Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

How to Travel: Digital Nomading

To round off the How to Travel series - taken from excerpts out of my new ebook - we have the Holy Grail of long-term travel opportunities: the digital nomad. What's better than working from your laptop and calling the world your office? For people who want to make traveling their life, this is sort of the end-game. If you're not quite sure you want to go through the elation-depression cycle of trying to be self-sustaining just yet, check out some the previous opportunities in this series. So far, we've covered study abroad, volunteer organizations, teaching English, work stays, and the Peace Corps. Hopefully these posts have inspired some of you to start researching your first long stint abroad!

A what? Yeah, it’s a pretentious name. I prefer location independent. Digital nomads are those lucky souls who only need a laptop and an Internet connection for their work. Whether it’s through an existing company that allows you to work from home or you’ve started your own digital business, this is the most freeing way to travel indefinitely while still earning a living. It may sound highly specialized and barely possible to get into, but we’re living in the right time for this sort of thing. As of 2015, 37 percent of Americans had at least telecommuted before, with 24 percent having done so for periods of up to or more than 10 days. Fast Company projects that half of all Americans will be working from home by 2020. While I think a change like this – no matter how logical – will be slower to come, I’m certainly optimistic about the trend.

Companies without tethers

The 40-hour work week, money as a primary motivator, and potential Netflix binges of employees who are allowed to work from home are just a few of the workplace myths that have been disproven with research. Some companies realize this well enough and are evolving from the traditional five-day, 9 to 5 grind to a more efficient system that produces more productive employees. These same companies also realize that the Internet distorts the concept of a traditional office. As long as your employees are producing results, do they really need to physically be there? 

The key to your new life abroad could begin with simply finding the right company to work for in your home country. Some of the same companies that are more cool with their employees working for home also provide them with opportunities to transfer to branch offices abroad. Of course, it’s easier said than done. You’d probably have to work at X company for a bit before they’d consider giving you that much freedom, but it’s still a pathway to long term travel with a solid income. 

Even if you did find a company that allows transfers abroad, you have to ask yourself a few questions. Do you want to travel more than you want to work for this place? Do this company and position resonate with your career goals? Will you be happy? Some companies that commonly offer transfers include HSBC, Google, Bain, and Uber. Yes, they are all major corporations who have international offices and can afford to transfer employees, so that bit is unavoidable if you don’t like “The Man”. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with working with a Fortune 500 company – the salary is usually solid, benefits are good, and if you can find someone that will let you live abroad, even better. 

Doing your own thing

The other option, and in my opinion the more preferable option, is to take advantage of a skill you already have. There are several very marketable skills in the digital age that you can offer from anywhere in the world. If you’re a writer, web developer, graphic designer, or any other professional that specializes in a digital service, then you can find clients all over the world while working from anywhere in the world. There are thousands of people already doing this while rotating between digital nomad-friendly cities like Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Medellín, Colombia.

Find your niche

The fact that so many tech-savvy travelers have already taken advantage of this should not discourage you, however. We’re in an age where certain businesses are constantly in demand, and a saturation point is kind of hard to achieve for many of them. If you’re a web developer, programmer, designer, writer, app developer, etc., then I suggest you put together some sort of portfolio and sign up to a couple of freelancing communities. I have personally used Freelancer, Upwork and iWriter for graphic design and writing. Each of them has its strengths and weaknesses, but one thing is for sure – if you’re good at what you do, you can make money. Try getting jobs from home for a few months before completely uprooting yourself to another country. If it seems feasible, especially in a place with a lower standard of living, go for it. 

Find a nomad-friendly country

But, go where? It mostly depends on how much you think you can pull in monthly and the cost of living in your country of choice. Southeast Asia is generally a good place to start in regard to being able to get by on very little, although I wouldn’t recommend it just for that reason. You also need to think about the legality of going to a country and working there. Usually, you would need to go through the arduous process of getting a work visa, but you technically aren’t physically working in that country’s framework, i.e. showing up to work for a business registered there and paying taxes. Digital nomads are one of many things that the law has not caught up with in the digital age. Therefore, most will just apply for the longest tourist visa possible and apply for an extension when necessary. As far as the work you’re doing from your computer is concerned, don’t ask, don’t tell usually applies. There are also several countries in Asia that allow foreigners on tourist visas to rent apartments, which is far more preferable than paying for a hotel room for your entire stay. Just do your due diligence when it comes to research (something we’ll talk about later) before jetting off, as working in any capacity – even online – in some countries without a work visa is highly illegal.

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Uprooting | A Beginner's Guide to Extended Travel
If you found these tips helpful, then you might enjoy my new travel guide, written for anyone embarking on their first long-term adventure abroad. You don't need to be the host of a travel show or a trust fund kid to have some incredible experiences abroad. After 5 years of travel through 12 different countries - and living in 4 of them - I've tried to encapsulate everything I've learned into this short guide for anyone who wants to hit the road long-term.