The transition from a full-time job to a digital nomad or location-independent work can be extremely exciting. But as with any lifestyle change, you’ll need to plan and make some adjustments to avoid unnecessary stress and overwhelm. I’ve seen some do the changeover easily, while others find it more challenging.
Personally, I worked full-time for 13+ years before I quit my last job to travel and be based in Mexico. Subsequently, I commenced my remote entrepreneurial journey. While I planned for some aspects including finances ahead of time, I discovered other challenges that I wasn’t prepared for, such as staying focused on a flexible schedule, doing my own marketing instead of having a steady paycheque, and not having colleagues around. I was used to being a full-time employee in an office environment, although I really wanted a flexible lifestyle.
So how could you ensure a stress-free changeover from a full-time employee to a digital nomad?
Start saving in advance.
Develop a budget in advance for the first year as a digital nomad (or for longer if possible). Consider where you want to travel to and how you’d like to travel. Include all possible expenses to get started in your remote business or work. The amount you need to save will depend on your lifestyle choices.
My partner and I planned to not earn for up to two years while travelling out of and living in a low-cost location, so we saved sufficiently for this period.
Ensure you have a financial buffer above the budgeted amount, because unplanned expenses can occur along the way. Having a buffer will also give you the freedom to focus on growing your income. Even if you have an established business or a remote job already, the business environment can become volatile, as we all know firsthand due to the ongoing pandemic. Having some savings is always a good idea.
Plan your future income generating activity.
Whether it’s doing a remote job or starting your own business, you’ll save time by planning in advance. You’ll also feel confident by being clear about what you want to do. I personally didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do, and hence is why I needed an extra cash buffer to support myself until I made some plans.
If you already have some ideas, start working on them sooner rather than later. If not restricted by your current job, consider starting your business or freelancing while you are still employed full-time, because that will make your transition smoother and reduce any potential financial stress. Start learning any technical or other skills you may need in the future, especially if you are changing careers.
Understand what you are getting into.
While being a digital nomad is an extremely rewarding and fun way to live, the real digital nomad lifestyle goes beyond what we see on social media. Despite the flexibility, many digital nomads work longer than regular office hours, including on weekends and other holidays. Not all work settings are favourable and cosy either. You’ll need to be flexible about where and how you work. Not having unrealistic expectations can save you some frustrations.
If you are going from a fixed salary to working for yourself, you’ll have the added task of marketing your services to generate an income. Ensure you allocate sufficient time to sell your services or products.
I found it difficult to not clarify doubts in real time. I remember how easy it was to just turn my chair around and have discussions in the office. Now adays, I must clarify all my questions and understand the requirements during a limited number of calls or emails. So, I learnt to identify possible questions in advance, and organize routine communication. You can handle this issue easily with some planning and organizing.
You may find yourself working in environments that are quite different to what you are used to in terms of culture, languages spoken, lifestyle, etc. Give yourself time to settle in and embrace places. The advantage of being a digital nomad is that if you dislike a place you are in, you can always go elsewhere (unless there’s a pandemic!).
Talk to other digital nomads (if you know any) before you embark on your journey. Join the digital nomad forums and groups online and on social media, to learn from others’ experiences. While you’ll have your own unique experiences, it’s good to have some knowledge in advance.
Decide where you want to go in the foreseeable future and plan for it.
In addition to finances, consider your requirements for your new work or business when selecting destinations. If you are a creative professional, you may want to be in environments that facilitate such work. Or maybe you prefer a place with other digital nomads.
Remember to research all your requirements from the quality of internet connections to the weather, healthcare facilities, coworking spaces, etc., in advance. While all places will have some surprises in store, researching in advance will limit your frustrations after arrival, and enable a stress-free transition to the new lifestyle.
Consider using coworking spaces to ensure a smooth transition from your old office environment, especially if you enjoyed having colleagues around. Some people transition directly from a corporate office to a van life without many challenges, but it may not be the case for everyone.
Develop a routine early on.
Once you’ve commenced your digital nomad journey, develop a routine early on. Your new life maybe drastically different to the routine you had as a full-time employee, but not having a routine will throw you off balance. It’s easy to get distracted and complacent when there isn’t anyone to watch over you, or when you don’t have to start work at a particular time.
I struggled to develop a routine after I took the first year off. The days of waking up early morning to be at work were long gone. So, I started with a morning routine and slowly developed on it. Whether you are living in a van, moving around frequently, or have a base and engage in location-independent work, develop a routine that suits your lifestyle. These routines aren’t set in stone, and you can always take a break when you want to. Being organized can help you attend to your errands, focus on your business or work, and have a healthy personal life.
Turn off the distractions. For example, it may be easier to excessively browse social media now than it was in your old office. Consider allocating some time intermittently for all the extra entertainment, without interfering with your work or life in general.
>> Read more: A self-care guide for digital nomads.
Embrace your new life.
While there may be times when you question your decision to leave your full-time job or career, remember that this is a fresh start. I went through this cycle of questioning, even though I really wanted to leave my full-time career behind. You can always get another job (even if it takes some effort) if things don’t work out. But first, embrace the changes and give your new life everything you’ve got. Businesses can take time to grow, and remote living or moving around can have inherent challenges as with any other lifestyle.
You are most likely choosing to be a digital nomad because you love many aspects of this lifestyle, including the freedom and flexibility. So, don’t let the challenges overwhelm you. With some preparations and adjustments, you can have a smooth transition from your full-time job to being a digital nomad.
Remember to have fun and enjoy the journey!