How to become a Digital Nomad in 3 steps

Nicole Fu Digital Nomad in Vang Vieng, Laos

2 months ago, I wrote about how I became a digital nomad. When people I meet in real-life find out that I’m a digital nomad, a common response I get is: “Wow, that’s so cool. I wish I could do the same.” The thing is, you can. Anyone can.

Recently, I got into a heated discussion with my mom and god brother re. why I don’t want to pursue an opportunity with one of the big 4 tech companies; an opportunity that presented itself to me. It’ll look good on your resume, they said. It’s good experience. But why would I want to go to a corporate 9-5 when I have this?,  I said. Think about your career, they said. “What do you mean, so all the work I’m doing now is what, stagnating my career?” This back and forth went on – I was preaching to the deaf.

Some have even asked me how are my finances, which I find patronizing and to be perpetuating the stigma attached to being a digital nomad. We are not 20-something backpackers, not in the least. We live in nice af condos with swimming pools, or even hotels. I haven’t cooked, washed dishes, changed my bed sheets, or done any chores in months. Johnny FD makes 5 figures a month yet chooses to live simply and spend only ~$2,000 a month. We are not all freelancers – some of the nomads I’ve met in Chiang Mai include a partner at Nokia, the ex-head of marketing for Napster, and a Thought Catalog employee. While Silicon Valley has their uniform of a startup t-shirt, jeans, and hoodie, digital nomads have our uniform of a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. How comfortable is this compared to a shirt and tie, or a pencil skirt and stilettos? How much enjoyment do we get out not having to iron or dry-clean said clothing?

I’ve been spending 50-70% less than what I used to per month, and my quality of life is bar none. I get massages ~twice a week, and regular pedicures. I eat and drink like a queen. I’ve made several trips to Singapore, KL, and Penang to see family whilst nomading, and just met up with friends from Canada in Tokyo last week. I have a digital nomad friend who’s also out here as she’s able to save so much more, and pay off her student debt.

In Montreal, I spent an average of CAD$3,256 per month.

Nicole Fu's Expenses Pre-Nomading

Food & dining (which includes alcohol :P) and Rent were my biggest expenses. Uncategorized expenses were ATM cash withdrawals, which I think mostly went to coffee and food.Nicole Fu's Breakdown of Monthly Expenses Pre-Nomading

These screenshots are via Mint. I have all my bank cards connected to it, and try to pay by card whenever I can in order to keep track of my expenses and collect points. In South East Asia I’ve mostly been using cash, so I’ve been manually inputting all my expenses into the Trail Wallet iOS app.

In 31 days in Chiang Mai, I spent CAD$1,590.66 (48% of what I would spend at home)

It cost me US$131 to get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, Laos by plane.

In 20 days in Laos, I spent CAD$1,395.26 (57% of what I would spend at home)

It cost me ~CAD$65 to get from Vientiane, Laos to Da Nang.

In 31 days in Da Nang, I spent CAD$963.48 (30% of what I would spend at home). Note accomodation was $0 here as I did a WorkAway, which I’ll detail in another post.

I earn in USD, and have been spending in Thai Baht, Laotian Kip, and Vietnamese Dong. Not only does my dollar go much further, I have not been shopping since I have no space to; I live out of a suitcase. This is geoarbitrage: to leverage global pricing and currency differences for profit or lifestyle purposes.

This definition is from Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Workweek, and is Step 1 of how to become a digital nomad: read it. It’s the bible on becoming location independent through “lifestyle design”, and becoming a member of the “New Rich”.

Let’s go back to most people’s response: I wish I can do the same. The subtext of I wish is I can’t, I would if I could.

Q: Why can’t you?

A: I have kids, I can’t in my line of work…

4-Hour Workweek addresses any reason or excuse you might have, and gives examples of people in your situation who have made it work. E.g. a French family of 5 who lived on a boat for a year and sailed around the world, spending a fraction of what they would if they remained in France. In Chiang Mai, I met an American couple who just moved out there with their young baby. Here’s another similar family who’s documenting their journey on YouTube.

Take my god brother, who owns and runs a chocolate factory (his name is not Charlie).

What are your passions in life? Making chocolate, sure. Checking if machines are broken? Checking up on your employees? I don’t think so.

I told him, you can automate it, you can take yourself out of the equation. “No, I can’t”, he said. Man, my purpose in life is not to convince y’all to do this. If you want it badly enough you’ll figure out how to make it work. If you are slightly intrigued by the possibility of how you might be able to do this, log out of your Netflix account and read this book.

Step 2: Find a remote job

You can:

1) Stay at your current job and convince your boss to let you work remotely (Again, 4-Hour Workweek teaches you how)

2) Find a remote job via:

Note the postings on these sites do overlap quite a bit. An alternative is to visit the site of a remote-first or remote-friendly company, and look for job openings there. Here’s a pretty exhaustive list of such companies, as well as a distilled list of 50+ 100% remote companies.

3) Freelance. Find clients through your network, or via sites like CloudPeeps, HiredUpwork, and Workhoppers.

4) Start a location-independent business. Dropship, sell information products, private label… (See Step 1. I’m currently working on this myself)

To get started with dropshipping, go to Shopify and create your first store (get a free 14-day trial here). I also recommend signing up for this dropshipping course on Udemy as it’ll save you a lot of time getting set up.

5) Test-drive this lifestyle – find a one year gig somewhere new via Jobbatical

Anyone can do it, not just developers, marketers… If you’re a doctor, you can offer your expertise to HealthTech companies via a site like Clarity. Or even create a site like Clarity, but for on-demand health advice. Have a rash you’re concerned about? Is googling your symptoms making you even more paranoid? Customers can pay for on-demand consultation from a doctor (you), online. I know I would have used it back in 2009 when I first moved to Tokyo and could not find an English-speaking doctor. The same can be done for lawyers, fitness coaches, you name it.

Yoga Teacher? Bounce from studio to studio in different cities or countries via YogaTrail.

Basically take your expertise, and translate it online. Or, as my friend Chris The Freelancer did, learn a new skill like web development, copywriting…

Step 3: Leave everything behind

And I mean everything, and everyone. Everything you own, your family/friends/partner/pet… I think this is the hardest step for most.

If you have a partner, you can:

1.    Ask him/her to come along and do this with you

2.   Have a go at the long-distance thing

3.   Leave him/her behind </3

NOBODY SAID THIS WAS GOING TO BE EASY.

As for your belongings: you can pay for storage, but if you can live without X for say 1 year, then do you really need this thing anyway? Or if you plan to travel indefinitely, would X still be useful after all that time? Would you even remember it? Which begs the question, is it worth paying for storage? Seems like extra emotional, and physical baggage to me. I chose to sell my bed, all my furniture… And if I get a place in the future, I can buy all this again with the money I saved from not paying for storage.

Here’s an extract from How Minimalism Brought Me Freedom and Joy, which I urge you to read if you have 8 minutes.

Love is minimalism. Desire, possession, and control are not minimalism.

Minimalism of things? No. Minimalism of fear, anxiety, stress, mourning.

I don’t like any intrigue. I don’t like to gossip about people.

When I do that, I feel like I am carrying those people in my backpack. So the more I gossip, the heavier my baggage is.

I don’t like feeling bad if someone doesn’t like me. That’s also baggage. I try to leave that behind.

As for the smaller items like clothes, hair products… Sell it, give it all away. Train yourself to become low maintenance and live without those things. I now live out of a suitcase, and it’s actually quite refreshing, not to mention easy to get dressed in the morning with only ~10 options to choose from. No wonder Steve Jobs had his uniform of jeans and a black turtleneck.

So… Ready to take action? Buy this book, and listen to this song:

P.s. you can get 2 free audiobooks with an Audible trial

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7 thoughts on “How to become a Digital Nomad in 3 steps

  1. Carla says:

    Omg, pls say I don’t have to leave my two small dogs to live an expat life. Have you seem it add a challenge for others? I’m ready and planning. But currently planning with the pooches.

    • nicolefu says:

      Hi Carla, unfortunately I haven’t encountered anyone nomading with pets… It shouldn’t be a problem if you want to be an expat i.e. relocate to one place though. Bouncing around would be hard with them.

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