How to Become a Digital Nomad and Make Money While Traveling

ways to make money as a digital nomad

Indulging a passion for travel while making money is a dream lifestyle of most people. And while many people talk about life as a digital nomad and social media glamorizes it, few people really understand what that means and how it is possible to earn money while traveling. So in this post, we’re going to dive into exactly what a digital nomad is, some of the jobs that they do, and steps you can take if you want to become a digital nomad too.

The travel bug was strong inside of me growing up. I always loved planning trips and vowed to see as much of the world as possible. And I always knew from a young age that I wasn’t going to let my job prevent me from achieving this goal. In fact, I believed (even before the internet) that I would find a way to earn a living while also being able to explore the world.

Since becoming a digital nomad 10 years ago, I’ve learned and experienced a lot that I want to share with others who are thinking this is a lifestyle change they want to make. 

What is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who is able to move around, whenever and however they want while using technology and the internet to earn a living. They may choose to live somewhere for a period of time before moving on, or they may constantly wander not really settling in anywhere.

Sometimes the term “nomad” can have a negative connotation as if a person is just wandering aimlessly or without purpose. This is not necessarily the case with digital nomads, like ourselves. So another term that we like to use is “location independent” which means that a person can choose to live or travel wherever they want, and their location does not affect their ability to earn a living.  

living and working in bali as a digital nomad i could spend my evening tasting tea and coffee and enjoying nature

How to Make Money While Traveling as a Digital Nomad

While there are a lot of jobs that allow you to travel while earning money (like being a flight attendant, working on cruise ships, etc.). These types of jobs are not necessarily that of a digital nomad. Those are jobs that require you to travel. Digital nomads have a lot more freedom. They get to choose where they go and when. Their travel is not dictated by their job, but the other way around. They travel where and when they want, and bring their job with them. 

There are many different ways for digital nomads to make money while they travel. Below we’ve listed out some of the most popular types of jobs they do. 

Starting a Digital Business

A great way for entrepreneurs to make money on the road is to start some kind of digital business.  In fact, this is one of the most popular ways digital nomads earn a living while they travel. With the internet, there are seemingly endless ways to earn money online.  You just have to be creative and figure out what you can provide online that people are willing to pay for.

That last part is key. 

Whether it’s information that people are looking for, like consulting advice or e-courses, to some type of professional service; it really depends on your skillset and passion.  It’s even better if you have some professional skills that set you apart from others, such as experience working at an advertising agency or being a certified public accountant.  Professional services are one of the best and most lucrative ways to make money with a business online.  But it’s certainly not the only option.

One of the most popular ways that people start an online business is by creating a blog that aligns with their experience and passion (as we have here with Peanuts or Pretzels).  Even though blogging is tough (and it’s technically a hobby until you can monetize it), it can be a springboard into building a brand and branching into different businesses.  

In fact, this blog here has spawned other websites of our own as well as a few other businesses — including PoP Digital Media, which is our media and marketing consulting company. 

pop digital media is one of our online businesses that support our digital nomad lifestyle to work and travel

Overall, there are many kinds of websites that offer information and services to people, and are able to build a following and monetize the site in various ways.  From affiliate sales, eBook and other digital product sales, and even personal services.

Yes, you really can make money online in legitimate ways!

Starting your own business is not easy though.  There’s a lot to learn, and like many entrepreneurs and small business owners, you have to master a lot of different skills from accounting to website design, SEO to copy writing, social media, legal crap, etc.  With SO many moving parts to manage, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  But the very nature of the internet is that you can learn about almost anything — so there’s a wealth of information out there to help you.

And if there is anything that you don’t understand or do particularly well, then find someone who does.  Which brings us to our next digital job…FREELANCERS!

Freelancing – One of the Biggest Digital Nomad Opportunities

If starting your own business seems overwhelming to you, then consider doing something more simple – like freelancing.  Freelancing probably the most popular option for professionals around the world to make money while traveling, or even while living in various places around the world.  Many people who have specialized skills, especially in areas where other people need help, can easily offer those services for a fee.

The great thing about freelancing is that you can decide just how much work you want to take on, and you have greater flexibility in when and how you work.  To find work as a freelancer, it’s always advisable to build your own network and get referrals that way.

However, there are also some pretty great sites out there such as FreelancerUpWork, and Hubstaff Talent (which advertises that they charge no fees to the freelancer).  There’s also Fiverr — where basically, people can buy and sell just about anything — example:  “I need a photo of someone jumping a limbo stick on rollerskates.”  And someone will do it and get paid.

Crazy!

UpWork for freelaning jobs is a great way for digital nomads to make money while they travel

Top Jobs / Skills for a Freelancer

Here’s a just a quick list of some of the most popular jobs and skills that freelancers have, and are able to make good money doing.

Website Development

One of the most popular services out there is website development, since everyone is creating websites!  And it’s actually easier than ever to do this — you don’t even have to go to school for computer programming.  There are many platforms on the market (such as WordPress) that make it easy for people to use templates / themes to create websites on their own.  But many people don’t have the time or patience — so it’s easier to hire someone else to do it!

If you do have a degree in computers, then obviously you will be able to offer your clients a lot more — and you may be able to get large deals with bigger companies.  But for small-freelancers, there’s still a lot of money to be made by just doing simple website builds for people.

Website Design

Similar to the first option, but website design goes a bit further.  To do this, most freelancers have more graphic design skills and have expensive software such as Photoshop, etc.  They also have more technical knowledge because they need to know how to make the design and technical aspects work together.

Computer Programmer

Now this freelance job can get pretty technical.  But if you have the skills in this area, then you can really do well as a freelancer.  Many people who have websites want some custom work down, whether it is creating custom design styles, or tweaking an existing theme code to allow for enhanced functionality.  There are also opportunities for programmers to make their own website plug-ins for people to use on their existing websites, as well as even making apps!

Writing

If you aren’t a techie or a designer, perhaps you can write.  Another big area for freelancers is offering writing services..  In fact, copywriting for companies can be quite a well-paid service.  You may also be able to provide help to marketing and branding teams by writing headlines or other text to use in campaigns.  But it’s more than just writing copy, sometimes people need help writing presentations, product descriptions and reports.  We’ve also met some people who provide essay writing help online, and have been able to use their own writing skills to earn some cash to fund their travels around the world.

There are even other areas where you can even specialize your writing, including:

  • Rewriting texts – basically, taking existing copy and changing it completely while preserving the meaning
  • SEO copywriting – a specialized and highly valuable skills for companies who want their websites to rank well on search engines (like Google)
  • Editing – if you have a good eye for detail, this is a great option because SO many people need editors.  From articles, websites, and even books!
  • Social Media Content – there’s a lot going on with social media today, and for businesses, it’s not as simple as writing what you are thinking in that moment.  Many companies are looking for people to help them write their posts and create all that content that they share!  Example:  writing Tweets and Facebook posts.

Teach English Online

If you are a native-English speaker, then another great way to earn money and see the world is to become an English teacher.  In fact, Josh and I quit our jobs in the States to teach English in China for just over a year.  It’s an amazing way to connect with another culture and depending on the country, earn a really good living.

josh teaching english in china as we were living as digital nomads and building our online businesses
Josh teaching English to kids in China

While it’s cool to stay in one place for a while and get to experience a culture like a local, being a teacher can be time-consuming.  And you are not actually a “digital nomad” because you are tied to a school location.  So another option is to be an online English teacher!

Every day we are seeing more an more online opportunities to teach English!  This is a really great way to continue your travels and have a more flexible lifestyle, and being able to make money from wherever you are.  The only issue is that you must have really good internet (not always easy to find in some parts of the world).

Translator

From our experience as English teachers and while traveling to so many countries as tourists, ours eyes have really been opened to the need for language translation.  It’s not just the speaking-translation that happens in person (which is very well paid by the way), but it’s the writing translation.  So many companies are doing business in other countries and they need their product descriptions, marketing materials, etc. translated into another language.

In some cases, the hard translation has already been done — but maybe they just need someone to “finesse” the copy so that it sounds natural.  Often times, a straight translation will sound really strange and native-speakers will be turned off (especially in marketing).  So having a person edit the translation to make it sound more normal and appealing to the customer is actually a really great service to provide!

Virtual Assistant

Yes, this really is a thing now!  With so many people starting their own virtual businesses, it’s easy for them to get so busy that they don’t have time for many of the details.  As with any major business owner, they are looking for assistants who can help make their lives easier!

There’s a wide variety of tasks that a virtual assistant can do, it really depends on their skill-set and what the client needs.  Things like data entry, social media help, contact and calendar organization, meeting planning, customer service, etc.

Other Opportunities for Freelancers

There really are so many opportunities for freelancers, it’s a little crazy!  So here’s a super quick list…even though it still doesn’t cover everything!

  • Video editor
  • Social Media Manager
  • Audio recording (voice-over or book reading)
  • Internet researcher (seriously…it’s a thing!)
  • Content development
  • Customer service
  • Illustration / Animation
  • Artists — of just about every kind!
  • Accounting & tax preparation
  • Software experts:  like PowerPoint & Excel Pros!

How to Work Remotely and Travel (if you don’t want to leave your job)

Nowadays, remote work has really taken off and there are more companies than ever who are open to letting employees work remotely. If you have a great job that is suitable for remote working, then another option is to see if you can take your job on the road!

If you are already working remotely for your company, then this could be an easy transition. It really depends on your schedule and if you need to be in a set time zone for meetings, as well as your internet connection requirements. If you can sort those things out, then it may not matter if you are working in New York or if you are working in Cancun. 

If you are not yet working remotely but your job could be done offsite, then you might consider asking your company if it’s possible to work remotely. There are plenty of people who are requesting this and having success. Although, not every company is okay with it. But in that case, you can also apply for a new job in your field that already allows remote work!

Being able to maintain a good and steady job that you enjoy while also being allowed to work remotely so you can travel is a dream scenario for some people. Especially those who are not comfortable becoming an “entrepreneur” and dealing with the stresses of building a business or the burden of constantly marketing yourself as a freelancer. 

If you can have a great job already there but take it on the road, that’s a pretty sweet gig!

The Digital Nomad Lifestyle – How to Work and Travel

One thing I want to make very clear is that the digital nomad lifestyle is not all hammocks and beaches. While being a digital nomad is often marketed online and through social media as a very glamorous lifestyle, most who are actually living will tell you that it’s really hard work. And not always due to the work itself. It’s the lifestyle that can pose a challenge.

josh working remotely in bangkok on laptop drinking coffee - the daily life of a digital nomad working remotely
Working at a cafe in Bangkok…and lots of coffee!

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. As I know most digital nomads wouldn’t either. But it’s really important to understand that you won’t just be sipping margaritas on a beach and chilling with your laptop on the beach for an hour a day. 

The reality is that you still have to work. Sometimes, a lot. 

But the tradeoff is that during your time off you get to explore amazing places. You can spend your evenings watching the sunset on a beach or your weekends exploring ancient cities and cultures. 

living, working and traveling as a digital nomad it's fun to experience a new culture, meet people and buy art after work
We settled on this painting of the Tulum ruins. So many beautiful pieces to choose from.

Here Are Some of the Benefits of Being a Digital Nomad:

  • Freedom to live anywhere you want
  • Flexibility to travel wherever, whenever, and however long you want
  • Explore new destinations and cultures
  • Try new foods
  • Open your eyes, mind, and heart to new people, friends and ways of thinking
  • Learn more about yourself & confidence in your abilities
  • And possibly save money (for example if you make US dollars and live in Mexico, your cost of living is way lower)
  • See the world in a whole new way

The Downsides of Being a Digital Nomad:

  • It takes discipline because it’s not always playtime, you still have to work
  • Balancing work and travel is not always easy
  • Internet can be a real pain depending on your location
  • Timezones can wreak havoc on your routines (ex. 5 am Zoom meeting anyone?)
  • Feelings of loneliness, especially if you are by yourself
  • Being far away from family and friends in case of emergencies or life events
  • Constant traveling can be exhausting and difficult to get work done
  • Dealing with visas / immigration & always looking for great places to stay
life as a digital nomad is not easy. Here josh tries to open a bank account in china and even with an interpreter it took over 4 hours
Opening a bank account in China was only a 4 hour process…with an interpreter!

It’s important to know that when you see the digital nomad lifestyle being promoted online, especially on social media, it doesn’t always tell the full story. Yes, the benefits are absolutely amazing. But it’s not perfect. For us, the benefits outweigh the downsides. But as we’ve been doing this for years, we’ve made changes to our lifestyle to help minimize the downsides. ,

What About How to Travel for Free?

It is possible to earn free rewards travel by “travel hacking” your way to earning points with credit cards and things like that. 

However, some of your might be asking this question because you’ve seen all those advertisements about “how to travel the world for free and make money!” So a lot of people really think that it’s a thing!

Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s just marketing.

They have used the term “free” to get your attention in order to sell their product or service (and they probably make more money selling that to you than anything else, but that’s another story). The reality is…NOTHING IS FREE.

You see, no matter what you do in order to get the “freebie” there will need to be some sort of exchange in work for value. Whether it is taking photos and posting online as an influencer or writing articles as a blogger or making videos as a vlogger.

For example, one scenario that happens a lot is that a hotel may offer a free stay. But in return they may ask you to write a review online, write a blog post about your experience, provide them with photos, post on your social media daily, and make a video for YouTube and splice up some shorts for Instagram Reels and TikTok. Sometimes they’ll also want you to provide them with the footage and grant the rights to use these videos / images however they want in the future for their marketing. 

josh taking photos at mexico ruins - it is work to create content to make a living as a digital nomad

Yeah, you got a free room. But what you are providing to them is actual work! It will require your time, skill, effort, and talent. Which is all valuable. Arguably more valuable than your free hotel room. 

PLUS — even if you get a free hotel room, who is paying for your transportation? What about your food? Your cell phone? Your student loans???

Freebies don’t pay the bills at the end of the day.

Don’t get me wrong, There is nothing wrong with bartering or exchanging work for services. It’s a wonderful way to get experience, to share expertise and especially help those with low budgets. If it’s a win-win then it’s a great idea!

But it’s not free — it’s an exchange for work. 

Can I Just Quickly Make Money Backpacking?

If you are not trying to make a career as a digital nomad and would prefer to just make a little money on the side because you are traveling on a budget, then that is totally possible! You can just pick up some odd jobs here and there or do a bit of “work exchange” to help you along your travels if you are backpacking on a budget.

There are many hostels that offer work in exchange for lodging, as well as tour companies. There are even websites such as Workaway and WWOOF which allow you to stay somewhere for a period of time and do some work to help them out in exchange. You could also pick up some odd jobs too. Below is a shortlist of ideas you might consider if you are a backpacker who wants to make some money while traveling:

  • Trade skills such as plumbing, building, carpentry, etc.
  • Gardening / farming
  • Beauty & health skills (yoga teacher, massage therapist, reiki, hair cuts, etc.)
  • Event / party planners (including being a DJ or a host)
  • Sell your artistry (graphic design, artwork, clothing & accessory design)
  • Bartender or serving

These are just a few ideas to consider. Sometimes you can find these types of jobs posted online or you can reach out directly in advance of your stay. However, a lot of times these are things you can just pick up by talking to people once you arrive. 

How to Start a Travel Blog and Make Money

This kinda goes along with the whole “travel the world for free” marketing that you have probably seen around online. However, this statement is really two different things. Starting a travel blog is one thing. It’s pretty easy and yes, anyone can do it! You can easily create a website and start documenting your travels for your friends, your family, and yourself with no problem. 

josh and liz in new zealand after helping our first marketing consulting client as a part of our digital nomad journey we can work and travel to places like this

However, making money with a travel blog is a totally different thing.

Essentially, making money with a travel blog means that you want to start a business! There’s nothing wrong with that idea. After all, thousands of people do it (myself included). However, running a blog like a business is a totally different experience. You will need to treat it like a business and work on it like a business. You are going to need to learn things like:

  • Website design (and some technical development too)
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Email marketing
  • Social Media marketing (it’s way different than just posting on social media like you do personally)
  • Digital marketing strategy & business strategy
  • Graphic design
  • Writing … among about a million other things!

Another thing you will have to learn is patience. And you should be comfortable with the fact that you might be working your butt off for many months, or even years before you seen any type of real payoff. 

I don’t say this to be a downer, but just to set realistic expectations. 

There are millions of travel blogs out there right now. It’s a highly saturated and very competitive market. There is money to be made, but the vast majority of bloggers don’t make any money at all or make very little. A small percentage of bloggers make a full-time income from their blog. 

However, a blog is a great way to dip your toe into the online business world. You can learn a TON (as we did when we started this blog nearly 10 years ago) and it can help you figure out what you want to do and maybe even be a spring board onto other ventures!

Steps for How to Become a Digital Nomad

If you have gotten this far and believe that becoming a digital nomad is what you want to pursue, then here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you want to take your current job on the road or start a new one
  • Which of the different types of jobs we mention above resonate with you?
  • Do you have any special skills, education, talents or abilities that people will pay for?
  • Do you want to become an entrepreneur and build your own business, or work for yourself?
  • Do you want to travel long-term, or just for a short period of time (like a gap year)?

After you have a clearer picture from the questions above, here are some steps you can take to making your dream of being a digital nomad become a reality!

  1. Start learning everything you can about your future field of work. 
  2. Take classes, join groups, research research research!
  3. Join specific digital nomad communities online (and even on social media)
  4. Find groups that are specific to your field of interest, start networking and learning from them!
  5. Save money, because you will always need money to get started no matter what you do
  6. Figure out what to do with your current home / apartment and belongings
  7. What would you want to take with you? (hint, less is way more!)
  8. Create a budget – think about how much you can afford to spend on the road. Research hotels, transportation, other living expenses and figure out ideally how much money you will need to earn
  9. Do you want to be earning money digitally already before setting off? 
  10. Create a plan – where do you want to go? How long would you want to stay?
  11. How will you handle bills, mail, official business? (can you use your parent’s or a friend’s address?)
  12. How will you handle health concerns (medications, hospital visits, emergencies)?
  13. Figure out how you’ll handle your money while traveling. From international bank accounts, cards, getting cards with no ATM fees, online banks, etc. 
  14. Get a VPN (so you can log into your bank accounts and not get locked out when traveling – it’s a pain!)
  15. Have a way to save / access important documents & for your family too (if they need a copy of your passport, banking info etc.)
  16. Create a timeline and set goals! 

Each of the items listed above will require you to do some work and research on your own. Everyone is different, so it’s really up to you to decide. 

Our Story of Becoming a Digital Nomad (the short version)

To help you with developing your plan, I thought it would be helpful to share a bit of our story and how we became digital nomads. Mind you, this was over 10 years ago before the term “digital nomad” was even a thing! All we knew was that we wanted to find a way to travel the world and use the internet to be able to earn money as we went. We didn’t really know what it would turn into. And it’s crazy to look back and see how it all happened. 

But hopefully, our story here (just a few bullet points) will help you to see where we were coming from and what we did to make it happen. 

  • My husband and I both had backgrounds and education in marketing
  • I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and start an online business (I just wasn’t sure what)
  • I researched a ton of business opportunities, from being a travel agent to affiliate marketing (again 10+ years ago…there wasn’t a lot out there like there is today)
  • We were already traveling a lot for fun and our friends told us we should start a travel blog to document our travels and share our advice / tips.
  • So we started the blog, with the idea that it was a place to start and learn – and we could grow into other things
  • I had a corporate marketing job leveraged it to learn as much as possible!
  • We made a 2 year plan – to work on our blog in our spare time and see if it could make any money + we saved as much money from our full-time jobs
  • The blog started to take off and we were getting exposure, networking, partnership and sponsorship offers as well as a little side income (not a lot though)
  • We set a goal dollar amount for savings & set a date to quit our jobs
  • We decided to sell most of our belongings and move out of our rental townhouse
  • We only took 1 backpack each and a day bag with us
  • We planned to get a TEFL certification to teach English, if we ever needed another job while on the road
  • We made a rough plan to visit Hawaii first (family) then at least 6 months in SE Asia
  • We had no end date. But had a “low bank account threshold” — basically we wanted to come home with enough money to get back on our feet again and not be broke. So if we ever hit that point, we would come home.

We were not sure how long we would be gone. But we ended up being overseas for nearly 3 years! However, when we returned to the States, we were still actually “digital nomads” with great jobs!

During our first stop in Thailand, we actually had a business opportunity that led us to start our marketing consulting company right away. We also did get TEFL certified and had teaching jobs in both Thailand as well as China over the years. After 3 years, we were brought on board to a digital start-up company!

Since returning to the States we spent time in Denver and traveling around the country working and living in an RV full-time too! But now we are living in Florida and describe ourselves as “location independent.” We bought a house and it is our home base.  We work for ourselves running this blog as well as multiple other websites and our digital marketing company. Josh has also gotten his real estate license (which he used to do before I met him) – which is good because now we can kinda have each of our own passion projects and not always work together on everything.

So we set our own schedules and can work from here…or travel and work somewhere else! 

back of our campervan rental with dog and josh looking out at ocean

The Key to Your Digital Nomad Story is Just Getting Started!

We hope our story gives you inspiration and shows you that you have to start somewhere. The key is that you get rolling down that path and let your journey take you where it will! You will learn and evolve along the way. 

It is totally possible to become a digital nomad, and it is truly a wonderful lifestyle for the right person. 

The important thing is that you have a plan and goals to work towards. However, the plan and goals can totally change! Especially once you get into it and realize what you like and don’t like…and what you are good at.

Work Hard, Play Hard as a Digital Nomad

It really is a work hard, play hard kind of mentality. As any successful digital nomad and they’ll tell you.  But when you can find the right job or build the right kind of business that allows you a freedom lifestyle, it’s all worth it to be able to earn a living doing what you love and living the life you want to live.

 

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