Should You Quit Your 9-5 To Become a Digital Nomad?

Should you quit job become digital nomad

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Before I get started on the topic of becoming a digital nomad, please note I am not talking about right now. This is early 2021. I’m no psychic but I hope – and predict – that in the future, people will travel again. People will still have jobs and careers and make choices regarding them.

Read next: 2 years as a digital nomad – everything I learnt

Is it realistic to quit your job to become a digital nomad?

We’ve all seen it: the person on Instagram who quit their job, sold their stuff (which always seems to be highly valuable) and tripled their income within a year by becoming a digital nomad.

Now, they have financial freedom, a cute husband who is also their website designer and photographer, and they live on a beach in Bali where they’re building their dream home. Also, they get a LOT of questions on Instagram about their skincare routine.

But better yet, they’re telling you, guess what? You can do it, too! After all, guys, life is a book and those who don’t travel only read the first page!

Sound familiar? 

We need to remember that success stories are shared because they ended well. People LOVE success. It gives them hope. People aren’t inspired by failure stories.

If your reservation about quitting your 9-5 is down to under-confidence or a lack of courage in your convictions, it actually can be uplifting to learn of other people’s successes and see that it could work for you, too. But the key is being realistic.

Remember, the people you’re comparing yourself to online may have had a different set of opportunities. They may be funded by family money. Or they may just be trying to sell you a course or e-book!

How I became a digital nomad

I grew up thinking I was very normal. I attended a normal school, didn’t travel outside of the UK until I was a teenager, had no trust fund or financial help, and worked from the age of 15 doing everything from waitressing to retail, bar work and even flipping burgers during one dubious summer job.

Like many fellow wanderlusters, travel is my priority and as a result, I make sacrifices elsewhere.

I’ve never had a car and can’t even drive. I mentally convert the cost of every material item into the price of a flight. I have a running joke with my Instagram followers that I only have three outfits… But it’s not a joke because it’s true!

After uni, I built a career in London as a copywriter but left to go travelling in 2015. For a few years, I kept coming back to the UK to save up then travelling again to far-flung destinations. The travel bug had bitten me hard!

Finally, in 2018 after much plotting and saving, I shifted my work life online to become a digital nomad. I spent the next couple of years living cheaply while working around Southeast Asia and Mexico.

Becoming a digital nomad in bali
Livin’ la vida nomad

Privilege surrounding digital nomadism

Sure, I’ve worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices but it’s also abundantly clear that I’ve had endless privilege based on my skin colour, where I was born, where my passport was issued and the fact I’m able-bodied and don’t have others depending on me. The same applies to countless other digital nomads.

Becoming a digital nomad is about more than just money. For me, it’s a natural fit because I like being independent, spending time alone and not having a routine. If these things don’t apply, you might not be suited to a life of remote work.

Basically, we can’t talk about becoming a digital nomad, or in fact travel AT ALL without acknowledging privilege and preference. The LAST thing I want is for people to quit their jobs because I made it look easy, or someone else on the internet gave them unrealistic expectations.

Being a digital nomad isn’t for everyone but hopefully in this article, I can offer insight for those thinking about going remote.

Street art in Penang
Finding street art while living as a digital nomad in Penang, Malaysia

So, should YOU quit your job to become a digital nomad?

You probably already know your situation whether that’s your finances or your ideal working patterns. Ultimately, no blog post can tell you whether you should quit your job to become a digital nomad because the author simply doesn’t know your unique situation. 

That’s why I’m going to run through some things to consider so you can make an educated decision that suits YOU.

Things to consider before becoming a digital nomad

Before buying that flight or quitting that desk job, do some soul searching and solid research. These are some of the things I’d encourage you to think about before making your decision…

1. Will you LIKE being a digital nomad?

This may sound ridiculous but I actually forgot to think about this before quitting my job. I think a lot of people do.

Travelling the world from your laptop while being your own boss understandably gets painted as the ideal for wannabe travellers.

But you need to seriously think about what it entails. I remember in my first week of being a digital nomad in Saigon, Vietnam, I didn’t really speak to anyone. I spent the week in a quiet co-working space and the evenings in a hostel where I couldn’t socialise because I had to be up early for work.

Had I made a big mistake? Had I plotted and planned and quit my 9-5 only to bail on nomad life right away?

Luckily, I came to love it. But it’s worth thinking long and hard before you make any big decisions. Despite there being undeniable benefits of digital nomadism, there are also some equally real downsides. Let’s dive into the pros and cons.

Working remotely in india
My workspace in India

Pros of being a digital nomad:

  • Flexibility – if you work freelance, you can usually set your own working hours and choose which jobs you want to take on.
  • Freedom – being location independent means you can often base anywhere in the world you choose (dependant on visas of course).

Downsides of being a digital nomad:

  • Instability – it’s likely your pay may differ from month to month. If that will leave you feeling anxious and stressed, it may not be the right career choice for you.
  • Dealing with loneliness – travelling and working without a community around you can be lonely. You might even find yourself missing colleagues and familiar faces.
  • Having to pay for your office space – or ordering a latte and nursing it for hours, subsequently infuriating cafe staff everywhere.

To summarise, be prepared! Embark on solid research to ensure the decisions you’re making represent your best interests – not those of someone on Instagram.

Coffee while co-working
Nomad fuel

2. How & when will you replace your income streams?

There are plenty of digital nomad jobs these days which we’ll run through in a minute. But if you’re still working a 9-5, it can be hard to line up a new career before you’ve left your old one, especially if it’s something you need to build up gradually.

A lot of people say you shouldn’t quit your 9-5 until you’ve fully replaced your income streams. I’m inclined to agree although it IS possible.

I DID quit my job to become a digital nomad before I had a full schedule of freelance work lined up. This was because I solid savings to support myself and a clear plan of the type of work I would do online. I knew how to find it and had expertise in my field, and I also planned to base in Vietnam where I could live cheaply.

Laptop beside the Ganges India
I’ve had worse office views…

3. Do you have savings should you need them?

Even if you have your digital nomad job all sorted, consider your backup plan should there be hiccups. Many freelance jobs can be unreliable – you won’t always have a secure contract and a guaranteed monthly income.

Often clients can be slow to pay. There are a million eventualities where things could go wrong.

Before giving up a 9-5 to become a digital nomad, consider saving enough money to support yourself in the transition. How much?

Only you can say. I would advise having at least enough to live on for 3-6 months in your chosen destination should you end up out of work and have to source a new remote job.

Becoming a digital nomad Mexico City cafe
Co-working in Mexico City with my friend, April

4. Are you just running away?

Hate your job and want to quit? We’ve all been there!

While bloggers in Bali may tell you the answer is financial freedom and full-time travel, keep it realistic and ask yourself:

Is quitting your job and becoming a digital nomad the right option for you? It might well be but it’s best to consider all the options. Rather than leaving it all behind, you could think about finding a new job in your home country that’s better suited to you, or more flexible thus allowing more travel around it.

You could also consider getting a job overseas rather than doing the digital nomad thing. If you’re under 30 and from the UK, you could get a working holiday visa in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. 

5. Is now the ‘right time’ to become a digital nomad?

Much as you may want to make your dreams a reality, you need to be smart when it comes to timing. Ask yourself:

Would it make sense to get more career experience and go remote in a few years when you can sell your services to clients?

Would it make more sense to build your savings so you have a buffer of money to ease the transition into remote work?

On the other hand, if you’re young, childless and have few responsibilities but think this might change down the line, then yes, this might be an ideal window for becoming a digital nomad. But, everything else I’ve said in this blog still applies. Just because you have few responsibilities, that doesn’t mean digital nomad life will be an automatic fit.

At the end of the day, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to life. For example, Mariellen Ward set up her successful travel blog, Breathedreamgo, aged 50 which she runs remotely while living in India. The right time is different for everyone!

6. What are your digital nomad job options?

Some people continue doing their regular career remotely (like myself) while others retrain entirely to become a digital nomad. There are countless digital nomad jobs from online teachers to virtual assistants.

Is there anything wrong with taking any job to travel? Absolutely not. Career fulfillment can be fantastic but it’s not the only thing in the world, and the career hustle we have these days – of finding yourself via your purpose –  is relatively new. You’re absolutely allowed to do something that pays the bills and allows you to travel. 

There’s no wrong or right. It simply depends how important having a rewarding career is to you. If you do discover it takes preference, you may end up regretting your decision to live in Bali at the expense of professional development.

Only you can balance the importance of travel vs career.

I would add that working for yourself can be a great way to experiment. I have tried my hand at so many things while being a digital nomad.

In London, I was solely a copywriter but since going remote, I have been a blogger, social media manager, SEO consultant and even dabbled in graphic design and video production.

For me, going remote has opened doors rather than closing them, even if I had to be productive about gaining experience, charging low rates to begin with.

Coffee and flowers digital nomad cafe
More digital nomad fuel…

7. How will becoming a digital nomad affect your long term CV?

Becoming a nomad is different to quitting your job to travel because you will hopefully have something on your CV to show for it. But in certain careers, a gap in traditional employment may be considered undesirable.

Likewise, in the US, I hear that being without a permanent employer can affect everything down to your health insurance.

Well, when I came home to the UK during the perils of 2020, I was lucky enough to find a 9-5 job temporarily. I can only tell you about my experiences but I have not found that my digital nomad CV has impacted my ability to find traditional employment again. But maybe that’s because the work I did as a nomad is similar to what I do at home.

Either way, it’s something to think about before your leave your 9-5 to become a digital nomad. How could it impact your long-term career and how would you position the situation to a future employer if nomad life didn’t work out?

When I became a digital in mexico
Being a digital nomad took me to Mexico…

8. Where to base yourself?

If you’ve got this far into the process, you’re probably set on becoming a digital nomad! The beauty of remote work is basing wherever you choose. But is this always as free and easy as it sounds? Not quite.

Some countries (looking at you, Indonesia) will kick you out each month, while others are known for notoriously bad Wi-FI. It’s great to find a community so you might want to research the best digital nomad cities in the world – you can guarantee they’ll have a nomad presence.

I like to log my experiences when I can so check out my guide to being a digital nomad in Penang, Malaysia and my guide to being a digital nomad in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Bottom line, do your research before becoming a digital nomad and it will be more likely to work out!

Quitting my job to work remotely – how it went

It’s so hard to answer this as a 2020 problem beginning with C has scuppered EVERYTHING. 

After quitting my job to become a digital nomad in 2018, I found work that sustained me in the form of freelance writing. But often it was competitive and badly paid so I’m not sure I want to do this exact type of work again.

My current goal is to continue increasing my blog traffic and start making a full-time income so I can afford to be pickier about the articles I write elsewhere. I guess in some ways, my nomad life hasn’t been a true success story – at least yet.

To sum up, I quit my job to travel three years ago and it’s still a work in progress. I didn’t triple my income like some influencers promised, but I also didn’t pack it in after a year. My heart is still fully in this lifestyle (when it’s safe and possible again). And that’s got to count for something right?

Thanks for reading!

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Quit job become digital nomad

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