Since starting Legal Nomads in 2008, one of the most frequent questions I’ve received is about how to work and travel from anywhere. People are interested not only in digital nomadism, but also learning about location independent entrepreneurship, finding a stable job on a work-travel visa, or taking advantage of a remote work policy.
I came from a legal background, a profession that is historically very slow to evolve its ways of doing work. It was a big change when I quit my job, to go from 6-minute billing increments into a more agile landscape that prioritized leverageable skills over status-driven ones. As technology and accessibility to work shifts, there will be more and more emphasis on those skills. Is your skillset in high demand? It may be the perfect bargaining tool to make some changes.
Nomads used to be thought of as indigenous hunter-gatherers, and still are in countries like Mongolia where they remain a part of the total population. These days, they are not off the grid but rather people who, for one reason or another, are living untethered to a ‘home’ but very tethered to their electronic devices.
As with my larger Long- Term Travel Resources Page, I wanted to provide a resource page for those who want to know what’s out there, and where to start. It highlights some of the ways people make a living while traveling, and some tools to make that easier. I also wanted to help you avoid the spammy “Live The Life You Want” drivel that charge $497 (minimum) to offer you an escape from your misery with an exclusive coaching course or mentorship. You don’t need to pay the big bucks unless your goal is to join and build a pyramid-shaped scheme yourself. Being a digital nomad isn’t your profession; it’s just a way of approaching life.
I also wanted to shed a light on some of the downsides to living with no home base. This isn’t a life for everyone, and there is no shame if it’s not for you. Some of these courses say that being a digital nomad will magically solve all your problems. That is not the case.
In 2022, I added a new section near the top of the page about the pandemic’s impact on digital nomads, including the proliferation of digital nomad visas. I receive more and more questions about these types of visas, so I wanted to link out to the official government sites where I could. The rest of the page has also been edited to reflect changes in the landscape since I build the page in 2016.
LAST UPDATED: JUNE 1, 2023
Remote work, the pandemic, and the rise of digital nomad visas
During COVID-19, the landscape and future of digital nomading was uncertain for a time, though those of us who had been roaming for years saw the potential for it to explode once things stabilized. Many more people saw what we saw: that when a job’s tether is only wifi, and not an office building, there is a tremendous amount of flexibility in where you can work ‘from’.
If more and more industries allow people to work from home, perhaps home can be everywhere?
When the pandemic began, there were a rash of articles about digital nomads and coronavirus, like here, here (and this absurd NYT piece that I wish was parody, here). But by early June 2022, most countries removed travel restrictions and free movement was possible again. Some, like Japan, opened to groups first and then independent travelers. In early 2023, China is removing travel restrictions in a swift pivot from zero covid.
But what of those who want to roam and work along the way, not just visit?
A NYT piece called ‘Welcome to the YOLO Economy‘ talks of “burned out Millennials” who are flush with savings and quitting stable jobs in search of postpandemic adventure. (Thought, let’s be honest: the pandemic is still here.)
The needs of workers are changing in some areas, most prominently within the Millenial/GenZ age groups, and this has allowed more and more jobs to be undertaken remotely. Fast Company wrote about the growing digital nomad trend in post-pandemic world, noting:
Countries spanning the Caribbean isle to the Arabian desert are suddenly pivoting to court digital nomads in the post-coronavirus era, dangling everything from free vaccines, to tax breaks, to the chance to live in tropical paradise. Call it a new global arms race, where the weapon in question is an arsenal of highly skilled remote workers—ones that were trapped in their homes during the pandemic, but could now be untethered by it from their offices forever. With a new class of human capital up for grabs, countries are looking to stockpile talent, and digital nomads are living a new reality: They’ve become a hot commodity.
It doesn’t always work out as planned, however. A December 2022 WIRED Magazine article called “Welcome to Digital Nomadland” talks about a village of remote workers on the island of Madeira, Portugal, and how it promised community to the digital nomads and prosperity to the locals—then delivered on neither.
Possible trends for 2023
As we move into 2023, speculation is rife about the future of digital nomads. Gatekeeping/bickering has become more pronounced (“it’s not a digital nomad if you’re not always one the move, it’s just remote work”). New visas are in the works. Here’s what’s going on:
- Travel picks up again: despite the fact that SARS-Cov-2 continues to evolve and become more transmissible, travel patterns have rebounded considerably. As a result, access to digital nomad hotspots is open again, and places that have weathered the pandemic will continue to thrive. Others, where travel was limited for some time, will see a rebound in influx of digital nomads.
- Remote work continues to rise: here in Canada, federal employees have been mandated back to the office at least 2-3 days a week, a policy that has upset many of them. Private companies have more flexibility, and the pandemic has been a good opportunity to test whether productivity was impacted by working from home. Besides, the most sought-after talent want the flexibility that remote work brings. I’d expect to see more and more remote work options, which remains popular in younger members of the workforce. As technology evolves, working from anywhere will only become easier.
- Location grabs: With the popularity of digital nomadism continuing to grow, destinations who want to ‘court’ them may offer visas, benefits, and opportunities.
- Geopolitics: Ukraine was a spot several friends moved to before Russia invaded. The geopolitics of the country has understandably changed drastically. These kinds of shifts in global economic and political conditions will be issues to watch in 2023 as other regions like Taiwan start to simmer more than prior. It will be important to stay on top of these issues when picking a spot to land.
Digital Nomad visas are still on the rise
When I started out in 2008, there were no digital nomad visas. As you can see below, the term itself was fairly new, and was not even one I used or knew to apply to my life choices. A lot has changed since then, and chief among them is the rise of what is called a “digital nomad visa”, where instead of constant visa runs to neighbouring countries and living and working in the grey area of “earning money but not directly in the country”, you are able to live and work online legally in a new place.
Given that more companies are offering a “work from home” option, the rise of digital nomad visas is a comfort, and helps mitigate potential legal risks for those seeking a location independent life while still being employed. For the self-employed / entrepreneurs of the world, these visas provide a legitimization of that grey area. For the countries that offer them, the visas and correlative co-working spaces, conferences, and gatherings can spur creativity and innovation.
And the companies that refuse to consider flexible work may be the ones to lose out. “Companies that are trying to drag back time will lose some of their best talent, and that dynamic will force these companies to catch up,” says Raj Choudhury.
I have enjoyed seeing which countries are leading the charge in adapting to a new world of wifi and less traditional borders where work is involved.
Where can you get a digital nomad visa in 2023?
Estonia was one of the first countries I heard of that offered a digital nomad visa, a creative endeavour that positioned itself uniquely, before the rest of the world caught up. These days, the list is quite long: many friends have gone to Portugal, availing themselves of a renewable residence visa for people with a remote job, or to Estonia, Spain, or elsewhere. Proof of income and remote work is required, and most also require proof of travel insurance, so as to confirm you won’t draw on public health without ability to pay.
Here is a chart of the visas offered as of late May 2022, courtesy of Harvard Business Review:
For more about what the requirements are for these types of visas, click through to the links below. Most are official government sites, except where there is none available, or the law is still pending. Note that you may read of a Bali “digital nomad visa” but Indonesia has as of yet made no application process, and a September 28, 2022 article notes that, “[a]t present, digital nomads wishing to stay in Bali will have to continue applying for other classes of visas on false grounds, or invest in Indonesian start-ups”.
- Antigua and Barbuda (called ‘Nomad Digital Residence’)
- Barbados (called a ‘welcome stamp’ visa)
- Bahamas (called ‘BEATS: Bahamas Extended Access Travel Stay’)
- Belize (called ‘work while you vacation’)
- Bermuda (called ‘work from Bermuda’ visa)
- Brazil (pending, should be available soon)
- Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)
- Cayman Islands (called a ‘global citizen concierge’ visa, it targets high earning remote workers)
- Costa Rica (called a ‘Person of Independent Means (Rentista)’; bring the required forms to a local embassy to apply. BUT! A new remote work, 1-year visa has been approved and is pending; it should be available soon.)
- Croatia (technically temporary residency for digital nomads, not a visa)
- Curaçao (called an ‘@Home’ visa)
- Cyprus (launched in January 2022, but only 100 applicants from non-EU countries will be approved)
- Czech Republic (technically a self-employment/entrepreneurship visa, not a DN visa, but I have included it as it applies to the DN lifestyle)
- Dominica (called ‘WIN: work in nature’ visa)
- Dubai (a one-year virtual working programme)
- Estonia (called a ‘nomad visa’)
- Germany (a ‘self employment’ visa, but the requirements are considerably more arduous than many other places on this list)
- Georgia (their ‘remotely from Georgia’ application form is down as of my update, however)
- Greece (you need to apply for this visa at the nearest Greek embassy—here’s a list—using this application form.)
- Grenada (pending; should be launched soon)
- Hungary (called a ‘white card’)
- Iceland (called a Long-term visa for remote work, with FAQ page from the government here.
- Latvia (pending, should be launched soon)
- Malta (called a ‘nomad residency permit’)
- Mauritius (called a ‘premium visa’)
- Montserrat (called a ‘remote work stamp’)
- Mexico (called a ‘temporary residence’ visa)
- Norway (only if your self employment includes a Norwegian client)
- Panama (remote visa for digital workers)
- Portugal has two options as of 2023: A Temporary Stay visa, with a work category of remote work / digital nomad (called a”temporary stay visa for the exercise of a professional activity done remotely – digital nomads”), up to one year. Or, a Residency visa with the same exercise of remote work/digital nomad work, which can be renewed up to 5 years.
- Romania (a one year visa, but details are pending)
- Seychelles (called a ‘workcation’ permit)
- South Africa (pending, should be launched soon)
- Spain (you need to apply at a local embassy—list here—and it is called a ‘non-lucrative’ visa—not specific to digital nomads. Would require you to not work or earn money from Spain when there. Form here. BUT! Pending is a “startup law’, which will make working from Spain even more simple for digital nomads.
- Sri Lanka (pending, should be available soon)
- St. Lucia (called a ‘LiveIt’ visa)
- Thailand (pending, approved by the government in January 2022)
- Uruguay’s digital nomad visa was announced in 2023, and will be an option for the self employed, or the people working remotely. The link leads to their government site and it is one of the easier applications from this list: fill in your information (no income proof required), and sign a statement saying you’ve got funds to support yourself, then pay the application fee. After that, you’ll get your permit via email, good for 180 days.
Back to the basics: what are digital nomads?
The term ‘digital nomad’ is a popular one these days, referring to people who work online where their chosen work allows them to do so from anywhere. Barring a new term that emerges from changes to the job market, it remains the most apt label for people who want to live flexibly as self-starters while exploring the world.
I use the term digital nomad here loosely, as in someone who wants to work and travel at the same time.
For many seeking this kind of existence, the key is to free up time and location dependency to lead the life they want. Occasionally this means building out a business (see “Entrepreneurship” below), only to find it scaling faster than expected. In that case, a return to a fixed location may be necessary. Or it may not.
The point is: the options below are quite different in spirit, energy, and end game.
What digital nomads aren’t…
And this is the thing about digital nomadism or location independent entrepreneurship: it IS NOT about ‘getting paid to travel the world’. I’m referring to:
- Remote work with your existing job, if they agree to it.
- Work on the side till you can build it sufficiently to quit and be location independent
- Start a new biz from scratch, one that isn’t tied to a particular location.
Though opinions vary, I think what matters is the flexibility to live where you want, not that you are forced to because you aren’t earning enough in your digital work. While many people started out in Southeast Asia in the early days, the goal was to scale income toward something, be it a solo business or a freelancing career or a product. The goal is to flexibly move around and live where you want, doing work that lets this happen.
In my case, I did not travel in the classic sense. What happened is that my job became what most people think of as “vacation” and to sustain that and the business I was building, I rented places for longer periods at a time.
What started as a backpacking trip with no laptop morphed into mini-expat stints with routines for writing and places to eat. Unfortunately, due to a botched spinal tap in 2017, I am now disabled and had to abandon the life I built for myself as my mobility is limited.
Timeline of the digital nomad movement
With an increased interest in digital nomadism, a good place to start is James Clark’s timeline of digital nomads, which he has built with news reports, articles, and information in chronological order. He’s also interspersed the timeline with relevant tech and internet landmarks.
In current usage, the term often refers to a job that is created with the help of technology, often one that eventually generates passive income. Serial entrepreneur Tim Ferriss wrote the obsessively popular 4-Hour Workweek, seen as many in this lifestyle as a bible for their rearranged priorities.
Of course, the likelihood that your new business takes only four hours a week is slim.
The negatives of being a digital nomad
This page wouldn’t be complete without also giving screen time to the negative side of digital nomadism. Digital nomads have incurred ire for living in places but not truly giving back to them; instead of searching for meaningful experiences, they search for wifi.
In addition, remote work is a legal grey area in some countries, where technically many people are on tourist visas yet “working” online. While almost always this work does not take from the existing economy in a conventional way—that is, it’s not taking jobs from the local job pool—rarely do countries issue self-employment work visas in digital nomad hubs. As a result, there is a risk in working online in this fashion. More in this “Can a Digital Nomad Work in Chiang Mai” post rounding up concerns from Thailand. In 2022, visas targeting digital nomads and remote workers are on the rise, which will help minimize this issue.
Some alternative views:
- Alex Pszczolkowski wrote a balanced view, one that spawned a Hacker News discussion as well.
- The CEO of Buffer has a post about the highs and lows of being a digital nomad. Some other downsides to digital nomadism at this piece.
- John Harris’ June 2018 Guardian piece notes that we will “all be homeless” in a future that embraces too much nomadism. (In my view, the better question isn’t about the disorientation of constant movement, but about what happens from an infrastructure perspective: insurance, health care, etc. Especially relevant to me given my current health crisis.)
- It’s worth thinking about whether this life is for you. In a 2017 Fast Company piece called “What I Wished I Knew Before Become a Digital Nomad,” the author quotes several digital nomads who picked a home base (myself included) on why they stopped, and this 2019 piece by Irene Chan discusses aspects of the lifestyle that people jumping in may not realize, including transient friendships and effects on mental health.
- And a 2019 piece by Ian Lloyd Neubauer talks about the evolution of the industry, how digital nomads are “becoming less productive as the phenomenon grows.” and how the movement can be improved.
- And, a finally a counterpoint from Bret and Michael in 2022, who wrote:
[W]hen judging the value of nomading, it doesn’t seem fair to compare those of us who do it to some idealized paragon of virtue. No, you have to compare nomads to non-nomads: to the person the nomad would probably be if they hadn’t chosen this lifestyle. By that measure, I’ve personally come out way ahead. I own virtually nothing now except what I carry in my backpack. Michael and I don’t own a car and take mass transportation almost everywhere we go. We buy and live as locally as possible, and we often make charitable contributions in the places where we live. We’ve also tried to use our platform to call attention to various injustices. Because I’m a “slomad,” staying in regions of the world for a year or so, I now even fly less than before.
Am I a “typical” nomad?
Honestly, I think I am. Every community has jerks, twits, and grifters, but I’m mostly proud of my peers.“
General resources for digital nomads
- Forums like the Dynamite Circle, Location Rebel, and Nomad Forum provide growing support in the form of feedback, masterminds, and case studies.
- For women, Digital Nomad Girls (from Jennifer Lachs) are both gender-specific and helps women meet others with the same mentality, offering info on coworking, living, insurance, and more.
- The Digital Nomad subreddit also houses a place to ask questions and seek a sounding board.
- Conferences like DNX Global and the Dynamite Circle conferences offer a space to meet others in the same space, and hear keynotes about different aspects of digital nomadism.
- For where to go in this wide, wide world: Nomad List, a cost breakdown for digital nomads (and their associated remote job board), Numbeo, a user-contributed database of cost info and data for cities worldwide, Expatistan, a global living cost index. Compare living costs easily between cities, City Ranking, a database of 2,000 cities and hundreds of national and city-level data variables where you can compare and contrast to help figure out where it is you want to go. (And yes, it includes wifi speed.)
- For more resources, see James Clark’s Digital Nomad Resource page.
- Medium post by Ross Simmonds, who quit his job and built a large and lucrative consulting business.
- List of the best bank accounts for digital nomads rounded up on NomadGate.
- Companies that facilitate the digital nomad experience by providing a mechanism for support, lodging, new friends (just add water! sometimes literally!) see: Remote Year: Remote Year puts groups of professionals together to live, work, and travel in different cities around the world. This can be for a year, or for four months. From their site: “If I went into Remote Year knowing what I would get out of it…I would sign up for it 5 times over, 10 times over… I would just do it for the rest of my life!”, Hacker Paradise: From their site: “We take care of all the boring logistics so that you can focus on having the most productive (and fun) travel experience possible”, Co Work Paradise: more of a mastermind plus remote work programme. In their words: “Enjoy guided interactive workshops, listen to inspiring stories, dive into adventurous trips and embrace local context”, Roam: co-living and co-working. In their words: “Roam is a network of global coliving spaces that provide everything you need to feel at home and be productive the moment you arrive. Strong, battle-tested wifi, a coworking space, chef’s kitchen and a diverse community,” Wifi Tribe: From their site: “Every month, we choose a different city to call home. We are inviting a mix of passionate, wild and free, remote professionals from all corners of the world to join our journey”, and Outsite: Flexible co-living membership for a set fee per year, around the world.
Different approaches to remote work and/or working on the road
There are many different avenues for supporting yourself as you travel. Building a business around a travel and food blog as I did is just one of them.
Build your own business / entrepreneurship
There are many ways to start your own business, fix a system you think is inefficient, or build a product you think is missing from the marketplace. Entrepreneurship is something that is written about and discussed with more and more frequency, from smaller startups that scale, to those seeking funding, to businesses that aim at a very small but valuable niche.
Whatever your poison, building your own business is not the easiest of options on this page, but it can be incredibly satisfying.
I mention this first because it is usually the best way to build something that not only presents a big challenge, but also one that can be — if it’s successful — sustainable in the long run. It also does not need to be done from the road, but bootstrapping a new startup can be cheaper in far-flung countries. I’ve seen many friends start a company and begin running it from afar, only to eventually move back to the States, Canada, or Europe once it takes off. Others have kept up their businesses via the web, moving around for coordination and meetings.
General resources for entrepreneurs
Books about entrepreneurship (updated for new books)
- The Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufman, who recommends that readers skip an expensive MBA and read his book instead. Covering both the business and strategic side and the psychology behind purchasing and decision-making, it’s one of the first books I recommend to people seeking to start and build their own business.
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Some may argue that this book belongs elsewhere but I firmly believe that entrepreneurs need to have a strong and brave creative streak, and this book speaks directly to creative pursuits in a linear world.
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport, who maintains that the newest wisdom about following your passion to career success is not the right path for most of us. Instead, we end up pressured to find that passion (and ourselves), and the result is a very restless state of mind. Newport instead advocates mastering skills to then leverage them and build the life you want.
- Taylor Pearson’s The End of Jobs, about how entrepreneurship is less risky than it has ever been.
- The Soul-Sourced Entrepreneur: An Unconventional Success Plan for the Highly Creative, Secretly Sensitive, and Wildly Ambitious, by Christine Kane, about people who want to build a business away from aggressive hustle start up culture.
- Similarly unconventional as entrepreneur books go, Intropreneur: Strategies to Build Your Business as an Introverted Entrepreneur, by Jen Jones is a book for all the introverts who still want to work for themselves.
- The Minimalist Entrepreneur: How Great Founders Do More with Less, by Sahil Lavingia, about a different (non-venture backed) approach to building a business, one that focuses on projects instead of growth.
- The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, who recommends testing business ideas with a minimum viable product as early as possible instead crafting the absolutely perfect product that you envisioned from the outset.
- Seth Godin’s Linchpin, about making yourself indispensable in creating new businesses and products, and Purple Cow, about transforming your business to make it remarkable, are both highly recommended.
- Your Next Five Moves, by Patrick Bet-David, uses chess as an analogy for making sound business decisions.
- Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, by Tim Ferriss, a collection of interviews with successful people from a variety of fields, including entrepreneurship, sports, and entertainment. The book covers a wide range of topics, including productivity, mental and physical health, and goal-setting by titan Tim Ferris himself.
- The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness, a collection of essays, meditations, and insights from an entrepreneur and philosopher that addresses topics like as happiness, purpose, and mindfulness, and is intended to help readers lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives.
- The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, a guide to achieving success by focusing on one thing at a time. The authors argue that by identifying and prioritizing the most important tasks, it is possible to achieve extraordinary results in any area of life.
- The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths, by Mariana Mazzucato. A USA-focysed, solid read. It challenges the common belief that entrepreneurship and innovation come primarily from the private sector. Instead, the Mazzucato argues that the public sector has played a key role in driving innovation and that the government has a crucial role to play in supporting entrepreneurship. Not. sopopular with the DN crowd as theories go!
- The Fail-Safe Solopreneur by Darren C. Joe is about weathering the emotional roller coaster of running your own business so you can make the most of your new, flexible work-life. After being virtually self-employed for 10 years, Joe shares 6 practices to manage the inevitable failure, anxiety, instability and loneliness that comes with being a digital nomad. Full disclosure: Darren is a friend and we have eaten together many times during my years in Vietnam. He’s got a great business mind, and I’m excited for him that he’s put his lessons down on paper.
- Derek Sivers’ book summaries. Not all relating to entrepreneurship but many involve startups, business, and innovation. Each book has detailed summaries.
- Nine books from the summer of 2019 that will “help to elevate your finances, success and overall happiness in life (you’ll also end the summer feeling more motivated and resilient)” – at least according to Amazon.
Location independent work and freelancing/blogging/writing
This generally requires you, a laptop and a decent internet connection. A digital nomad works remotely online; either in their own business, freelancing for others or in a regular contract with an employer. I personally don’t love the term “digital nomad” but ultimately working from anywhere could be called this, or location independent living, or simply “working from the road.” Again, for many who undertake this lifestyle change, the impetus is not necessarily travel but the flexibility to travel or not travel, as the case may be.
Location independent or remote work
Are you currently employed in a business where remote working could be a possibility (for example, if much of your work is computer based)?
It might be an idea to approach HR or your boss about your options. This may not be a viable option for most people, but many businesses are starting to be more flexible and are embracing the idea of remote employees. Of course, be prepared to argue well as to how this would benefit the business.
Resources for Aspiring Location Independent and Remote Workers:
- From Lucid Meetings, a post about how to make the case to your boss (additional links at the bottom of the post).
- NoDesk, a resource site for remote work and digital nomads. Great, comprehensive site.
- RemoteOK, another resource site for finding location independent work.
- Trello, a task app, has a free PDF download on tried and tested strategies from companies that embrace remote work. Zapier (mentioned below) also has their own PDF download about remote work here.
- The Muse on how to pitch working from home. Not the identical case, but useful regardless.
- Fast Company on successfully navigating remote work.
- Ahrefs has 20 online jobs to do from anywhere, updated in 2023.
- A Q&A from Remote.co with its most frequently asked questions.
- Are you a programmer or developer? There are plenty of job boards for remote work out there for you. try WeWorkRemotely, and Toptal.
- A popular place to search for jobs is Escape the City. These are more ‘serious’ jobs that come with stability and equally serious salaries, and are workable from anywhere in the world.
- Another few job sites: Working Nomads, Dynamite Jobs, Flex Jobs, Remote Hub
- Dan and Ian from the Tropical MBA podcast series share a lot of useful experiences on how to start a location-independent business like they did, including interviews with many others who have done the same and build out successful businesses in the process.
- Remote: Office Not Required, by 37signals founders Jason Fried and David Hansson, who point to the surging trend of employees working from home and explain the challenges and unexpected benefits.
- The Remote Worker’s Guide to Excellence by Eryck Dzotsi is the opposite of the prior book. Instead of building a convincing case for offices to adopt a remote workforce, it offers systems for remote workers to manage their time when not in an office location.
- The Year Without Pants, Scott Berkun’s entertaining story of Automattic and WordPress, and what other companies can learn about the future of work.
- Atomic Habits, by James Clear. I’ve included James’ book in this category because it goes into wonderful detail about how small habits can help you make big changes in life, and that mindset is extremely important when removing yourself from ‘normal’ routine.
Here are some jobs where remote work or location independent work could be a possibility:
- Textual jobs (writers, editors, proofreaders, translators).
- Media related jobs (journalists, photographers, videographers, podcasters, bloggers, digital marketeers)
- Financial positions (accountants, online trades people and ecommerce shops, product promoters and affiliate sellers, consultants, insurance agents etc)
- Organizational roles (Online personal assistant, customer support, travel agent, researchers)
- Teaching (online professors, online coaches, consultants)
- Computer and IT based jobs (programmers, database managers, software developers, web designers, graphic designers).
- Fizzle.co has also posted a list of ways people make money without a fixed location based on the results of their Digital Nomad survey, and more recently posted about what minimal viable income looks like when building a remote business.
Freelance writers: tips for writing from anywhere
If words are your strong suit, working as a freelance writer is a way to build income and work from anywhere. If you have prior skills in a specific technical niche, that would be a place to begin and position yourself as a writer. Writing is not easy, nor is freelancing (in my experience) a comfortable way to create a new career. Working hand-to-mouth is stressful whether you do it at home or elsewhere, and writers are paid far less nowadays with a glut of websites who offer exposure instead of cash money.
If you are a talented writer, however, freelance writing is an option to get yourself started on a more flexible path.
You can start with freelancing sites like Upwork, which will give you an idea of the types of projects out there, thereby aiding you in refining the skills you can offer.
Other job listings include Freelancer, Guru, PeoplePerHour, ProBlogger’s job board, and Freelance Writing Gigs’ job listings. Frankie also has a post about her tips for submitting job applications on these boards. Where to submit? See Susan Shain’s Where to Pitch for that one. And finally a piece on productivity as a ‘mobile freelance writer’.
General resources for writing and freelancing
- The Write Life is a resource site with sections on freelancing, writing, craft, and more. (They also have a helpful post about taxes and freelancing here.
- The Globe Trotter Girls list more useful freelancing sites and resources here.
- The Freelancer’s Union has a list of articles for freelancers about what to charge, important contract clauses, and much more here.
- For a summary of a 2-year freelancing run as a copywriter, with $230,000 and many many words, Joel Klettke summaries his 9 lessons learned from those years of work.
- For freelance writers, if you want to know which publications will pay you what, check out this freelance rates database compiled anonymously by other writers.
- For how to present yourself on freelancing sites, read this short guide by Ben Wroe.
- For proofing posts, I am obsessed with Hemingway App, which is free and easy to use.
- The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing, by Zachary Petit
- You Write, They Pay, by Susan Anderson
- Freelance Writing on the Side, by Joshua Slone
- How to Make a Living with your Writing, by Joanna Penn
- Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron
- Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide, by The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger
- The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- The Money Guide for Freelancers, By Alexis Grant and Richard E. Grant, a writer-CPA-combo team.
- A post featuring 18 books about the craft of writing, here.
How to pitch freelance writing
Pitching is a continuous question, and one that merits a resource section of its own. Outside the churn and burn of sites like Upwork, pitching to editors or site managers is an important skill, and one you will need if you want to get your writing published in a variety of places.
- The Open Notebook’s excellent pitching database, which includes the pitch itself and the resulting piece, as well as its “how not to pitch” series. A great resource and series with the full pre-writing and post-writing analysis.
- Estelle Tang’s Pitch Bitch tumblr, which includes advice, real pitches, interviews and other practical resources.
- How to pitch food writing to Serious Eats and other publications.
- Find writer’s guidelines based on topic of your pitch over at the Freelance Writing site.
- Jane Beresford, a BBC journalist, on how to effectively pitch via email.
If travel blogging interests you, please check out two of my talks from the TBEX conference: (1) my Costa Brava talk about building sustainable business and how readers must come before a quick buck for a thriving community to take form, and (2) my keynote from Bangkok about how travel blogging needs more storytelling.
At this point in time, I don’t think going into travel blogging for the purposes of building out a new career is necessarily sustainable. I am thrilled to read people’s accounts of their travels, and there is always room for good writing that offers a new perspective. That said, the travel blogging industry is increasingly saturated both as an industry and with advertorial, and it has less traffic than the food, lifestyle, or self-help categories of blogging.
Kerry Polk has a harsh but not completely unfounded piece on some aspects of travel blogging and the trend of selling products online that help people quit their jobs to also sell products that — well, look, you get the idea. The posts below are from people who have built a following and a platform and then leveraged it in their own (different) ways, separate from the kind of behaviour she discusses.
In my case, I got into this industry by accident — I started a blog for my family and it bloomed into a new business I love. When I get emails asking about how to be a travel blogger, I respond that building a business that showcases unique ways that your voice and background can contribute something of value is a good start. But that there might be other options on this page that make more sense monetarily.
The Cal Newport “get good at something, then leverage it to build the life you want” isn’t too terrible a proposition, while writing a hobby blog on the side.
How to start a travel blog
Still want to start a travel blog? Here are the main steps to set up your new site:
- Set up. Start with a WordPress.org website if you plan to expand. This list assume you’ll go with them, as they remain the best choice for self-hosting (using your own domain name). Alternative options include WordPress.com, SquareSpace, Medium, or blogging via Facebook.
- Hosting. WPX Hosting is what I use. They are great. I did a lot of research before I settled upon them, and I have no complaints. They are fast, responsive, AND they support homeless dogs around their headquarters.
- Themes. Oh the stress of choosing a theme for your site! So many different ones out there. With Gutenberg and recent Google updates, it’s important to opt for themes that are lightweight and agile, as well as mobile-responsive. Here is a post with a few suggestions. This site uses Astra, with a custom child theme.
- Photography. The photos on this site are hosted not on WordPress / not uploaded, but via SmugMug (20% discount for you), where I keep albums from each of my travel destinations. Photos are an increasingly important aspect of travel writing, even if you don’t think of yourself as primarily a photographer.
- Newsletter. The social web is changing, and blogs are evolving. This has been the case since the web took form, and will continue to be the case as we morph into a newer set of media, social norms, and digital information. A good way to keep up to date with the people who want to get your news is to start a newsletter. I used Aweber for mine for years, but switched to Substack when I got sick and was unable to work, as I did not need the full breadth of features Aweber offered. Popular alternatives to Aweber include ConvertKit, Drip, and Ontraport.
- Community Building and Social Media. Just make sure you tell your story, and your work’s origin story, in ways that bring in community. Be honest. Disclose sponsored content. Don’t think your readers won’t notice if you try to pull the wool over their eyes.
Non-digital nomad visas
An alternative to working remotely is to exchange your time and skills for the local currency: living in the places you visit and temporarily getting a ‘regular job’. These are often restricted in age, but for those who qualify they provide unparalleled immersion to local culture, a legitimacy visa-wise that other options on this list do not have, and lifelong friends. For those who exceed the age limits, another option is volunteer work. Please check out Grassroots Volunteering for sustainable organizations where the money goes to the places in need primarily, not the middleman. It was created as a database for organizations that are sustainable and deeply community-driven. The most common work-abroad jobs, and links to where to find them, are:
Teaching languages, be it in schools, as a private tutor or in dedicated language centres. For this, you will often require an official teaching qualification. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a popular option, as are TESOL and CELTA. These qualifications can be obtained from almost anywhere in the world. Language teaching, as many things nowadays, can also be done entirely online. Sites like Teach Away or OutSchool are a good place for finding students.
- Au-Pair and childminding work. Read Shannon’s tips for aspiring au-pairs, and do your research about the Au Pair sites out there. AuPair.com is a main one. It’s always useful to see what sites families are using to hire their au-pairs, and then contact those sites to enroll.
- Hospitality jobs (think restaurants, bars, cafes, clubs) and tourism jobs (tour reps, hotel staff, hostel staff). For excellent advice and job resources per country, browse Prospects (A UK site that isn’t limited to UK residents which provides information on everything from a country’s largest economic markets to visa requirements to links for volunteer, intern and working options). There are specialized work-abroad sites such as WorkAway , SeasonWorkers and OverseasJobs, but it’s recommended to search larger job boards (Indeed.com, Monster.com etc) for a wider choice within country.
- Youth camp or wilderness camp leader (great if you are an outdoor or sports junkie, as you can usually do lots of great outdoor activities). Leading sites are Bunac and CampLeader.
- Fruit picking. Find listings at PickYourOwn, Fruitfuljobs and the like. Fruit Picking Jobs Australia has Oz-specific options here, and PickNZ has the same for New Zealand here.
To get ideas of more unconventional jobs, this entertaining and inspiring list by Nunomad covers the conventional as well as the truly unusual (balloon artist, biofuel educator or camel trainer anyone?), and this book by Susan Griffith deep dives into the ways one can work and travel around the world, and the types of visas to obtain in the process.
For Canadian nationals, the government has information for working holidays abroad for 18-30 year olds via their International Experience Canada programme. Just fill in the country you wish to work in to find out details of when and how to apply for the visas. See also Nora Dunn’s guide to working holidays for Canadians.
For young people coming into Canada from abroad, click their government page here to find out about obtaining your working holiday visa. Another useful source of information are companies like BUNAC, specialized in guiding you through the visa process. Bonus: these companies have the ability to guarantee jobs for you in your desired destination.
For information on working holiday visas in Australia the Australian government has information here.
If you intend to work in the USA temporarily and you are not an American national, you need to arrange work beforehand and obtain a temporary work visa. More information here. For camp work, teaching and au-pair jobs read about your visa requirements here. If you are a student outside of the US, it may be possible for you to join the Summer Work Travel programme.
For those who want to legally live in a place as a freelancer or entrepreneur, instead of getting a more “normal” job, there are several countries that allow for it Where Can I Live has a hub page on visas for freelancers and entrepreneur digital nomads here,
The nitty gritty of working on the road
Productivity and procrastination
Regardless of the approach you take to working from afar, you may struggle with being productive on the road. Hell, we struggle with it when we are not on the road, but in my experience it’s even more salient a concern when you are trying to set your own schedule in a new place. The discipline required for self-employment has been discussed all over the web, but I wanted to provide a specific list of tactics and reads for remaining productive.
Earlier this year, I was having trouble feeling like I was accomplishing what I wanted to do during any given day. I spoke with a friend who had struggled with a similar issue, and he pointed out that it was primarily an optics issue. I was getting things done, I just didn’t feel like I was. In my case, the fix was taking email off my phone and starting the day with a creative activity relating to the site or to writing. While there was no difference in the way my day netted out, the fact that I felt like I had won the day by noon made a huge difference to my perceived productivity.
I mention this anecdote to illustrate simply that sometimes it is a small fix to an existing schedule that helps move you back into a feeling of building vs. stagnating. At other times, it might be rethinking the work flow you have, the way you work (standing, sitting, breaks that you can take, etc), or using apps to limit your browsing time on the net. No matter, the articles and books below might help you feel like you’re taking control back from a day that feels like you simply sat and typed, like a hamster on a wheel.
And while you’re at it, it might be worth thinking about time blocking to improve your focus and get more work done:
Resources for improving productivity
- Book recommendations:
- Cal Newport’s new book, Deep Work , about his rules to stay focused in an increasingly chaotic digital world. Highly recommended for anyone who is losing themselves within the maelstrom of multitasking.
- Adam Grant’s book on nonconformity is in this section because I find his writing sufficiently inspiring that it makes me more productive. His take on what makes people successful is interesting because he strikes that balance between good enough to take off but not alienating to the majority of society. I really enjoyed his prior book, Give and Take, on altruism and self-interest — and how helping others actually drives people more than we realize.
- The Productivity Project, by Chris Bailey, is a good resource for overall time management and a more streamlined approach to your productivity during your set hours for work, and outside of it.
- Radical Focus, by Christina Wodtke, about staying motivated as you build a business and a team.
- Hack the Entrepreneur, by John Nastor. How to stop procrastinating, build a business, and figure out how to do work that matters.
- A system that’s worked well for me is combining the Getting Things Done (GTD) system from David Allen with Trello (below). GTD’s system only works if you stay on top of it, but when you do it truly becomes a “critical factor for success”, as one review called it. Start with David Allen’s original, Getting Things Done, and dupe this Trello board created with the system’s framework. Alternatively, if you don’t use Trello, see this illustrated guide for how GTD can help structure your work life to help you be more efficient and less stressed.
- Tim Urban’s long and illustrated guide to why procrastinators procrastinate, on his site Wait But Why. “Even for the procrastinator who does manage to eventually get things done and remain a competent member of society, something has to change.” He talks about how that happens on his second post in the series, How to Beat Procrastination.
- Mark Manson addresses procrastination in his post about identity and productivity. A quote: “define yourself in the simplest and most mundane ways possible. Because the narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will begin to threaten you. And with those threats will come the avoidance, the fear, and the procrastination of all of the things that really matter.”
- Linda Graham on how negative self-talk and self-blame worsens procrastination. Practicing self compassion (even if it doesn’t come naturally) is key to breaking the vicious cycle.
- Taylor Pearson on the importance of focus, a piece that he wrote after reading 188 different books on entrepreneurship, as well as his 70% rule for productivity.
- Buffer on productivity tips specifically for digital nomads.
- The New York Times on what it calls “the busy trap,” our obsession with staying occupied and blotting out just about everything itself. They note that the present hysteria “is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.” I don’t disagree.
- A really great post about technology and happiness, touching on productivity, relationships, and restlessness in an online world.
- There are apps like Freedom that block ‘distracting’ websites, but I’m not a real fan. If you can’t discipline yourself to NOT check Facebook, that’s where your problem lies! I’d recommend something like Momentum instead, an app that helps you with creating new habits and achieving your goals. More longtail benefits than a simple blocker.
CoWorking and cafés
Working as a digital nomad or freelance writer or any of the other jobs on this page frees you from the office and enables you to work from anywhere. This flexibility is a primary reason for building an unconventional career, but then begs the question: where will you work from today?I tend to write at home because I write in total silence, but many colleagues and friends prefer coworking spaces or cafes, which come at additional cost in food or monthly fees. There is always a local library for a quiet and cheap alternative.
Resources for coworking and cafes:
- The most thorough resource of all for coworking is the sprawling Coworking Wiki, which contains information on just about anything you’d ever want, including directories of spaces around the world, blogs, media, and more.
- Coworker is a fantastic, slick site which lists coworking locations (and their cost) by city, all around the world.
- Workfrom lists both public working spaces (mostly cafes) as well as available coworking locations in that city and includes wifi speeds.
- James from Nomadic Notes has a great compilation of Cafés to work in around Asia, and a list of café–finder websites worldwide. Remember that a café is not your personal office, and general good etiquette applies. A few words of important wisdom on that here from Luiz Centenaro.
- The Global Coworking map does exactly what it sounds like it does, covering coworking spaces in 116 countries at the time of writing.
- Coworking Coffee, a crowdsourced database of places that you can work and caffeinate in.
- And for those who want to mimic sounds of the cafe even when at home, there’s Coffitivity to do that for you.
Tech tools and gadgets to make work easier as a digital nomad
A successful remotely-run business often relies on working together through disparate time zones, travel days, and in far away places. Thankfully there are plenty of new apps and technology that make navigating these kinds of obstacles a lot easier.
The Roost Laptop Stand + Logitech Keyboard
The first day I got a Roost Stand was the day I stopped having searing pain in my back as I worked. I know it’s become a bit of a cliché with digital nomads to have laptop stands, but there’s no question they fundamentally change your ability to work without pain. Personally, I don’t bring the Roost to cafes as I think it’s a bit much when I’m already taking up space for longer-than-necessary, but I do use it when working in my apartment or a library.
I have problems with chronic pain, so this was essential – and an amazing change in my work routine. I use it every day and it’s so small it adds almost no weight or bulk to my bag.
To use the Roost you’ll need a keyboard and mouse. I use the Logitech K811 and the UHURU lightweight mouse.
My favorite of all is Time Zones for Humans. Really easy to use, and really satisfying user interface.
In its absence, opt for World Clock (for Mac) or Figure It Out (for Google Chrome) to keep tabs on team members and client timezones.
Suffering from jetlag? Who doesn’t. I have a long post about why we get jetag and how to make it better on the road. This includes preemptive time zone changes and apps you can use to make it easier.
I use Canva for all of my Pinteresting and other graphics needs, which include laying out PDFs and making the gluten-free translation cards that I offer to celiacs.
Of all the graphics options out there, it’s easily my fave. Easy to use, and so much fun.
Communicate with your team or just keep on top of your project management through task management programs or apps.
Slack is free to use, with limits on how many integrations you can use. Plans start at $5/month which include unlimited integrations and full archive search. One of the handiest integration is you can type/hangout in a channel and you’ll get a Google Hangout of everyone in the team in seconds. As you’re building a business, the search function will be extremely useful. For smaller businesses (teams of 2 or 3) it may not be worth the additional effort, and Trello is a good substitute minus the chat function. For what to use it for, see this new Ultimate Guide for Slack book.
Trello is simple and completely free, and its innovative movable ‘work cards’ work especially great with iPads. You create a stack for the cards and then assign individual tasks for people to work on in chunks. Cards are automatically synced to the web or your smartphone. I use Trello on my phone, and on my laptop, combined with the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. (If you want to implement them both, read this.) I have personal boards and work boards, the latter of which are shared with team members. Trello Gold is $5/month and allows deeper customization.
Skitch is the ideal tool for quickly adding arrows, text and other information to screenshots and images; perfect for when your point would be made better with a bit of annotation.
Tracking Time is what I use for my assistant and her time tracking, and is now in iOS and Android. Their desktop version is also quite intuitive and easy.
Asana is the most extensive (and therefore somewhat intricate to navigate), and recommended for larger businesses or teams doing ‘serious’ business! It’s organization capacities can cover an entire workforce.
If you need an easy and collaborative document to work in real-time, Hackpad, Draft, and Google Drive are both free. For product-based companies, ProdPad allows your team to work together on ideas and put together a cohesive strategy in one place.
Additional tools for keeping track of team progress/accountability are 15Five and iDoneThis. 15Five relies on team questions that can be answered to keep track of goals and mindset, and iDoneThis emails the team nightly to ask about daily accomplishments.
For scheduling, many friends use Calendly, which hooks up to Google Calendar, Outlook, and other mail services even on their free (basic) plan.
Online or cloud storage
Dropbox is what I use for sharing basic project documents and plans, as well as using a folder for press photos and other items that I need to give download access to on a frequent basis. Free unless you plan on using a large amount of storage space.
SmugMug (20% discount for you) is my preferred method of storing my photos in the cloud. Also a great option for those considering selling prints. Get a discounted subscription using the Legal Nomads discount code here.
Google Photos has upped their storage and capacity for facial and item recognition, so much so that it’s a bit creepy.
Note-taking and Curating on the Road
I use the Pocket app more than just about everything else in the curation list. When reading on mobile or on my browser I simply add to my “pocket” and can then read these pieces offline. Their tagging system allows me to keep articles for later use, as well as search by topic. Highly recommended.
Microsoft’s OneNote can be used individually or as a team, creating notebooks to share thoughts and notes and plans for specific projects.
For those with Apple devices, the Notes app is a great way to take quick stock of ideas or observations on the road using an iPhone that then sync up quickly with an Apple laptop.
Related but not in the same way: Jumpcut, which gives you access to text that you’ve cut or copied in the past. It’s a notepad of your clipboard history, and it definitely comes in handy.
Backing up your computer is possible with a variety of services, such as Mozy, CrashPlan, or Carbonite. I use Mozy and started using it after my laptop was stolen with my backup hard drives — so I lost everything.
ScannerPro is useful to take photos of important receipts, documents, or insurance papers and upload them directly to the cloud. It syncs with Dropbox and other cloud storage services as your needs may be.
Online password vaults
LastPass and 1Pass are password management services that you can access in order to access any online account using a master password. Password sharing is also possible.
Meldium offers single sign-on so team members can log in to apps and accounts with one click without ever seeing the actual password. Pricing starts at $24/month for up to 20 users.
If This Then That (IFTTT) allows you to create internet ‘recipes’ (i.e. instructing it that “if I do this, then do that”) to automate basic tasks. For example, you can programme it to save a photo to Dropbox whenever you upload something new on Instagram. For an overview, see wtf is ifTTT. I use this tool to automatically send tweets to a spreadsheet, which makes curating my newsletter easier, and to send links to the Pocket app if I favourite them via Twitter. From 2016, a series of IFTTT recipes to increase productivity with their “Do” apps.
Zapier is an alternative, useful for those who use Slack, auto-tweeting or updating a CRM when something happens, so you don’t have to. Zapier’s basic plan is free for five “zaps” (tasks), after that it starts at $15/month. The Zapier blog has a handy 101 ways to use Zapier post to give you ideas.
The best portable Office Setup – lights, cam, and more
My recommendations are in this post, but I don’t use lights or extra screens.
Matt Stauffer sets out his recommendations for a remote office in a long post that is so well-done that I don’t have to do anything but link to it. He’s devoted quite a lot of energy to obsessing over lights, mics, and camera views, and has his suggestions here. These recos will come in handy whether you are doing video work, podcasting, or just a digital nomad thinking long term.
My friend Dave Dean also has a helpful post at Too Many Adapters about his mobile office setup, here.
Further reading for long term travelers
Start with my World Travel Resources page, with over 10,000 words on the details of long term travel planning, including keeping a positive mindset, packing, planning, and what to do about vaccinations.
If you’re going to travel, food is one of the most important ways to learn about a place. If you’re scared of eating street food, take a look at my post about how to eat street food without getting sick.
And if you have any questions for me, please reach out via the contact page.
I hope this page has been helpful!