Digital Nomad / The Fablab

How I Became a Digital Nomad

I adopted a nomadic lifestyle in 2015, shortly after I quit my 9–5 (which was more like a 9–8) as a consultant in a social media agency in Paris, France. Shortly after realizing my profession allowed me to work from — almost — anywhere in the world, I embarked on a great digital nomad life, with my laptop in my backpack, and it felt like a dream come true.

Becoming a Digital Nomad

It is the first challenge of all. Almost every day, you see the question popping up on Digital Nomads Around The World, the n°1 Facebook group for DNs: how can you actively transform your life so you can “become a digital nomad”? After having experienced it myself and met countless of us, the answer is: there’s no real answer. When you start digging, all the stories are different.

I had never planned to “become” a digital nomad. I only remember telling my Dad a few years before that there were 3 things I loved in life: traveling, eating, and writing. Putting them together in an activity that would actually be profitable sounded more like a remote dream than reality, like when you say that you’ll be a firefighter when you’re a grown-up but ten years later, you’re still afraid of fire. But all adventures start with a dream after all.

When I took off in October 2015, I had never heard of the term “digital nomad”. I was still a young professional and since I was in love with my job in social media, I had decided to continue in that career even after quitting my company. Back then, four years of experience gave me just enough credit, understanding, and contacts to try out the freelancing adventure. Of course, it was challenging: for the first months, I couldn’t pay off all the bills, I was disorganized and didn’t really know how it would all play out.

But it wasn’t long before I realized the place I worked from didn’t matter. So I started with a month abroad with my parents, who were on holiday in Asia at the time. Fun fact: The first country I tried out was China. Looking back on it, I hadn’t thought that through. It was only after landing there that I realised my access to the western world’s social media was restricted. So carrying out my job was even more challenging than expected. But it worked! Provided I delivered as reactively as the time difference made possible, everybody seemed to be happy.

After that successful test, I spent the following year traveling to a bunch of other countries, from Asia all the way to South America, with my laptop in hand and just a Wi-Fi connection on the road.

In Guang Xi region, China, on my first trip ever as a Digital Nomad (2015).

Living a location-independent life

You can start living a location-independent life in many ways. A job in a digital business sure can help, but it’s not always the key. I did meet people running e-businesses and remote copywriters, but others were online teachers or content creators. Some would accumulate experience in farms or as bartenders, on top of their online jobs. Back in 2015, the digital market wasn’t as developed as it is today (especially in a post-Covid era) so people had to be creative and often combined different sources of revenue. It was also my case when I moved to Vietnam in 2017: I still had some freelancing missions with French clients, but was also helping as a bartender and later a tour guide in a local coffee shop, and even took writing gigs with local magazines. Today, many jobs seem to be compatible with a Digital Nomad lifestyle.

If the job matters, in my opinion, there are a few other factors that must converge: professionally speaking, a strong network that is ready to acknowledge your work even if you’re far away can be a real plus. One of the difficulties you shouldn’t underestimate is how much energy is required to keep in touch with the people who work with you – coworkers or clients alike – when you’re in a different timezone and lifestyle. I know that with the development of remote work, more and more people are experiencing this challenge: doing it from across an ocean with no perspective as to if and when you will meet them next time is a whole other level. It requires excellent communication skills – and even over-communication.

Last but not least, what truly made the cut was that I felt ready to leave some of my ancient life behind to make room for new encounters and habits. Be aware that your world is going to be turned upside-down and that’s probably one of the reasons why you want to choose this lifestyle. I don’t mean to give up on your friends back home, but you must be ready to give up most of your old habits if you have any. You’ll be reinventing yourself, and creating a new lifestyle day after day, as you go. I was not ready for what found me in China, neither in Peru, nor in Bolivia. It wasn’t always easy to reconcile work and travel, but I wouldn’t change a thing for anything in the world now.

Working from a coffeeshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand (2019)

With how much money to start?

I didn’t plan to mention the money part in this article since I already had a steady freelancing activity before deciding to travel full-time, but I understand it is a very important point, albeit one of the most important. I didn’t start with much money in my check account (about 3,000 euros) but I had a bit of savings just in case I needed to come back to France or Reunion Island, or if I came onto an urgent expensive matter.

The other practical point I’d mention regarding money is that you should always stay on top of your finances and take meticulous care of your official documents. I didn’t feel living as a Digital Nomad was a hassle in terms of paperwork but managing your credit cards and visa is the bare minimum in my opinion. You must be able to move quickly if you need to or feel like it. All in all, I’d say you need to stay down-to-earth when adopting this lifestyle because you will be on your own – no relative or familiar face to catch you if you fall… so work on minimizing the risks of falling. Keep your mobile house in order, trust me, it’ll help.

All that being said, most of all, you must have the drive. The drive and will to go after your dream. It will give you the strength to leave and overcome whatever obstacle you might meet.

Good luck 🍀

This post is a shorter and slightly more detailed version of a digest I wrote on Medium a few years back. Check it out here if you’re interested: 6 Key Challenges for a Digital Nomad.

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