Is Being a Digital Nomad Just for Wealthy White-Collar Workers?

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I don’t know about you guys, but when the pandemic literally shut the whole world down, I just knew it was time to start working online. I started seeing #vanlife everywhere and it really got my gears turning.

All I knew was that there was no way in hell that I was going to accept some cooped up office job when this opportunity was out there. So now, I’m all about that #digitnomadlife.

When it finally hit me that I could use my laptop to work from absolutely anywhere, there was no stopping me. I could just picture working at some rickety picnic table in the middle of nowhere, overlooking some beautiful mountains…or watching the sunset on a gorgeous, rocky beach…and now I digress.

The point is, anyone can be a digital nomad and NOW is the time. No more waiting around. You DO NOT have to be Richie Rich or work some stressful white-collar job to live your dream life… you can start right now!

There is this huge misconception that you have to be totally loaded to be a digital nomad and this can sometimes hold people back from just going for it.

The reality is, with a little financial guidance and a few pointers here and there, anyone can become a digital nomad.

So, no more blabbering…I’m sure you’re wondering “How the heck do I become a digital nomad?” Let’s dive right in, shall we?

UPFRONT COSTS OF NOMADIC LIVING

When you finally decide to take the leap, it’s important to remember that there will be some upfront costs that you should be prepared for.

As you get ready to take on the digital nomad-ing world, it’s a good idea to start saving a little cash. This cash will be super helpful once you hit the road, but it will also help you button up all those little loose ends at home. These expenses could include storage unit costs, moving expenses, paying final bills, etc.

It’s also a good idea to set aside some time to deal with these transitional tasks. It will take some time to say…sell your car, move or sell the items in your home, change to an international phone plan, and so on.

Depending on the type of traveling you’ll be doing as a digital nomad, your upfront costs will vary. Let’s elaborate on this a little…

Costs of Living for International Digital Nomads

If you’re taking off to another country, your upfront monthly costs may include:

  • Plane Tickets: $50-$500 depending on the destination
  • Health Insurance: $50-$100 for first payment, then recurring payments (my personal favorite health insurance is GeoBlue Travel Insurance)
  • Rent/Lodging: $500
  • Cash for Initial Expenses (or the “just in case fund”): $500 (transportation, food along the way, unexpected events)
  • Initial Outlays for  personal gear: $400

So – let’s say on the high end, your total upfront costs may add up to around $2,000 in this scenario.

Health Insurance for Digital Nomads

GeoBlue Travel Insurance is ah-amazing. While it’s not quite the normal package you might receive from a white-collar career, it’s everything you need to stay well taken care of and safe. They even have tons of options for trip cancellations, lost luggage, food on-the-go, and more!

If you’re looking for just basic injury and accident coverage, I also love Spot! Covers almost any activity, coverage up to $20,000 per incident, and as low as $25 a month.

Costs of Living for #VanLife Digital Nomads

If you’re going #vanlife, your upfront expenses are definitely going to be substantially higher. Especially if you don’t already own your van or travel vehicle.

Depending on your vehicle, you could be looking at a $10,000-$20,000 Westfalia or Weekender or you could be looking at a $150,000 Sprinter van. You might also be considering an RV which could vary between $15,000 used – $300,000 new. It really just depends on your preference and what you’d feel comfortable living out of.

You might opt to purchase in full or have a monthly payment. Either way, the initial cost of the van, repairs, tires, gear, and more can add up.

Upfront van life expenses might look like:

  • Mode of Transportation (van, RV, converted Subaru, etc.): $10,000 – $20,000 or monthly payments between $150 – $500/month
  • Health Insurance: $50-100 for first payment
  • Car Insurance: $100-$300 initial payment (begin monthly payments later)
  • Gas/Tires/Initial Repairs or Gear: $1,500
  • Cash for Initial Expenses (or the “just in case fund”): $500 (food along the way, unexpected events)
  • Initial Outlay for personal gear: $400

So, your total here is obviously much higher and much more variable depending on your mode of transportation. But, after these upfront costs, it’s all gravy baby. Just stick to your budget, and you’ll be good to go.

BUDGETING FOR REMOTE WORKERS

The fact is, living the digital nomad life isn’t about becoming a millionaire. I mean, if you do, that’s freaking amazing. But, to me, the digital nomad life is about making enough money to be happy. When you really start to break down the actual costs of travel, lodging, food, and entertainment on the road, you can see that it’s actually super affordable!

My Budget Living Abroad in Costa Rica

To show you what I mean, let me break down a month in my life in Costa Rica:

Airfare: Tickets to Costa Rica$150-$300 one-way
Lodging: hostels, AirBnB$500/mo
Groceries:$200/mo
Transportation: Buses, shared rides, hitchhiking$150/mo (MAX!)
Online Travelers Health Insurance:$50/mo
Total:$1,050/mo

I love finding the back door, hitch-hiking, hostel-hopping, and just going with the flow. Honestly, some of the best memories are made by missing flights, losing bus tickets, and just flying by the seed of your pants.

To live this type of nomadic, backing lifestyle…I only need to make between $1,000-1,500/month. And anything leftover from regular living expenses, I can save for my future, emergencies, or splurge on crazy awesome adventures.

So, of course, we are all different people and this is just an example of what life might be like in Costa Rica on my budget. But, this the perfect opportunity to evaluate your expenses and create your own budget.

Try filling in the blank table below for a quick estimate of how much money you’ll require per month as you’re traveling. This will give you a quick snapshot of what your budget might look like. Be sure to add in the cost of any car payments, gas or car insurance if you’re a van lifer!

  • Airfare: Tickets to __________
  • Lodging: Hostels, AirBnB _______________
  • Groceries: _______________
  • Transportation: Buses, shared rides, hitchhiking _______________
  • Online Travelers Health Insurance: _______________
  • Vanlife Expenses: _______________
    Total: _______________

Living Minimalist Is Just Cheaper!

If there is anything I’ve learned from living the digital nomad life, it’s that living minimalist is just cheaper! And I don’t mean the type of minimalist that avoids eating out and never splurges on nice things.

I mean the type of minimalist that can find happiness in the small things and that doesn’t require the best rental car or the best hotel. The type of minimalist that is totally fine with public transportation or sharing a bunk room with some rad people at a hostel…

When I first became a digital nomad and moved into my 1988 Volkswagon Weekender, I decided to cut alllll the expenses I could and this helped me SO MUCH. That meant selling my car, my furniture, my everything! And trust me when I tell you, IT FELT AMAZING. The stress that fell off my shoulders by only having to own and maintain the most important and necessary things was massive! (It also REALLY helped with those upfront costs.)

Just think about how much money we spend on things like our car (even if you do own your car), car insurance, furniture, landscaping, the power bill, the WiFi bill, and on and on. And the thing is, you don’t even need most of these things when you’re on the road.

So, let’s break down the budget for a minute so I can show you guys just how cheap living minimalist can be.

Life in the United States/MonthLife Abroad/Month
Transportation (car payment, gas, oil changes, tires): $751Transportation (buses, ride-share, hitchhiking): $150
Car Insurance: $135Car Insurance: $0
Lodging (rent, taxes, home repairs): $1,164Lodging (hostels, AirBnB): $500
Homeownership Expenses (landscaping, remodeling, bills): between $400-1,000Homeownership Expenses: $0
Internet: $40-60WiFi: included in cost of lodging or free at restaurants, coffee shops, etc.

YOU ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED!

Okay, maybe not everything. But, you probably have some awesome and marketable skills/knowledge that you could utilize online and you probably already have some technology that can get you started.

For example, there are thousands of people that work right from their phone or laptop managing client’s schedules, emails, social media, editing videos, writing blogs, virtual assisting, and so much more! And in fact, I am one of those thousands of people. All you need is your laptop, your phone, and their respective chargers. (I also like to keep an extra little battery bank and WiFi hotspot nearby for emergencies and power outages, but it’s not absolutely required.)

And for those of you that don’t already have a phone or laptop, the initial investment in technology, software, or whatever you need, will pale in comparison to hiking through the Appalachian mountains or coming face to face with some crazy spider monkeys in the middle of the tropical forest.

So, depending on how you make your money, you may need to make an investment in your technology or gear for the road. Just remember to incorporate this into your upfront costs and start saving early!

WHAT ABOUT RETIREMENT FOR DIGITAL NOMADS? ANY SAFETY NET?

Retirement. It’s one of the biggest considerations for becoming a digital nomad. How will you survive with no retirement benefits or 401(k)?

Well, this is where you get to be creative! You’re already a bad-ass digital nomad who knows the ins & outs of budgeting and making the most of your money. So, what’s stopping you from getting your triement straight, too?

Here are some tips on how to set your future self up for success:

  • Start saving early! If you know digital nomading is going to be your lifelong career, go ahead and start saving. I recommend opening a saving account that accrues interest over time and setting aside a certain amount of money for the future each and every month.
  • Go debt-free! In order to go ahead and start saving for retirement, it’s a great idea to start out with no outstanding debt.
  • Invest! There are sooo many options for investments nowadays.
    • You can, of course, reach out to a financial advisor for recommendations to invest your money. This is a safer investment for the future and with a final advisor on your side, you may make WAY more than necessary.
    • You can also invest on your own. You can invest in stocks on websites and apps like RobinHood, Ellevest, and Acorns or invest in new and upcoming technology like NFTs.

EVERYONE IS WORKING ONLINE!

It seems to me that almost EVERYONE is working online nowadays. Sure, there are still plenty of trade jobs like electricians, mechanics, you name it, that are required to live in their area of service. But, other than that, it seems like everyone is either already working from home or just traveling to a random building every day to sit in an office and stare at the computer.

What this means is that portable technology and Wifi are becoming more and more affordable each and every day. You might have to pay extra for Wifi usage at home, but there are tons of cheap or free Wifi sources popping up all over the world! (And, free is my favorite word!)

In this new digital age, that’s progressing way faster than anyone expected, working online just makes sense. Whether you’re meeting over zoom, drafting proposals for your boss, or working on a small eCommerce business…you’re working online and you’re gaining tons of experience in the digital world.

In fact, here’s a metric ton of ideas for earning money while living on the road.

Plus, you can do this from anywhere! Places with free Wifi usually include Starbucks, coffee shops, McDonalds, libraries, and so much more. You can also use a portable Wifi source (check out SkyRoam for global WiFi almost anywhere in the world for a monthly subscription!) or you can use the hot spot on your phone. SO MANY OPTIONS.

WHITE-COLLAR WORK SOUNDS STRESSFUL ANYWAY

FREEDOM. I can not stress this enough! The freedom you gain by working online for yourself is absolutely MIND-BLOWING! We are taught our whole lives that success looks like climbing the corporate latter when in reality, success is being able to do whatever the fuck you want, whenever the fuck you want.

Plus, that white-collar work sounds really stressful anyway. Do you really even get to relax on vacation with that much responsibility? I don’t think so. White-collar work is time-consuming, anxiety-inducing, and just not for me. You spend all day herding sheeple, rage-typing emails, and filling out paperwork for your boss to submit to her boss.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that real tranquility and happiness comes from the people you meet and the adventures you have along the way.

Say it with me: YOU. CAN. DO. THIS

Think you can’t live on the road because you got kids? Nope.

Think you need money to do all the cool things? Wrong!

How do I know you can become a digital nomad? Well, because I did it! And I’m not saying I wasn’t determined, but I found that there are tons of resources out there that can totally point you in the right direction. Of course, there are blogs like this one, but there are also tons of Youtube videos, tutorials, and real people to talk to about these things.

So guys, there are officially no more excuses to keep postponing your dream life. There’s no feeling in the world like having control over your own schedule and actually owning your time. Digital nomading is all about seeing the world, taking advantage of all it has to offer, and I don’t know…just getting out there.

As I see more and more of this world, I realize that the digital nomad life was always called my name…I just had to figure out how to make it a reality. There is so much freedom and opportunity in this world and if there is one motto I live by, it’s that “opportunities are taken, not given”.

And I’ll leave you guys with this, and I know it sounds cliche, but we are living in the age of the digital nomad and the world is at YOUR fingertips. So, what are you waiting for? GO SEE IT!

Samantha Long

Samantha is a college student, turned van-lifer, turned full-time digital nomad! She spent most of 2020 exploring the East Coast in her 1988 Volkwagon Weekender before taking off to explore Latin America. Her work includes everything from virtual assisting to blog writing & she enjoys hostel hopping, meeting new people, and diving head first into different cultures. Samantha has lots of experiences to share about what it’s like to be a young, female, digital nomad in the world today!

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