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Don’t Make These Mistakes as a New Digital Nomad

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Embarking on the journey of a digital nomad is an exciting leap into a lifestyle of freedom, adventure, and limitless possibilities. However, amidst the excitement of remote work and globe-trotting, new digital nomads often encounter doubts or complications that can be derailing. In this article, we’ll explore the common mistakes that new digital nomads make and offer invaluable insights to help you navigate the nomadic life with confidence and success.

From expenses to finding balance, we’ll uncover the challenges that await digital nomads on their quest for location independence. Armed with the right knowledge and strategies, you can sidestep these pitfalls and thrive in your newfound lifestyle.

Whether you’re a freelancer embarking on your first remote gig or a corporate escapee ready to embrace the nomadic lifestyle full-time, you can avoid these common mistakes that can hinder your journey as a digital nomad. So, grab your passport, pack your laptop, and let’s dive into the world of remote work and wanderlust. Your nomadic adventure awaits!

Don’t think that you have to move quickly between locations.

While many nomads hit the ground running and spend just days in each destination, others are moving at a more leisurely pace. Slow travelers or “Slowmads,” if you will, are nomads who stay weeks or even months in a single destination before moving to a new one. There are many reasons why you might choose one pace over the other, but the point is that you have the freedom to do whatever you want. And that’s part of the point of being a nomad right, the freedom? Indeed.

I am location-independent and work full-time, blog, write scripts, take photos, make short films, have a spiritual life, and love to be in classes of some sort most of the time. I don’t need to be on an airplane every other day—that wouldn’t really support my lifestyle goals.

But visiting other locations on a longer-term basis absolutely does. I’m free to choose where I go and when, and also able to get to know the city I’m staying in. I’m not scrambling to get to work or find wi-fi. I can work out, and meditate, and write in my journal just like I would if I were at a permanent home. I find flow, inspiration, and creativity. And that is the version of being a digital nomad that works for me. Find the one that works for you!

Don’t become a digital nomad before you have an income.

Also known as don’t put the cart before the horse. Hey, I’m sure there are people who have taken a big leap of faith and worked out the financials on the go. But if you’re looking to have a sustainable life working remotely and not working locally while traveling, it’s best to have your work stuff figured out. If you’re new to freelancing, wait until you have a steady income or some money saved up. If you have a traditional remote job, make sure you’re allowed to work from anywhere before you leave the country.

I first considered becoming a digital nomad many years before I did it, and that’s partly because I wanted to be financially secure. (I was also tied to L.A. for various reasons, but that’s another story.) It took me a few years to work my way up as a freelancer and then start my own business. That being said, it doesn’t have to take that long. Especially these days. There are even online courses that can help you choose the right direction to go with work.

Don’t skip researching the cost of living.

It’s also worth noting that different places have vastly different costs of living. Definitely take that into account when you’re trying to decide where to travel to! If you’re coming from the U.S. like me, and particularly from a major city like Los Angeles, many places are going to seem very affordable. However, there are countries and cities that are notoriously expensive.

You might also find that in some cities getting an apartment in prime areas is comparable to a city like L.A., but if you go a neighborhood over places rent for a fraction of the cost. Naturally, there is a reason why certain neighborhoods are popular—they’re usually walkable, trendy, and safe.

Don’t forget about coworking/coliving spaces.

There are various options when it comes to places to stay as a digital nomad. One common choice is an Airbnb. Other people go for hotels. Or for a longer-term stay, some might even rent an apartment or home. Another option is staying at a coworking or coliving property, which come in the form of houses, flats, and hotels.

These properties are catered to digital nomads or professionals who travel, so they have the amenities you need. Some of them offer basic private rooms while others are like private apartments. They all have shared spaces like kitchens, living spaces, and areas to work. Some even have gyms, yoga rooms, movie rooms, bikes, pools, and separate office buildings.

Still others have a social good element with opportunities to get involved in and support the local towns you’re staying in.

I’ve found these to be a great option for reliable wi-fi, reasonable rates, and the possibility of social interaction.

digital nomad coliving

Don’t think that you have to do it alone.

You might be traveling alone as a digital nomad, but that doesn’t mean it will be a solo experience. In fact, you might find that being a digital nomad offers more opportunities for community than you had back home.

This has been my own experience. Even entering the research phase before I gave up my L.A. apartment, it became obvious how committed—and frankly excited—the digital nomad community can be. At one point I took a two-week trip where I worked 60 hours a week (and also dealt with a bout of food poisoning) while sightseeing in three different countries. I met so many people.

When I work from home in my L.A. apartment I meet zero people. On that trip, I stayed at Selina hotels/hostels and found the Lisbon location particularly lovely and social. I didn’t want to leave.

There are tons of resources out there, and even communities that you can join to ask questions and get answers. Becoming a digital nomad does not have to be a solo experience. It can be an extremely social and supportive experience.

Don’t forget to research visas and tax obligations.

I am in various Facebook groups about expats and digital nomads and have seen posts from people who moved to another country and didn’t know that they owed taxes there until they got hit a bill. We don’t want that! There are many, many things to know about how long you can stay in certain locations before you are required to get a visa or become a tax resident. And these things can be different depending on what country you are a citizen of.

For example, American citizens can stay in Mexico for up to six months on a travel visa, but only up to three months in the entire Schengen region of Europe. I’d never even heard of the Schengen region of Europe until I started my digital nomad research. You can look up the list of countries that are within it—a lot of European countries are.

Meaning, you can’t spend three straight months in Italy and then go directly to Greece or Portugal. (I know, bummer.) You are required to leave the entire Schengen region until your rolling days become available again. You can go to England, or Norway, or Egypt, or the U.S. (etc), but you gotta stay out of the Schengen zone.

Tip: Use a Schengen calculator to calculate your days.

What if you want to get a digital nomad visa?

If you want to get a visa to stay longer in one destination, that is possible! And there’s a lot to know about that. There are 35 countries that offer digital nomad visas including Portugal, Spain, Costa Rica, and Brazil. The application process and requirements are different for each and need to be considered well in advance of travel. Also, keep in mind that you are a tax resident in any country where you spend more than 183 days in a year.

Don’t think that you can only take a backpack.

You might hear some people say that they regret overpacking and prefer traveling with a just a backpack. Other people take multiple computers with them. I’m somewhere in between. There are many things I’m happy to leave behind, and a lot of random things that I want with me. Books and paper journals aren’t the most practical item to pack but do I take them? Yes. (Just a few!)

There is a huge spectrum of ways to travel when you’re location-independent, and it mostly just has to do with you. If you’re backpacking and moving quickly, it makes sense to pack lighter. If you’re staying in a location for a month or more, you might not have any issues with a checked bag fee here and there.

If you’re unsure, a good rule of thumb is to only take what you can move on your own. (Getting on and off trains and navigating staircases would be a pain with too many bags.) Although, you can also choose destinations or modes of transportation that allow for more. Maybe you can get by with just rideshares and skip public transportation altogether. These are important things to research when you’re considering where you want to go and how you want to live.

Don’t forget to bring backups.

If there’s something you absolutely must have with you, bring a backup. Many things can be purchased around the world, but some things can’t be. (Or you can’t get them quickly, or it’s very expensive to do so…) Bringing back up debit or credit cards for example is very important. Yes, you can order new cards from your bank, but they generally have to send them in the mail. Sometimes you can get Apple Pay or PayPal set up straight away, but not everything takes those forms of payments.

Some people even bring backup laptops. If you work remotely and are traveling to locations that don’t have an Apple store, you can understand why. (Not that everyone uses Mac, but you get the point.)

I’d rather be safe than sorry with certain items, like my favorite toothpaste, skincare, and supplements. If you can’t replenish on the road, keep a running list of items you’d want to stock up on whenever you get into a location where you can.

Don’t acquire international fees.

Payment Processing Fees

Many U.S. debit cards charge a processing fee each time a purchase is made in a foreign country. This might be fine for a vacation, but it’s not a sustainable choice for a long-term trip or life in another country. Luckily many U.S. cards will also offer no international processing fees as a perk. Travel credit cards almost always include that perk. (Please use credit cards responsibly!) If you stay somewhere long-term, you also have the option of opening up a local bank account.

My preferred choice is using the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Chase has a great reputation for travel credit cards based on their generous points systems and cash-back options, as well as perks like insuring your luggage, and access to Chase airport lounges around the world.

Roaming Fees

All cell phone plans are different but many of them will charge a fee for roaming and using data while you aren’t logged into wi-fi. There are many options, including getting a different phone, sim card, or using a dual international sim card. The upside to the dual sim card option is that it’s digital, and you can keep your original phone number. These usually offer data in weekly to monthly packages.

Don’t take on the opinions of people who haven’t done it.

It’s great to hear people out, but some of their opinions can be taken with a grain of salt. As with anything in life, different people have different opinions. And for some digital nomads and location-independent world travelers, their opinions might differ from those around them. If you know in your heart that it’s something that you want to do, and you don’t feel like you’re getting the support or answers you were hoping for, look elsewhere.

There are so many people out there who have or are living the digital nomad experience—and most of them will understand why you feel drawn to do it. Whether you take a course, join a community, or just read a ton of digital nomad blogs (hi!) there is a lot of info already available for a new digital nomad.

Don’t forget that it’s an adventure.

When you’re living as a digital nomad there is a lot of change. You change locations, people come in and out and your life, and your schedule can change. Not that things don’t happen in other lifestyles, but it can be a bit different of a pace. Sometimes that can be challenging, but many rich experiences are. Everything experienced is something gained, even if you don’t stay on the same schedule as some of your new friends.

Traveling is not always the easiest thing to do, but that isn’t why we do it. We do it because we’re curious, and have growth mindsets, and because it makes us feel alive. If you experience moments where you’re like “WTF am I doing,” circle back to why you wanted to do this to begin with. You’re free to stop whenever you want, just like you’re free to begin!

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