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What it Really Means to Be a Digital Nomad (and 7 Ways You Can Escape Your Cubicle to Become One)

Ready to take your work with you wherever you go? First find out what it really means to be a digital nomad. Plus, 7 ways you can escape your cubicle to become one! Tired of the ol’ 9 to 5? Feeling unsteady on the corporate ladder? Dread waking up and sitting in rush hour traffic only to spend the next eight hours at a job you hate?

If you spend your workdays plotting your cubicle escape, you’re not alone. Some studies show as many as 70% of U.S. workers are unhappy with their current job. And some 8% would willingly take a pay cut if it meant they could work remotely!

If these studies are any indication, workers are craving greater flexibility in their careers. And many of them are turning their attention online to find the work-life balance they’re after. When you combine the work-from-anywhere flexibility of online work with the autonomy of solopreneurship what do you get? Digital nomad — A designation more and more people are after as they seek ways to take their careers into their own hands.

What is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad makes a living independent of their location. That is, you can work and earn regardless of where you’re at on a map. This means you can make money while traveling the world, as long as you have access to a laptop and WiFi. But you certainly don’t have to be a globetrotter to be a digital nomad. You can just as easily work from home, your local coffeehouse, a coworking space — anywhere you want, really. The point is, in theory, you could get up and go whenever, wherever and still make ends meet because your job goes with you wherever you are. Convenient, right?

It is. That’s why more and more people are drawn to this sort of lifestyle where they can take control of their careers and not have to join the rat race to get by. Chances are, you’ve thought about this before too and are wondering if you really could take the leap from day job to digital nomad. The good news is you can — but it might be harder than you think.

Digital Nomad Struggles

If you spend any time on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen tons of income reports from digital nomads across a variety of industries. These income reports come with clickbait titles like:

  • How I Earn $100,000 a Month Online and How You Can Too
  • From $0 to $50,000 in Just One Month and How I Did It
  • The Exact Blueprint I Use to Make $20,000 a Month Online While Working 5 Hours a Week

You get the picture. Now, don’t get me wrong, my hat is off to these men and women who have cracked the code to digital nomad success! But it can be sort of misleading to beginners, like you, who are looking to escape the cubicle life in favor of a location-independent one.

“How so?” you ask. Well, in these income reports a lot of numbers are thrown out. Sometimes, accounting methods may not be the most sound. And even when they are, they fail to mention how darn long and difficult the road was to get there. A more accurate picture may be to place an asterisk on final monthly totals like:

November Income Report: How I made $75,000* Online This Month

*After three years of hard work, many months of lost profits, two failed blogs, a dozen or more good cries, and countless weeks of 80+ hours’ worth of work.

I say this because, while it’s totally possible to earn an income with a laptop and WiFi, it’s also a lot of hard work. And for most people, success doesn’t come overnight. Instead, it can take months and even years before enough money is coming in to become a full-time digital nomad.

Again, I say this not to discourage you. Rather, I want you to go into this with the right mindset so you keep moving forward and don’t give up when you find out you won’t hit six figures your first month in.

I’m Ready to Quit My Job! Not So Fast…

You know how hard it can be to join the ranks of digital nomads, and you’re still totally game. Great! Before you hand in your two weeks’ notice, you should think about side hustling first. I know it’s probably not what you want to hear, especially coming from someone who quit their job out of the blue to start a freelance writing career. But before you make the same decision, hear me out! There are two really good reasons to hang onto your day job in the beginning.

Your 9 to 5 Can Fund Your Digital Nomad Endeavors

No matter what avenue you’d like to explore as you work towards digital nomad success, it’s going to cost money to get there. Now, I’m not talking the same startup costs you’d expect with a brick-and-mortar business, but there are some common expenses you’ll most likely encounter.

For starters, you’ll probably need a website. Most digital nomads have one (or two or even ten). You can totally go the DIY route and set up your own WordPress website or blog. Your total cost will be somewhere around $100 for the year — yes, the entire year. Affordable, right? Yes. But then there are other things that pop up like marketing expenses, social media scheduling tools, plugins, themes, and miscellaneous expenditures and — well, these can all add up quickly.

I’ll give you an example of some expenses I pay each month to maintain Work from Home Happiness:

These are recurring expenses every month. Honestly, not too bad all things considered. But then there are one-time and yearly expenses that come up too like:

  • Genesis Framework & Child Theme: $150
  • Premium Plugins: $275 (to date)
  • Customization: $300
  • Domain registration & Whois Privacy Protection: $35

This comes out to about $2,500 or so of website expenses each year. And if you have no income coming in because you quit your job too soon, that can be a terrifying amount to shell out! In the beginning, your goal should be earning enough money through your digital nomad endeavors to cover their costs each month.

Day Jobs Become Bearable When You’ve Got a Greater Purpose

We’ve already established that you’re trying to escape your 9 to 5 for a more flexible working arrangement. But when you take the first steps to realize your goals, a funny thing can happen — your day job might not seem so bad. Granted, you still want to quit and realize your own financial and work freedom. But as you work towards those goals, you have a new sense of purpose in life and that day job of yours becomes, at the very least, bearable because, hey, at the end of the day, you get to work on something you’re truly passionate about!

Plus, it’s nice to have the security of steady income as you side hustle your way to digital nomad freedom. If you haven’t already, I suggest holding off on quitting your office job — even though it may be soul sucking at times, it can help you stay afloat as you transition to digital nomad. And, as a reminder, realizing full work freedom takes time. You’re going to need to pay your bills and fund your digital nomad escape plan!

Realistic Ways to Earn with Nothing More than a Laptop and WiFi

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably pretty eager to learn some possible ways to take your work with you wherever you go. Really, there are TONS of ways to work entirely online — some requiring more specialized skills than the next. That’s why I opted to put together a more broad, beginner-friendly list. This will hopefully get your own wheels churning and help you realize that, hey, I do have some existing skills that will translate well to working anywhere I can find WiFi.

1. Proofreader

One of my favorite digital nomad stories can be read over at ProofreadAnywhere, How Jacki Quit Her Job, Started a Proofreading Business, and Moved to Thailand to Ride Elephants. Sounds crazy, right? But it’s true! While you’re ultimate end goal may differ, it’s inspiring to read how other digital nomads became successful and why they chose their unconventional way of earning.

And, really, proofreading is one of those super remote-friendly ways to make ends meet. Between all the web content out there, self-published authors, and agencies, there’s plenty of work to go around that doesn’t require you to be in a certain location.

There’s a freebie court reporter proofreading course over at Proofread Anywhere you should check out. I’ve also written a beginner’s guide to help you navigate proofreading as a newbie. Both are great places to start if you think you’ve got the proofreading prowess needed to make it your full-time digital nomad job.

2. Developer

If you’re a web developer, you’ve got a ton of options ahead of you when it comes to digital nomad job ideas. For starters, there is a seemingly endless stream of gigs posted on sites like Remotive and AngelList, most of which allow you to work wherever you’re happiest. Of course, you could go solo as a freelancer too and tackle gigs while traveling.

If you’ve always wanted to get into web development but currently don’t have all the right skills, head over to Codecademy where you can learn to code for free!

Not only can you take free interactive courses covering 12 different programming languages, but there’s also a chance to get inspired by other people just like you — there are so many amazing stories of people who changed their lives by learning to code. And you can too. You just have to get started.

3. Translator

If you’re fluent in multiple languages, the world is your veritable work-anywhere oyster! I’m not talking in person translations when there is a language barrier from one person to the next. Instead, I’m talking about translation projects that can be done entirely online — and there are quite a few of them. For starters, you can translate written documents, pre-recorded audio, or even videos that need subtitling.

FlexJobs has a super-impressive list of the Best 100 Companies for Flexible Translation Jobs — a must-read if you’re thinking of using your multilingual knowledge to become a digital nomad.

Don’t be discouraged if you’re not bilingual. You can always learn a second language. Duolingo can help. With Duolingo, you can learn a language of your choosing — and did I mention it’s free? Forever! Spanish, French, and German are their three most popular courses for English speakers — but they have more than 25 for you to choose from.

4. Infopreneur

If you sell your knowledge, you get to call yourself an infopreneur. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but, really, information marketing is simply the process of packaging up your thoughts/ideas/information into a product that you can sell.

For example, eBooks, courses, webinars, and workshops are all ways infopreneurs sell their knowledge to others. And this can be a pretty lucrative business. One of my favorite digital nomad/infopreneur stories is about Steve Scott, a guy who took his career in his own hands back in 2006. He had a long journey before he became a super successful ebook author but he never gave up! And eventually (some eight years later), he would find himself earning well over $100,000 every three months thanks to his ebook endeavors. Impressive, right?

That’s the great thing about being an infopreneur — you really can start and nurture a business based entirely off of your own life experiences and existing knowledge. But it does take a lot of work, and is certainly not for the faint of heart. But if you’re willing to give it your all, you’re often rewarded with a scalable digital nomad career you can take with you anywhere.

The Many Directions of a Digital Nomad Infopreneur

Since there are so many directions you can go as an infopreneur, you should really take the time to explore different avenues before diving in. If you’re thinking of packaging your ideas into a course, I highly recommend heading over to the Teachable blog for tons of practical advice and infopreneur inspiration. If you’re leaning towards ebooks, you’ll find a lot of information and ideas to get started on the Kindle Direct Publishing page for non-fiction writers (plus motivating stories of success!).

But if you’re not entirely sure which direction to take or how to get there — that’s okay, too! That’s the beauty of information marketing, there are a lot of ways to find your own success as an independent infopreneur. The best way to get inspired and find out what might work for you is to check out your fellow infopreneur. Some of my faves include Femtrepreneur, By Regina, Melyssa Griffin (formerly The Nectar Collective). These women are oh-so inspiring and have all been there, done that, and are helping you get there too.

5. Blogger

Like information marketing, blogging is more of a marathon than a sprint. Again, there are the occasional stories of seemingly overnight success but those instances are the exception, not the rule. Most bloggers find themselves working a lot for very little (or even zero) pay in the beginning. And that’s okay, if you’re willing to lay the groundwork knowing that, when done right, blogging can be an amazing way to lead a location-independent life.

The good news is, starting a blog is easy. You don’t need any technical experience or training. But once your blog is set up — what comes next? Good question. The answer: Great content!

You won’t get very far as a blogger if your content is lacking. Period. If you want to make money blogging you need to share amazing content with readers, each and every time you post. For me, that means creating longform content. But for you, it could mean amazing recipes accompanied with mouthwatering pictures or snarky commentary on pop culture. Really, it all depends on your blog, your personality, and your chosen niche.

Blogging Resources — But Buyer Beware!

Fortunately, there are a ton of resources for new bloggers.  Just be careful which of those resources you spend your hard-earned money on. I’ve seen some pretty, shall we say, low-grade blogging courses priced well over $1,000 that aren’t worth anything. Sure, their sales page sound great and lure you in with the promise of six figures for next to no work but this is misleading! Blogging is a lot of work — any digital nomad endeavor is. So don’t get swept away in catchy copywriting, make sure you carefully vet any paid-for product before you buy!

Ebooks for Blogging Success

I turned to ebooks early on in my blogging career. In fact, I often refer to the Kindle Store as where I got my unofficial blogger’s education. But seriously — I did read a ton of ebooks (my personal fave is How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul). And since I downloaded the Kindle Reading App for free and signed up for Kindle Unlimited (you can try it for free here), I was able to devour tons of ebooks each month for less than $10.

Not only did I get a crash course in blogging but I also learned a lot about subjects that went along with blogging — social media marketing, list building, SEO, web design, etc. I seriously credit my ebook reading as helping me gain the knowledge needed to grow, maintain, and monetize my blog in its first year.

6. Writer

If I had to guess, I’d say writing is probably the most popular way to make a living as a digital nomad. And it may be one of the quickest ways to digital nomad success too. It’s not uncommon to read story after story of freelance writers earning a comfortable living with their trusty internet connection and laptop, like Jorden who used LinkedIn to quickly climb to $5,000/month in freelance writing income!

If writing sounds promising to you, you’re in luck. There is no shortage of information out there to help you get going. For starters, there’s a freebie course over at Horkey Handbook to help you achieve online writing success quickly. Reddit also has a ton of information from your fellow writers in a forum-like setting. And popular websites like The Write Life are always doling out helpful information to help new writers create, connect, and earn.

7. Virtual Assistant

Virtual assistant is another very broad digital nomad job idea. Generally speaking, a virtual assistant helps others complete tasks from a remote location. This can include everything from content writing to social media marketing and even calendar management and travel arrangements. Really, it just depends on the types of clients you work with.

To get your wheels turning as a potential digital nomad VA, stop by Horkey Handbook for a complimentary course. You’ll learn what a VA does and how you can quickly build an income as one.

Remember, like all the other digital nomad job ideas listed, you don’t have to jump in full-time right away. There are several companies that contract with VAs, giving you a chance to try out the work and hone your skills before you opt to go solo with your career.

Start Small and Grow — But You Have to Get Started

While it’s a good idea to start small as a digital nomad side hustler with the end goal of going full time, you still need to actually start to get there. So, what are you waiting for? Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers in the beginning. Often, you’ll learn a lot as you go — but that’s the beauty of being a digital nomad, you can adapt and change your career every step of the way.

For a head start, sign up for my Free Resource Library below. It’s chock full of guides and goodies for out-of-the-cube thinkers, like you. And, as always, if you have any questions, I hope you ask: ashlee@workfromhomehappiness.com

This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend products, brands, and services that I trust. You can learn more by reading my disclosure statement

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About Carol St. Amand

Carol St. Amand

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