- Tasha Prados is an entrepreneur and digital nomad, who started her own marketing company in order to have the freedom to travel more.
- In four months, Prados had replaced her $US6k corporate salary and was combining work with travelling to countries like Thailand and Indonesia.
- It didn’t happen overnight – she saved up $US30,000 before quitting, sold most of her belongings, and took several months to map out her plans.
- Prados recommends doing a trial run before jumping into remote work full-time, by working from home or taking a ‘test’ trip to figure out if it works for you.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Are you dreaming about trading your usual office routine for a tropical beach and a laptop lifestyle? I left my job at a top global advertising agency in September 2019 to start my own business and travel as a digital nomad, and I’ve been able to replace my salary with the earnings from my business. Four months after leaving that steady paycheck behind, in January I made over $US6,000 in sales – which was my old pre-tax monthly paycheck. If you’re thinking about being your own location-independent boss, read on for my best advice on making the leap successfully.
Almost five million people describe themselves as digital nomads – and 17 million people want to become nomads, according to independent talent provider MBO Partners’ report on Digital Nomadism. Remote work has grown 91% in the last 10 years – it’s no longer just a trend; it’s a part of the future of work. For some of us, that future is here.
I daydreamed about becoming a digital nomad for years before I took the plunge. I’ve always loved getting to know other countries and cultures. From volunteering in El Salvador and Honduras, working in the Maldives, studying abroad in Spain, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru, and travelling to over 30 countries, I found that I was happiest abroad when I had a purpose: when I was working, felt like a contributing member of society, and stayed in one place long enough to have authentic local experiences.
The idea to start my own business was harder to wrap my head around. I felt like I needed an amazing idea that would change society – and I didn’t have one. Eventually I realised that while I didn’t have the idea, I did have the skills to enable people with those ideas to make a bigger impact. So I launched Duraca Strategic to help passion and purpose-driven businesses, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs through branding, business, and marketing strategy consulting. I sold most of my stuff, moved in with my mum at 30, and bought a one-way plane ticket to Bali. All of that started with the first step.
1. Make the decision
It sounds silly, but step one is to commit fully to your choice. Set the date when you’re leaving. If you can, give yourself at least six months to mentally and logistically prepare. There are real practicalities involved with being a nomad, and having a date means you can work backwards to figure out what you need to get done when. I made a spreadsheet with what I needed to do every month to have everything done by the time I left. I set calendar reminders for when I was going to talk to my supervisor about quitting, talk to my mum about moving in, and talk to my landlord about breaking my lease. I planned my departure around two friends’ weddings, and I started my journey in the US so I could visit friends and family on the West Coast who I rarely get to see.
Once you’ve made the decision, it will be real. I started reading a lot and joining groups with current nomads. I could see what they were struggling with and excited about and could think through how it might affect me.
2. Figure out your finances
Being a digital nomad means you’re not just travelling, you’re earning money to support yourself. You need to determine how you’ll do that, whether that’s negotiating with your current employer to work remotely, go freelance, or start your own business.
If you decide to go freelance or start your own business, that’s a huge change. Doing it successfully doesn’t happen overnight. If you decide to go this route, make sure you know you’ll be able to support yourself financially before you go nomad, whether that’s starting your business as a side hustle or locking in your first clients. Once you know you can bring in money, you need to figure out how you’ll do it while abroad. How did you get your current clients? Can you use the same tactics when you’re travelling, or do you need to try new methods?
Even working remotely for your current company is a big change – how will you handle it? Find ways to adjust: Start by working from home a few days a week if you can, or taking a short test trip where you work remotely.
Getting rid of your debts and having a substantial cushion of savings is probably the single most important financial move you can make. Unless you have guaranteed income, having to pay down debts is going to be a source of stress. I was able to pay off my debts many years ago, but if you’re not so lucky, I recommend doing everything you can to pay yours down or off before you leave. Ultimately, paying a loan is another fixed cost, so as long as it’s accounted for in your budget and you know you can afford it, you’re OK.
Savings means freedom. Save up as much as you can, try for at least six months’ expenses. I had about $US30,000 saved up when I quit my job. Having savings gives you the opportunity to wait for the right clients, not freak out if a client is late on payment, set your own standard of living and to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities you’ll have from being a nomad.
3. Get your life in order
Once you’ve got the “digital” job side of things figured out, time to figure out how to “nomad.”
Most important: your passport. Check the expiration date (make sure it’s at least six months after you plan to come back) and that you have plenty of blank pages – it can take a while to replace. I renewed mine well before I left so I could visit my Peace Corps host family in Peru.
What will you do with all your stuff and any property you have? I donated and sold most of mine and kept the rest at my mum’s (thanks mum!), but not everyone has that option. If you don’t want to get rid of all your worldly possessions and property, you could look into renting it out through a property management company, storing it with a friend, or getting a storage unit. Just make sure to budget for any fixed costs.
How will you take care of your health, safety, and property while abroad? I made sure to go to my doctor, dentist, gynecologist, and dermatologist while I was still on my employers’ health insurance. I went to a travel clinic to get all the vaccinations I might need (and dang was the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine expensive). I got an IUD so I wouldn’t have to worry about birth control. I agonized over health and travel insurance plans, and eventually opted for travel medical insurance designed for nomads, Safety Wing. It’s relatively new and I couldn’t find a lot of testimonials from real users, so it felt a bit risky, especially because even though I’m young and healthy, I seem to have a propensity for injury. But I liked that it was designed by nomads for nomads and has all the coverage I’d want outside of annual checkups – and most of all, that it’s only $US37 dollars a month. I didn’t get travel insurance, and I still stress about the fact that if all my stuff gets stolen, I’ll have to pay out of pocket to replace all of it. However, with the amount I’m saving on health and travel insurance, I’ll have the money to cover myself – and less of a chance that I’ll have to spend that money (knock on wood).
How will you handle the day to day realities of your life and business, like communications and banking? I spent a lot of time researching various products. A lifelong iPhone user, I switched to a Google Pixel 3 with Google Fi so I could pay one price for unlimited data worldwide and keep my phone number for two-factor authentication instead of constantly purchasing local SIM cards and changing my phone number. I kept my trusty MacBook Air and got a global WiFi hotspot. I switched to credit cards with travel rewards and no currency conversion fees after doing research on NerdWallet, and made sure to get a card with a chip and PIN, because a PIN is required in certain places including most of Europe. I also got debit cards with no currency conversion fees and no international ATM fees (shoutout to Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking!).
4. Map it out
It’s important to visualise where you want to go. Research the countries you have in mind – the visa requirements, the budget, where you’ll stay, where you’ll work. I also made a spreadsheet for this, and never planned to stick to it, but it helped me feel comfortable with my budget and be mentally prepared.
Research will also help you decide what to pack and realise what else you might need to do before you leave. I wanted to start in Bali because it’s a huge digital nomad hub, and I read that it’s really helpful to have a scooter – and that you need a motorcycle licence to ride one. So I spent a weekend taking a class ($US300), got my motorcycle licence ($US77), and got anInternational Driving Permit ($US20) before I left. Do this several months in advance – my DMV was overwhelmed with licence applications from switching to REAL IDs. Requirements vary by state, so make sure you check online.
Plan to spend time with friends and family before you go, and talk about how you’ll stay connected while you’re away. Although I lobbied hard for my dad to get a cell phone – I actually gave him one so he could WhatsApp me – he refused, but he did add international calling to his landline. I’m a big fan of Marco Polo, which lets you send video chats – great for communicating asynchronously across time zones.
Also, don’t forget to make a contingency plan. Mine is to go back to living with my mum and looking for a job in DC if my savings ever were to get down to about $US4,000. That’s enough to cover a flight home and expenses in case something happened and I needed to find a job.
5. Adapt on the road
Nothing will ever be exactly as you picture it. I always say the key to happiness is low expectations. Be ready to go with the flow and be flexible once you start your journey – that’s what makes being a digital nomad amazing: being able to follow your heart around the world. You have to find what works best for you. I was in a very privileged position to be able to take this leap – I had valued skills and experience, financial independence, a supportive family, no real responsibilities, and an American passport. If you don’t have those things, you can still be a digital nomad, there will just be additional challenges along the way. But no matter your circumstances, planning your transition to nomadic life before you make the leap will make you more likely to succeed – whatever your definition of success is.
Tasha Prados is the founder of Duraca Strategic, which helps purpose-driven organisations maximise their impact through branding, business, and marketing strategy consulting. She has 10 years of project management and communications experience with the world’s leading brands, agencies, and organisations. Prados is also a freelance writer, digital nomad, and former Peace Corps Volunteer. Follow her travels on Instagram at @t.prad.
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