The classic context of the American Dream is largely rooted in homeownership, and more specifically, the inherent stability of staying in one place for many years and building a life there. Today’s definition, led by millennials, the largest generation, is slightly different.
What Picket Fence? The New American Dream Includes the Ability to Travel
Per a recent study by Bank of the West, millennials still value things like owning a home, getting out of debt (a bigger challenge for their generation than preceding ones) and retiring—but they’ve added an additional criterion to the list: international travel.
Source: Bank of the West
Young professionals are acting on this urge in a variety of ways. For one, millennials are 23 percent more likely to travel internationally than older generations. A second interesting trend has been the rapid rise of the ‘digital nomad’ movement. Digital nomads are remote workers who live and travel abroad, and can do so due to remote and/or independent work structures made possible by advancements in technology.
It’s impossible to know how many digital nomads there are today, but the momentum is growing. NomadList founder Pieter Levels has boldly predicted that there will be 1 billion digital nomads by 2035. A key indicator of the power of this movement has been the growing number of nomad resources made available over the past couple of years, spanning job boards and city-ranking sites to nomad-friendly apparel companies.
In a recent study on the state of freelance, 60 percent of independent workers said they would be interested in pursuing a nomadic lifestyle in the future. So, what’s stopping people from packing their bags and booking a one-way flight? For some people it’s obligations at home, and for others it might be professional limitations. For a third group, the sheer complexity of such a dramatic lifestyle change might be too daunting.
To help aspiring nomads make the leap, AND CO consulted more than 100 current nomads to capture their best practices (and watch-outs) for succeeding as a member of this emerging movement. The findings informed “ANYWHERE,” a new book designed to take remote workers from consideration to action. The 150-page guide is free to download today.
Here are some of their words of wisdom for aspiring nomads:
“Have a full-time remote opportunity or contract work lined up (with a healthy pipeline!) well ahead of packing your bags to move.”
As you might imagine, “just winging it” is not a viable path for nomads who want to fully enjoy their experience as a traveling professional. Ashley Nowicki, the founder of Auctor, stresses the importance of having a financial “safety net” before heading abroad. This includes not only having a healthy pipeline of work lined up (or a full-time remote job), but also having significant savings for any hiccups that might occur when you’re away from home: think setbacks like broken laptops and unforeseen medical or travel expenses.
“When it comes to researching the various paths you may take, keep in mind that someone else has already been there and done that. Learn from their mistakes and emulate their triumphs.”
One of the common threads across all of the advice we received was to lean on fellow members of the nomad community as you plan for your new life on the road. Nomadism is still a fledgling movement, and there are many questions you will have along the way. Fortunately, social media has made connecting with other nomads easy. Join Slack channels (Nomad List has one), Facebook groups and other communities. Consult Quora, or email the founding teams of nomad startups to capture their insights. You’ll find that fellow nomads will be eager to impart their advice and connect with others who are after the same kind of lifestyle.
“Do your due diligence and thoroughly research your visa and tax obligations early in your planning process.”
While improvising is certainly part of becoming a nomad, plan on being ultra buttoned up when it comes to your visa applications and tax obligations while abroad. Use resources like VisaCentral to find out if you need a visa, and if so, which type will be required. The U.S. Department of State website also has a plethora of information available regarding international travel requirements and next steps.
As an international traveler, keep in mind that in most cases you’ll still be subject to U.S. tax laws. Put away 30 to 40 percent of all earnings for your federal, state and local taxes. If you are earning significant income in a host country, keep in mind that you may also be responsible for paying taxes within that country. These scenarios will vary, so it’s recommended to partner with a registered accountant (ideally with international expertise!) if you’re new to the game.
“Make the most of your work hours to make the most of your leisure time.”
This is a big one. Some digital nomads are remote workers, joining companies like Zapier and Invision, who have increased the flexibility of their roles to attract the best talent. Other nomads are independent workers and entrepreneurs who run their own businesses. For this later group, driving efficiency is key to a positive nomad experience. Why? The more time you save automating things like backend operations (drafting contracts, invoicing and the like), the more you can spend discovering your locale du jour.
The book has an entire chapter on tools and resources for digital nomads, but a few include project management tools like Asana and Trello, accounting and operations softwares like AND CO and ThemeKeeper Elements, which empowers freelancers through ready-to-use templates and other assets. Given the number of resources available, the trick is to find the right mix that will save you time without adding work.
“Charge what you are worth. Just because you do not have overhead and can work anywhere doesn’t mean you should charge less than your regular rate.”
The question of what to charge as a digital nomad is a common one. Our nomad experts provided sound advice here, reminding nomads to charge what they are worth, rather than what they may need to survive in a given region. If you’re working for Bali for a U.S.-based company, you should charge what you would be making in the U.S. market.
Want to quickly back into a freelance rate? Consider the full-time equivalent of the job you are fulfilling and then multiply by 1.25. Divide this figure by 260 (or however many days you intend to work in a year), and you’ll have a starting point for your day-rate. Remember to always set aside 30 to 40 percent of your earnings for taxes, since these will not be automatically deducted.
“A little pain can mean growth. Don’t take the easy route.”
One of the best pieces of advice we received was to remain hyperfocused on your business and career goals as you live out your travel dreams. True, digital nomads have prioritized adventure and work/life balance in the overall context of their lives, but in a professional sense it’s important to have a North Star for your career and your business—especially if you’re a solopreneur.
Create an actionable business plan, and hold yourself accountable. Remember that your work is your lifeline, and your ability to sustain yourself (and save for the future!) is core to being able to succeed as a digital nomad.