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How to Become A Digital Nomad and Design While You Travel

Creative Market July 26, 2021 · 8 min read
Jan Waider is a a self-taught web designer and photographer from Germany who is fascinated by landscapes and nature’s beauty. Marina Popova went from being a computer saleswoman to vector illustrator, finally deciding to pursue her dreams and what made her happy. Although these two have very different backgrounds, they do have one thing in common. They’re both digital nomads. In recent years, more and more people like Jan and Marina have moved away from traditional office settings, packed up their belongings, and started working remotely around the world. This digital nomad lifestyle allows for both work and the opportunity to travel. Is it the perfect life? Jan and Marina will be letting us know as they touch on:
  • Their start as a digital nomad
  • Work-life balance and motivation
  • Expenses (funding and tracking)
  • Tips for those who want to become a digital nomad

Starting as a Digital Nomad

Contrary to how it may seem, being a digital nomad isn’t something you can jump into on a whim without prior planning. From a logistics standpoint, there’s a lot to consider like basic living accommodations, funding for travel, and your working situation. For Jan, the decision to become a digital nomad stemmed from his love of travel, his desire to spend more time abroad, and the practicality of it (thanks to modern technology). He says, “I was looking for ways to take my work with me. Since technology was evolving at a rapid pace, services like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Skype made being a digital nomad easier year by year.”
Having a game plan ahead of time saves a lot of stress. Although she had stars in her eyes and wanted a job that was location-independent, Marina knew that when it comes to being a digital nomad, “having the right profession is a key tool in surviving.” She stresses that while traveling in a foreign country, you’re essentially a stranger on your own and you have to rely on yourself to get through any mishaps that may arise. This makes it incredibly important to have a stable job, whether it’s freelancing or a remote-based role, that can provide consistent sufficient income.

How to Maintain Work-Life Balance and Motivation

One of the biggest perks of being a digital nomad is the ability to use the world as your office. Each time you arrive at a new “home,” it feels more like a vacation. While that’s an amazing feeling, it’s not one that really prompts you to want to pull out the laptop and start working. Most people would want to skip the work and immerse themselves into their new surroundings. Clearly, it’s crucial to have self-discipline as a digital nomad; lack of self-discipline in this lifestyle can result in serious consequences. Marina says, “You should really know how to push yourself to work, find motivation, organize your day, and have strong self-discipline.” In order to adapt and transition into working, she spends two weeks at a time being a tourist, which simultaneously feeds her sense of adventure and helps her settle in.
Once you start working and find yourself in a productive routine, it’s important to keep that momentum going by not being distracted or losing focus. Jan finds this to be the hardest challenge that he faces and he has to remind himself that “working from wonderful places all over the world is a huge privilege—but most of the people around you are on vacation and have a totally different rhythm.” He can’t slip into the trap of comparing his free time to the that of those around him. Being a digital nomad is a lifestyle that has to be earned, and because of this, Jan says “work should always come first if you want to be successful.”
So, how can you keep focused and productive? Here are a few tips:
  • Allocate a time limit for each task and manage your time wisely
  • Create a to-do checklist of things that need to be completed for the day
  • Find a spot with little distractions to work from and surround yourself with other people who are also working
  • Take a 5-10 minute break for every work hour as a way to reinvigorate
  • Use online extensions and tools to your advantage:
    • LastPass – a password manager that saves your passwords and gives you secure access from every computer and mobile device
    • Momentum – replaces a new tab page with a personal dashboard featuring to-dos, weather, and inspiration
    • Rescue Time – keep track of the time you spend in Chrome and get a clear picture of what you were doing all day
    • Save to Pocket – the best way to save articles, videos, and more to view later
    • Session Buddy – a perfect way to stay organized for anyone who has way too many tabs opened at once
    • StayFocusd – limit the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites
Without their jobs and/or clients, digital nomads wouldn’t be able to travel and live the lifestyle they love. So, they don’t take it for grantednot a single daythey find ways to stay on task and keep on working.

Funding and Tracking Expenses

The longer you travel, the more it’ll cost as expenses start to slowly pile up. Being in such beautiful places, it can be hard to save money instead of spending it, but our digital nomads are here to offer up some help. When it comes to spending, Marina keeps in mind her minimum income and maximum expenses for each month. Knowing this, she doesn’t spend more than 60% of her income for living expenses, and she has savings set aside to get her through at least a year without earnings. She finds it’s wise to always have an emergency fund on hand because it’s extremely helpful when situations arise that are beyond control, like losing clients or unfortunate accidents.
On the flip side, traveling has helped Jan save money by forcing him to cut buying on impulse. He says “Clothing, food, electronic gadgets—I buy a lot of stuff online. The need to shop totally disappears while traveling because I only purchase things that I really need for daily use.”
According to both Jan and Marina, the biggest money saver is how they choose their housing. Jan told us about his caravan set-up as an example: “When I’m traveling with my caravan and don’t have an apartment in Germany. I spend approximately 350 EUR a month for campsite fees (including electricity), plus an additional 40 EUR for 50 GB of 3G data (which is cheaper than any apartment I ever lived in).” Being creative with your living space and not staying in guest houses or hostels, can pay off in the long-run with the savings accumulating over time. When it comes to tracking expenses, like everything else, there’s an app for that:

Things to Know About Before Becoming a Digital Nomad

There are so many important aspects to the digital nomad life. Jan and Marina have a few last, “must know” tips that they’ve learned and would like to pass on to anybody thinking about jumping into the digital nomad life:
  • Choose the countries you’ll travel to according to your budget. Some places are cheap to live in, some are expensive
  • Before going full-on digital nomad, do a “test-run” (about a month) to see if the lifestyle is the right fit for you, especially important if you’ll be going it alone, since it can be quite an adjustment to be alone most of the time
  • For stays longer than a few weeks, often times cheaper living accommodations can be found in-person, rather than online
  • Make sure you have a solid base of clients/work before you start your journey
  • Look into all forms of your insurance, as well as possible legal and tax restrictions, if you plan on being abroad for more than six months
  • While traveling, make sure you a have minimum of two cards connected to different bank accounts. Never have everything in one pocket

Keep The Conversation Going!

For those who love traveling and are thinking about taking a similar digital nomadic path as Jan and Marina, they are living proof that it’s possible to pursue your worldly ventures while working at the same time. The biggest takeaway from their stories is that the digital nomad life is achievable for anyone who has the disciple and realistic expectations for it. This chat doesn’t have to end here! Jan and Marina will be hanging out in the comment section below to chat and answer any questions, so feel free to leave a comment if there’s anything you’d like to clarify or something you’d love to learn more about. Products Seen in This Post:
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  • In the next couple of years, I plan on renovating a vintage airstream and living in it first as a stationary tiny home and then making the move to a more nomadic lifestyle such as yours. In regards to making the transition from stationary to traveling, how did you navigate your career. Did you start off as a freelancer, or did you make the jump to freelancing after you started traveling? I am also a designer and illustrator, and I really love the job I have, but I'm dedicated towards having a nomadic lifestyle and I'm not sure how that would mix with my current job position. 6 years ago
  • Woah, that sounds so cool, @Hunter Abston! I'd love to see the end result of the airstream once you're done with renovations. I believe that both @Jan and @Marina Popova started off as freelancers before jumping into their nomadic lifestyles. They can definitely elaborate much more about it. 6 years ago
  • Hello @Hunter Abston! I'm working for stock agencies, and I started freelancing before travelling. Actually, travelling was the goal, and freelance became a tool for it. I started travelling after I really was confident I have a sufficient and constant income not being connected to any place. The only need is the internet connection. Wish you good luck and happy discovering the big world around! Its amazing! 6 years ago
  • @Marina Popova, that's wonderful! What kinds of travels do you do? Do you have a home base and then head out on trips a few times a year, or do you live on the road? How have you solved the problem of the need for Internet while traveling? 6 years ago
  • Hello @Kelley Johnson! I have a home, but I visit it only once a year in June-July for a month or two, to see parents and friends. Im a fan of kiteboarding sport, so I go for kiting spots (there are plenty around the world)! Currently Im in Philippines, Boracay Island, for 3 months already, its a great spot for kiteboarding, and a very beautiful country! In the mid of Feb I'm going to change the place (without coming back to my hometown), haven't decide yet where to go.. may be Egypt.. )) So, I dont actually live on the road, I come to a place, make myself comfortable and stay for several months, feeling like at home, doing my job, kiteboarding and discovering places around! Usually I buy a motorbike or a bicycle to move around and feel comfortable (then sell it when leaving the place). Here I have a bicycle, because Boracay is a very very tiny Island, no place for driving, and a very heavy traffic on the road. No problem with the internet, now I'm using only mobile internet here (coz wifi in Philippines is everywhere very poor), and its enough for me. 6 years ago
  • That sounds like so much fun @Marina Popova! 6 years ago
  • The digital nomad lifestyle is the bomb! 6 years ago
  • Wow! Not one mention of "taxes"! I work for myself, from home, but 100% remote of my clients... but I still pay my taxes. This seems more geared towards countries besides the USA... it's bad enough working in different states but I imagine working across national borders would be a tax nightmare. 5 years ago
  • Great article! But what about the internet? how do you manage the situation if the connection is weak and you need it at the moment? 5 years ago
  • @Marina Popova, @Jan, and maybe even @Jeremy Child do you have any insights you can offer on @Richard Coda's thoughts about taxes (what is the tax situation like when you move around from country to state to state, country, and/or continent to continent?) and @Christian Quintero's questions about internet connections? 5 years ago
  • @Christian Quintero I don't need an internet connection 24/7 to do my job. But the situation is pretty good, since I'm usually traveling around Iceland and Scandinavia. 3G/4G coverage is usually awesome and the prices are lower than in Germany (for example 50 GB for 35 EUR in Iceland!) I carry one of these small mobile routers with me or even have a full size router with SIM Card slot in my caravan. And since (open) WiFi is also pretty common in Scandinavia, I rarely run into problems with a little planning ahead. Also, a range externder is your friend - I used mine quite often to strengthen the signal on campsites :) 5 years ago
  • @Richard Coda I pay 100% of my taxes in Germany, since I'm here at least half a year and my business + registered address is also in Germany and most of my clients are from Germany, too. This question is really depending on your personal situation and cannot be answered in general. 5 years ago
  • @Kelley Johnson - sorry for the slow reply, I've been away again! Like @Richard Coda - I pay 100% of my taxes in the country where I reside (the UK). I can do this because I never stay in one country longer than a holiday visa allows (normally 90 days but this may vary from country to country). This may not work for everyone though as I'm sure every country will have different tax rules. @Christian Quintero - bad internet can be very problematic. I was in South Africa for three months a few years back and was paying quite high prices for internet which was being siphoned off my a neighbour and sold on. There was nothing I could do about it and just had to use it when it was there. 5 years ago
  • Awesome lifestyle! thanks for the post! 5 years ago
  • @Richard Coda I've been living and working full-time on the road in an Airstream in the US as a freelance designer and web developer for over six years. The tax situation is basically the same as if you were stationary. Though, what a lot of we digital nomads do is change our state of domicile to SD, FL, or TX — states where there is no state income tax and some other nomad-friendly policies. After five years of keeping my domicile in CA, I recently "moved" to SD. It's saving me many thousands of dollars a year between state taxes and vehicle registrations, etc. Note that you have to go "full in" nomad to do this. If you have ties to original state of domicile (like you still have a house there, etc.) your original state will likely still try to come after you for taxes (especially CA!). Note that if you're remote working for a company, it gets much stickier (I don't know details on that one). I also know nomadic freelancers who spend a certain amount of each year out of country (in Mexico part of the year and Canada part of the year) and are able to greatly reduce their Federal income taxes. I also don't know the details on that one, but it's a thing. 5 years ago