Written by Ilias Ism, a digital strategist and founder of MagicSpace, specializing in scaling startups to $1M+ ARR. With a decade of experience, he offers full-funnel growth plans covering design, development, and SEO.
Learn how to become a digital nomad and work from anywhere in the world. From remote jobs to freelancing, here's everything you need to know.
So there I was, just graduated at the ripe old age of 18 from some obscure Belgian institution, with my bag full of graphic design and web development skills, an itchy foot, and a heart full of dreams. Call it a combination of youthful exuberance and a mild identity crisis, but the idea of a 9-5 full-time job in my home country was as appealing to me as broccoli to a five-year-old. It was then that the light bulb moment occurred. The digital nomad lifestyle chose me, much like how a wand chooses the wizard (or so I'm told).
The first step, as they say, is always the hardest. And trust me, it was. But with a spoonful of courage and a pinch of desperation, I traded in my Belgian waffles for a remote job and embarked on my digital nomad journey.
From graphic designer to web developer, I wore many hats (sometimes quite literally while working from chilly coffee shops). Freelancing was my ticket to the digital nomad jobs that had a view of the mountains in one corner and a beach in another.
It didn't take long to realize that it was a great way to meet new people, experience different cultures, and bask in the glorious unpredictability of different time zones. My office could be anywhere: an artsy cafe in Chiang Mai, a co-working space in Bali, or a sun-drenched terrace in Barcelona. I was in the business of swapping postcards, not business cards.
Like any rollercoaster, the digital nomad lifestyle has its ups and downs. Sure, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, and a good idea can occasionally turn into a bad Wi-Fi connection. But the good news is, there's always a solution – a better coffee shop, a faster VPN, or a friendly local with a Wi-Fi password.
I quickly learned the value of a reliable internet connection, especially while trying to explain a complex design concept to a client with a voice that sounded like it was being auto-tuned due to lag. I also became an unexpected expert in tourist visas, medical insurance, and the delicate art of maintaining a social life across different locations.
But the thrill of digital nomadism is in these very surprises. You never know when you'll find a great place to work or the perfect online job. The nomadic lifestyle is a never-ending treasure hunt where X marks the new cultures, new skills, and great places you'll encounter on your map.
The nomadic lifestyle can be a masterclass in hard work and resilience. As I worked and explored, I began dreaming bigger. Freelancing was fun, but I was ready to take the reins of my own online business. Enter the startup scene.
My first venture, Officient, was a labour of love, late nights, and a lot of Belgian chocolate. I built many open-source tools using Vue.js, React, and Next.js. My ventures taught me everything from the importance of a good social media presence to the different ways you can cry over code at 3 am.
The funny thing is, no matter how much work you do or how many different countries you've been in, there's always room to learn more. The world of business owners was like a never-ending episode of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'. Yet, as I played the game, I found that the digital nomad lifestyle was the real jackpot.
One of the best things about being a digital nomad is the sense of community. Be it Facebook groups, coworking spaces, or impromptu gatherings at local coffee shops – you'll find plenty of like-minded people who understand the joy of finishing a project while waiting for a flight and the struggle of explaining your job to family members.
Location independence does not mean social isolation. Instead, it opens up doors to a global network of remote workers, each with their own fascinating stories and perspectives. Sharing tips about the best places to work or how to handle a health insurance hiccup in a foreign country helps to foster a sense of belonging in a lifestyle that literally keeps you on the move.
As the credits roll on this episode of 'My life as a Digital Nomad', I can’t help but chuckle at the chaos that has been my journey so far. But amidst all the adventure and the uncertainty, I’ve come to understand a few survival basics for aspiring digital nomads.
Stable Income: Whether it’s online jobs, freelancing, or building your own business, you need a steady income. It's a good idea to have an emergency fund for those unexpected hiccups.
Remote Skills: Graphic design, web development, content creation, digital marketing, or even becoming a virtual assistant – the best way to succeed as a digital nomad is to have skills that are in demand online.
Travel and Health Insurance: The thrill of exploring new places comes with its risks. Having a reliable travel insurance and health cover can save you a lot of trouble in a foreign country.
Flexibility: Digital nomadism is like jazz – it’s all about the improvisation. From adjusting to different time zones to handling fluctuating income, being adaptable is key.
Let's dive back into my journey in the throes of my first startup, Officient. As the name suggests, it was an effort to be both efficient and officious from the comfort of our workspace in Ghent.
Three years in, we had a solid team, a buzzing office space, and dreams bigger than the cups of coffee we guzzled daily. Then, as fate would have it, a tiny virus with a not-so-tiny impact made its way around the globe. Covid-19 had arrived, and like most businesses, we had to pivot.
Suddenly, our bustling office turned into a collection of tiny squares on a Zoom call. Everyone started working remotely, our banter-filled coffee breaks replaced by emojis in our Slack channels. But every cloud has a silver lining, and for me, this newfound location independence was it.
With my trusty laptop and my dreams in tow, I took a leap of faith and moved to the city of love, lights, and a lot of baguettes - Paris. The allure of the city was as captivating as the promise of the digital nomad lifestyle. I quickly discovered that remote jobs could be done anywhere, even in a small Parisian apartment with an enviable view of the Eiffel tower.
Despite the pandemic restrictions, living in Paris was a unique experience. It was like being in a romantic movie where I was both the ambitious protagonist and the hopeful dreamer. Every day brought new places to explore and new cultures to experience, without even having to step outside my arrondissement.
Living and working in a foreign country also taught me the importance of health insurance, managing a bank account in a different currency, and navigating a new city's public transportation. If nothing else, it was a crash course in Adulting 101.
After spending a year feasting on croissants and refining my French, I decided it was time for a change of scenery. My next destination was the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the coast of Northwestern Africa, known for its stunning beaches and inviting weather.
I landed on the island with my digital nomad visa in hand, ready to embrace the next chapter of my nomadic lifestyle. Here, my workspace had a 360-degree view of the turquoise waters and sandy beaches, and my breaks were spent learning kitesurfing.
In the Canary Islands, I stumbled upon a vibrant community of digital nomads. Living in a coliving space, I met remote workers from different countries, each with their own unique experiences and stories. It was like a United Nations conference, but with more surfing and less bureaucracy.
My next move was as different as it could be. I swapped my board shorts for hiking boots and headed to Switzerland, a country known for its towering mountains, pristine lakes, and very, very efficient trains.
Here, I immersed myself in the awe-inspiring beauty of nature, and when I wasn’t working or exploring the Swiss countryside, I was writing blog posts about my digital nomad journey. From the hardships of running a remote business to the joy of finding a perfect work spot in the heart of the Swiss Alps, each blog post was a chapter in my ever-evolving nomad story.
In Switzerland, I realized that digital nomadism isn't a sprint; it's a marathon. It's not just about finding the best places to work or the great coffee shops to fuel your workdays. It's also about finding a home base in every new place, learning to be adaptable, and embracing the challenges that come with the lifestyle.
Looking back at my journey, from the office spaces in Ghent to the coffee shops in Paris and the mountain peaks in Switzerland, I've come to realize a few things about the digital nomad lifestyle:
Balance is Key: You might be working long hours one day and exploring a new city the next. Remember to strike a balance between your work and your adventures.
Learning is Constant: Every new job, every new project, and every new city teaches you something. Be it new skills in digital marketing or understanding different cultures, the learning never stops.
Building a Network is Crucial: Your network is your net worth. Connect with other digital nomads, join Facebook groups, and create a strong social media presence. You never know when these connections can come in handy.
Adaptability is Essential: Things won't always go as planned. You might have to deal with internet connectivity issues, delayed payments, or even a global pandemic. Learning to adapt and adjust is crucial.
So here I am, years into my digital nomad journey, still learning, still building, still exploring, still dreaming. It's been a rollercoaster ride, filled with late nights, early mornings, unforgettable adventures, and countless cups of coffee. The road ahead is long, and the journey is ongoing. But one thing is certain: being a digital nomad is more than a lifestyle; it's a state of mind, a celebration of freedom, and a relentless pursuit of living life on your terms. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
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