What is a Digital Nomad? (And How Can I Become One?)

There was a time when most of our lives revolved around two places: our home and our workplace. Sure, we went on the occasional vacation, but mostly, the daily commute acted as the glue that held these two halves of our lives together.

All that changed when the pandemic hit, of course. We learned that assumptions about the way we organized our lives weren’t set in stone. There were alternatives we’d never considered. So, now that we’ve been thinking outside the box, we can open our minds to more possibilities. 

If you’ve been cooped up at home, you probably want to get out more than ever. So what if you could get out… and stay out? What if you could keep working remotely, but create a mobile workplace and home life instead of being stuck in one place? 

Becoming a “digital nomad” — someone tethered to their work only through a wireless device and an internet connection — is not only possible, but it’s a great option to consider. Living as a digital nomad lets you indulge your wanderlust while still keeping your family and career grounded, as long as you have a source of wifi.

But you can’t just drop everything and hit the open road! There’s a lot you’d need to do to make sure your venture succeeds. With that in mind, here are some things to take into account for becoming a digital nomad:

Downsize your stuff

If you’re considering life on the road full-time, chances are, you’ll need to get rid of a few things. Even the biggest RV won’t hold an entire household full of stuff, so take inventory of your possessions and decide what you really need.

If you’re on the fence, chuck it. Anything that’s been stored in the basement for years and doesn’t have deep sentimental value should go. Remember: The lighter your RV, the better your gas mileage — and fuel costs in any large vehicle can be significant. 

When you’ve sorted out all the nonessentials, take everything you won’t need on a daily basis and put it in storage, so it doesn’t weigh you down on the road. There are plenty of things you will need, so be sure you have enough room.

Make a digital nomad budget 

Your expenses on the road will be a bit different than you’re used to. As mentioned, you’ll have to budget for fuel costs, which vary substantially from state to state, so do your research and account for those differences. Budget for food, too: You can save money by stocking up on nonperishable groceries and cooking rather than relying on fast food.

You’ll also need to account for the cost of finding a place to park your vehicle. Some places are cheaper than others, so map out your travel plans and do your research to find the most economical options available. 

Several private networks and travel clubs (Good Sam Club, Passport America, Escapees RV Club, Harvest Hosts, etc.) offer access to their facilities for a reasonable yearly fee. National parks are an option, too. Or you can opt to go “boondocking” and find spots to park without hookups. Some Walmart parking lots offer this option, among other places. 

Set up your ride

It pays to know what you’re getting into, so be sure you read your RV’s manual front to back, and make sure you’re up to date on maintenance. Understand how your hookups work and how to connect and disconnect your electricity, water, and sewer (in that order).

You won’t be driving all the time, so it’s a smart idea to pick up a portable CARB-compliant generator to provide power when you’re staying in one place for a while. This kind of generator meets California Air Resources Board standards, the nation’s most stringent environmental guidelines.

And while we’re talking about technology: Set up your remote workplace by purchasing a wireless network device and investing in a satellite antenna. Be sure the option for a Wi-Fi hotspot is part of your cellphone plan. Then look for campsites that offer strong internet service, so you can stay connected with work.

And this point is crucial if you’re self-employed: You’ll need a way to keep constant vigilance over your finances, including your credit status, bank account, and accounts payable and receivable. Online banking and bookkeeping services can help you stay on top of invoicing and other money matters.

Explore job options

Many job and career choices that fit well into a work-from-home model are just as suitable for the digital nomad lifestyle. Among them:

  • Social media marketing
  • Digital marketing/SEO optimization
  • Web and app development
  • Consulting
  • Bookkeeping 
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Resumé writing

Look for a field and position that fit with your passion and aptitude as well as your schedule and income needs.

Establish yourself

Check out the laws and regulations wherever you’re going. Different RV parks have different rules, and different states impose a variety of regulations. Only a few support full-time RV residency, so consider asking a friend or family member to let you use their address.

Wherever you choose to establish residency (aka the address where you have snail mail sent and pick it up), check out the tax laws to be sure you won’t spend more than you anticipated.

It might seem like there’s a lot to do if you want to assume the digital nomad life, and there is: It can represent a major shift in how you live. But we’ve already undergone massive changes in the past year, and this one would be entirely in your control, for once. If the prospect appeals to you, you’ll likely find the digital nomad’s lifestyle can be more than worth it.

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