How to Become a Digital Nomad in 2024: A Freelancer’s Guide

How to Become a Digital Nomad in 2024: A Freelancer’s Guide

2021 has brought a lot of hope along with it—including the hope of being able to travel safely again. With remote work becoming the norm for many around the world and the ability to travel again looming on the horizon, many are wondering “Could I become a digital nomad? Could I work while I travel?”

The answer is yes.

While 2020 forced many to hold off on their nomadic plans—this year is looking more promising. As an independent professional, you are probably already working and building your business online. Becoming a digital nomad will allow you to leverage this freedom and flexibility to take your business with you on the road.

This guide will help you understand the digital nomad lifestyle, the skills you need to develop, and how you can start building your own digital nomad life in five steps.

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who works online and travels often. The remote nature of their work means they aren’t tied to a single location. They use this freedom to work from virtually anywhere they can find a wifi connection. Many digital nomads are self-employed, independent professionals, including bloggers, marketers, developers, entrepreneurs, Instagram influencers, and a variety of other remote workers.

Slowly traveling their way through the world, the typical digital nomad will settle in a place for a few months at a time. They work from home, local cafes, or coworking spaces for part of the day and use the rest of their time to explore their new “home.”

Unlike the average tourist, a digital nomad isn’t just there to see the sights. Their location independence allows them to set up shop in a new city (or country) and experience what it’s like to actually live there.

The last decade has seen the digital nomad phenomenon explode. According to research by MBO Partners, in 2018, 4.8 million independent workers described themselves as digital nomads, and many more—17 million—aspire to someday become nomadic.

You don’t have to be a member of Gen Z to qualify for this lifestyle. People of all ages and backgrounds are attracted to and pursuing this lifestyle. Personally, I quit my corporate job and started out when I was 28. According to the MBO partners study, 54% of digital nomads are more than 38 years old.

Why do people become digital nomads? The reasons vary from person to person. But for many, it’s simply because they can. The lifestyle offers freedom, travel, and the opportunity to grow and challenge oneself. Digital nomads take advantage of their ability to work from anywhere to experience all of the above.

Digital nomad skills

To become a digital nomad, you will need to have (or acquire) the right skills. These are skills that will enable you to work online and build a flexible, location-independent life. The digital nomad skills you will need include professional (i.e., work) skills as well as soft (i.e., life) skills.

Professional skills

Among independent professionals, the most common digital nomad jobs are:

Consider developing your professional skills in these areas. This is not to say you are limited to these options alone—they’re just the most popular. If you’re not sure how to pick the right skill, I discuss this further below.

Soft skills

You will also need to work on developing essential soft skills. This includes being self-motivated, adaptable, organized, persistent, able to manage your time well, and proactive. Regardless of what you do for work, you will also need good communication skills. These skills are not only crucial for being self-employed but also important for your life on the road.

How to become a digital nomad in 5 steps

If you’re someone who has travel on their mind 24/7, becoming a digital nomad could be the right choice for you. Travel. Work from anywhere. Live a truly flexible, balanced life. How do you start?

The five steps below will help you kickstart your work-from-anywhere dream and become a digital nomad.

1. Identify your skills

The first (and most crucial) step to working from anywhere, is figuring out what type of work you want to do. After all, you’ve got to pay for your adventures somehow.

Start by taking a good look at your existing skill set. Identify skills that are not only interesting to you but also in high demand. Do your research. Take a lot at jobs and other freelancer’s profiles on Upwork as a starting point for your research. Make note of what potential clients are looking for and assess how your skills can fill the gap.

Looking back at my last corporate, full stack digital marketing role, I realized I had a variety of skills to offer clients. Social media, copywriting, SEO, PPC, email marketing—I was tempted to offer a bit of everything to my potential clients. After all more skills = more money, right?

To be sure, I decided to research the market. I browsed jobs and other freelancers’ profiles on Upwork, as well as LinkedIn and other job sites and marketplaces. To my surprise, I realized that the most successful freelancers were actually specialists in their area. These freelancers usually specialized in one or two interrelated areas of work. I noted that clients too, seemed to prefer hiring experts rather than generalists. Further, these specialized freelancers were able to set much higher rates for themselves.

With this in mind, I decided I needed to niche down instead of being a one-size-fits-all freelancer. I realized my main interests lay in content and social media marketing. In 2013, social media marketing was still in its nascent stages. Once again, I researched the market. I noticed there was a huge demand for expertise as businesses often didn’t understand how to make use of social media. Armed with this new knowledge, I now saw an opportunity to build my freelancing business as a social media marketer.

This step is the foundation of your business. It may require some serious introspection and research but don’t be afraid to take your time with it. Be open to learning new skills or upgrading existing ones as needed. Online learning resources like Udemy, Coursera, or even YouTube are a great way to learn or update your professional skills.

2. Find clients

Once you’ve decided what your service offering is going to be, it’s time to find clients for your business.  Start by setting up your profile on Upwork. A professional, well thought out profile is key to finding clients on Upwork. Use these tips to create a profile that stands out and attracts potential clients.

When building your Upwork profile, I would once again advise you to do your research. Search for and review projects on Upwork. When you spot a project that interests you, take note of how it is described and which skills and keywords potential clients include. Write out your profile using key words and phrases, clients use in their project descriptions.

Once your profile is ready, start sending out proposals for projects. Find a project you feel confident about delivering great work for and submit a proposal. When writing your proposal, think about what makes you particularly attractive to the client. Every client wants to know why they should choose you instead of a different freelancer. Focus your proposal on effectively answering this question.

Keep your proposal short, friendly and professional. Read the project description and address it in your proposal. Provide work samples as this is the best proof of your suitability for a project. For best practices, see this article on how to build a winning proposal. Remember that it may take some trial and error before you learn what works and what doesn’t.

Pro tip: During your hunt for work, learn to identify clients that will be ideally suited for your digital nomad lifestyle. As a digital nomad, I changed time zones frequently. I would be in Mexico for a few months and then find myself across the world in Thailand next. Due to this, my preference has always been to work with clients asynchronously. I have learned to say no to clients who require me to be available in a specific time zone at all times.

In 2013, I started working with the Upwork social media team. After a few weeks, I realized the work was going to be very time zone-dependent. I couldn’t commit to this at the time. I apologized and offered to withdraw myself from the role. However by this time (I like to think) I had made a good impression. They offered me a different role within the team—a role I hold to this day. These projects are much more independent and asynchronous in nature—allowing me the freedom to work whenever I want, from wherever I want.

Don’t worry about the “ideal client” too much at the beginning. However, it’s something to keep in mind. As you work with more clients and get to know your business better, you will learn to spot the right clients that fit with your lifestyle too.

3. Build your business

Getting one project is a great start, but ad hoc work isn’t going to cut it long term. To succeed as a digital nomad, you must build a sustainable business—one that generates work consistently.

The goal is to build a reliable income by having clients seek you out. In order to do this, it’s important to deliver quality work and build successful relationships with clients. Create a great impression every single time. Don’t think of clients as a one-and-done deal. Work on building ongoing relationships. This leads to ongoing work—and also referrals.

In addition to using Upwork or whatever platform you choose, you may also want to consider setting up your own business website to increase your online presence. Your website is a great way to start building your personal brand as an independent professional.

Additionally, you may also like to start blogging. Blogging is the perfect avenue to show off your expertise in a particular area. You don’t have to be a writer for a blog to benefit your business. You simply need the ability to showcase your industry knowledge and expertise on your blog.

Effective use of social media channels is also a big part of building your personal brand. You can use your social profiles to network. This could be in-person, locally (where you currently live) and online—to find more opportunities to grow and promote your business. As an introvert myself, I found in-person networking events very overwhelming. Instead, I have found local Facebook groups very useful to build connections with other business owners. These relationships have led to many projects and referrals.

Building your business will require constant effort and marketing your business wherever you can. From social media to local networking groups—make the most of every opportunity. Put yourself out there. Practice your pitch and improve your selling skills.  Don’t be afraid to get creative and push hard.

For more advice on starting and building your freelance business, be sure to read this guide on how to get started as a freelancer.

4. Test it out

Once you’ve built an income stream that’s independent of your location, you are ready to go. Surprisingly, this is usually where a lot of digital nomad newbies get cold feet and give up. The thought of giving up the comfort and familiarity of home can start to feel overwhelming.

My husband and I chose Medellin, Colombia as our first destination. We wanted to go somewhere as far away from Australia and as unfamiliar as possible. For us, this meant starting out in South America. Despite our bravado, we both constantly had doubts about our decision. It’s only normal to be scared of making a big life change.

When you’re scared, instead of giving up on your dream, ask yourself “What’s the worst that could happen?” I developed this worst case scenario mental hack and mantra for myself.

Whenever doubt set in, I would ask myself this all important question. Then, I’d run through the absolute worst case scenario in my mind. For example, “So we go to South America and the trip doesn’t go well. I don’t speak much Spanish yet so I’m struggling/find it all too difficult and have to leave. I may even have to come back home because I’m homesick.”

When I spelled it all out, I realized even the worst case scenario wasn’t actually that bad. The worst case would be that I tried something—a different lifestyle—and realized it’s not what I wanted. I could go somewhere else or I could simply come back to the life that I knew. That wouldn’t be so bad. At least I had given it a shot. Breaking down many worst case scenarios like this made the prospect a lot less daunting and a lot more exciting instead.

You don’t have to jump in the deep end like I did. I realize that not everybody wants to jump into the unfamiliar straight away. This is why I always advise wannabe digital nomads to do a test run first,

Start by testing out your new freedom and get a taste of what location-independent working feels like. Book a few days (or a week!) out of town. Depending on how adventurous you’re feeling, this could be a local getaway or somewhere a bit further away. The key is to keep the trip short and do a trial run of what the digital nomad life is like.

Remember, you’re not planning a vacation. Work is your number-one priority, so pick somewhere with good internet. Plan to work your usual schedule—just from a different location.

5. Plan your first stint

If your test run goes well, you’re ready to plan your first digital nomad stint away from home. This can be as short or as long as you like. If you’re planning international travel, be mindful of travel restrictions in different countries. If you’re not ready to travel internationally yet, choose a destination in your own country. You make the rules.

How do digital nomads decide where to go? Be honest with yourself about what you need from a location in order to live there comfortably. This includes factors such as the cost of living, as well as quality of life, safety, quality of internet (important!), language, food, climate and community— among others.

Pre-pandemic, digital nomad hubs such as Bali (Indonesia), Chiang Mai (Thailand), and Medellin (Colombia) were popular first choices among newbies. NomadList is a great resource to help you identify, research, and pick your first destination. The advantage of starting out in a digital nomad hub is that often these destinations have an in-builty community of other nomads who can help you settle in and learn the ropes faster.

Other important things to consider before you go include your budget, visas (if you need them), banking (i.e., how you will access your money if you are overseas), and travel/health insurance.

Start freelancing now to travel later

Contrary to popular belief, becoming a digital nomad doesn’t mean giving up your work to take a gap year. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Becoming a digital nomad gives you the freedom to combine your work with your passion for travel. You don’t need to choose one or the other.

When I quit my job, I was excited but also fearful that I had taken a step back in my career. I had earned my master’s degree, worked my way up the corporate ladder for almost six years after college, and then quit it all … to travel. It didn’t make sense but it felt right in my gut.

Almost eight years later, I can confirm I never had to go back to my corporate job. I have built a very fulfilling freelancing business. I traveled the world full time for six years and lived in Mexico, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, New Zealand, and many more countries. Most importantly, I am proud of the life I have built around my values. While I am happily grounded at home in Australia at the moment—I continue to live by some of my most important core life values of adventure, courage, freedom and growth.

Not ready to travel just yet? No worries. This guide was created to open your eyes to what is possible. If you’re harboring a “work from anywhere” dream, now is the perfect time to start working on it. Sign up for a freelancer account on Upwork and start building your freelancing business. When you feel ready to travel—your digital nomad life is just a plane ticket away.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.


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Author Spotlight

How to Become a Digital Nomad in 2024: A Freelancer’s Guide
Radhika Basuthakur
Content Writer

Radhika is a self-confessed word nerd and content expert with over 15 years of experience writing content for businesses around the world. She is a cheerleader for flexible work, a passionate world traveler, and spends her free time alternating between a good book and a good hike.

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