The Road to Becoming a Digital Nomad: One Couple’s Journey
We both had stable and well-paid jobs and were living the life in sunny Barcelona, so why would we change our comfortable life in the first place?
In the summer of 2016, my boyfriend Andrea showed me a Youtube video from a channel called Chris the Freelancer, showing his life as a digital nomad. It was the first time I heard about this strange yet exciting remote working lifestyle and while I was doubtful at first, he was instantly smitten with the idea of becoming a digital nomad.
Little did I know that that video would be the spark that started the fire and that one year later we’d both leave our stable and well-paid jobs in sunny Barcelona, to hit the road and newly fledged freelancers and it ourselves…
Why change our comfortable life in the first place?
I had just started a new job in marketing and Andrea had just been promoted, everything we had been working towards, yet, somehow the new job felt like a step backwards instead of forwards.
On top of that we were both growing increasingly more frustrated by the corporate world and our 9–5 jobs. A lack of flexibility over working hours indicated a deeper distrust of employees and our working environments began to feel more toxic than progressive.
The further we explored the digital nomad lifestyle the more attractive it became, and I had always planned to start something for myself in the future anyway. So I finally asked myself ‘why not do it now, what am I waiting for?’
The promise of flexible and remote working was music to our ears, so we had the conversation and took the leap together.
Super-charging our skill sets and sourcing work
Once I was on board, there was the all-important question of how we should start our freelance business, and what skills we would need to acquire. For Andrea it was fairly straightforward, as he was working as a technical engineer, and he wanted to change to a developer role. In my case, I could have used my (online) marketing knowledge to start my freelance career, but marketing wasn’t really fulfilling me, as I felt it didn’t really fit with my personality and my ambitions. I took some time to reassess. Eventually, I decided to study UX design; a field that fit with my marketing experience and personal interest in design and functionality.
First, I started some online courses on Lynda.com, but soon it became evident to me that if I wanted to become a UX Designer, I would need to create a portfolio. So, I decided to enrol in a course on Thinkful.com, which allowed me to work on projects and build an actual portfolio.
I took one month off work to study full-time, as I wanted to fully focus on it and I didn’t want to spend too long studying. After a brief reacquaintance with my inner student, I was ready to look for freelance projects.
This was, and still is, the hard part. Since I am a ‘rookie’ UX designer, who in their right mind would hire me?!
But patience is a virtue, and after some searching, I finally landed my first gig to design and create a website!
A word of advice
Acquiring skills for remote work depends, of course, on your professional experiences and your current skills. If you’re already working in marketing or sales for example, these skills will be applicable as a freelancer. If you don’t have experience to start with, then don’t let that stop you from learning.
Specific freelancing skills are really not as difficult to learn as you might think.
My advice for people who would like to learn a freelance skill would be to choose something that you know you would enjoy studying and doing. It’s not worth studying something just because you want to travel and work remotely; it should actually be something that you enjoy.
Getting started as a freelancer is definitely not an easy task, but it’s not impossible either. You’ve got to be willing to hustle a bit and learn on the job, but once you get started, nothing beats the flexibility and the freedom, as well as the versatility of project-based work.
Getting a Grip on the Nomad Scene
Almost as important as developing our technical skills, was to kick-off an immersion into location independent culture. Andrea and I started going to meetups and freelancer events in Barcelona to get to know other digital nomads.
One meetup was especially life-changing for me. I met the CEO of a mobile app company, who had a home base for the majority of the year, but spent three to four months traveling and working. The most amazing thing was that allowed his employees to do the same! That was a very inspirational moment for me and it was also the first time that I realized the current work culture of having a 9–5 job is outdated and that we need to shift to something more flexible and more emotionally sustainable.
I truly believe that in the future we will shift to a more project-based, flexible and remote working culture.
Even now, we can see that people are staying at one job maybe for one to three years maximum (depending on the industry), whereas in the past, people would stay at one particular company for their whole life.
Joining the Flylancer community and going along to meetups allowed us to expand our network and meet other inspiring digital nomads. Such communities are extremely important, not only for finding like-minded people and receiving tips from more seasoned Digital Nomads, but also for business networking.
An open ended adventure
9 months on from watching that video and we are in currently in Bali on the first leg of our journey. We arrived just 2 weeks ago with a couple of carry-ons and a backpack each. After two months in Bali, we will stay one month in Koh Lanta, Thailand, followed by two months in Chiang Mai. After that, we don’t know -
We will see where the wind takes us, after all, that is the essence of a nomadic lifestyle.