Dec 10, 2018
The typical career path looks something like this: go to college, graduate with a bankable degree, find a job with a solid company and then work your way up the corporate ladder.
It's what your parents might have done and what some of your friends may be doing. But what if you chose a different route — namely, becoming a digital nomad instead?
That's what many next-generation workers are doing. According to a 2018 study by AND CO and Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace, 24 percent of remote workers describe themselves as digital nomads.
"Digital nomads typically work online, leveraging technology to make an income without being tied to one location," says Rebecca Safier, a personal finance writer and digital nomad blogger at Remote Bliss.
Digital nomads include location-independent employees who use technology to work remotely, as well as the continually swelling ranks of freelancers, entrepreneurs and independent contractors who run their own businesses online.
Jeffrey Walsh, CEO and cofounder of social travel app Nomo FOMO, worked as a digital nomad for the last few years and says it offers two key benefits: freedom and flexibility.
"The digital nomad lifestyle has become more popular because it allows you to continue building your experience without being held back from living the life you want to live," Walsh says. "Being a digital nomad gives you the flexibility to create the lifestyle you want and explore new ones."
That's something you don't always get when you're working a traditional 9-to-5 gig. So if you're considering getting a digital nomad job after college, think about these key points before making a final decision.
One of the biggest questions you may have about digital nomad jobs may be how much you can earn. The answer depends largely on whether you're a remote employee, a freelancer or business owner, the industry you're in and your level of experience.
In the AND CO and Fiverr survey, 18 percent of respondents who worked remotely for seven or more years reported making $100,000 or more annually. By comparison, seven percent of those who'd been working remotely less than a year were pulling in a six-figure income. Nomads who specialized in marketing, public relations and engineering were more likely to make $100,000 or more, compared to "creatives," such as writers or designers.
Safier says the advantage of working as an employee for a company that hires digital nomads is that salaries may be more predictable and you can also get additional perks, such as health insurance, a 401(k) plan, vacation pay and student loan repayment assistance.
"If you get a job at one of these companies, you don't have to sacrifice any of the benefits or security that would come with a traditional job," she says.
Being self-employed or a freelancer, as opposed to an employee, means you're usually responsible for taking care of your own health insurance, withholding and paying taxes and saving for retirement.
Before becoming a digital nomad, factor in how much money you'll need to maintain your lifestyle.
Safier says becoming a digital nomad can be a financially savvy choice if you stick to living in a city with a low cost of living. When your housing, food and other basic living expenses represent a small part of your income, you can use the difference to save, plan for retirement or pay down your student loans.
But, Safier says, digital nomads who choose to combine work and travel should carefully research the cost of traveling from one city to another as they traverse the globe.
"It's easy to waste money on baggage fees, airport food or expensive transportation," Safier says, "but if you do some preliminary research, you can find ways to save money on your travels."
That might include using a travel rewards credit card to book flights and earn miles or points you can redeem toward future trips; staying at a hostel or Airbnb versus renting an apartment or booking a hotel; and traveling in the off-season.
Walsh says if you're planning travel as a digital nomad after college, it's important to have several months of expenses saved in cash before you go, particularly if you're a freelancer or self-employed.
"I personally feel four to six months is a good cushion to have, as you never know when your current income sources will stop or slow down," Walsh says. "This cushion can mean that you don't have to take desperate jobs to cover your bills or cut your experience short because you can't afford it."
The digital nomad life can present some challenges, beyond just managing the numbers. One of them is the emotional impact of not having a community that working in an office can bring or being in a new place on your own.
She says attending digital nomad meet-ups or joining a coworking space can help you make connections so you don't feel isolated. Meanwhile, you should plan how you'll stay in touch with coworkers through social media, email, video chat and phone.
Choosing cities that are digital nomad-friendly and attractive to remote workers can make the adjustment less stressful. Sites like Nomad List can help you compare how livable different cities are for digital nomads. Specifically, you can get a feel for things like walkability, what the people are like, recreation, entertainment, safety and cost of living.
Being a digital nomad has both pros and cons and requires the right mindset to succeed.
"Working remotely means you have to be somewhat self-directed and self-motivated," Safier says. "You won't have a boss looking over your shoulder, and it's up to you to create your own routines and structure your time."
Before packing your bags, connect with other digital nomads, if possible, to ask them about their experiences. Talk to people who have gone the traditional career path to get their perspective too. Then, be honest with yourself about which option seems better suited to your personality, goals and disposition.
"Although you can hone skills over time," Safier says, "you should also listen to your intuition about what career path would be right for you."