I’m guessing if you are reading this then you are wanting to find out how to become a digital nomad. And that therefore you already know what one actually is. But I’ve found through my own research that, similar to FIRE, there’s a wide-range of what people mean by the phrase “digital nomad”. I’ve come to think of it literally as simply as ;
“A digital nomad is someone who can work and get paid remotely from any location that has access to decent internet”
For those who want a longer description, Wikipedia has a lengthy if somewhat uninspiring description. Which if you read it, goes a long way to illustrating just how stereotypical some of the preconceptions of a digital nomad can be.
We (well, S) actually became part-time digital nomads more by accident than by plan. Our original FIRE plans allowed for us both to quit at the same time, me at 43 and S at 47. When we reached that point though, S had been remote working for several years already. He’d never even met any of his clients face-to-face.
So he spoke to them about our plans to go travelling for long periods of time at a stretch. Every single one of them wanted him to carry on working for them. We figured we’d give it a try and see how it worked out to become a digital nomad instead.
So now you know how we accidentally ended up experimenting with this lifestyle. Let’s now take a quick look at some of the good reasons you might want to become a digital nomad.
Why Become A Digital Nomad At All?
Like anything, just because something works well for somebody else – it does not necessarily mean that it’ll work for you. However, from our own experience – these are some of the best things we’ve found during our digital nomad time so far.
Location Independence = Travel
The first and perhaps most obvious one – travel. It’s always been a big part of our lives and one of the main drivers behind our FIRE plans. When you no longer need to be in either an office or a specific location – that’s a lot of freedom. The world really does suddenly feel like your proverbial oyster.
In particular, slow travel just goes perfectly with the digital nomad lifestyle. Staying in one place for longer. Really getting to know the local culture and people. That style of travel just works for us better anyway.
Combine it with working as a digital nomad and it’s a no-brainer. It gives us a way to have time to explore each location without being unduly restricted by work.
One of the best things about S’s particular work as a digital nomad is that he has more than a fair share of flexibility over when to actually do the work. Yes, there’s deadlines, especially on the bigger projects. But more often than not it’s been very easy for us to juggle work and the things we’d like to do. Often we’ll hike in the morning and work the afternoon or vice-versa for example.
That flexibility of him being in charge of managing his own time is worth a lot to us. It’s what makes the whole thing work to be honest. Something to bear in mind when considering this for yourselves.
We hadn’t really thought about this one as much when we were making our plans. But it’s turned out to be a major upside of our new lifestyle design.
A lot of the things we enjoy are just connected heavily to good weather. Hiking, cycling, exploring – all much better with blue skies and sunshine. We’re much healthier too when living in weather that suits our lifestyle. UK winters tend to see us inside more, with less exercise and heavier food choices.
So now we time our travels and head off to warmer climates as the sun leaves the UK. It’s a huge added bonus we hadn’t thought too much about.
This concept is discussed a lot in the FIRE world as well as the digital nomad space. Which is not surprising as it can be such a major advantage financially.
At it’s heart, it’s simply the ability to live somewhere with a cheap cost of living and earn money online/elsewhere above the local average wage.
Funnily enough – we started doing this by accident too. I took a “temporary” job in London whilst living in Suffolk after our local employer went bankrupt. London wages were much higher even after taking off the extortionate cost of the daily commute. Living costs much lower in Suffolk. Temporary became permanent.
It’s exactly the same concept globally, except with a much wider range of disparities. For now at least. It will be interesting to see how the remote-working pandemic-driven change will play out over the next few years.
So from our perspectives, when we were travelling through places like SE Asia, Spain, South Africa…our money went much further. In the meantime our investments and S’s online earnings continued to pay at a level intended to support our UK lifestyle.
Hence we benefited from the global arbitrage. One of the few upsides of living in one of the more expensive countries in the world I guess. It has been pretty eye-opening as to the financial opportunity of living somewhere else though.
Sounds Fantastic - But Not Everything Is Awesome
Sorry Lego Movie – as much as I love your theme tune – this wouldn’t be my blog without also sharing the downsides of becoming digital nomads unexpectedly.
So as ever, in the spirit of warts and all – these are some of the things we found harder to deal with at times. Worth thinking about how you would deal with these if you were to become a digital nomad.
Missing Friends & Family
This one is so obvious it almost seems daft to mention it. But hey, it’s good to be complete, right.
When you are away travelling for long periods of time, you end up missing friends and family. Even with the improvements of technology. A few emails, What’s App pics, phone calls – yes, you can stay in touch much better now. It’s still not the same as being there in person. A hug doesn’t travel so well over the internet.
It also changes the kind of conversations you’d have too. When travelling, you are constantly being exposed to new and interesting experiences, learning, growing. It’s absorbing and you want to share that with your nearest and dearest.
But you quickly realise it’s pretty unrelatable to most people. What’s important to them is what’s happening in their world, nearby. It’s not bad – just expect your conversations to be different.
Lack Of A Home-Base
This one differs for everyone as to when it hits but at some point you are likely to reach “travel burnout”. The more long-term travel blogs ( try out Wandering Earl or Indie Traveller as two of my favs ) you read, the more stories you will come across of people hanging up their boots. Taking some time out and needing to find a home base for a while.
What we’ve learned from our own experience is that for us, it very much depends on the style of travel too. We’ve done a few trips in the earlier days where we crammed as many places into the 3 weeks holiday time that we had. Wanting to get a taste of everything. And yeah, it does get tiring pretty quickly living out of a bag. Spending as much time moving from one place to the next as on actually exploring it.
Slow travel works much better again here, giving you time to settle in and enjoy working out new daily routines. Where the best morning hikes are, finding dappled courtyards for a spot of lunch etc etc. It’s awesome and we love it.
But even when you are loving it, there’s constant reminders that it’s not “home”
Strange things happen like you miss a decent bread knife and frying pan. You are always conscious of not damaging anything. Feeling uncomfortable at putting your legs up on the chair. Even some of the best rentals we’ve had end up feeling like exactly that – a temporary home, not a permanent base.
Loneliness Vs Full-On Relationship
When you are away from your normal social circle it can be lonely. Especially if in a country where you can’t speak the language well. It’s harder to strike up random conversations like you do when you are speaking the same language.
We obviously travel as a couple but only S is actually working whilst we do so. So throw that in the mix too and you can see how it may be a problem for some. Fortunately I’m the kind of person who’s always been as happy by myself as well as enjoying company. Yes, you will not be surprised to learn I come out very balanced on the introvert/extrovert scale.
Likewise, it can be demanding on you as a couple when you are each others main source of well, everything! At this point I’ll irritate you by confirming that yeah, we are one of those couples who are just happy spending a lot of time together. So it’s never been a problem. In fact , came in downright handy during the pandemic lockdown!
But everyone is different and it is worth thinking about how you would cope with both situations.
Our Solution: Get The Best Of Both Worlds!
As you will probably have learnt if you have read much of my blog, you will know that I’m not a fan of artificial restrictions or unnecessary limitations. So it will come as no surprise to any of you that the same thinking applied here.
In the same way that there are many paths that lead to financial independence – we figured there must be a different way. A way to get the huge upsides of the lifestyle without all the downsides.
Lifestyle Design: Become A Digital Nomad On Your Own Terms
The generally accepted definition of a digital nomad is someone who doesn’t own their own home and travels the world, usually for multiple years at a time.
That wasn’t going to suit us since having worked so damn hard on building our own home – we also wanted some time to actually be in it. To enjoy local living now that I was no longer spending crazy amounts of time away working.
And so, as ever, instead of caring about what the world said we “should” do – we came up with a new way that worked for us.
What was this magical solution, I hear you all cry? Well, basically we split the year up into four parts – something a little like this;
At first glance, the cheery snowman and backpacks might not be immediately obvious as to what our new lifestyle design actually was. So let’s take a bit of a deeper dive into it now.
Part-Time Digital Nomad - Our New Lifestyle Explained
Essentially we were guided by the weather in the UK and getting a balance between time at home and time to travel and explore the world. And thus we came up with what I’m now calling our “part-time nomad” lifestyle.
Jan – Mar sees us escaping the cold months from the UK and heading out for between two to three months. Somewhere warmer & sunnier. Our last two trips have both been to SE Asia though different places each time. It’s somewhere we had saved visiting until I quit my job as three weeks was never going to cut it! Now it’s one long flight and then loads of time to explore, moving slowly from place to place.
Then it’s back to the UK to enjoy late Spring and Summer. Spring has always been my favourite season in the UK as everything bursts back to life and we can enjoy being outside again.
The huge benefit of spending this time in the UK is it lets us catch up with friends and family in person and enjoy living in our own home with our own bed.
Trust me, by the end of 2-3 months travelling, it’s a real pleasure to have a home to come back to. Time with friends and family. Cooking in your own kitchen. Brewing our own beer. Long bike rides around the countryside. All the things we don’t get to do whilst travelling but love about our lives here.
Then as the sun starts to disappear the itchy travel bug grows. And so we head back out for another stint of slow travel. Again spending 2 – 3 months away exploring. Making the most of our new found freedom. No longer restricted to watching the nights draw in and getting the jumpers out.
Then it’s back for Christmas as it’s an important time for us. Getting to see our families means a lot. Let alone the excuse to cook, eat & drink all kinds of lovely things.
And then it’s back to Jan and start all over again! Well, pandemic permitting…..
Drawbacks Of Part-Time Nomading
As ever – nothing is perfect and our part-time nomad lifestyle is no different. All choices always require a compromise somewhere on the scope/cost/time triangle. Exactly the same as when optimising your FIRE journey for yourself.
Becoming a part-time digital nomad is no different and the biggest element of compromise here is on the cost front.
If you go “full nomad”, it’s a huge opportunity in terms of the geographical arbitrage if you choose a lower cost of living country. We don’t get that full benefit since we choose to keep our own home and not to rent it out whilst we travel.
If we did choose to rent our house out, we would actually be saving money as we travelled – which is a pretty awesome idea!
Being a part-time nomad means realistically each of our trips is too short for any rentals. One of the upsides of being FIRE’d though – we don’t need to do so from a financial perspective. So, for now, we choose not to do so.
Being a part-time nomad means we don’t get to take full advantage from a financial perspective – but that’s why life is about more than money.
Part-Time Nomad - Why It Works For Us
For us, becoming part-time digital nomads has been an eye-opening way of living life we hadn’t considered before.
And to be honest, if we had known about how to become part-time nomads earlier – in all likelihood I could have quit my job earlier.
We’ve combined the slow travel approach and taken advantage of S’s business being so flexible and entirely online. Doing so has meant we’re able to travel and explore places in the way that suits us best. Reducing the downsides to a level we’re ok with.
We have actually ended up saving money a lot of the time as to date even though that wasn’t the aim. By travelling to places with a cheaper cost of living than the UK, we’ve had much lower living expenses.
Although we’re not purposely restraining ourselves, so far we’ve found it’s a pretty wide range of countries too. I guess it’s one upside of the UK being relatively expensive on a global basis. Especially down in the south.
So we get to explore the world – but we don’t have to accept the downsides to do so.
By keeping our own home we know we always have a home-base to return to. One that we love and is very personal to us after building it ourselves. It’s like having a giant security blanket, all fluffy and welcoming. Something very much appreciated during a global pandemic when travel is pretty much on hold.
We get to spend real, proper time with friends and family – not just a flying visit. It makes a difference.
Basically – the way we see it – it’s the best of both worlds.
Part-Time Digital Nomads Forever?
We talk about the balance of this lifestyle a lot. I’m always concerned S is still working when he doesn’t need to. But whilst his work stays so flexible he’s actually happier keeping it going. Especially whilst things have been extra volatile during the pandemic.
If that changes, then that’s when he will give up. Until then, as S puts it – ” There’s nothing quite like earning ‘beer money’ whilst sipping a chilled one on your deck in the warm sunshine”
Digital Nomad And FIRE - Perfect Partners?
FIRE is fantastic for the options it gives you to design a lifestyle that works for you. But in the same vein – it is possible to design a lifestyle that can help speed up your FIRE journey.
Perhaps one big lesson learned on our FIRE journey is that we could have started this lifestyle sooner.
By coming up with a way to combine slow travel with S’s online company, we’ve found a combination that works for us. If we had known how well it suits us and that S is happier to continue to work, our financial planning would have been different.
We would have planned for me to quit my job earlier. The loss of income balanced out by S’s continued earnings. That’s the point of being a team – you play to your combined strengths.
What about you? Do you think this lifestyle is something that could help you on your way to FIRE? Is it something you do already?
Let me know below – always love to hear what you guys think!