How to learn the skills you need to be a digital nomad

How to Learn the Skills You Need to Be a Digital Nomad

What holds most people back from being a digital nomad isn’t the ‘nomad’ part (though there are plenty of myths about that). It’s the part where they aren’t sure how they’re going to be able to make their money online so they can take to the open road. If they could just learn that, then they’d be set. After all, once you’ve got income you’ve got the space and the time to learn the skills you need – including how to be a nomad.

For that reason, in this article, I’m going to look at the digital side of things. More precisely, I’m going to look at ways that you can learn the digital skills that you need.

(Interested in the other stuff? Check out my articles about slow travel, how to deal with the occasional bouts of loneliness, and how not to get robbed abroad).

Don’t let them intimidate you

First things first. The barrier to entry into the digital nomad community is lower than you think. In fact, chances are you already have quite a few of the skills you need. You’ve just read too many self-proclaimed gurus preaching about how they broke through and became wealthy. You read about the four-hour work week and think that’s so far outside your understanding of the world that you feel intimidated and confused. You freeze up.

Don’t let that happen! Here is why:

  1. Most of those stories are fabrications, exaggerations or straight out lies. After all, blog posts don’t pay that well (as a professional blogger I know all about that). So why are they wasting all that time writing those posts when they could be getting even richer instead? Perhaps it’s is because they’re trying to build their audience and lies about success do that better than truths about failure.

  2. Or it could be that all those pretty words aren’t there to tell you about the life but are a marketing scheme. You see, a lot of digital nomads have a very easy formula for not having to do any real work. They find people who know even less than them. They ‘teach’ them how to be digital nomads for thousands of dollars. Rinse and repeat. Yes, that’s right, it’s a scam. Don’t fall for it.

  3. Of course, they’re not all scams. There are a few legit success stories out there. There are no doubt digital nomads raking it in by week three (the lucky bastards). But why should that affect your plans? You shouldn’t be aiming for that. You don’t start building a skyscraper at the top floor. Get a foundation. Aim to get enough to survive or at least put off going broke. After that, focus on getting better at it. Keep that up and soon it might be you writing those success stories (or being too busy getting rich to write them).

So, again, don’t let them intimidate you. Focus on what actually matters and that is to find a skill that people will pay you for online. It doesn’t matter if, to begin with, they won’t pay you much. That will come later.

That also means that you don’t immediately need skills that are specialized. A lot of people will pay money for some pretty basic skills. Can you type fast? Can you use Excel? Did you learn basic when you were younger? Those are all good ways to get started.

From there you’ve just got to get better. Here’s how:

Pay attention to the discussions in online groups

Pay attention to the discussions in online groups

Right off the bat, join online digital nomad groups (like the ones on Facebook and Reddit). Most will let you in even if you’re not a digital nomad. Why? Because between the wannabes, there are tons of actual digital nomads with valuable information. Pay attention to what they’re saying. Get involved in the conversations. Read the disagreements. These are all invaluable bits of information about what’s going on and what you need to learn. This is vital if you don’t want to fail as a digital nomad.

Do that for a few weeks. Then you’ll already have a much better idea of what skills are relevant, what you can do and what some of the problems might be when you do it.

Note: If everybody is talking about how they’re learning a skill, that might not be the best one for you to pick up. You want to find something with less competition, as then fewer people will undercut your prices. For that reason, when you’re starting out don’t go where everybody is going. Find a new direction (even better, learn many different things).

Start working remotely

Talk to your company about remote work. More and more businesses are learning how to use remote workers. If you can convince your boss, then not only are you learning digital skills, but you’re also making the transition easier. After all, many aspects of what you’re doing are going to be exactly the same. Only the digital thing will be different.

You don’t have to become a full-time remote worker either. Of course, it’s more exciting if that is possible. After all, that will mean you’re already location independent. Still, even if you can work one or two days a week from home, that will make you far more mobile. And it’s better that what you’ve got now.

Switch into a job with more digital aspects

Working remotely isn’t possible or appealing? Then get the digital skills you need by getting a different job. This could be a remote work job – there are plenty of those out there. Or it could be in an office, but teach you a lot of skills you’ll be able to use on the road. In fact, the latter might be a more appealing option. After all, learning is faster when you’ve got somebody there to guide you and tell you what you’re doing wrong.

So, consider getting some low-level job in a field that you think will be easy to do as a digital nomad. For example, you can choose to write, enter web design, or learn how to code.

Work hard. Learn everything you can. Get certificates in specific directions. Remember that though it gives you a paycheck, the main reason you took the job is to be able to strike out on your own later on. The more you learn, the easier that will be.

Freelance beside your job

Another choice is to start freelancing beside your job. Of course, you will have to settle on a skill you’d like to develop first. Once you’ve decided on a route things become a lot easier. Go onto some of the platforms out there like Upwork or Freelancer and start finding small jobs. No, they won’t pay much. In fact, to begin with, it might actually be insulting.

But that’s not what it’s about.

It’s about getting experience, confidence and starting to build a portfolio. This is about self-marketing and how to find work online (which isn’t always easy). It’s about finding out if you’d able to do this full-time.

Take online courses

take online courses

There are a huge number of online courses available now, from edX to Coursera and more. Unlike those digital nomad scams outlined above, these are legit courses from top-end universities like MIT and Stanford.

Even better, most of them are free.

That means that you’re learning top-end skills from well-respected sources. Not only will that give you the skills you need, but it will make it far easier to get people to think you’ve got those skills. And that is an important part of getting those freelance gigs.

Go to a digital nomad hub to listen and learn

If you’ve got the means, why not just get a trip out to one of the digital nomad hubs and pick up the skills as you go? After all, necessity is the best teacher and if you fall in love with the lifestyle you’ll quickly find ways to learn. That’s what I did.

Besides, there are a lot of jobs that are not location independent, but still don’t mean you have to go home. For example, you can teach for a while in an exotic location (I taught English for a year and a half), you can bartend, or you can manage hostels.

So why not do that, while learning the ropes?

Of course, this option isn’t without its risk. You might end up not getting anywhere and having to go back without any savings. Still, that’s not as bad as it may seem. Even if you won’t have anything physical to show for it, that doesn’t mean your time was wasted.

Instead, you’ll be a lot wiser. You’ll understand how most digital nomads live and what you need to do. That’s invaluable. From there it will be easier to prepare yourself for the next journey.

Besides, you’ll get to spend your time in a fantastic locale! That has to be a bonus, no?

Start (or buy) your own online business

It’s an option. If you’re struggling with what skill set you should aim at developing and how to develop it, though, it might not be the best one. Why do I say that? For one simple reason: when you start your own online business every mistake comes out of your own pocket. And as inexperienced people make more mistakes, that makes the entrepreneurial road a hard one to walk right off the bat.

It’s much better to start working for other people. After all, they can teach you and they can catch mistakes before they happen. Even better, you can learn from their mistakes. And finally, even if you do screw up too badly to continue working with them, it’s a lot easier to find a new client or boss than to start a new business.

Besides, even if you’re not starting out as an entrepreneur, doesn’t mean you can’t take that option later on. Once you know your way around and how to live this way, you can always start a business, get a passive income and hack the digital nomad scene.

In fact, it’s far more likely you’ll be successful. Now, what’s not to love about that?

Not had enough yet on this topic? Then check out my article 8 things you need to know about the travelancer life.

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2 thoughts on “How to Learn the Skills You Need to Be a Digital Nomad”

  1. My biggest learning as a solopreneur was learning how to repurpose the skills and activities I did to make the most of them. e.g. I turned my blog posts into content for an ebook, so that I was getting more milage out of it. I spent lots of time learning about self-publishing and used the experience I gained on my own books and brand to help other authors self-publish their book.

    I wasted too much time early on trying to do too much and getting involved in too many different opportunities that were tangents, when it’s really better to find a niche and become the subject matter expert for that niche, and build your brand around it.

    1. That’s great advice! Yeah, I think a lot of people do try to do too much in too many directions and end up not doing anything very well at all. There is definitely something to be said for becoming incredibly good at your specific niche.

      At the same time, I’ve heard somebody else argue that it’s all about ‘skill stacking’ where you don’t just deepen, but also broaden. In that way, you can add value to whatever you’re doing by relying on these additional skills that you’ve got.

      I’m not really sure which is better choice, to be honest. Still experimenting.

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