers is such an enriching experience while you’re away. But it may not be easy, especially if you have an apartment rental on the outskirts of town. I have a whole article dedicated to how to meet people on the road and what to do if you feel lonely while traveling.

Connecting with other nomads

Of course, other digital nomads are going to be your most kindred spirits. If you’re in a nomad-friendly destination, they’re very easy to find – head to any cafe that has strong wi-fi, good air conditioning, power sockets and serves fancy coffee. Co-working spaces are also a great place to connect. Follow these spaces on social media and you can often go along to social nights even if you don’t have paid workspace. Above all, social media groups, usually on Facebook are a great way of meeting other nomads. I’m part of the wonderful Female Digital Nomads group which has around 90k members dotted around the globe.

Romantic relationships as a digital nomad

Assuming you’re single, finding romance as a digital nomad can be tricky. I say this to be realistic, not to put a downer on things. It’s the one topic that comes up regularly in the nomad groups I’m part of. Mostly the problem is the fact that nomads live a fluid life with people coming and going all the time. Unless your trip plans and urge for a long-term partner coincide with another nomad, your relationship might not stick. Dating apps are a great way to meet people, but keep in mind that locals have a fixed location – will you (and can you) stay? Connecting in person with other nomads can be the better solution, as can having flexibility in your plans. If you do manage to make it work, as many people do, being able to share your lifestyle with your partner can be very rewarding.

Looking after your health and safety overseas

From malaria to dengue fever (had it, don’t recommend it) to food poisoning to personal safety, life on the road can be risky. It can also be risky if you live in a static location, so don’t let fearmongers put the dampener on your trip. But do find out the risks in each country you’re visiting and take the necessary precautions, even if it’s just packing some mosquito repellent or knowing the signs of bed bugs. Check out my guide to travel safety tips.

Getting health insurance

Do you need health insurance as a digital nomad? YES. As someone who’s had dengue fever, ruptured her ACL and other less than amusing travel incidents, medical bills can mount quickly. The catch: most mainstream travel and health insurance will only cover short-term vacations. Even if you opt for gap-year cover, there is usually an end date and it’s not possible to renew your insurance while you’re overseas. The good news is, there are policies that cover digital nomads. The most popular are World Nomads and Safety Wings. Here’s a longer list of nomad insurance companies.

Dealing with burnout and your mental health

No life is without trouble. While you might think all your problems will be behind if you if you can just quit your job, get rid of the apartment bills, and explore the world while working, the truth is, you just replace those problems with new problems. Except, as a digital nomad, you’re without the usual cast of friends and family to support you. Add culture shock, travel burn out and money worries and things can spiral quickly. I’ve been there. How did I handle it? I turned to the nomad groups for support, I changed locations (from Asia to Europe), I took a much-needed month off, visited some friends, and regrouped. Most of all, I needed a rest. As Anne Lamott famously said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Handling weight gain or muscle loss

If I had a dollar for every traveler and digital nomad who’s said to me “I’ve gained weight” (usually women) or “I’ve lost muscle” (usually men), I could retire. That first year of being a nomad can be wild. Whether it’s fun wild with pizza and beer with new nomad friends or stressful wild with money worries and comfort eating at your desk until 3 am, our eating habits can take a hit. Gone is the gym and long walk to work, replaced with eating out and not being able to find (or afford) your usual fruit smoothie blend. On the road, you have to make a dedicated effort to stay healthy. Buy a one-month gym or yoga pass, and find the veggie restaurant and smoothie stand. Most of all, try to stay somewhere that has a kitchen to save you from eating street food every night.

Indiana Jo stood next to Kid's height chart
Every day I’m growing.

Dealing with culture shock and homesickness

Culture shock is real, as is homesickness, especially if you’re new to exploring the globe. Over time, you get more used to life and how it’s lived elsewhere. Give yourself time to adapt and don’t be hard on yourself if you find you’re missing things from home. I remember going into a huge slump when I reached Asia after 9 months in Latin America and found the British store Marks & Spencer. Culture shock and homesickness can come out of nowhere. Message your people back home, try to find an expat store where you can buy your favorite candy, or go and explore your new destination to remind yourself why you’re living the nomad lifestyle. It will pass. Here are my 50 biggest culture shock moments.

Missing the structure of your old life

It may surprise you to find that you come full circle and end up missing the structure of your old life – Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. Why? Because that structure has boundaries between work time and playtime. In time, you’ll come to find a better balance but at the beginning, you might struggle. I did. Mostly because I was building an income. And then I went through a phase of blowing off work, traveling and having fun, and eating through my savings. It’s okay to oscillate between the extremes. You’ll find a balance in the end. Adding some structure can actually help.

Seeing your friends’ lives move on without out

There’s a certain arrogance that can creep in as a digital nomad. You think you’re doing the coolest thing in the world while your friends and family are just ticking along. But it’s not true. Their lives move on too, and often in ways that your life hasn’t. Next thing you know, they’ve got as many husbands/wives/kids between them as you’ve got passport stamps. Or they’ve made that promotion, moved location, bought a flash new car or house, or both. It’s human nature to wonder ‘what if’ and stare at the grass on the other side, wondering if it’s greener. Console yourself if worry or jealousy arises – some of your friends might be looking at your life with their own what-ifs.

Quote: if you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are? T.S. Eliot

Downsides of being a digital nomad

  • It can be lonely – most people are forever on the move
  • Traveling – finding rooms and booking flights as well as travel days is time-consuming
  • Working on unreliable wi-fi and power can increase your work stress
  • Being your own boss can be overwhelming when things go wrong
  • It can be a financially uncertain time, especially at the beginning
  • Your friends and family might not ‘get it’
  • Life back home will move on without you (weddings, babies, mortgages)
  • You might miss those colleagues you were so quick to get away from or at least having colleagues
  • It’s frustrating having to sit inside an a/c chilled cafe working when there are waves to surf
  • Things are harder overseas when things go wrong – missed bill payments, missed flights, visa issues, health problems, etc.

These are some of the downsides, but for many nomads, they’re totally worth it!

travel quote - once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life. Michael Palin.

Choosing to return home

How long do you keep on as a digital nomad? The answer is – until it’s not fun anymore. Some nomads are already past retirement age and have no plans to stop. Some quit within a year, knowing it wasn’t right for them. Health, money, and problems with family can all bring you back home. As someone who went back to ‘normal life’ for a while but then returned to the road 18 months after my mum died, I can reassure you that no decision has to be permanent. It’s easy to reinstall an earlier version of your life. And it’s just as easy to try your hand at further bouts of nomadism. The future, your lifestyle, and your dreams are all in your hands. The question is – will you give it a try?

Drop any questions below. I’ll be happy to reply.

Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.