If you’ve ever heard of the new generation of digital nomads traveling the world and earning money online, you must have wondered what it must be like. It might be that you’re thinking about becoming a digital nomad or that it just sounds cool and you want to know what it’s like being a digital nomad.
I have another post if you’re thinking becoming a digital nomad family, read that one next!
In this guide I want to show you what a digital nomad life is like. I’ll go through the good and the bad. Then I’ll take you through my whole day from morning to night. By the end of this post you’ll know exactly what it’s like being a digital nomad and have a good idea if it’s for you!
Table of Contents
- How I Became a Digital Nomad
- Jobs For Digital Nomads – My Work Life
- What It’s Really Like Being A Digital Nomad
- How To Become Part Of The Nomadic Community
- The Best Things About Becoming A Digital Nomad
- The Biggest Challenges With The Digital Nomad Lifestyle
- A Day In A Digital Nomad’s Life (What I Did Today)
- Final Thoughts – Should You Become A Digital Nomad?
How I Became a Digital Nomad
My digital nomad journey started very differently from most of the nomadic friends I have. Most of them got fed up with the 9-5 grind and, with some savings in the bank, decided to go nomadic, either by convincing their boss to let them work remotely or by becoming a freelancer of some kind.
This is the route most people take into the digital nomad lifestyle and it’s the way I’d recommend you go about it too but it’s not how it happened for me.
I didn’t choose to travel around Asia or the world, my goal was simpler and much shorter than that.
I left my home country (U.K.) when I was 21 to study in China. It was a one year exchange program designed to be a year of Chinese language immersion.
By the end of the year I wasn’t ready to leave though. Despite becoming fluent in Chinese, I wanted to stay and learn more. I decided to stay for another year and go back to England a year later – that was 15 years ago.
Jobs For Digital Nomads – My Work Life
After graduating in China I worked for a biotech company based in the US. This got me my first taste of the digital nomad lifestyle. I had never met my boss and as long as I got my work done, he didn’t care where I was doing it. I took full advantage of the situation and started traveling around Asia, occasionally coming back to China when I needed to be in the office.
Understanding that I could work remotely and travel to any country I wanted was infectious and so when I got a job offer that would mean being 100% location independent, I jumped at it. I was doing management consulting and corporate training for clients using Skype.
Over the years I have checked off all the digital nomad cliches, I’ve coached clients with the beach in the background, I’ve worked from cafe’s on the bank of the Mekong river. I’ve even coached on both ends of the Himalayas (Nepal and India) once during a powerful earthquake that shook my mountainside hotel I even had to tell my client while I contemplated evacuating (I didn’t).
When the pandemic came however, my job (along with travel) was one of the casualties. Luckily I had saved enough over the years to get me through lock down, 2020 and 2021. By the end of 2021 I had found the direction I was looking for – and Kill The Dragon Get The Gold Was Born!
What It’s Really Like Being A Digital Nomad
Being a digital nomad does not necessarily mean traveling and adventuring all the time. In fact, I call myself a digital slomad because I travel from one place to the next so infrequently. I try to spend as much time as possible in each place I visit.
Right now I’m in Tianjin, China. It’s a place I know well and use as a base for traveling around Asia. I’m in a suburb of Tianjin on the edge of the cities Korea Town which gives me more options for restaurants and buying imported products. While I love trying new cuisines and different ways of life, when you’re always a stranger in a foreign land, finding ways to get hold of snacks and products from back home can make a huge difference.
Here in China, no one eats cereal for breakfast, but in the Korean supermarket down the road I can find Corn Flakes, Special K and even Coco Pops! (Yes this really excites us nomadic folk!)
We Use Our Digital Devices Less
You might think that being a digital nomad, I’m completely dependent on my devices and spend all day checking social media and other platforms. I’ve found the opposite to be true for most of the digital nomads I know.
When I left my home country 15 years ago, there was no Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Facebook had just started and YouTube was in it’s infancy, and no one even knew what a smartphone was. In the next few years while everyone else was posting Facebook statuses and downloading social media apps, I was feeding monkeys in Indonesia, exploring 100 year old Italian villas in the heart of China and falling
in love with Thailand.
Distance was a factor, so was the social media ban in China, but mainly it was being away from the peer pressure. When everyone around you has WhatsApp, you feel like you need it too. But there was no one around me and I didn’t even know what I’d use Twitter or Instagram for.
I Create Time To Explore Around My Work
My mornings are always the same, I get up, plan my day using my minimal productivity system and get the most important thing finished as early as possible.
Once I’ve finished my first big task of the day (usually writing) I feel ahead of the game. I know that I’ve been productive and can take my foot off the pedal a little. This might mean doing something fun like practicing juggling or going out to take travel photo’s or just to explore.
Today it meant going for a walk in the park near my place. It’s an abandoned railroad that used to connect the city with Beijing. After years of disuse, they turned it into a park and kept some of the original features. The railroad tracks, signposts and notice boards make for an interesting walk in the park.
Having already completed my most important task for the day, my afternoons are more fun. I still get work done but I try to make it more enjoyable. That might mean working from a cafe, a park bench or another great spot to work from.
Being thousands of miles from home, you need to make the most of it and actually enjoy being where you are. There’s no point being a digital nomad that travels the world if all you do is work from your apartment or hotel room. That being said I also don’t treat everyday like a holiday either – sitting on the beach or drinking with lunch.
I might be in a foreign country but I’m not on vacation, this is my life and so I need to live in a sustainable way – that means a balance of work and enjoying myself.
In fact one of the biggest digital nomad problems I’ve had is knowing when to stop working. When you don’t have regular office hours it can sometimes feel like you should be working all the time.
Evenings Change Depending Where I am
One thing I’ve found traveling to do different countries is that everyone has a different idea of what you should be doing in the evening.
Here in Tianjin, the shops and restaurants close early and after 9.00pm there is nothing to do aside from the club scene. In Thailand I like to spend my evening out, walking around night markets, finding a chilled out place for a drink or just relaxing on the beach.
How To Become Part Of The Nomadic Community
Create Your Own Income Streams
There’s no need to quit your job just because you want to become a digital nomad. I know many people who either still work the same job job they did back home or have found jobs as they’ve traveled. But if you’d like to be a digital nomad, a source of income that you own and control is a safety net I recommend you have.
I’m not saying another global pandemic is going to hit and wipe out your company like it did mine but people get laid off everyday. Even more likely is that you want to change job in the future, being location independent can make that more tricky.
What’s more likely is that the freedom you experience in your nomadic lifestyle you’ll want to extend to your work life. The only way to do that is to startup a business or your own income streams. Most digital nomads with their own companies create a blog or consulting service but there are many options for digital nomads to make money online.
Figure Out How Often You Want To Change Location
It comes as a surprise to most people when I tell them that I don’t like traveling. Getting up early, packing, getting tickets, visas and documents in order then awkward sleeps on planes. All the while dragging suitacases through unknown places.
I love being settled in somewhere new, I love exploring a new culture and cuisine but I could leave the traveling if I could. This is why I’ve opted for a slomad lifestyle over the traditional digital nomad pace of travel.
Most digital nomads, 68%, stay between 3-6 months in each location. I polled the community to fin that out myself. However, from the nomads that I meet and the new digital nomad visas that so many countries are starting to issue I suspect that the nomadic community is trending towards being slomad.
Age and experience are of course a factor. Younger nomads or people who have just starting on their nomad journey are more likely to travel more often. As I’ve gotten older I’ve enjoyed slowing down and spending more time in each location as well as going back to places I stayed before.
If you have a family, the slomad lifestyle might be easier too. Whether you’re homeschooling your digital nomad kids or finding education for them in each location, the less often you travel the less disruption they will encounter.
Know You’re Accommodation Options
When I first started traveling and exploring the best destinations around Asia, most small hostels and hotels didn’t even have websites. It was never a problem and I rarely booked any accommodation. I just turned up and walked around until I found something.
Being a digital nomad now is so much easier, there are so many options.
I know so many people who use AirBnB exclusively to find places to stay while traveling all over the world.
Less popular than it was, couch surfing is still a good way to find short term accommodation when you travel.
If you travel in tourist areas, you will find hostels! Ask in the local cafes and bars or just Google it!
- Short term rentals
Googling short term rentals or just asking when your in the location will give you access to homes and apartments you might never otherwise know about.
There are tons of travel accommodation apps – Expedia, One Night, Qu Nar, Hostelworld etc
- Hotels online
- Facebook Groups
Find a Facebook group for your destination (search digital nomad + your location)
- Reaching out to the nomad community
Talk to other digital nomads online, especially bloggers in your target destination, they are great resources!
It’s never been easier to find accommodation at any price point.
As for me, I like to find short term rentals whenever I can. I like my privacy and now that I have a family we need some space. I like to work from home too with as little distraction or friction as possible, so having my own place with a room I can dedicate to working works well for me.
I’ve known nomads that exclusively use AirBnB though and just yesterday I saw someone offering a free room to anyone that would walk her dogs each morning in a Facebook group. You can always find an option to suit you.
The Best Things About Becoming A Digital Nomad
I could easily write a whole post on this but here I want to give you my top three reasons you should consider becoming a digital nomad.
Opportunities you never knew existed
When I first decided to learn Chinese it was because I wanted to open a martial arts school back home. While learning Chinese I spent all my free time learning kung fu and tai chi from world experts in China. I never would have thought that I would get job offers at international companies or run a consultancy from my laptop.
I wouldn’t have had those opportunities if I stayed in my home town.
For a brief time I became an actor for Chinese national TV filming documentaries which needed a Westerner. I’ve been offered countless opportunities simply because I was in the right place
Experiences You Could Never Have
Being a digital nomad I have done things I never even thought possible.
After meeting some Tibetans at Boudhaneth in Kathmandu after trekking to Everest Base camp I became interested in learning the Tibetan language. After a few years of lessons online, I went to McCloud Ganj in India (home of the Dalai Lama) and immersed myself in the language and culture with Tibetan refugees.
Travel Changes You
You’ve heard people say it but you might not know exactly why. I try to take something or make a memory from every place I visit, one of the things I pride myself on taking is knowledge you the cuisine.
I can cook Chinese food without a second thought, I make a mean pad thai and can whip up Malaysian currey with my eyes closed.
Being able to speak a few different languages and showing off photos from all over Asia pales in comparison with being able to cook something for friends that they’ve never even heard of.
The Biggest Challenges With The Digital Nomad Lifestyle
I’ve talked about the good things, it’s only right that I talk about the other side of being constantly on the road. There are many challenges with being a digital nomad, if you want to find out all 15, you can read that post. Here though I just want to mention one, for most people it’s the hardest to overcome.
Missing your family and friends
It goes without saying that being away from home means missing your family and friends. Staying in touch with them is easier now than ever though, when I first left England, there was no video chat or messaging apps, I had to line up for international phone cards to call my folks back home.
Now I can Facetime my Mom on a Sunday afternoon and she’ll pass the phone around so I can catch up with everyone. It’s not the same as being there though.
A Day In A Digital Nomad’s Life (What I Did Today)
Right now it’s summer, waking up in the heat and unzipping the mosquito tent which encompasses my bed I head straight for the kitchen.
My average morning is little different from anyone else’s and involves coffee, breakfast and planning my day.
Most days I’ve written 2000 words by 10.00am. I don’t need a beach lounger or hip cafe with extra fast WiFi, I use a plain text file with no font options, no size or formatting functions, just a blank page and text. I do this where ever I’m staying because I can always guarantee that I can get work done.
Don’t get me wrong, I love working in cafes too but it’s not always going to be as productive as a place where you can control all the variables. There’s never a distracting table of loud people in my living room.
The biggest benefit of living in Korea Town is the food! I take full advantage of it from Korean BBQ to Kimbab and Kimchi and today was no exception!
I spent my afternoon in my favorite cafe here. Run by a friendly Korean lady, the backdrop of quiet Korean pop music and businessmen making deals is the perfect environment to do some editing.
It can be difficult to stay consistent with a workout routine if you are the type of nomad that travels frequently. Being a digital slomad makes it easier and having a workout that requires little equipment prepared is a must. That way if you can’t get to a gym you still don’t have an excuse to skip a workout.
Here in Tianjin I’m lucky enough to have a good gym in my apartment so I can get a full workout everyday at home. After a long day working, a hard workout is the best way to unwind. Once I’m done my body knows there’s nothing left to do that day other than relax.
I’m the first to admit that when I’m in a new place, most of my meals will be in the local restaurants – it’s one of the reasons I love to travel!
But you can’t spend your life eating from restaurants everyday! It’s expensive and less healthy than making your own food. So most days I make my own food, especially dinner straight after my workouts.
Today I cooked ginger flavored rice cooked in a pot with pre-seared chicken to add some depth to the rice. I threw broccoli in half way and put the lid back on till everything was tender.
I stayed in tonight though, got some good rest and an early night because I’ve got to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.
Final Thoughts – Should You Become A Digital Nomad?
So that was my day and my opinions on being a digital nomad. Being a digital nomad is a challenge but I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now. I hope it inspired you to start your own nomadic journey or at least to travel around the world at least once.
A day out with a digital nomad family is a good read, especially if you have a family and are thinking about the starting a nomadic life.