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Making the Leap to Digital Nomad: The 70-20-10 Rule

  • By Josh Hayford
  • November 25, 2020

Considering making the leap? Be sure to read the full Handbook for Digital Nomads, by Digital Nomads before you do.
Deciding to uproot yourself and embrace a nomadic lifestyle is a big decision, and actually making the leap is no small task. As you stand at the precipice of turning your dream into a reality, I’m here to help.
As someone who has mulled over becoming a digital nomad, and eventually making the move myself, I’m here to share my tried-and-true formula for overcoming beginner’s paralysis. It’s called the 70-20-10 Rule, and it follows that jumping into a nomadic lifestyle is 70 percent research, 20 percent preparation and 10 percent improvisation. Let’s break it down.

70 percent research

I am the sort of person that never goes into anything unprepared.
I mean, I can‘t even buy a toaster without spending hours poring over online reviews to make sure I‘m getting the best product for my buck. When I decided to go the nomad route, it was the same way and as it turns out, my obsessive need to be informed helped me immensely. If you do your research ahead of time, you will drastically cut down on the number of surprises that are in store for you. (By the way, reading this is a solid first step! Good on you.)
Research can help you figure out what kind of lifestyle you want to live. Some nomads prefer to plan an extended overseas trip, spanning months or even years. They travel light, and given the distances they traverse, they rack up a ton of airline miles. Other nomads move around but remain inland, renting a motorhome or RV (some even living out of a van) and opt to drive from destination to destination. Other nomads still prefer curated experiences, in which they join a group of fellow nomads as part of an organized, community-based effort that usually “docks” in one city.

Of course, every option has perks and drawbacks. Leading a nomadic lifestyle is a delicate balance of comfort, cost and freedom—pick two. If you want freedom paired with comforts, expect to pay a premium. Want something a little more comfortable, but at a lower cost? Your budget might not allow you to move as often, cutting into your freedom. The dizzying array of options and ways to balance these three qualities can be extremely overwhelming.
The key is finding out what will work for you. Whatever style of travel interests you, scour the forums related to it. Read everything you can find, and take notes if you need help organizing your thoughts. Do yourself a favor and focus on the bad stuff. Yep! I am asking you to be pessimistic for a moment.
There are forums and websites full of posts and comments from people who made an attempt at this lifestyle and decided it wasn‘t for them. Read their stories and hear them out. Put yourself in their shoes and honestly ask yourself, “How would these problems affect me?” Chances are, you will find yourself modifying your plans based on the experiences of others, both good and bad.

A critical piece of the research phase is establishing a realistic budget. No matter how you embrace this lifestyle, it‘s going to cost you something. You can live a nomadic lifestyle on a fixed budget, of course, but if you‘re careless, your new lifestyle can get very expensive very quickly. Carefully research the costs involved, and include everything that you might possibly need on the road. Food, fuel (if you’re driving), transportation costs (if you’re getting around that way), insurance, club memberships, entertainment, internet— just to name a few—must all be considered.

Nomad tip:
“Digital nomadism is at times chaotic, stressful, and difficult, like any job, and it can be easy to romanticize it. You have the freedom to move wherever you want, but make no mistake about it, it’s still a job and all the pressures, stresses, and occasional mundane aspects that creep into any job will still be there.’”
Joseph Engelmajer, Web Developer
Bali, Indonesia

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. Optimize their experiences to suit your own goals and lifestyle needs. Stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before, and your path will be that much easier.

20 percent preparation

So, now you know what to expect and you‘re ready to face the triumphs (and the pitfalls, too!) that come with it. It‘s time to apply what you‘ve learned and start preparing for your new life. Preparation will be different for every person, depending on what your research has led you to decide, but here are some general best practices for you to consider.
For most people, the hardest part of the hardest part of becoming a digital nomad is cutting ties with their former “stationary” lives. If you own a home, selling it can often be the biggest hurdle. Perhaps you rent and need to break a lease—that can be difficult, too. Deciding which possessions you can take with you and which must be sold or placed in storage is yet another step that can be physically and emotionally draining. If you have a traditional job, you‘ll need to give notice and plan your departure. And of course, saying farewell (albeit temporarily) to loved ones can be the hardest step of all.

As you tie up loose ends and bid farewell to your former life, you’ll need to concurrently prepare for your new life. This involves buying the things you‘ll need, updating insurance companies and sorting out residency and mail issues. If you have health care needs, you need to determine how you‘ll meet them while abroad or on the road. You should also consider joining clubs that will help you along the way. For example, for mobile nomads there are several roadside assistance companies that offer discounts at hotels and RV parks. International nomads might seek out local meetups or communities of nomads in the areas they intend to live. Depending on how you choose to travel, you might sign up for one or a dozen.

The good news is that if you‘ve done your research, this should be the easiest step. You should know exactly what you need to do, and what equipment you‘ll need to make a nomadic life feasible. This is also the most exciting step, because you can finally see the fruits of all your research paying off. You‘re about to start your new journey, and it‘s so close you can almost reach out and touch it.

10 percent improvisation

This is the final phase, and it never really ends. While research and preparation will minimize the number of unpleasant surprises you encounter, no matter how much research you do or how well you prepare, you‘re going to run into something that you don‘t quite know how to handle. This could be anything from issues with internet connectivity to challenges getting around a new remote city. It could even involve an illness or injury, far from home and your preferred doctor.

Being able to think on your feet and roll with whatever comes your way is a requirement for leading a nomadic lifestyle. Encountering a show-stopping issue can be scary—particularly if it seems like it might be very expensive to solve, or if it involves your health or wellbeing. The key is to remain calm and focus on solutions, not problems. I‘m a firm believer that where there’s a will, there‘s a way; you just need to match your willpower to the task at hand.
Finally, remember being “independent,” doesn’t necessarily mean being alone. Don‘t be afraid to rely on fellow wanderers. The people I‘ve run into while living as a nomad have been the kindest, most helpful folks I‘ve ever met, and if you take to the internet you’ll find thousands of friendly, helpful people just waiting to offer up their wisdom at a moment’s notice.

On a personal note, making the leap into a nomadic lifestyle has been the most freeing, happiest, and scariest experience of my life. I wouldn‘t trade it for anything—and I believe that if you approach it with the right attitude, you won‘t want to give it up, either.
For more information like this, download Anywhere, the free handbook for digital nomads here.

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