How to Survive as a Digital Nomad

Chi Ngo
Chi Ngo
Oct 29, 2019 · 6 min read
Photo by Ardy Alfred on Unsplash

At first glance, digital nomads may look like they have the dream job. They travel around the world and work remotely from a beach, plane, or alpine resort with the help of digital tools. They’re never stuck with the 9–5, which allows them to visit exotic places and experience new things every day.

According to recent research by Upwork, over 57 million people worked as freelancers in 2017. Since 2014, the freelance workforce grew at a rate three times faster than the general US workforce overall. At this rate, the majority of the American workforce is forecast to be freelancers by 2027.

A 2018 report from FlexJob identified digital nomads as professionals who work fully-remote jobs and move locations frequently. According to the survey, the “job” is appealing because of the flexible schedule (85%); no commuting (65%); freedom to live and work where they choose (65%), good work-life balance (63%); no office politics (52%); and no dressing up for work (51%).

These were the “pros” I had in mind when I first started working as a digital nomad three years ago. I soon found out that there’s no such thing as a dream job and that being a digital nomad (as with any other job) comes with its own set of challenges.

If you are hoping to become a digital nomad, here are a few survival tips:

Finding work as a digital nomad

If you’re employed by a company, you don’t have to worry about finding new projects. However, finding work is a constant challenge for freelance digital nomads, myself included. Because we don’t enjoy a stable income stream every month, we’re constantly looking out for new projects and juggling several projects at the same time.

My best tip for maintaining a healthy income stream is to develop and grow relationships with a few retaining clients. These can be clients that pay well, are pleasant to work with, or offer an on-going project that you enjoy. If you’re able to maintain a few consistent projects, you can do what you love while not worrying too much about where to find your next contract.

If you’re starting as a digital nomad, you can establish these relationships by asking around in your network (or even your existing employer) whether they would like your freelance services. Branching out on freelancing platforms such as Upwork or Freelancer is also a great way to find new clients.

The amount of work may seem scarce when you first get started, and you may feel obliged to accept whatever project lands in front of you, regardless if it is time-consuming, don’t pay that well, or aren’t very interesting.

My advice for avoiding mind-numbing projects that don’t pay enough, which I learned from prominent YouTuber bestdressed, is to know your worth. She suggests that you set an hourly rate (or a range) that you find acceptable for your skills and time. If the project pays below your minimum hourly rate, don’t take it. Other projects will greet you in no time.

Insurance, taxes, and other adult problems

Money and budgeting

The NYTimes also advise you to be aware of unexpected fees before you travel. Research your bank’s policies on overseas transactions and their associated fees to make sure that you’re not wasting money on these costs.

Maintain a physical address

However, aim to keep physical mail to a minimum by signing up for paperless statements, direct deposits for payments, and online bill payment.



Maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a digital nomad

Have “office hours”

It may sound odd to have office hours if you don’t work in an office, but you should designate a block of time each day to be online and focus 100% on work. Outside these hours, you can completely unplug and spend time on some other leisure activities. Setting boundaries for when work stops and when life starts allows you to maintain a healthy relationship with both. You may communicate this with your clients so that they can respect your boundaries as well.

Manage your workload

There are great, free workload management tools that can help you get your life in order like Google Drive for storage, Asana or ClickUp for tasks management, Slack for team communication, and Zoom for video communication.

Adjust your work/life balance when you feel burnt out

Digital nomads need work/life balance too, and we have the luxury of dialing down work when life demands or slow down our travel to take up an exciting project. Many nomads give similar advice on the Nomad List forum — don’t feel guilty if you’re not working enough when you travel, or not traveling enough when you focus on work. As a digital nomad, I find that this awareness helps me adjust my work/life balance so I can enjoy both, but not at the same time.

Additionally, digital nomad life can be incredibly lonely, especially if you’re traveling alone. Aside from work and travel, you should also spend time making meaningful connections with the locals or catching up with friends back home, advised the digital nomad blog ScrewTheAverage. I find that participating in community events, volunteering, joining online communities like Reddit, or just going out can be great ways to connect with people. If needed, there are online counselors available on platforms like BetterHelp or TalkSpace to help you work through problems, even while you’re on the road.

Originally published at on October 29, 2019.

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Chi Ngo

Written by

Chi Ngo

Content Strategist | Chevening Scholar 19–20 | Building People-centric Startups

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

Chi Ngo

Written by

Chi Ngo

Content Strategist | Chevening Scholar 19–20 | Building People-centric Startups

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

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