The Ultimate Guide on How to Become a Digital Nomad

The Ultimate Guide on How to Become a Digital Nomad

“How can I become a digital nomad like you…?”

Ever since I started this blog in 2014, this has been the #1 question that I have been receiving daily from readers and social media followers alike. True enough, even if I had already discussed extensively the steps on how to start a life of travel, I haven’t really wrote a detailed guide yet on how to become a digital nomad — a profession that I have initially done in order to jumpstart my traveling lifestyle.

After months of putting this off, I finally got the time to write about it and I hope that it will immensely help those who want to lead a similar lifestyle!

I will definitely try to be very thorough about this, so to start off…
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What is a Digital Nomad?

According to Wikipedia: “Digital nomads are individuals that leverage technology to perform their work. It’s generally done in a nomadic manner wherein they work remotely — from home, away from home, while on the road — to accomplish tasks and goals that used to have traditionally taken place in a single stationary workplace. These digital nomads are often online business owners, web designers, graphic designers, software developers, and other types of knowledge workers who can perform work duties irrespective of physical location.

Simply put: a digital nomad makes full use of the technology (ta-dah: the Internet!) in order to work and earn income, and they can do their work whenever and wherever they are.

Example:

» READ: Types of Digital Nomads

Or for the most common representation: have you seen those photos of people sitting by the beach with a laptop on their laps…? Probably even sipping a piña colada while they’re at it? Well, those are us, the digital nomads — or to be precise, that’s how our lifestyle is portrayed to the public. I say this because it’s true in some aspects but for the most part: it’s sometimes over-romanticized.

Ultimate Guide

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you would know by now how I always like to show the reality behind any situation so that any misconceptions can be cleared early on. Therefore, let me break down this digital nomad lifestyle for you…

Benefits to being a digital nomad:

  • The freedom to be your own boss. You can control how much work you will take on and when to do it; therefore, you have great control over your own time and your own rhythm toward doing things (e.g. setting your ‘play’ and ‘work’ times, etc.)
  • You can travel the world! This is the biggest selling point of this lifestyle. As mentioned previously, this type of career is ‘remote’ given how you can do your work online — a realm that is not bound to one stationary place — so it’s really no news to know or see digital nomads who hop from one exotic destination to the next while they work. (Apart from the enriching travel experience, it can be helpful to your budget as well since you can travel to countries that have lower costs of living; thereby lessening your monthly expenses).
  • You get to meet a lot of people: locals in foreign countries, travelers, and fellow digital nomads. It’s even a typical occurrence to be thrown into situations where you can get the chance to connect with like-minded individuals. This is a really great thing because in such way, you could have the opportunity to bounce off ideas with people that would not only help improve you as a person, but could also help give you ideas in ascending your career and in building a remote/online business (which is customarily the grand goal of any digital nomad.)

Disadvantages to being a digital nomad:

  • It’s not all about pleasure. Most people think that what all digital nomads do is spend time away lounging on the beach since they only work less than 4 hours a day. Well o-kaaaay, that can happen (because I do work less than 4 hours a day now) BUT what I’m trying to say is that NOT everyone can do that immediately especially when a person is still starting out. At the beginning, you’ll most likely be shedding blood, sweat and tears, working 80% of the time (or even more) in a coworking space, internet cafe, coffee shop, restaurant or hotel room as you try to stabilize your clients and cashflow. Trust me on this because this is how I was before (but sure enough, once you get past that gruelling entry stage, it can get smooth sailing from then on).
  • A decent internet connection tends to be hard to come by. This struggle is real. Since most of us digital nomads rely on the internet, an unreliable internet is a great inconvenience (and can easily transform us into vengeful monsters). Regrettably, this is a problem that we almost always face as we travel around the world.
  • It can still get lonely. This is most likely to happen if you’re setting out in this lifestyle alone or if you don’t take the initiative to connect with people whilst you’re on the road. But then again, it’s also possible that no matter what you do, that feeling of homesickness can still creep in from time to time and it can be quite tough to beat.

Overall, to better manage your expectations about this lifestyle, you can also read my post below:

» READ: 5 Things to Know First Before You Quit Your Job to Travel the World

Once you get to read through that blog post and your mind is still set on pursuing a digital nomad’s lifestyle then that’s GREAT! Let’s proceed to the good part…
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How to Become a Digital Nomad?

First, let’s start with 5 “quick ways” (starting from typical situations to extreme ones):

  1. Going solo. This means that you quit your job and transfer your current work online. This scenario works best for consultants (any type), teachers/tutors, lawyers, accountants, etc.
  2. Arranging remote work. If you don’t want to leave your office job, strike a deal with your current employer to let you work online instead. This works best if the majority of your tasks involve working on a computer. In other words: your physical presence isn’t that needed in the office. (If you want tips on how to approach your boss about this, you can read Tim Ferris’ book, the 4-Hour Work Week).
  3. Transferring online. If you already own a brick-and-mortar business, consider of ways to move it online or of ways to manage it remotely. There are a LOT of tools already available, online and offline, that can help you make this arrangement possible (online accounting applications, webcam surveillance, manager hire, etc.)
  4. Taking the entrepreneurial path right off the bat. It’s one of the fastest ways (provided that you’re ‘loaded’ or prepared to take a big fat loan) BUT the most difficult as well. It gets riskier too if you don’t have any prior experience or connections to help you succeed.
  5. Buying an existing online business that you can run or that you can get passive income from. But remember: this is very risky (much like #4) especially if you’re not an experienced business owner. Some of the ways to buy businesses: franchises, online websites on Flippa or online businesses on FE International.

That being said, CLEARLY not everyone has an easily-convertible job, a flexible boss to permit you to work online, or a pot full of money to buy or start a business. However, the fact remains that YOU can still become a digital nomad.

You just need to start from the ground up. To do so…
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1.
Identify your skills and decide on the kind of work you want to do.
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Online Skills

NEVER underestimate what you can do and what you already know.

You might think that you have no skills right now to become a digital nomad; however, the fact alone that you can type and use a computer is a skill in itself that can already land you simple online jobs like data entry, translation, and more. Secondly, other than taking advantage of your current skills, look into your hobbies as well since there’s a chance that some of it can be turned into a ‘money-generating’ work online.

A perfect example of this: my story. You see, ever since I was 13, I was fond of learning and doing graphic and web designs. I enjoyed it a lot and I continued to do it only as a hobby and as a way to help friends who were in need (while I also continued to polish my skills and learn new ones). But when I started to meet digital nomads when I was 21, I realized that it was something that can be turned into a profitable and remote profession. I discovered that it could help me gain more income than what I was earning as a fresh graduate in an investment bank, and that it could also make me lead a traveling lifestyle! Right then and there, the door to a varied list of possibilities opened up for me — and it could be the same for you too!

To gain ideas on what kinds of digital nomad jobs that you can do or which you may love to do, check my article below:

» READ: Several Types of Digital Nomads

TIP: As you decide on the type of remote job that you can do, remember the notion of ‘diversifying your portfolio’. What do I mean by this? Well, for instance, other than eyeing the kind of work where you do data entry or administrative assistance, try to learn other set of skills too that can make you gain more job opportunities. More work = more income.

And of course, the…

GOLDEN RULE: Pick the kind of work that you LOVE to do so that it won’t feel like ‘work’ at all. It’s really imperative to choose something that you’re passionate about because in that way, it’s easier to be productive, and also definitely easier to be a master of it in the long run!

Along with this is another equally important advice that I typically impart: “To work hard does not always equal to success… you have to work smart too.” So always keep your wits with you, be resourceful, be proactive, be artful — be opportunistic (but without disregarding your ethics and principles).
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2.
Learn or polish the skills that you’ll be needing.
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Work Online

There are 3 ways to learn digital nomad skills:

  • University Degree or Job Experience. If you’re still young, why not enroll into a university course or degree that’s related to the kind of digital nomad work that you’d like to do in the future? Or if you’re a fresh graduate that wants to experience the office life for a bit, go and aim for work in a company that can teach you the skills you’ll be needing in your future nomadic lifestyle. Through this way, you can also gain contacts that can be useful for your upcoming online work (example: working for an agency that does online marketing and advertising, etc.)
  • Paid Courses. This is a no-brainer, but you can definitely enroll into courses that can teach you ALL of what you must know. The downside to this is that it can be costly; but for sure, it’s a good investment to your future.
  • Self-study. Another no-brainer, and THIS is actually what I’ve done. (Yes, my knowledge about design, HTML, SEO, online marketing, etc. were things that I did NOT learn in school, work, or formal classes because I actually got a business degree and my first official job was in an investment bank. In short: I just learned it all by myself! Even if the knowledge about graphic and web design were cultivated early on in my life, I still have managed to grasp the concepts about web development, SEO, and online marketing in just a span of 2 months.) You see… the great thing about digital nomad jobs is that most employers are not requiring their freelancers to be degree-holders on the jobs that they’re offering. Why so? Well typically, they are just mainly concerned about RESULTS. So your knowledge alone can work for them and this is often proved best by showing samples of your past work (via portfolios, testimonials, etc.)

So… how did I self-study? I read books, but I primarily read stuff online. 

Speaking of which — I’ve come to notice that a lot of people don’t seem to realize that there are TONS of FREE and cheap resources on the internet that can already make you learn a certain subject extensively! You just need to look hard enough. But anyway, since I’m setting this up as some sort of ultimate guide, I’ll help you get over the trouble of researching.

Therefore, as based on a list of digital nomad professions in this article, I will be providing below several links to resources where you can gain the related knowledge and skills.

» HELPFUL NOTE: Aside from reading books, surely a quick Google search can already show you a VAST list of courses and resources; but listed below are just some of the best ones that I know or heard of — both FREE and cheap ones. Still and the same, I advise you to read MORE than what I have suggested below in order to expand your knowledge further. For sure, it will help you gain leverage in your online applications.

*Terminology: PBC is short for ‘Paid but cheap’ (my own terminilogy) and I have also placed a ★ mark to resources that I highly recommend.

» Blogging

» Technical Services (Graphic Design, HTML, Programming, Web Design, Web Development, Video/Audio Editing, etc.)

TIP: If you want to do graphic and web design like I did, apart from reading through the websites I mentioned above, it helps to simply “stay curious” at all times! So scour the internet continuously for whatever tutorials/guides you can find and then soak it all in. I can’t exactly list ALL the websites I’ve read through, since I can’t remember anymore what they were. However, my experience alone can tell you that the internet could already teach you a LOT of things without the need to go through a formal course. So whenever you’re clueless about something, just Google and read up about it! Now… I can’t say that I was a true-blue professional at what I did before, but I had enough knowledge that met the needs of my clients.

» Content Writing / Copywriting / Editing / Proofreading

» Online Trading

» Online Poker
(I have never tried online poker, but my best friend has done this before as his ‘nomadic profession’ which enabled him to travel the world sustainably. Below are some resources that he personally recommends:)

  • ★ FREE: www.PokerStrategy.com
  • FREE: www.PokerListings.com/online-poker-guide/
  • PBC BOOKS: Poker Books

» Online Sports Betting
(I don’t have personal experience with online betting either, but I know a handful of nomads who have succeeded with this and below are websites that they recommend:)

  • ★ FREE: www.Beginners-Betting-Guide.com
  • FREE: www.GamblingSites.org/sports-betting/
  • PBC BOOKS: Betting Books

» “General Knowledge”

There are platforms like the ones below which can make you learn various interesting skills that you can offer on numerous sites online (see #4 for the kinds of sites)

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3.
Market and advertise your services.
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Online Portfolio

Go and spread the word to your family and friends (for word of mouth or referrals) — but don’t stop there! Go and set up your profile on the freelance websites below too:

» Specialized

» General (just about anything!)

» Personalized

  • Creating your own brand and building your own website/portfolio.

» TIPS

  • Get ‘back-up’: If you’re a total beginner in the field, you would need to show samples or previous experience on your portfolio or work profile. The best way to go about this is to offer your services for free at first in order to get some feedback/testimonials that would beef up your CV. (If offering it for free is too much, you can of course offer your work towards a client at a discount.)
  • Actively seek out clients or work: Signing up on freelance websites and setting up your profile is not enough. Always be proactive: bid jobs, seek out clients, pitch your work wherever you can!
  • Analyze the other freelancers in your field: Check out their profile and their portfolio. Take note of any thing that might have made them stand out more (best practices, etc.) and then try to adapt it as your own.
  • NETWORK: This is VERY important. Networking with fellow digital nomads will help you gain more insight about the job market; additionally, they can also help you find jobs (or even hire you!). I suggest that you keep this in mind at all times because this kind of attitude helped me a lot when I was starting out. How so? By developing relationships with fellow nomads and even online entrepreneurs, it helped me land a stable and well-paid freelance online work that enabled me to confidently quit my office job. Later on, my connections helped inspire me as well to set up the current business that I have today! Anyhow, other than networking with the nomads in the place you’re in, try networking online too via:

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4.
Be versatile and always continue to strive for great client testimonials.
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Online Work

‘Following through’, consistency, and versatility can help you advance further (if not faster) as a digital nomad.

I’ve touched upon this topic previously but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it! Basically, it helps to be a ‘jack of all trades’. For example, you can master programming, but it will also benefit you if you offer other kinds of services since it will help multiply your chances of earning more.

Furthermore, always put great importance on testimonials! This is for the reason that as you continually aim for great feedback from your clients, it will help instill trust from other potential employers, it can help increase your chances of being hired again by the same client, and it might also help you gain future additional work via referrals.

(As you go on, remember to update and improve your profile or portfolio too.)
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5.
Plan your nomadic lifestyle.
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Aileen Adalid

Once you ensure that you will be having a steady cashflow every month from your online work (or simply after you get a decent travel fund saved up) it is then absolutely fine to start planning your exploration around the world!

I’ve already discussed this process thoroughly on my 5 steps article of starting a life of travel; so it helps to read that first. But to reiterate, the main points that I mentioned there which you need to take heed of are:

» Where to go?

It’s normally tough to go to 1st world countries if you are a 3rd world passport holder like me (since I tend to be treated like a terrorist or criminal — yep, no joke about that). Rest assured, it’s still possible with the right kind of preparation.

» READ: How to Travel the World on a Third World Passport

So for starting nomads who have a ‘limited’ passport like I do, it helps to set aside those 1st world countries for a bit since the cost of living can be high. If you’re looking for the best places that can fit a digital nomad’s lifestyle, Asia and South America are two great continents to start looking into. To know more about the best countries see my article below:

» READ: Best Countries in the World for Traveling & Working Nomads

It also helps to travel to visa-free countries at first. To check where you can go without the need of a visa see VisaMap or inquire at your local embassy.

» How long?

It depends on where you’re planning on going since some visa-free countries applicable to your passport can enable you to stay indefinitely (by just applying for an extension); but for visa-required countries, the most that you can stay in is 3 months unless you apply for specialized visas like Germany’s self-employment visa or long-term residence visas.

» READ: How to Legally Stay Longer in Europe

» Where to stay?

AirBnB is a favorite amongst travelers when it comes to long-term stays, whereas Booking.com is the best platform when you’re looking to book hotel stays (its system of ‘paying only after you check-out is very helpful since you can easily use your ‘bookings’ as proof of accommodation without the need of paying for it first. You can make a last minute cancellation too!).

TIPResearch the details of local rental websites in the city/town that you’re heading to since it’s possible that you could find better deals there.

For other ways of scoring cheap and free accommodation around the world, see this ultimate list:

» READ: 52 Ways to Get Cheap & Free Accommodation Around the World /// How to Travel on a Budget

Now of course, as digital nomads, it’s vital that you inquire about a place’s internet connection. If attaining great internet in a certain accommodation proves to be futile (e.g. hotels, etc.), take note of the coworking spaces available in the city (you can use CoWorking list or WorkFrom for that, or simply ask around the digital nomad communities I previously mentioned.)

Nomadic Lifestyle

» What to prepare?

FINANCIALS: Securing a travel fund is a given but other than that, it’s important to figure out how your clients can pay you while you’re out traveling the world. If PayPal is needed, go set it up, connect it to your bank account or card, and so on.

TIP: It helps to have copies of your work portfolio on hand as well as bank statements and any other work-related documents if in case the immigration asks for it.

TAXES: As a self-employed/freelancer individual or as a business owner. Now, I can’t provide one universal answer for this since every situation is different as dependent on your nationality or country of origin; so what I highly suggest is that if you’re ever in doubt, hire a consultant to help you sort out your tax documents. It also helps to organize this waaaaay beforehand since it can help with visa processes later on or even at the immigration itself to show your solvency or work.

(Customarily however, you pay taxes in your home country but once you stay in a foreign country for a longer period of time, make it a point to recheck your tax situation since it might be required for you to pay additional taxes to where you’re planning to stay in for long.)

VISAS: This is self-explanatory. As already mentioned above, always check first if you need a tourist visa to the country that you’re heading to.

Do digital nomads need work visas instead?” As a norm, entering a country with only a visitor visa is fine if you’re a digital nomad because you’re not really working  for a ‘physical business’ in that country’s territory (so you’re not illegally taking away the jobs of the locals etc.). Besides, most countries also don’t have clear regulations yet about digital nomads but it’s generally tolerated and allowed (irregardless, it is your responsibility to research the laws of the foreign country that you’re heading to since they might have different or new laws that goes against this concept.)

TIP: When it comes to immigration, just say that you’re entering their country for tourism purposes. No need to say something like “It will be my new base as a digital nomad” since not a lot of people are that familiar yet with this line of work, and if you say something weird to their ears, they might minsinterpret your words and then forbid you to enter their country. But surely, if they ever ask about your work, it’s best to just mention that you are a self-employed freelancer or business owner (as dependent on the work that you do) and that you are paying tax and working for a company somewhere else. This will be an assurance to them that you’re not heading to their country to search for work (even though “technically” you’ll be working there, but only ‘online’ thereby not affecting the local employment).

» RELATED READ: How to Travel the World on a Third World Passport

» What do I need?

VACCINATIONS: To check if you need to acquire certain vaccinations for your destination, check CDC.

INSURANCE: I highly suggest World Nomads since they have great coverage for travelers like us!

GADGETS: The things that I find essential for my tech lifestyle are a laptop (duh), unlocked smartphone that you can take anywhere, hard drive for storage/backups (or DropBox can already work), and theft protection software.

» RELATED READ: What’s in My Carry-On? A Digital Nomad’s Travel Essentials!

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Ultimate Goal

Travel Lifestyle

Now that we’re done discussing how you can become a digital nomad, I’d like to take this moment to talk about the ‘ultimate goal’ of those who are in this profession. It’s vital to talk about this because I always say this in my posts and I will never get tired of saying this: it REALLY helps to “Always think long term.”

The thing about basic digital nomad jobs like those listed above are that they still require hours of work and effort. There are even chances that you could get fired by your employer or that jobs are suddenly hard to find (it’s always possible). That’s why ideally, what you should aim for in years to come is to achieve a kind of digital nomad work that is highly sustainable — a kind of ‘enterprise’ that you personally own or run while only requiring a few hours of your time.

Examples of such ‘ultimate goals’ are:

  • Setting up an optimal online business that fits your remote lifestyle
    Ex: I have my own online business now that I run together with my best friend. It is set up with Amazon.com wherein even if we sell physical products, we don’t have to deal with the meticulous details and huge expenses of shipping, logistics, and inventory (since Amazon handles it for us on our behalf at a monthly membership cost. As a result, I only work 3-4 hours a day or maybe even less). You can do something similar by signing up with Amazon or with eBay but I am warning you now that without proper mentorship and knowledge, this can be a tough business model to break in (we both managed to set up this business successfully because of the connections and mentorship that we had gained during our digital nomad lifestyle).

    I just found out that there are courses online that already teach you the basics of selling on Amazon. Check out these Udemy courses: “How to Private Label Products for Amazon” and “How to Sell Online on Amazon“. I haven’t tried them myself, but looking at the course outline, even if they are not as comprehensive like the mentorship that I’ve gone through, it should at least give you an idea of the business (especially if you already are in a rush to know how Amazon selling works). Good luck!

  • Generating products or services that can bring you passive income
    Ex: Digital products, prepared courses, eBooks
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Overall

Digital Nomad

Becoming a successful digital nomad won’t happen overnight BUT the fact remains that it’s a career or profession that can be started by anyone. Besides, with the right mix of discipline and perseverance, you can reach your goals sooner than you think! (…Add the help of this guide as well and hopefully, I can help hasten the process even further for you).

All in all, let me know what you think about this post! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How about you?

  • Did you find this post helpful?
  • What other aspects would you like to know more about?
  • If you’re a digital nomad like me, what other tips can you add?

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72 comments

  1. Hi Aileen,

    This was a very detailed article, and I absolutely love it!
    I honestly believe the future is in location independent jobs, and you've done it way before it became 'trendy'. Found your website while looking for digital nomads from the Philippines, because there's not a lot.
    I'm slowly transitioning into remote work, and I got my start after being hired as a part-time researcher/writer. I would like a full-time job though, something a little more stable to start off with so I can finally support a digital nomad lifestyle.
    I've read some articles how alienating it can sometimes be, but that doesn't worry me at all. The part where you get hours of time for yourself, and then meeting people who share the same ideas and views, all happening in some exotic locale (kinda romanticizing the idea here), really gets my blood pumping.
    It would be nice to meet up (either locally or on Skype or email or whatever medium you prefer) to just do some sort of informational interview where I get to pick your brains. I know I still got a long way to go, and I need all the help I can get.

    Bookmarking your blog, following you on Twitter, & subscribing now!
    I sure hope that didn't make me sound like a stalker. Lol.

    Hope you're having a good day!

    Reply
    1. Thank you for your kind words, Aubrey! This must now be an exciting time for you to transition into a digital nomad's life — I really hope all the best for you! And yeah it can get lonely at times especially if you're still starting out but eventually you just start to connect not only with fellow nomads but travelers as well. :)

      I'll let you know when I'm back in the Philippines! For the meantime, feel free to send me messages on my Facebook page. Cheers!

      Reply
  2. Hi Aileen,
    I first came to know you from an online article from Business Insider and I immediately said to myself "this is who I want to be!" To tell you a bit about myself: I am from a 3rd-world country (Indonesia) who works as a writer/reporter and despite having the passion for the job, i know that the 9-to-5 lifestyle really isn't for me (been wanting to quit this daily routine but doesn't have the courage to do so). Your blog, in particular this post really encourages me to take the first step in becoming a digital nomad, and your helpful links for freelance websites and free courses are truly a great source for me! I just want to say thank you for being such an inspiration and I hope that I too can become a successful digital nomad just like you.

    Reply
    1. Hey Dian, you don't know how much letters like this mean to me — thank you so much for sharing a part of your story with me and it really warms my heart to know that I'm helping you in some way. I believe that you will absolutely gain success! I wish all the best for you and do keep in touch!

      Reply
  3. Hi Aileen,

    Today I discovered you blog and I think is one of the best I've seen, is really helpful and clear! Thank you for shearing your experiences and knowledge. Right now I'm working on ideas to create my own online bussiness/travel blog... I'm working on my business plan but now that I want to take action its really complicated because I don't know graphic designee, marketing online, I'm not the best writer and I feel a little scare of how to start... I have so many things to learn that I feel that this mission is almost impossible... Seems that I'll take me longer than I was expecting but I will make it happen... I will check the links of the websites that you recommend to learn all these.

    Thank you for shearing and I hope you can give me some advises
    Laura

    Reply
    1. Hey Laura, I totally know what you mean! I have felt that when I was still starting before — it was overwhelming and scary. But it's okay to feel that way and don't rush. Take things one at a time to learn the skills that you need and I believe that in no time, you'll get to where you want to be. :) Believe in yourself! All the best to you and I'm glad that this has been of help!

      Reply
  4. Wonderful and inspiring! I'm a 45 year-old single mother and elementary school teacher researching how to generate income to work from home. I came across your website, now I'm inspired to become a digital semi-nomad! With the depth of knowledge you have shared in your ultimate guide, I am confident that I will become a successful digital semi-nomad. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. I'm happy to hear that Gwen! You're welcome and I wish all the best to you!

      Reply
  5. help me :< i got inspired with your blog about how to become a digital nomad. I am a student and i want a part time job through working online so that i could save money to travel in the future. Do you know where i can get a job online? is it even possible even without any experience at work?

    Reply
    1. Hey Justkim, I'm happy to hear that you're already proactively looking for ways to earn more despite being a student still. Regarding places on where you can get jobs online, I've already listed some links in this article. You can also see this old article I did, listing 33 websites to make money online.

      Reply

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