Almost Fearless

Becoming a Digital Nomad: Options for Working Remotely from Anywhere

travel blogs, digital nomads, work wirelessly, career choices
(Photo above: My office for a day in San Pedro, Guatemala, overlooking Lake Atitlan.  I have my blackberry, camera bag, notebook and Cuba libre.  Believe it or not, I got a lot of writing done that day, then returned back to my $8/night room.)


I recently came across an article on Computer World called, Why the Downturn Can Be Good for Digital Nomads (thanks to Jeanne Dee for the heads up) and it pointed out that in tight times, working remotely not only makes sense, but it will become easier too.

I’m doing it, my husband’s doing it, there are probably 100 bloggers out there doing it (and writing about it), but I often meet people who are just traveling for a week or two, but wish they could travel more– if only they could find a way to earn a living as they go.

So how do you go from cubicle dweller to digital nomad?

travel blogs, digital nomads, work wirelessly, career choices

Option 1:  Do what you do now, just remotely.

Consult. If you can get a job consulting in the States, you can get one working remotely.  Consultants by definition (although perhaps not in practice, if you’ve ever hired one) are experts in their field.  Companies hire consultants when the work they need done doesn’t justify hiring a full time person.  Or if they don’t have the resources to hire and train someone.  Or if they need it done Right Now.  How to tell if you’re consulting material?  Here’s a simple test.  Put your resume on Monster.  If you get emails in the first week, from headhunters looking for consultants, well then you have a very easily marketable skill.

Freelance. Where consultants typically work for an agency (and usually ones that have established relationships) freelancers are on their own.  There can be some overlap, but most freelancing jobs have a set deliverables.  Edit this book.  Make this website.  Create this logo.  (Consultants on the other hand, are often there to lend their expertise and determine what work needs to be done).  A way to check if your skills fall into the “independent freelancer” realm is to check out places like (just for reference), to see if you’d be a match for any of those jobs.  The key is to find out if there already is a market for your skill set.

Work Remotely. I’m including this one, because it is absolutely possible.  My husband does it.  But, a huge caveat:  it’s easier to convince someone to let you work remotely before you get hired then after.  If you live 30 minutes from the office and they’ve gotten used to your daily presence over the last few years, suddenly requesting to work from home is going to give some heartburn to your manager.  You can quickly evaluate your company with these three questions:  Is anyone else doing it?  Do I have a good relationship with my manager?  Am I already a high producer?

travel blogs, digital nomads, work wirelessly, career choices

Option 2: Change your career path to fit a remote lifestyle

Go down an ancillary path. If you’re struggling to find Consulting/Freelance/Remote work in your current field, can you make a 20 degree adjustment to something else?  For example, if you’re in HR, can you freelance writing policy manuals?  Or if you’re social worker, can you consult with non-profits looking for grant money?  Or if you work for a big corporate entity, can you help small business get off the ground?  The good news is that these types of changes (in the short term) are less jarring than big employment gaps, if you decide to pick up where you left off.

Demote yourself. Give up the title and get the freedom.  If you’re a manager or supervisor, but you used to be a staffer, you might find more opportunities at that lower level.  There are definitely remote opportunities for management level folks (my old boss lived in another state), but most companies are still squirmish about having a manager that no one ever sees and that is only available for meetings via teleconference.  So if you still have those programming/writing/PR/finance/accounting/etc skills that got you promoted in the first place, then you might have a skill that easily translates to a remote lifestyle.

Option 3:  Create your own job

Start an Online Business: This is probably the most popular option and the most risky.  Building a business is tough, and building it online doesn’t make it any easier.  With 50% of small business failing in the first year and 95% failing in the first 5 years, the prospects aren’t any better just because it’s online.  But many people are making it work with less– spreading out their risk with multiple websites, creating ebooks, leveraging large brands (like amazon) to do the heavy lifting and using social media to promote your product.  Gut check:  Are you willing to work really hard for little pay in the beginning?  Do you like networking, making connections with people, and communicating?  Do you have a passion for what you’re selling or creating?

travel blogs, digital nomads, work wirelessly, career choices

Once you pick your path:

1.  Don’t forget that living overseas is often much cheaper than living in the States. While it might take $60,000 to live comfortably in Connecticut, a mere $20,000 somewhere else could be sufficient.  If you take into account that freelancers make more per hour, plus the reduced cost of living, you could be looking for 10 hours of freelance a week, to replace your full time job.  A single three month project could fund your travels for the year, so take this into account when researching.

2.  Give yourself time. You’re boss may take a while to convince, with several test runs.  Or you may find it takes a while to build up enough freelance work.  Or if you start an online business, it could take a year just to earn a living wage.  By insisting on working remotely, you’ve just narrowed the field, so adjust accordingly.  Depending on your industry, if it takes 3 months to find a new job, give yourself at least twice as much to find remote work.  It’s out there.

3.  Plan to travel slower. You’ll be working during the day, running around at night and time passes so much quicker when you try to combine travel and work.  You’ll want to plan your travel days on weekends, or around your work schedule.  Depending on where you are, you also have to try out a few cafes to find the strongest wifi signal.  If you make calls for your job, you’ll have to find somewhere quiet with a good signal (or internet connection for Skype).  It takes a bit to get settled in (when you have to be productive at the same time), so think of your travel in terms of months instead of days.

4.  Remember it’s still work. The flip side to all of this is that once you pull it off, you might find yourself sitting on a beautiful beach (like I did last week in Belize) and instead of playing all day, you’re stuck on your laptop trying to finish an assignment.  While everyone at home is thinking I’m laying on the beach, I’m actually slapping flies away and trying to upload something with a painfully slow internet connection.  But you know what?  For me, it’s worth it.  If you want it, you’ll find a way to make it work.

Photos: Christine Gilbert Bitterjug Paullyoung Angela7 Soctech

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



    • Travel Atitlan is a new Travel Site being run by digital nomads inspired by this post! thanks so much we are traveling and photographing the world now as Digital Nomads 🙂

  • ah… I did this once, before laptops, almost before pcs – all with pen and paper… now if I could just find a laptop or a way to handle my carpel tunnel on the road… any suggestions?

    Anne Wayman´s last blog post..Freelance Writing Jobs Monday January 19, 2009

    • Hello Anne! I suffer of carpal tunnel myself and the solution is simple: voice-recognition software and a special carpal tunnel mouse! In fact, a software program is typing this as we speak. 😉

      The most accurate nowadays is called Dragon NaturallySpeaking — I’m a translator, so I got the bilingual version (English and Spanish). It takes a little bit of training to get it to an accuracy level that is workable, but it’s so worth it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to be a digital nomad!

      Yay technology 🙂

      – Maria Alexandra aka LatinAbroad

    • Hello Anne! I suffer of carpal tunnel myself and the solution is simple: voice-recognition software and a special carpal tunnel mouse! In fact, a software program is typing this as we speak. 😉

      The most accurate nowadays is called Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I’m a translator, so I got the bilingual version (English and Spanish). It takes a little bit of training to get it to an accuracy level that is workable, but it’s so worth it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to be a digital nomad!

      Yay technology 🙂

      – Maria Alexandra aka LatinAbroad

  • Thanks! I found your post on StumbleUpon — love it. My wife and I (and 2 kids) are preparing to become digital nomads this year. I’m especially thankful for discovering the term “digital nomad.” Now I can stop referring to it as midlife crisis. I plan on reading my way through your archives soon.

  • I believe there’s a HUGE market for well thought out, well narrated, HD-quality, “day in the life of a traveler” videos. The production itself can be (and should be) of fairly amateur nature, but like your blog entries, there has to be a point. Essentially just take your blogs and add HD-quality video behind it.

    Yeah, there’s editing, but with a laptop that’s now a whole lot less time-consuming. No, you wouldn’t make a fortune, but the networks are crying out for more and more HD-content, and this would be cheap and fresh. And yeah, people have done this and failed. But you’ve got that unique ability to put together a mini-production in one of your blogs – great start to yank you in, well laid-out and interesting content, and at times an ending to the blog with a truly movie-like finale. Put some video behind this and flog that.

    Like it or not, YouTube is exponentially more popular than books these days. Sad, but true.

  • Great Article Christine. Another great way to warm up your boss to you working abroad is on a temporary basis or for half your work week.

    Many times a boss will run for cover and immediately say no, but warming them up and asking them to let you try it for a couple weeks part time is a great way to prove how productive you can be.

    After those couple weeks, tell them no more office, and show them how much your productivity goes up when your working from “home.”

    It’s a modern day fantasy to work and live abroad, and the greatest thing? It’s possible.

  • Great stuff Christine, this is certainly the direction I am heading in.

    Wondering about security though for all those expensive gadgets in $8 per night accomodation. Any tips?

    Chris´s last blog post..(My First) Video Update

  • @Anne: Thanks for stopping by! I have your site in my reader, it’s one of my favs. RE: carpal tunnel when traveling, I don’t know of any laptops that address this, but I always try to arrange my work space so that my wrists aren’t taking on any undo stress. Does anyone else have suggestions for Anne?

    @Chris G: That’s an interesting idea… I’ve been toying with the idea of doing some video.

    @Collins P: Great suggestions for easing your boss into the idea. As an aside– what some folks don’t realize is that when you’re out of the office, you need to communicate even more– not less. I used to manage virtual teams and those team members who communicated constantly– they tended to do very well. Those people who felt I should “trust” them and didn’t respond to things quickly, usually had problems, even though this same behavior would be fine if they worked in the office. It’s all about your attitude, but you’re right, if you want it, it’s possible.

    @Chris: RE: the security of an $8 a night room? I travel with about $5K worth of gear on me at all times. But I don’t advertise it, and I don’t worry too much. After living in Seattle, Boston and Dallas for many years, I feel like I’m just as likely to get robbed there as I am in say Belize. As a tourist you’re more of a mark, but if you keep a low profile (i.e. not getting drunk and waving fistfuls of cash around) then you should be fine. The $8 room was a private room with a lock. If I don’t have a private room, I try to get a locker with a lock. If I feel uneasy, I just pack my small backpack with my gear (laptop, camera, blackberry) and take it with me (probably 10 lbs of gear total). If I feel uncomfortable with a neighborhood I don’t go there or I take a cab home.

  • Great post! It is so possible to live abroad and work at the same time. Especially if your skills have anything to do with the internet, then you are pretty much free to travel as you like.

    There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you could be just as productive, if not more so, at home as you are in the office. I think more corporations are realizing this, but it’s a very slow realization. My wife used to get to work from home once in a while, in NYC.

    Now I do it for us while living on the beach in Mexico. The best part is that since we live in another country, the cost of living is less than half, so I work about 16 hours a week consulting, and we are totally set! What’s not to love?

    Stephen´s last blog post..Diving Frigate Bird- Photo Friday

  • I agree 100%. With easy access to broadband internet almost anywhere you go in the world, your options are unlimited for where you want to work and live. It just doesn’t make sense working a job that you are miserable in anymore.

    I have actually been writing about this on my website for the past 10 years. Living abroad opens so many doors to a person, not just from a financial perspective, but from a real quality of life perspective as well. Being wealthy means more than having money, it means being healthy and happy as well.

    I hope people take to heart what you are saying, it can only improve their lives.

    Peter Macfarlane´s last blog post..Why the Rich are Running to Gold Bullion

  • This is just the information I needed! Thank you so much for posting this. This post has given me more motivation to make working remotely work for me. And yes Lake Atitlan is very beautiful.

    Christy´s last blog post..They Cry For Peace

  • Intersting article. My dream which I have written down in numerous journals and say to myself 100 times a day is to live and work in Italy 2-3 months a year and in Los Angeles the rest of the time. I’m in the restaurant business in upper management and love being around food, but I want more flexibility.

    My wife and I bought a small apartment in a little town outside of Rome and I have been very fortunate to visit Italy 12 times in the last 5 years, but normally for a week. It’s way too short.

    I will keep pursueing my dream.

    Ci vediamo

  • So glad to see you expand on the article I posted about digital nomads! I do think this is an up and coming trend and more people will be headed in this direction.

    We have really enjoyed being trail blazers for this lifestyle as a family, traveling the world since 2006 and loving every moment as a 3 laptop family! 😉

    The sad thing is, most people do not realize how easy, enriching and cheap this is! You tell ’em girl! 😉

  • Diesel powered Digital Nomad in Asia / Middle-East for the past 3 years….

    A few important variables to be a digital nomad

    – Visa length
    – Reliable Internet connection
    – Power for your laptop
    – Backups of your work

    Best match is India – 6 month visa and horrendously cheap 24hr GRPS/EDGE based internet access. Power sucks big time due to load shedding, hardware / equipment available allover.


    LapTop Nomad

  • Excellent roadmap of tips. And good way to work photography into the content, too. It’s interesting that you say many people have chosen the path with higher risk with the possibility of higher reward. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to a true travel blogger network is the newly created

    But is it the only one?

    I completely agree. True wealth is having a wealth of time. So many people in America have some material wealth, but are extremely time poor and unhappy.

    Amen, brother! Most of the travel video podcasts are rather disappointing. I could only find 2 HD video podcasts that were travel-based on the iTunes store. There’s a big gap in that market, and I intend to pursue that in the future. What about you?

    byteful traveller´s last blog post..The Crown Fountain Unites People of All Colors

  • Thank you! I’m a freelance translator but have to branch out now and think outside the box, and this inspires me! 🙂 Again, thank you!

    Tina´s last blog post..Tina’s language follies

  • Recently downsized form my agency as a consultant, i plan to freelance and am starting to work remotely, I’ll be going below the equator to experience summer soon…This post made me realize I need to make my pans with more speed and that it is possible. Thank you. Stay adventurous.

  • My husband and I call ourselves international telecommuters because we are able to work on our own from anywhere. This is an excellent post not just because it’s informative but because I feel like you get it. So many people we meet think we are crazy and just wasting our vacations…if only they knew.

    Sara´s last blog post..What Foolish Travelers We Once Were

  • I look for nomads to hire that are good web developers and/or SEO technicians. I have people working from their homes doing web design in Dreamweaver, Expressions Web and WordPress. I encourage that lifestyle and anyone who loves to work while traveling or at home is welcome to send their resumes.

    Brian Pasch, CEO
    Pasch Consulting Group

    Brian Pasch´s last blog post..Dog Ear Publishing – A Case Study in PPC Ethics

  • I love this style of work. I’ve been doing the whole remote-working-while-traveling gig for over 4 months now and I’m loving it. Yeah, it gets annoying sometimes when you move around a lot because your always worried about finding internet access again. But like you said, just travel slower!

    A few months back I wrote an entry about my work while traveling and have a pic of me looking like a bum because it was near the only WiFi spot I could find in town:

  • I work remotely more often than I like – and that’s within the US.
    I’ll be on the road with kids next month working 50% – including hosting daily team meetings for the two teams I’m managing in my current consulting position. All I need is an internet connection, a phone and a laptop. I’m so glad I chose an undergrad in CompSci way back when…

    wandermom´s last blog post..WanderKids at Golden Gate Bridge 2009

  • I think you have it right mid article…the key is multiple websites. Of course you can slug it out with everyone else, but developing very tight niches is best. It take more time, but the rewards are there over time.

    This is why so many people give up. It’s lots of training and lots of work.

  • It’s not that easy, but it’s also not that hard. You do have to be tech savvy. Your photos make it an attractive proposition.

  • I love your posts – very inspirational. Seeing that photo of your “office” – That is going to be me soon. After coming back from a RTW trip I somehow found myself back in a cubicle. I intended it to be a short stay, but somehow have managed to be here 6 months already.

    I’ll see you out there though, just a matter of time. Laptop in hand. Keep up the awesome work!

  • As a person trained only in customer service, what are my options for getting a telecommuting job or digital nomad job? I am interested in traveling all over, but have no clue where to begin with work from a distance. I am willing to take a class and train in something before I leave. Any suggestions on what would be good to train in? I like computer work, but don’t know how to build websites or anything like that. Thanks for the help!


  • Hi!

    Great post! Great blog!

    Great post! Great blog!

    I’d like to suggest another Option, and that’s to find a business that 1) already has products, 2) an online presence, and 3)a proven business model. These kinds of businesses are out there. And I’m not talking about the penny-ante multi-level stuff. Real businesses. My husband and I found one and just plug and play anywhere in the world. The key is simply doing your due diligence to determine if the business is right for you

    My husband and I are devoted LUXURY digital nomads. Being frugal was simply something that we weren’t interested in. We are currently on an open-ended world life tour and are focused on living our lives NOW, not later.

    Thanks for your inspiration!

    Don and Karla

    20HrWorkWeek´s last blog post..May in San Francisco

  • Hey can anyone answer me this (complete newb question here, forgive the ignorance level)… If I was to pursue a “Digimad” work style how would I register my business? I’m assuming I have to have some type of address to begin so how would you handle that? I’ve also read that some states are better than others to set up in, are there any resources out there to help with something like this?

    I’ve been laid off now from my graphic design position with at&t for over nine months with no luck whatsoever in finding new employment. I’m researching launching my own small business and not having anything to tie me down this seems like an interesting avenue to pursue. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks everyone,

  • Great post.

    It’s on my mind a lot right now. I’m halfway to going fulltime freelance, and when I do, and when I’ve paid off a few lingering debts, I’m going to hit the road and take my job (freelance writing/blogging) with me.

    For me, part of the appeal, the call of Out There, is the opportunity to find a happy medium between the way I do things and the way Out There does things. For example, I’ve just come back from Orkney, and the pace of life up there is radically different – not necessarily slower, but far more relaxed and thinking-on-your-feet. And everywhere in the world is different.

    There’s so much in this post that I’m finding valuable as a jumping-off point for my thoughts, so I won’t dwell on anything in particular – except to say thanks! 🙂
    .-= Mikeachim´s last blog ..Nightcrawler Goes Walkies =-.

  • Thanks for the great post.
    It’s good to know that the thing you have always been dreaming about is actually possible and people out there are already doing it.
    Now I just have to get out and start myself.
    .-= Kaitlin M´s last blog ..This Is Why You Will Never Get Out Of The Real World =-.

  • A very original digital nomad and an inspiration indeed! Follow his lead.
    .-= The Digital Nomad´s last blog ..If I telecommute, do I have to tell my job I’m moving? =-.

  • […] of the movement for a while now and it turns out there is a whole group of awesome people out there blogging, teaching, living the principles of lifestyle design.  I love reading about their lives […]

  • I did this for a while in Bolivia, it was okay however I found much of the time was spent alone. Still, I wish I continued doing so whilst continuing North instead of quitting and running out of money 5 months later 🙁

  • Adam,

    No need to go it alone. Join a biz that has distributors all over the world.

    Right on to all of you that have gone vagabonding.

    All the “luxury vagabond” best,

  • I actually read this long awhile ago. You must of updated your look. I added you to my feed now so I can follow. I’m in the transition atm and should be living in Europe by the end of next summer *crosses fingers*
    .-= Brendan´s last blog ..Simple Things To Help Quit Smoking =-.

  • Starting a business is not that risky. The %50/%95 figures are statistics designed to scare people. They include a lot of foolish businesses and restaurants. Anyone whose got a decade’s experience or a college degree who isn’t trying to start a restaurant has a much better chance of success. Especially if success is defined as “stretching my savings a lot further”— thus not being profitable the first year doesn’t mean you have to shut down, you just are able to travel longer.

  • Thank you for an amazingly written and thought provoking post.
    I currently live and work as a teacher and photographer in Asia. I am working on some stories for a major travel magazine and I wish to do this full time. It will take some time to build up my portfolio but it’s totally worth it. You’ve given me some great ideas.

    Thank you!

  • Hi,

    This is a great forum and I congratulate and appreciate everyone’s posts here. it has given a new meaning and confidence to my idea/plan of becoming a digital nomad. I work from my home in Toronto doing production support for my clients. I have been toying with the idea of doing a cross continent trip or trips in the spring/summer/fall in 2010 to see every place I have always wanted to. Using the simple wireless stick modem, I can work in the day time and spend the evenings touring and sleeping off hotels where ever I am…seems a great idea of fun. Appreciate anyone who can give me more ideas on the planning part etc. I know it is very conveniently doabble because I went to Australian last year and worked from there a full week, following my clients times in EST. I appreciate if anyone knows any other sites/posts of this kind that will help me plan. if someone is interested in joining me on this trip/trips, that would make it even more interesting…I am very flexible on all this as I work only remotely and am thus, fairly flexible.

  • I’ve always like photography so I’m thinking of selling stock photos on various sites like istock and dreamstime etc….not too sure how much can be made tho?

  • Nice article. I am a graphic designer and professional beach volleyball player so i have recently setup a photo restoration side to my business. For the professional tour i will be overseas 4 months of every year so hopefully this will allow me to make some money while im gone……and all i need is an internet connection and my laptop…..lovely 🙂

  • I currently work as a phone sex operator(at home), and i bring in about $1200 a month.That doesnt go too far here in the states but i often wonder what i could do with this money abroad.I just got through reading about cheap hotels in Central America that were under $15 a night!That sounds so unreal.I think ill check it out when i get some time to take a vacation around Christmas.

  • This is a really useful post advocating what has to be the most appealing lifestyle going. I’m currently setting up a blog with guides to jobs that enable you to do just that. Everyone deserves a chance to be a digital nomad.

  • […] a manager for a Fortune 500 company and sold all of her belongings in 2008 to travel the world and work online as a freelance writer. She’s currently working on a documentary called The Wireless […]

  • I’ve been reading a lot about digital nomads. I really like nerdy nomads blog, because she is genuine, not just claiming to be a dig nomad to sell an ebook on how to do it.
    I have a question Christine. Your homepage has a pagerank of 5 on your homepage. Do you think links to other sites work in increasing pagerank? And should links to other sites appear in a blogroll ( and thus on every page of a site) or on a separate links page? I’ve been told a blogroll is not given as high ranking by google as a separate links page?

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