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    How to become a digital nomad, slow traveler, or island expat for a perfect life abroad

    In this guide, I’ll share the full process you need to follow to move abroad and build a successful digital nomad or “island expat”

    If you have any questions along the way, feel free to email [email protected]

    Becoming a digital nomad, or simply living a location independent life abroad however you label it, is an excellent decision and a great way to spend a life.

    Whether you’re interested in traveling for a few months, traveling for a year, spending a few months abroad per year, or living abroad indefinitely, I guarantee the decision to travel and live abroad is one that you won’t regret.

    Unfortunately, for most people, starting from zero, sitting in a cubicle in your average town in the US or Europe, figuring out how to go from 9 to 5 to the nomad lifestyle can feeling slightly daunting and nearly impossible.

    There are so many issues and steps that can make the process feel overwhelming: Planning budgets, planning savings, figuring out income, understanding visas, picking destinations that not only rock but have other friendly nomads and locals and is cheap enough stay on as long as you want, and maybe even figuring out how to buy a home abroad to live internationally indefinitely.

    Rest assured that the process is possible and very worthwhile. All you need is a plan.

    However a good “travel plan” is very different from the process of transitioning to a location independent lifestyle, fully equipped with the income necessary for traveling indefinitely and the tools setting up the tools back home that make “never going back” a reasonable and enjoyable possibility.

    In this guide, I’ll share an overview of the steps you need to consider now to go abroad, and the 5 steps you need to take right now to make it a possibility. Even if you don’t complete all 10 steps now, following through will give you the initial budget and plan to go abroad as a long term traveler, digital nomad, or island expat.

    Let’s get into it…

    5 Simple Steps to Becoming a Digital Nomad Successfully

    The process of building a sustainable and satisfying life as a digital nomad, and the possibility of traveling indefinitely, can be summed up in these 5 steps:

    1. Decide 3 to 5 cities to live abroad and “taste” for a month per city
    2. Calculate a 6 month budget + round trip flights
    3. Check your budget and decide how much you can save per month for your trip, then commit to saving that + calculate how long until you can travel
    4. Make a list of skills and interests, research side hustles and start experiment with remote friendly, time independent hustles
    5. Travel, side hustle 2 days per week and experiment with income until you find a hustle that consistently works for you

    However, let’s be honest. Nothing in life worth having is that simple or comes that easily. However, with good planning and diligence, with the right steps along the way, a successful life as a digital nomad is not only possible, but well within reach.

    Now, let’s review the little steps that will lead to big results – your life abroad, however you want that to be.

    In this guide, I’ll share the full process you need to follow to move abroad and build a successful digital nomad or “island expat”

    Stage 1: Travel Planning

    To plan for your journey, the financial aspects as well as the itinerary, you need to loosely envision it first. By doing this, you’ll create a loose frame of a plan for your travels, based on the places you want to experiences you want. Then we’ll be able to estimate how much you need to save, and how much your ultimate life abroad will cost you.

    Initially, we’ll plan for 6 months, and adapt from there.

    Step 1: Decide your start city, and 5 cities you’d love to spend one month in each

    Unlike pure travel, like backpacking or vacationing, nomading has a slower pace with 3 weeks to one month being the perfect amount of time in each city. One month is the perfect point where accommodation get’s cheaper, you begin to connect more with a city, and you have enough to balance living, enjoying that international life, traveling, and actual work as you develop your side hustles into a business.

    Due to low cost of living, high quality of life, and the plentiful number of nomads available to connext with, I highly recommend these cities as planned starting points for your travels.

    1. Bangkok or Chiang Mai, Thailand
    2. Pererenan, Uluwatu, Seseh, or Nyanyi, Bali
    3. Medellin, Colombia
    4. Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina
    5. Hvar/Split, Croatia
    6. Tirana, Albania
    7. Lisbon, Porto, or Madeira Portugal
    8. Hanoi or Hoi An, Vietnam

    Beyond your initial city, pick 3 to 5 other cities to spend 1 to 2 months in during your first 2 months.

    If you have a bucket list of experiences you’d love, such as motorbiking through Vietnam, hiking the Everest Base Camp Trek, or sipping wine in Italy, plan these other 5 cities to allow the opportunity to squeeze in those bucket list experiences in on weekends.

    If you’re stumped about where to consider, these are the cities I recommend

    By Region:

    • South America: Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Mendoza, Santiago, Valparaiso, Quito, Cusco, Medellin, Cartagena
    • Balkans: Split, Hvar, Sophia, Bansko, Tirana, Kotor
    • Europe: Lisbon, Port, Valencia, Padua, Sardinia, Sicily, Athens, Romania (all), Hungary (all)**
    • Southeast Asia: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Hoi An, Da Nang, Siargao, Kuala Lumpur, Ella, Fukuoka, Perenan, Uluwatu
    • Africa: Alexandria, Cape Town, Pretoria, Accra, Tagazhout, Casablanca,

    By Interest

    • Beaches: Uluwatu, Siargao, Okinawa, Albanian Riviera, Greece
    • Mountains: Bansko, San Carlos de Bariloche, Pokhara
    • Cities: Buenos Aires, Medellin, Porto
    • Wine: Mendoza, Santiago, Lucca (Italy)
    • Food: Tokyo, Fukuoka, Bangkok, Sicily, Mexico City
    • Surfing: Arugam Bay, Hikkaduwa, Uluwatu (Balangan), Siargao, Costa Rica
    • Cycling: Albania, Greece, Italy

    Step 2: Calculate the cost of 6 months abroad, and your monthly expenses

    Now that you have your starting city and other 5 cities, look up the cost of living per month for each city in our guide to monthly cost of living in cities around the world for expats, or consult Numbeo, Expatistan, or Nomad List

    Then add up the cost of living for one month in each city to get the 6 month cost of living for an expat in your chosen destinations.

    Example: My 6 month dream itinerary of nomading

    • Month 1: Bangkok: $1,800 per month
    • Month 2: Chiang Mai: $951
    • Month 3: Hanoi: $909
    • Month 4: Tokyo: $2,784
    • Month 5: Siargao: $1335
    • Month 6: Pokhara: $612

    Total for 6 months as an expat: $8,391

    Note that these costs of living are for settled expats, that likely speak the language, have a long term lease, and won’t be incurring the costs of travel you will, so we’ll need to adjust those costs. To account for additional expenses as a nomad, add 50% to your estimated budget for 6 months to get the budget you need to plan for over an average 6 month period with your travel tastes.


    • My location costs for 6 months as an ex-pat

    $$8,391 + (50% x $8,391) = $12,586

    Now, divide this 6 month nomad budget (tuned to your tastes) by 6 to get a reasonable minimum monthly income you would need to live abroad (after taxes).


    My 6 month budget $12,586 / 6 = $2,098, which is my estimated monthly budget as a nomad

    You now have your estimated budget for your first six months and your estimated budget per month as a digital nomad, which is also the target income you’ll aim for when building your side hustles.

    Note: You’ll travel hack a round trip flight or use our approach to find a flight to anywhere for ~$700 one way, so we don’t need to account for that in our budget right now.

    Step 3: Figure out a monthly savings amount and commit to it, and figure out how long it will take to be ready to travel.

    Assess your current income and figure out exactly how much you can commit to save per month.

    For example, I can commit to saving $500 per month for my travels.

    Now, calculate how long it will take to save the amount for the first six months of your trip. Take your total six month costs, and divide that by your monthly savings amount and the answer is the number of you’ll need to save until you can travel.

    Our equation: total cost / your monthly savings amount = months until you can travel

    From my example: $12,586 six month budget / $500 savings per month = ~26 months until I can travel.

    I know have my “runway” until I’m ready to leave the country, and this time will be spent experimenting with and solidifying side hustles

    Step 4: Travel hack one round trip flight to Southeast Asia, the Balkans, or South America

    To avoid incurring additional costs, travel hack a single round trip flight to your first destination

    If your first city is in Southeast Asia or Europe, hack a United Airlines flight.

    You can hack a United Airlines flight round trip anywhere in the world by signing up for the Chase Sapphire Credit Card or Chase United Mileageplus Credit Card for a 100,000 point bonus.

    If your first city is in Central America or South America, hack an American Airlines flight by signing up for a Citi Aadvantage credit card for the 100,000 points bonus.

    Now that your loose itinerary and budget are planned, and your travel hacking process has started, time to lay the foundation for an income

    Stage 2: Building a location independent income, and laying the foundation for a remote friendly small business

    For most people, income is the main thing keeping them from living abroad indefinitely. Thus, creating a source income that is location independent and ideally passive income is a valuable step to undertake for long term success and a happy life.

    Though applying for remote work is what most people assume digital nomads do, this isn’t quite correct. Because of the time conflicts, think working with a team in the US while living in Asia with a 12 hour time difference, and the fact that employers avoid hiring employees outside of the country, digital nomad friendly remote work is a rarity.

    Instead, for long term satisfaction, you want to build your own business built around a product or service you provide. This can be as a freelancer, an agency, a digital shop, or as a creator. Regardless of the label, the best way to discover the source income suitable for your skills, interests, and situation is to experiment with side hustles. When you find side hustles that “stick”, you’ll continue with them until they don’t feel right anymore, or until you build them into a business.

    Step 5: Experiment with side hustles, freelancing, and client work to feel out side hustles that will work for you, to build marketable skills, understand how to monetize those skills, and bridge skills needed as a solopreneur.

    To discover side hustles that may be right for you and potentially profitable 1) list all of your interests and skills and then 2) search the internet, marketplaces, and articles to see if and how people are making those skills profitable, and how profitable they are.

    First, sit down and list all of your skills and interests.

    Second, go on all freelance marketplaces (Fiverr, Upwork, People Per Hour) and search the general skill or interest, and look at the services or products come up. Make note of the things that could work for you. For products (physical or digital) search your skills and interests in Etsy, e-Bay, and any e-commerce site you can think of and note possibilities you can duplicate.

    Ultimately, you make money by delivering a product (digital or physical) or a service that a customer or business is willing to pay for.

    You find customers to pay you for that product or service via exposure (ebay, Etsy, Amazon) or marketing (email marketing, social media marketing).

    If you can pair those items, product/service and marketing, on the small scale you have a side hustle. If you grow the sales and build a low effort replicable system, you have a business.

    Tips for exploring side hustles:

    • Plan to “churn” through experimental side hustles on Fiverr, Upwork, Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, and in person until you find a side hustle that 1) you are interested in enough to stick with and 2) shows potential for income growth with high limits
    • Put any money in your escape fund to either use for travels or reinvest in your growing business
    • Lean towards things you’re passionate about, to add meaning to your life abroad in later years.
    • Set a goal of either 10 projects, 25 sales, or $1000 before quitting
    • Don’t be afraid to adjust your offering, where you’re selling it, or how you deliver
    • For ideas, google “side hustles in [X]”, list ideas for products, services and approaches
    • Quickly test ideas, adjust, and discard moving on to the next side hustle experiment
    • Google Discovery (on Android) will become a treasure trove of ideas delivering articles related to side hustles the more you search
    • Lean towards side hustles that have elements that can be automated or that allow you to build once and sell multiple times.
    • Aim not to go abroad until you’ve found at least 3 side hustles you are confident you could commit to for the 6 months of your travels

    Experiment, discard, and repeat until something sticks

    Repeat the process of side hustle experimentation until you find a side hustle that 1) interests you 2) feels stable and achievable on a small scale and 3) shows potential for income growth sufficient to cover the monthly income needed for your destinations.

    Step 6: Start an LLC with bank accounts and a virtual address

    As your side hustle grows, it should and will become a business. The more you treat your side hustle like a business (once you find the right one) the more income it will generate. To do this, once you have enough income from your side hustles/ business, reinvest and establish an LLC for your business.

    Creating an LLC for your side hustle will have these benefits

    • Potentially lowers your taxes (organizing professional and personal expenses)
    • Makes it possible to apply for digital nomad visas with verifiable income, and a professional appearance
    • Presents a professional face to banks and partners which you may need later

    Additionally, look into setting up these additional tools for your business

    • VPN service
    • Virtual mailbox and virtual address
    • Bookkeeping software
    • Business bank accounts with checking account and credit card

    From here, continuing experimenting, testing, and refining, to streamline how your side hustle earns you income, leaning toward automated processes and passive income sources over active income sources.

    Now that your loose travel plan and loose budget are in place, and you are in the process of building a business and source of location independent income, start planning a few essential final steps before travel.

    Stage 3: Final Prep for Travel

    Now that you have your loose plan (destinations and budget) and essential systems (side hustle experiments) in place, time to gather the tools you’ll need to travel, “ramp down,” and say goodbye

    Step 7: Gather the essential documents and backup digital copies

    Certain documents are absolutely required to travel – such as a passport. Some documents make life more convenient – like an International Driving Permit and Driver’s License. Having all of these won’t hurt and will make life easier.

    Be sure to save scanned copies in your Google Drive

    • Passport + 2 color copies
    • Credit cards (2 minimum, for backups)
    • Debit Cards (2 accounts minimum, for backups)
    • Drivers license
    • International driving permit
    • Revolut (Verified)
    • Wise (Verified)
    • Home country SIM card for 2 Factory Authentication (recommend Google Fi)
    • Minimum 6 passport sized photos
    • National Criminal Background check with apostille (to apply for nomad visas)

    Step 8: Get travelers insurance

    Traveler’s insurance ensures you don’t have to pay your entire trip’s budget when you unexpectedly end up in a motorbike accident in Thailand (its more common than you think).

    I recommend either Safetywing, or World Nomads

    Step 9: Reduce expenses and load back home as you prep to leave and simplify your life

    As you get closer to leaving, store, clean out, and get rid of as many of your possessions and possible so that your possessions and daily life more closely resemble your coming nomad life. This change will 1) reduce your expenses and 2) gradually get your things ready for storage and travel, so you’re not trying to store or offload everything at the last minute.

    • Rent out your apartment or break the lease to save money in the long run
    • Put your things in storage
    • Sell or properly store your car, with the lowest expenses possible

    Step 10: Let everyone know your intention, about your side hustle, and your “intention to return in 6 months, ” and leave on good terms.

    Your goal is 100% to go abroad, explore and travel, crush the side hustle thing, and live the life you want. No matter what happens, I promise the 6 months abroad planned for will be a worthwhile and irreplaceable experience. And, your goal is to live the life you want abroad.

    However, we want to maximize options and opportunities by leaving with good vibes and leaving with options at home in case, for whatever reason, you do decide to come back.

    In the 7 years I’ve been living abroad, I’ve had countless friends who stop during year 1. Sometimes, its because the money runs out and the side hustle isn’t tuned in time. Sometimes, they simply decide they want to travel and not work, and going back home “ain’t that bad.” Sometimes they get lonely, miss family and friends and decide that the nomad life isn’t for them.

    But more often than not…they try again later, a few years down the line with more perspective, savings, and a developed business, and round 2 ends up being even better.

    If you leave the door open to go home at will, there’s no pressure or fear of doing what you really want to do. Plus, if you share word of your hustle, who knows what customers or partners might saunter your way.

    So, tell everyone else you’ll be back in 6 months, and keep the secret of your long term plans until they become and feel like a reality for you.

    Tell everyone farewell, and let them know your plans

    Now that you’ve tapered things off at home, time to go!

    Stage 4: Catch the plane!

    Yes, catching the plane IS its own stage. That initial flight is such a relieving, beautiful experience. Enjoy it. Savor it. Have a morning beer at the airport and look around while you listen to some good music. Put away the laptop, buy some snacks, and enjoy the in flight movie. You’ve earned it.

    Step 11: Soak it up in your first city and enjoy the life!

    This is an essential step on your journey.

    Prioritize pure travel for at least one month – you’ve earned it!

    You’ve worked and planned so much to get here that you deserve to chill out, explore, and enjoy the best of your first city. Additionally, this reward, feeling it, and realizing you are living that life you’ve dreamed of for years, will be motivation for pushing through the inevitable rough patches and adventures that come with travels.

    As a general rule, it takes ~3 weeks to decompress into travel, and for that nervous anxiety of the real world to go away and realizing that you’re not just on vacation. Feel free to put away the laptop and just soak into the whole experience to tune to the life even faster.

    Step 12: Launch your trip: From your start city, continuing to your next city, and consider following one of these “backpacking trails” for ease.

    Move forward and live the life! Either moving to the closest city on your list of 5 cities from step 1, or, just switch cities based on how you’re feeling.

    If you have a desire to stay close to other travelers, I highly recommend researching the “travel trails” on each continent.

    The travel trails are a set of natural paths through countries and very specific cities that all travelers and backpackers tend to follow, thanks to so many wonderful sights, great infrastructure, and the company of other travelers.

    These are the travel trails, and links to their explanations to help you out:

    • Banana pancake trail: Southeast Asia’s backpacking trail through Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, and more
    • Gringo trail: South America’s backpacking trail through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia
    • Balkan walk: The Balkan’s cheap and beautiful side of Europe with a trail that passes through Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria
    • Maya Trail: Central America’s backpacker trail which passes through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Belize, and Mexico

    Now that you’re are fully on the road living your best life as a traveler and nomad its time to start thinking about how to tweak this life for balance, as much satisfaction as possible, and long term sustainability.

    Stage 5: Building a life on the Road: Travel, income, balance, and happiness

    Step 13: Achieve balance between travel, life, and work/hustling.

    Balance a good pace of travel with building your side hustle, with 3 days + 4 days, or set days for travel and exploration with set days for work and productivity

    Step 14: Check in with yourself at the 3, 6, and 9 month marks. Are you enjoying the life, and is it for you?

    Ask yourself very bluntly, is this life for you?

    If yes, fantastic! Think about how to double down on the elements that satisfy you and the opportunities you see?

    Where did you enjoy most in your journey? Why? How can you use that information to make the journey more satisfying?

    If no, there is no shame in that, and it’s great that you asked the question!

    Ask yourself, would a hybrid life or vacations abroad be better?

    Don’t be scared to at any time, go full travel mode with the intention to go home after your trial period

    It’s always OK to go home, reflect, and try again. Mental health, self-care, balance, and aiming for a satisfying, fulfilling life should be top of mind during this journey.

    Welcome to the digital nomad life! With all of it’s beauties, all of its struggles, and a life that few people are lucky enough to experience.

    Use the opportunity you have to lean forward into life. Meet new people. Visit the places of your dreams. Spend “too much” on a meal. Set aside time to get to know you. Try things that scare you or seem impossible. Lastly, giving yourself some slack and enough space to “decompress” into the person that you’re “meant” to be.

    So, let’s fast forward and assume you’ve been on the road, nomading, for a whole year now. What next?

    Stage 6: When you’ve been on the road a year, relax, look back, and reassess

    Step 15: Reassess after one year by considering these factors and options in your life

    1. Look into getting a nomad visa or residency in your favorite countries, to change pace and feed your desire to settle in.
    2. Consider setting up “nomad bases” by choosing 1 to 3 cities that you return to, to reunitie with the community, your favorite things, and the routines that will keep you grounded.
    3. Optimize your tax situation and be aware of the 180 day rule.
    4. Consider investing in a piece of real estate abroad in one of your nomad bases, for stability and for a good personal finance foundation.
    5. Professionalize your business as a solopreneur and look into diversifying your income with experimental side hustles to grow into new businesses. Bookkeeping, incorporation, tax planning, strategic tax residency, etc.
    6. Consider plugging in more deeply into specific nomad communities to return back to – for quality of life, emotional health, and more satisfaction. Double down on learning a language and laying “flexible roots”.
    7. Revisit your personal financial plan, its sustainability, and your retirement plans as you drift into long term travel, with key focus on emergency savings, retirement savings, and an investment plan.
    8. Consider other models of nomading beyond consistently moving from city to city
      • 6 home (in home country) and 6 away (in your country of choice)
      • 3 seasonal bases, chasing endless spring
      • Digital expat (based in a single country for 3 months) + traveler (traveling a region for 3 months)
    9. Switch from travel insurance to nomad/Expat insurance such as Allianz, to ensure you can get routine care. Look into medical tourism for treating any major issues
    10. Plan for loneliness, taxes, and visas, the DN nemesis trifecta

    Step 16: Consider these reliable cities for “seasoned nomads” as part of your location strategy in the coming years

    Tastes of nomads on the road over a year change considerably, leaning towards less desire to party and go with the chaos, and more desire for stability, routine, connected community, and balance

    • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    • Fukuoka, Kyoto, Sapporo Japan
    • Da Nang, Vietnam
    • Siargao, Philippines
    • Barcelona, Madrid Spain
    • Istanbul, Izmir, and Bodrum, Turkey
    • Ella, Sri Lanka
    • Pokhara, Nepal
    • Quebec City, Montreal
    • Romania (all)
    • Hungary (all)
    • Macedonia (all)
    • Serbia (all)
    • Kuta, Lombok, or Surabaya Indonesia

    Time for feedback! What did you think? And what else do you need?

    Feel free to send your feedback on this guide to me at [email protected]

    Additionally, if you’re interested in reading screener copies of the following upcoming, full length books, feel free to reach out to me:

    • How to Become a Digital Nomad or Island Expat, to Live a Life Abroad
    • The Personal Finance Boot Camp: How to use classic personal finance principles and the FIRE movement, to build a life of Financial Independence
    • How to Travel the World: A complete guide to backpacking around the world for a year

    Subscribe & get your free guide to going abroad!!

      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.