What is a Digital Nomad? - International Living

All over the world, folks of all ages are turning their backs on the traditional nine-to-five grind and setting off for travel, fun, adventure, and profit.

Their “offices” are wherever they open their laptops…on white-sand beaches, in tropical mountain valleys, and vibrant university towns. They seek income opportunities online, are always on the lookout for the latest trend, and boost their spending power and overall lifestyle by earning in dollars and spending in pesos, bhat, or whatever the local currency might be.

They’re commonly known as the Digital Nomads and joining the tribe is easy.

These folks have found the most flexible of online incomes, allowing them to head out at a moment’s notice and go where they please. Some even country-hop every two weeks and live in dozens of countries every year.

“I’m free,” says Nimisha Walji, who took what she knows about yoga and turned it into an online income. “I can go where the wind takes me and live any place I choose! If I hear about somewhere nice, or feel like a change, I can pursue that in a matter of days. Sometimes hours.”

You’ll find a strong sense of community among Digital Nomads. “The quality of friendships that we’ve made while traveling is so much better than the friendships we had back home,” says Eric Hoffman, who, with his wife, went from selling supplements online to earning with a social media consultancy.

I’m a Digital Nomad myself. Over the past 11 years, I’ve surfed near-perfect waves at sunset in Bali, Indonesia…run with the bulls at the Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain…celebrated Oktoberfest with a few steins of lager in Munich... and trekked through rice paddies in Sapa, Vietnam. I’ve been able to afford these adventures, and had the freedom to do so, because I write freelance for companies that need copy to sell their products.

Today, I live on the tiny tropical island of Koh Phangan, Thailand. You may have heard of the island in connection with its wild full moon parties. But the island is much more than a monthly celebration.

Most days, I’ll put in three to six hours of writing in the morning. Then, I’ll spend the rest of the day exploring the island’s spectacular beaches, catching up with friends, or visiting the night market in town to grab my favorite Thai meal—steamed chicken with rice and soup for just $1.44. Other days, I’ll take it easy in the morning, then perhaps do a bit of work in the evening. I never have a boss looking over my shoulder, so it’s all up to me.

There are all kinds of different ways to make money as a Digital Nomad, so it’s not hard to find one that suits your interests and dream lifestyle.

If you like the idea of earning a reliable income from anywhere in the world, completely on your own terms, then the Digital Nomad lifestyle could be the one for you. And it’s a lot easier to pull off than you might think. You don’t need a special degree. You don’t need special equipment, other than a laptop and a reliable internet connection. Simply fire up your computer and, boom, you’re making money.

What’s more, the internet has made it easier than ever for aspiring Digital Nomads to discover new places to live; find cheap international flights; secure good short- and long-term accommodation; and meet fellow Digital Nomads, travelers, expats, and more. The social aspect is one of the best parts of being a Digital Nomad.

None of this was possible 20 years ago…today it’s the smart move for anyone seeking to fund their life overseas.

Frontier Income

While there are many well-established, proven Digital Nomad incomes, there is plenty of room for innovation online. Perhaps you have a new idea you’d like to try…or simply a new spin on an old idea.

Nimisha Walji was able to turn a 5,000-year-old tradition into a profitable digital income.

In 2014, Nimisha moved to London to work as a management consultant for a company in the city…but she longed for the freedom to travel. She had previously saved up enough money to travel throughout Latin America. But when the money ran out she had to return to the rat race.

“I began to realize I wouldn’t be able to see and do all I wanted to if I lived in one place and could only travel one month or so each year,” says Nimisha. “I began meeting more and more people with similar ideas, and it became clearer in my mind the life that I wanted.

“Before starting work in London, I had been doing yoga three to five times a week overseas,” says Nimisha. “Plus, I had been eating healthily, swimming, hiking, and spending lots of time in nature. And I had to go from that to spending 10 to 12 hours in an office, eating badly, being in a rush, getting no vacations, and having no time for yoga or relaxation except at the weekend.”

“I realized that it was no longer the way I want to live,” says Nimisha. “So after three months, I quit and went to Nicaragua to do my yoga teacher training. Yet at that point, I still didn’t have a clear idea of exactly what I wanted to do.”

That’s when Nimisha had an idea that would turn her passion for yoga and wellness into an online income. “I bought a tablet with a camera and a microphone, and made a LinkedIn profile. I used Weebly—an easy-touse website builder—to make a website. I’ve been figuring out how to do everything I need by myself and really enjoying the process!”

Today, Nimisha offers private, custom yoga classes through her website and teaches her classes via Skype video conferencing. She charges $130 an hour for her lessons, and tailors each lesson to the client and their schedule.

On a typical day, Nimisha works between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m., which she feels are her most productive hours. “The whole world is so quiet first thing in the morning,” says Nimisha. “I can really focus and complete my work for the day in a few hours. I then have the rest of the day to enjoy as I please, already having a sense of accomplishment. I work in a way that works with my natural rhythm and makes the most of my naturally productive times.

“I travel a great deal and often on a whim. So far this year, I have spent about three months with family in the U.K., two months in Mexico, and the rest in Italy where I am currently looking for a base to return to between traveling.”

Australian Angeli Gette first caught the travel bug on a trip to California back in 2010. “I loved being in a new country and exploring,” said Angeli. “And this was what sparked my interest of being location independent and traveling the world.”

“My husband, Guillermo, and I started saving our money so that we could leave,” says Angeli. “Then, we found out about the Digital Nomad lifestyle—which changed everything!”

Before leaving Australia, Angeli set up an ecommerce store selling nutritional supplements that she could operate anywhere in the world. That helped her get started as a nomad and funded their overseas lifestyle for a few years. However, she recently closed her ecommerce store, so she can focus completely on her new health and wellness coaching business, which she runs through her website.

“I saw a bigger opportunity in health and wellness coaching as this was a niche market where I could help people in a more authentic and meaningful way,” says Angeli. “As a business, the supplement industry is a saturated market with little profits for small businesses like myself. I wanted to work completely online and be location independent without having to worry about my warehouse and products back in Australia.”

Today, Angeli spends the majority of her working hours writing blog posts, creating videos, writing e-books, and coaching clients over the phone and via email. She personalizes her health and wellness packages—which she sells on her website for $1,499—for each of her clients. It keeps her busy, but she prefers it that way. “I really enjoy running my own business.”

Angeli and Guillermo definitely have lots of freedom and they take advantage of it.

“I love being a Digital Nomad,” says Angeli. “It’s given me the flexibility to live in whichever city or country that I want. The experiences I am gaining are priceless. I am usually in a different country every two weeks.

“My husband and I recently spent three months in Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. We’re currently spending three months in Europe for the summer where we will split our time in Florence and Rome.”

Born to Be Wild


David and Diane Daniel were early adopters of the Digital Nomad lifestyle. Since 2005, this nomadic duo has been traveling to the world’s most appealing destinations and earning a great income at the same time.

“We were Digital Nomads before it was cool,” says 51-year-old Diane. “We take home with us. It’s just us, together. That’s it!”

“Since 2005, we’ve been traveling, spending time in Mexico, Italy, and France,” says David. “I’ve also worked from Australia, Ecuador, Canada, and England.”

For the past few months, the pair has been kicking back on a Caribbean island just offshore of Cancún, Mexico. “We’ve been to Isla Mujeres several times before,” says Diane. “It’s a great place with mostly stable internet, wonderful restaurants and beaches, and perfect tropical weather. We’re housesitting now for some folks who only come down during the winter. We’re caring for their dogs, and all we have to do is pay the electricity bill and the internet bill.”

When they aren’t riding their motor scooter around the island or visiting with friends, Diane manages her own online graphic design business and adds photographs to the couple’s stock photo portfolios.

“I suppose I’ve found a bit of a niche in my design business,” says Diane. “I design stickers and images, which can be purchased and downloaded for any number of purposes. My recent best seller is a political satire sticker, and it’s doing really well.”

For more than 20 years David has been working as a management consultant for a number of large multinational corporations. Initially that involved some travel, but he was typically confined to a desk all day.

David says that he had an epiphany in late 2005 when he received an offer to work for a major management organization based in Europe. “I didn’t need to be there and realized that I could do what I needed to do for them from my laptop, with the occasional phone call and business trip.”

“Knowing that we didn’t need to be anchored to any one place to earn a living was awesome,” says Diane. “We both loved to travel and wanted to see the world and now we had the ability to do it.”

They went to a friend’s second home in Mexico’s central highlands. David continued to work from his computer, and Diane continued with her graphic design business. Both began to take photos, which they offered for sale on stock photo websites like shutterstock.com, fotolia.com, and dreamstime.com. David and Diane were enjoying photography. And, in due time, they began to earn significant income from their photo sales. Over the next two years, the couple sold their home and all their possessions, keeping only the essentials they needed for traveling. They had decided to become full-time nomads.

David says there are some things that are essential for the success of any Digital Nomad. “You have to have backups for all your technology,” says David. “Computers break, batteries die, power is sometimes lost, cameras get dropped, and routers lose signals. When your income relies on technology, you simply have to have backups for everything.”

Diane is quick to point out that the location a Digital Nomad chooses to live in is important. “There is a common misconception that supposes nomads can work from some remote mountain top or isolated cabin in the wilderness. Not true. For most, having fast and reliable internet is the most important priority. Being reasonably close to an international airport comes next, for us. David does, on occasion, have to grab a jet to see a client.”

The Number One Hotspot for Digital Nomads

Many consider Thailand the unofficial “world headquarters” for Digital Nomads, and the ancient city of Chiang Mai has become “ground zero” for nomad activity. Thousands of Digital Nomads now call this sprawling metropolis home, attracted by the affordable living, a buzzing restaurant and nightlife scene, and an established network of Digital Nomad contacts.

Dan O’Donnell, a former real estate agent from Washington, hosts a weekly meet up for Chiang Mai Digital Nomads every Tuesday at the Sri Paa Restaurant. Here nomads can swap ideas, make contacts, discuss new trends, and enjoy a tasty Thai meal for just $1.44.

Dan is a Digital Nomad himself and understands the need to network. His primary source of income is his personal development and team-building board game, Better Me, which he sells through his website. His secondary source of income is ad revenue from his Positive Thinking Facebook page.

On a typical day, Dan works a few hours from late morning to mid-afternoon, goes to eat, then heads to the gym, or plays some beach volleyball. Then he’ll usually work again in the evening.

“The freedom of location and schedule is really nice,” says Dan. “Also, the ability to live somewhere I enjoy for well under a thousand dollars a month (about $750 a month) allows me to save money and reinvest in my projects.”

When it comes to ways to earn an income as a Digital Nomad, Dan offers plenty of ideas. “There are many approaches, and some fit certain people better than others. If you have an existing skill set or love for a certain type of work, see what you can do that takes advantage of that. Also, if you can find a system so that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel—like dropshipping or selling through Amazon—you can save a lot of time and frustration. For people ready to learn and work, they both have high success rates compared to other businesses.”

Down south in Thailand, in the bustling capital of Bangkok, Amber and Eric Hoffman have found success selling items through Amazon.

Amber had been working as a tax attorney in the world’s largest law firm for 10 years, and Eric sold advertising. Both worked 60 to 80 hours almost every week, which was the norm in their circle of friends in Washington, D.C.

“A lot of it had to do with our chosen careers,” says Eric. “The pressure that came with them, frustrations, and long working hours. We realized that there are so many exciting places we wanted to go.

“We always felt drawn to Southeast Asia,” says Amber. “It’s not expensive compared to living in Europe. We had friends in Bangkok, and there is also a little community of travel bloggers and Digital Nomads here. So it was a comfortable place for us.”

Because of Bangkok’s low cost of living, they were able to live off their savings for a year. For $600 a month, they rent a small apartment in a centrally located business district. They set up two shops on Amazon selling massage balls and dietary supplements. Orders from both online shops ship straight from the manufacturer to the client, which means they don’t need to worry about storage and shipment.

Although for the last two years they have been able to live off the sales from their Amazon stores, the couple thought it would be unwise to put all of their eggs in one basket and started looking for additional streams of income.

The couple also maintain a travel blog, With Husband In Tow, in which they review restaurants and hotels while on the road around the world. Over the years they learned a lot about promoting their blog and managing their social media, and they began to wonder if they could turn their social media know how into an income.

“We were visiting a hotel and realized that they didn’t know what they were doing on social media, so we floated the idea about helping them. We thought, why not take what we know and make a business out of it?” explains Eric.

“All our social media clients are people that we met through the blog. Restaurants and hotels we reviewed. They often recommend us to other potential clients. Sometimes when we are going to a destination we reach out to a tourism board and ask if they would be interested in working with us,” says Amber.

Their digital marketing consulting has been growing strong in the last few months, with constant requests for their services from various tourism boards and hotels.

The couple charges several thousand dollars for multiday face-to-face social media training, which also includes 60 days of email support. The couple works about 40 hours per week doing the things they enjoy. “It’s not our old life. We have more flexibility. We can take a few days off when we feel like it. There are days when we work for 14 to 15 hours, but the next day we can decide to work for only two hours,” says Eric.

Amber says that being part of a community is very important for Digital Nomads. “We are part of a blogger community, travel community, Amazon sellers community. We always have a lot resources at our disposal that way. When we get stuck on something we have good friends that we can rely on to help us, even though we might not live in the same city.”

The cost of living in Bangkok means the couple can live comfortably from their incomes. “We spend $800 to $900 monthly on the rent, utilities, groceries, cellphone, and internet. Here we can find great street food for a couple of dollars,” says Amber.

“We have had so many amazing experiences traveling all over the world,” says Amber.” I would never have been able to see all this with a two-week vacation living in the U.S.”

One of the great things about becoming a Digital Nomad is that it’s not rocket science. Unless you want to become, say, a high-end web developer, programmer, or technical writer, it doesn’t really require a huge amount of previous know-how.

To succeed you’ll need to be able to balance work and play, and effectively handle distractions. After all, when you’re living and working in paradise, it’s very easy to get distracted by sunny weather, ice-cold cocktails, and white-sand beaches. However, if you can make a promise to yourself that you will do at least, say, a bare minimum of two hours of uninterrupted “work” per day, you will be amazed at how much you can get done—even as you explore the world.

Simply establish your goals and take action. Endless planning and talking about your goals will get you nowhere. Sooner or later, it’s time to put the books down and just do it.

10 Top Digital-Nomad Incomes: Opportunities You Can Start Earning With Fast


  • Sell products online through your website or a third-party site like Amazon.

  • Earn as an online tutor through Skype or udemy.com. If you have knowledge and experience to share, then folks want to hear about it. Teach anything from Microsoft Excel, photography, marketing, and hundreds of other subjects. You can earn anywhere between $25 to $300 per lesson.

  • Start a blog and earn with affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is when you promote a product or company on your blog or website, with a link to the seller. Affiliate networks have different systems. Some pay you for every user that clicks on the link, others require the customer buy a product before you get paid a commission.

  • Become a freelance copywriter. Copywriters write simple letters and emails for companies to help sell their products online. As a copywriter, you’ll dictate your own schedule and how much work you want to take on.

  • Provide dropshipping services. Dropshipping is a type of online selling where you don’t need to pay for storage or manage inventory. You simply market the products and when somebody buys you have the products shipped straight from the manufacturer to your customer. You never even see the product.

  • Become a stock photographer. Your Digital Nomad lifestyle will take you to new and exotic places, where you’ll take colorful and exciting photos. With stock photography, you can turn these travel snaps into a passive income that makes money on autopilot while you explore the world.

  • Teach English online. As a native speaker you already have the most important tool for teaching English. Check out this crash course on earning money from speaking English to get up to speed. You can be earning as much as $30 an hour on sites such as italki.com.

  • Become an online researcher performing the behind-the-scenes tasks that ensure the web-based information of businesses and organizations is accurate. With no startup costs and no specialized education needed, online research is one of the easiest Digital Nomad incomes to get up and running.

  • Provide online freelance services. Freelancing websites like Upwork.com are connecting thousands of freelancers with businesses that need their services every day. From graphic design to proofreading to travel writing, it’s easier than ever to find work as a freelancer.

  • Earn with e-books. You don’t have to be a bestselling author to make money with e-books. You could repackage books that are in the public domain and sell them online or license existing print books, convert them to an e-book, and pay the author part of the royalties.

Prepare for Tech Hiccups as a Digital Nomad


When you’re traveling around the world and earning an income in some of the world’s most exotic locations, there will be hiccups every now and again. Perhaps a tropical storm knocks out your internet or power while you have a looming deadline. These five tips will prepare you for anything and bulletproof your daily routine:

  • Set up a mobile data plan on your smartphone as soon as you arrive in a new country. Having internet you can access anywhere is a lifesaver when you’re travelling. You’ll never be lost, you’ll have an instant translator, and you can even use it as WiFi for your laptop when you have none (see tip number two, below). In most places, this is super easy to do. You can usually buy SIM cards at kiosks right at the airport. Make sure your phone is unlocked, or not tied to a particular carrier in your home country.

  • Turn your mobile phone into a hotspot. You never know when the WiFi you’re using will go down. This can happen often in off-the-beaten-path destinations. However, if you’re subscribed to a mobile data plan, you can turn your phone into a temporary WiFi router. Note: Avoid watching YouTube videos or turning on video while Skyping. This will eat up your data

  • Carry a portable battery charger. Power outages happen often in destinations with frequent storms or poor infrastructure. Having a portable battery charger can keep your phone charged when the power is out. And you’ll have the peace of mind that you can, if necessary, continue working on projects if you absolutely need to make a deadline without interruptions.

  • Back up all your files. At some point, you may have to deal with a very unpleasant situation concerning your laptop. It might get stolen. It might get lost. It might get soaked after getting caught outside in a freak thunderstorm. Or, it might simply crash. You don’t want to lose all your most important work, so backing up everything you’ve worked on through an online cloud service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud can save the day.

  • Get travel insurance. While you might not want to think about something happening to your belongings, it’s always best to be prepared. Travel insurance is a lifesaver in a jam and will give those of us who are worriers peace of mind. The website https://www.worldnomads.com is a popular travel insurance option for Digital Nomads.

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