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    What is a Digital Nomad? The ticket to a travel lifestyle…

    The Digital Nomad Equation:

    Income earned online + a mobile lifestyle + a cheap, cultured, techy city = a digital nomad lifestyle

    According to Wikipedia “Digital nomads are people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner”


    What is a Digital Nomad?

    With the rise of telecommuting, the power of the internet, and the differing values of Gen Y’ers and millennial’s over previous generations regarding travel, openness to different cultures, and the value of foreign experiences, the “digital nomad” is a concept that has been on the rise.  Most people know at least one person who has mysteriously uprooted from their life (after a very long time talking about it) and now seems to survive in some new, possibly exotic and more desirable, locale…but no one seems to know how they’re doing it!  Though there are a lot of things one could call these people, the most common term these days is “digital nomad”.  But….what exactly is a digital nomad?  And how do they manage to live such a non-traditional existence?  Well the Samsara Diaries is going to break it down like a fraction for you…

    A digital nomad is a person who lives an unconventional lifestyle in two main ways:

    1. They make their living online (meaning, they can make their living anywhere)
    2. They have designed their life so that everything about it enables them to change the location of their “home” as they see fit, with minimal cost, effort, and disruption

    So let’s look at those two buckets a little closer…


    Digital nomads make their income online…

    In the information age, virtually anything can be accomplished online (aka remotely or virtually).  Whether you are paying bills, having a meeting with a boss/client, or delivering a product or service, under the right conditions virtually any job can be done remotely…as long as you have an internet connection.  Aspiring digital nomads realize this and design work situations that allow them to work remotely.  Digital nomads accomplish “virtualizing” their work in two main ways:

    1. transitioning their existing skills into an online workplace


    1. building new skills that allow them to work virtually


    Transitioning existing skills to online Workplaces:

    For many jobs, as long as the infrastructure (internet connection, necessary apps and software for virtual collaboration, etc.), habits of the employer (tech savvy, used to virtual meetings, used to collaborating online) and expectations of the employer (scheduling, availability, efficiency of communication) are conducive to employing virtual workers, virtualizing work is just a matter of creating an agreement with an employer to work remotely.  This could be with an existing company or with a new company identified specifically for its virtual working potential.  A more common approach is for an aspiring nomad to transition existing skills from a traditional employment situation into a freelance employment situation.  In either case, a person takes their existing skills and creates a virtual employment opportunity, freeing them up to move anywhere, which is half of the digital nomad equation.

    Building new skills to work virtually:

    For individuals that don’t currently have skills that easily transition to virtual work, or people looking for a different path in life the answer is to build new skills.  The great part about this route is many of the skills are easily developed with a little time (1 month to a year) and low cost to learn.  Some examples include website and software development, remotely teaching English or courses, providing virtual management and administration services such as virtual assistant work and social media management work, in addition virtually any product or service that can be delivered online (graphic design, business strategy.

    Note: The one year rule:

    An important thing to note is that it generally takes 1-2 years for most digital nomads to virtualize their skills or building new skills sufficiently to garner a good wage and acquire the clients/employment situation that allows for virtual work sufficient for a full digital nomad lifestyle.  So if you’re considering this path then plan well ahead.

    Digital nomads design their lives for a digital nomad lifestyle

    Making money online is only part of the digital nomad equation.  Designing and being comfortable with a life that allows you to move from locale to locale to chase the seasons (or run visa expiration dates) is paramount.  Additionally, being used to a lifestyle that allows for lower cost locales is important.  But how does one design a digital nomad friendly life?

    Keeping it minimal: Most digital nomads change home bases every one to six months, as their urges change from mountains to beaches, as an expiration in a visa dictates, or as their food preference goes from Asian to Latin, being mobile and keeping possessions to a minimum is important.  Otherwise, hauling all of that baggage can become stressful and costly. Granted, the longer the stay, the more baggage you can keep.

    Being open to foreign cultures: For most Europeans and North Americans, the cost of living can be fairly outrageous at times.  With the price of an apartment alone in San Francisco or New York hovering around $3000 a month, there is a huge opportunity to get more for those dollars in another locale.  For instance, take that $3000 to Chiang Mai, Thailand where $860 is all you need for a month’s living expenses (e.g., rent, food, entertainment) in a livable city.  For Lisbon, Portugal $1,367 is all it would take.  And if South America is your vibe, then $1,653 will get you a nice life in the posh Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  The only caveat here: you have to open to living in, and adapting to, foreign cultures.  If you can do that, then there is a digital nomad community waiting there for you now.

    Being flexible: As with any travel situation, things can go wrong.  Perhaps the visa restrictions change for your desired “nomad home”.  Perhaps the payment rates for your skill are changing and you have to learn a new skill to continue earning a competitive rate.  Or, perhaps things just plain don’t go according to plan. Being a digital nomad is about taking advantage of the opportunities that others are too rooted, or too scared, to realize.  With that comes a bit of risk.  If you can accept that then the world is yours, and a whole new realm of opportunity lies in front of you.


    Why the digital nomad lifestyle?

    Digital nomads generally give up the security and comfort of a rooted home for three reasons: increased quality of life, lower hours worked, and travel opportunities.


    Digital Nomads aim to buy a better quality of life for the same number of dollars

    As the cost of living prices above show (Chiang Mai Thailand $860 per month, Lisbon, Portugal $1,36 per month, Buenos Aires, Argentina $1,653 per month) if you you’re willing to move your dollar to a new location, many times, you can get more with that dollar.  How does this pan out?  In addition to cheaper rent, cheaper food, and cheaper transportation, many places have high livability, great sense of community, and wonderful nature and outdoors opportunities that you may not get for that same dollar in New York City or San Francisco.  A burger will be pricier in San Francisco or London than Berlin or Budapest…the same applies for virtually everything else that you purchase.


    Digital Nomads work less in order to afford the same quality of life (as before)

    If the food scene of New York is what you desire, consider a small city in Italy for half the price.  If the beaches of California are what you desire, consider the Philippines and Indonesia for one fourth of the price.  If culture, history, and intellectual stimulation are what you desire consider summers in Krakow, Poland, Budapest, Hungary and the rest of Eastern Europe for unmatched value.  The bottom line: if you understand what is valuable to you and what you are paying for you can easily find a place where that particular thing is cheaper without compromising on the other aspects of life that matter to you or paying for things that don’t matter to you.


    Digital Nomads get to live in the places where most only visit

    Southeast Asia and South America are amazing destinations, but most people can only travel to these places during a gap year, between jobs, or after retiring.  Digital nomads live in these destinations allowing them to experience the location as a tourist at first and, over time, as more of a local than most foreigners have the opportunity to experience.  This experience comes with the upside of being able to leave whenever one sees fit to shuffle on.


    Where do Digital Nomads commonly live?

    Digital nomads generally target large, livable, urban cities with rich cultural scenes that are friendly to expats and offer a low cost of living while also providing good internet connectivity.  Though Southeast Asia provides the most bargains with picturesque beaches a cheap flight (~$30) away, Europe and South America have their share of digital nomad friendly cities rich in culture and close to a variety of attractions


    Example Costs of Living for a month by Country/City

    (Monthly amount includes rent, food, and entertainment)

    • Asia
      • Thailand (Chiang Mai – $860/mo)
      • Vietnam (Hanoi – $657/mo)
      • The Philippines (davao – $726/mo)
      • South Korea (Daegu – $1,120/mo)
    • South America
      • Ecuador (Quito – $902/mo)
      • Chile (Santiago – $1,238/mo)
      • Argentina (Buenos Aires – $1,653/mo)
      • Colombia (Medellin – $1,005/mo)
    • Europe
      • Poland (Krakow – $1,456/mo)
      • Portugal (Porto – $1,367/mo)
      • Germany (Berlin – $1,938/mo)
      • Hungary (Budapest – $1,310/mo)

    (Data collected from


    How do digital nomads commonly make money? What do digital nomads do for a living?

    Digital nomads make money using any service that can be delivered online, virtually, or remotely

    • Website design and management
    • Social Media Management and marketing
    • Software, app, and website development
    • Freelance Writing (blogging, SEO, ghostwriting)
    • Graphic Design
    • Affiliate Marketing (via blog or social media)
    • Dropshipping and eCommerce
    • Creating and Selling Digital Products (eBooks, guides, digital tools, templates, etc.)
    • Teaching/tutoring (languages, traditional academic subjects, coding, test prep)
    • Consulting and business coaching
    • Virtual assisting
    • Translation
    • Videography
    • Any freelance work available on Upwork, PeoplePerHour, SimplyHired, or any other freelance site

    But keep in mind there are plenty of other nomad jobs that aren’t digital yet still provide many of the same benefits

    Other “Millennial Nomad” Jobs

    • English teachers
    • Yoga/fitness instructors
    • Hospitality workers
    • Travel industry (guides and pros


    How much do Digital Nomads need to live the lifestyle?

    Of course, the cost per country varies, being higher in Europe and lower in Southeast Asia, but the magic number is $50 per day.  With $50 per day, one can live a comfortable life in many beautiful, comfortable, and culturally rich regions of the world.  This cost goes down the longer you stay in one place (and the less you move) as well as if you travel hack or aim for lower cost cities.  If you’re curious about the cost of living for digital nomad friendly cities checkout  On this site, you can search for potential digital nomad friendly cities by factors such as weather, region, costs, nightlife, landscape, cleanliness, internet connectivity, etc.


    What type of person becomes a digital nomad?

    Such a non-traditional lifestyle must attract a particular archetype, right?  A wandering 20 something with no direction in life?  Actually…not so much.

    I’ve met many digital nomads and ages ranged from 20 to 50, equally split between genders, most transitioned into the lifestyle within the last five years.  Most digital nomads had to adjust their skills (or pick up some new ones) to fully transition to being a digital nomad (instead of partially living off savings) and be fully capable of supporting themselves with their online based craft.  Most hit the fully supported digital nomad point at about the year point and augment their income with savings until that point.  The chosen skills included teaching yoga (online and in travel workshops), to teaching on Udemy, to creating digital products, to coding, to videography, and the list goes on endlessly. The ultimate traits in common: a desire to experience travel and other cultures and a desire to break out of the high cost system most North Americans are used to.  Beyond those basic criteria, anyone fits the mold of a “digital nomad.”


    How can you make a digital nomad life possible?

    I will post on this at a later date under a “Lifestyle Design” and a “4 Steps to Becoming a Digital Nomad” post, but the simplest process to becoming a digital nomad is:

    Step 1: Virtualize Your Skills

    Step 2: Identify virtual work friendly clients/employers (and build a book of work)

    Step 3: Identify a “suitable locale” based on

    • Costs
    • Livability & personal preferences

    Step 4: Design the rest of your life for a digital nomad lifestyle


    What next?

    That depends on how serious you are.  If you’re interested in learning more about the digital nomad lifestyle and how to make it your daily life, signup for updates on this article series by giving us your email below.  Or, email me at [email protected] and I’ll happily answer any questions.


    Great Resources

    Note: This article is a work in progress.  If you have information or opinions to add, send them over



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      About A Brother Abroad


      Carlos is a nomad, slow traveler, and writer dedicated to helping others live abroad and travel better by using his 7+ years of experience living abroad and background as a management consultant and financial advisor to help other nomad and expats plot better paths for an international lifestyle. Click here to learn more about Carlos's story.