How I Became a Digital Nomad | Matt's Story
I became a digital nomad in April 2018, leaving my home country of Australia and finally ending up in Italy over a year later, via Asia and Russia.
Deciding to take a grown up gap year and head overseas was the culmination of a few things. The main reason was that I wanted to have a new life experience while still growing my income online.
At that time I was still building websites for clients, which I simply didn’t like doing. I’ve since stopped building websites unless it’s for clients of my SEO Agency, Paradigm ProjeX as part of their monthly SEO service.
I had recently separated from my wife and working from home in my apartment was really isolating and a bit boring too.
It was time for a change.
Although I’d done a reasonable amount of traveling, I’d never lived overseas, and now seemed like the perfect time to hit the road and try out the digital nomad lifestyle. I had visited Vietnam a few months prior on holiday to meet-up with my Dad who had been teaching English abroad and in Vietnam for several years. I certainly wasn’t in love with the place, I simply saw it as a stepping stone.
I knew it wouldn’t be forever and it was just an easy first option to travel and live abroad for a while before deciding where I wanted to go next.
What I Learnt in my Adult Gap Year
I’ve learned a lot in the past few years traveling, from languages to the history and culture of several countries, through to new working strategies to help me be more effective as a digital nomad.
Being a digital nomad, in a foreign country isn’t easy though. These are some of the stand-out things I have learnt.
Community is Everything
Isolation isn’t good. Earning income online and living a nomadic lifestyle is a true blessing, but we’re all still human and human interaction is crucial for not just survival but for mental health and well-being. It’s important to set yourself up so that you’re not just isolated in a hotel room or apartment on the other side of the world, away from home and your family.
Even if you’re an introvert you can benefit from meeting new people. The only difference is that as an introvert, I find it’s best to meet people one to one instead of in large group settings.
Social media is an invaluable way of connecting with like-minded people who are travelling and earning money online or are in the process of starting to earn money online. If you have a question or would like to add your expertise to help others, or you just want to engage and interact with likeminded people, joining a social media digital nomad community can provide you with vital interaction and friendship when you’re on the road.
Facebook groups are a fantastic way to do that, at the same time as supporting, you are building valuable connections with others in the same boat as you. You can find Facebook groups for just about any niche, subject or topic. Whatever your passion, interest or digital nomad area of expertise, there’s a Facebook group with thousands of like-minded people ready and willing to discuss the topic with you, or offer help and support.
Aside from joining online groups on Facebook or industry-specific groups, clubs and associations and interacting regularly, it’s crucial to plug into the local community where you’re staying.
Whether it’s just for a few days, or several weeks or months, make a point of connecting with both expats and locals in your new city or area.. To meet other expats, join sites like InterNations and Expat.com to see who’s also living in the town you’re in or go and attend some of the local events that are held on a regular basis.
Also, try Meetup to see if there’s any events relating to your profession, industry or even hobbies and interests such as motorbike riding, wine tasting events and more.
Staying Healthy Whilst Working
As working nomads (and sometimes backpackers) we’re usually working from hotel rooms, hostels, vans or coworking spaces. Often it may be bars, coffee shops or sometimes even the beach.
Being in the same sitting position for extended periods isn’t good for our health. “Sitting is the new smoking” as the quote goes from The Intern movie. Your posture is crucial to ensure you remain healthy and feeling good on a daily basis.
I’ve suffered from headaches as a result of neck-tension from working at the laptop and have tried many techniques for overcoming neck tension such as neck stretches. One of the best ways to prevent neck tension and headaches that I’ve found, is to use an ironing board as a desk!
In every country and hotel, apartment or hostel I’ve stayed or lived in, an ironing board is my adjustable stand-up desk and is the single best way to prevent neck tension, headaches and related health problems.
To get the ironing board at the right height, you can place it on a coffee table, a dining table, or any other surface that is stable and will allow you to stand up straight and keep your neck in a natural position in order to prevent muscle tension and headaches.
Even using an ironing board to help posture, it’s important to take regular breaks every couple of hours. Stretch and move away from your desk, ironing board or cafe table and get your other muscles working.
Purpose & Passion
One often unspoken benefit of taking time out from your normal life and routine is that it gives you time to either realize or decide on your purpose or passion.
I know for me this was huge. Only last year did I decide that I’m finally going to write my book about my journey with work stress and work related anxiety. I have been dealing with these issues since I was 24 when I experienced extreme work stress whilst in real estate, and culminating three years later with a severe work-related anxiety panic attack that was completely life changing.
These experiences literally altered the course of my life. Some days I think for the better, other days, for the worse.
But the self-rehabilitation I had to go through to beat stress and anxiety formed part of who I am today.
And only through stepping back and gaining life balance during the past two years as a digital nomad did I decide that now is the right time to write a book about not just the journey, but more importantly, the techniques I found or developed in order to overcome stress and anxiety so that other people going through a similar situation can use those techniques too.
Digital Nomad Tips
My advice for anyone looking to take a career break to travel is to use this time to not only enjoy your one year off, but to also to plan for the twelve months following your gap year.
Twelve months away from your normal day to day life is an opportunity to reflect and plan your future in one or more areas of life. It’s natural when you’re having time away from your job to start thinking about alternative income sources so that you have the choice of whether to return to your job or not. If you decide to transition from your job to making money online, and potentially becoming a digital nomad, there’s a few ways you can do this:
1. Work remotely
2. Become a freelancer
3. Start an online business
4. Affiliate marketing
Any of these options can begin to generate income online within a short period of time, particularly finding a remote job or freelancing, as you can leverage your existing expertise to find work quickly.
Remote workers still need to work and exchange their time for money, but it is possible to do this and see the world as you go.
Working remotely is a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel to a central place of work, such as an office building or warehouse but work online. Think about your skill set and how this could be leveraged to enable working online with just a laptop and phone……why not work from Chiang Mai or Medellin? Find out more about digital nomad jobs in this guide.
Become a Freelancer
Freelancing is still a form of ‘active income’ that has you exchanging time for money, but it’s a great first step to begin to replace your full time job income if you have the right skill set and you’ll be working for yourself. Whether you’re a website developer, writer, marketing expert, editor, graphic designer, accountant……(the list goes on) you can freelance and enjoy nomadic living.
Start an Online Business
Starting a location independent online business can take many forms, from writing a travel blog to drop-shipping and ecommerce.
In deciding if starting an online business is the best path for you, your business knowledge, experience and financial position will be factors to consider as you find out how to be a professional nomad.
There are many accomplished online business owners you can find to follow and emulate to achieve success with an online business. Desire, commitment and persistence are essential elements of starting any business, doubly so when starting an online business away from home or in a foreign country.
Affiliate marketing is a great first step into earning passive income online as you simply promote products and services that have already been created.
It’s up to you to generate traffic or leads to the existing product or service, and if someone buys through your affiliate link, you receive a percentage of the sale. Think of it like being a part-time sales person for one or more companies where you receive a commission when you make a sale.
Affiliate marketing is probably the easiest way to get into online marketing because you can get started with little to no money and learn along the way. You certainly don’t have to be an expert from day one to make money as an affiliate marketer.
Was Taking a Mid Life Gap Year the Right Thing To Do?
Taking time away from my day to day life and learning how to be a digital nomad has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
If you’re considering taking an adult gap year, I recommend using this time to not just relax, but to also plan for the twelve months after, and the rest of your life for that matter.
We all have the choice and freedom to make decisions, so it’s important to make decisions that allow you to live the life you want to live, not just the life you settle for, or the life that others expect you to live.
I wish you the best of luck wherever your gap year trips take you!
Matt Adams is a digital nomad, work stress expert and fitness fanatic. He’s working every day to find opportunities in business and his personal life to grow and improve and make a meaningful impact on the world and those around him.
If you’re interested in adult gap years, gap years for older people, or taking a year out from work to travel or volunteer, check out our Gap Years Travel Series for travel tips, information and stories from those who’ve already taken the leap!