This is an excerpt from How to Travel 60-90 Days a Year – Even If You Work 9-5. You can buy the book on Amazon (Paperback and Kindle).

In today’s globalized world, and with the skills and tools of the 21st century, you—and millions of others—can work remotely from the beach, for an organization back home (or better, for your own business), and earn enough to cover all your expenses and more.

Niche in 2007, but growing steadily ever since, full time remote work—digital nomadism—is here to stay. It’s a real possibility for millions of people.

Instead of decades in a dark and lonely cubicle, nomadism offers an exciting life—with itineraries, for example, including two years working in Bali—while you learn to surf—, followed by two more in Buenos Aires—learning tango.

It’s a much more hands-on proposition than logging in a couple of days a month from Italy.

That Sounds Awesome – Why Shouldn’t I Be a Digital Nomad Too?

Thing is, it’s not always so rosy. There’s a lot of marketing into digital nomadism. The stories from hundreds of young people in Bali and Buenos Aires are true—but there’s more into it that you don’t hear about.

For the majority of people—especially the majority of the young, ambitious and highly educated people reading this book—being a digital nomad is not a good deal. At least not yet.

A Quick Premier on Digital Nomadism

I was part of the first wave of digital nomads. This was way back—in 2009 and 2010, before being nomad was “mainstream”. I started off in Argentina, but moved on to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and then around Europe until finally settling in Denmark.

This first wave of nomads, including myself, were almost all internet marketers: bloggers, writers, info-product creators, social media and search engine experts. I, for example, ran my dating and relationship advise website—the money-making “lifestyle business” from the introduction.

I kept to Europe and the Americas, but other nomads found a niche in Asia—they were the first to write and preach from Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, and so on. They were the ones writing about “quitting your job and moving to paradise”.

Having been part of that group, I can tell you the hard truth: most (but not all) of the nomad internet marketers were sad, lonely people— “escaping” from low-quality jobs and moving to Asia not because it was paradise (it’s definitely not—believe me), but because it was the only place they could afford.

The Two Problems with Digital Nomads

That above are the two problems with digital nomads. First, most digital nomads “escape” bad, low-quality jobs. After all, have you heard of many nomads leaving a job in Google, Bain or SpaceX to “quit the cubicle and work from paradise”? No. I’m sure that the majority of marketers in Boracay would right now switch their life in the island for a good job back home.

Second, and most importantly—most digital nomads don’t earn enough money. That’s why there are so many in, say, Thailand. And long-term stay in Thailand sucks. Even long-term stay in Bali sucks. I’ve been to all the “nomad hotspots” and really, really wouldn’t want to live there for the longer term—especially by obligation, as the reason nomads live there, and not in, say, London, is because they can’t afford the A-list cities.

So it all comes up to what your baseline is. If your life back home is sad, monotonous and far off from your ambitions, digital nomadism could be the right lifestyle for you. Before you take the plunge, though, note—digital nomads are the kings and queens of making their life appear amazing and spectacular in Facebook, Instagram and the social web. Believe me—there’s an enormous gap between what you read, see and hear online and what digital nomadism is in reality.

Making Nomadism Work – a Proposal

I love digital nomads and loved being a part of the community. I’m not against anyone joining the wave. I just want to warn you: don’t become a digital nomad “at all costs”. To succeed, you need to do it right.

For example, I would be happy and willing to become a nomad again. However, to trade my happy and comfortable lifestyle I would need to get a lot in return. For example, I could settle with something like this:

– For ~6-8 months a year, live in a comfortable, mid-size European city, with Vienna and Copenhagen topping the list.

– For another ~2-4 months, escape the winter weather and settle in a place like Miami, Singapore or my hometown Buenos Aires.

– Spend the rest of the year traveling—visiting new places, visiting old places, and hanging out in Japan for at least a few weeks

– Live comfortably in all places. For me, this means in nice, central apartments, and going out to good cafés, bars and restaurants.

– For work, run my own gig—be it a company, or a small consulting outfit, and spend an inordinate amount of time reading old books and meeting interesting people.

That’s what I would call a “successful” nomad lifestyle. But it comes at a cost. Having flexibility to live in good places (e.g. half the year in Vienna, the other half split between Miami and Tokyo), plus spare cash to travel extensively and get high-quality gear, you’ll need a steady, location-independent income of ~$3-5.000 per month, in hand, depending on whether you’re single or have a family to support.

In the historical nomad crowd, few earn that much in hand. The top marketers do and those with solid businesses as well—but most people working online do not.

The Second Wave – Digital Nomadism Is Becoming Broader, Better

Still, things are changing.  There’s a ton of money going into tech, and the technologies behind nomad work are getting better and faster every year. This is making the nomad work both expand in scope and in quality. Specifically:

– There Are Millions of New Nomads. It’s not only internet marketers anymore. There are now developers and designers, podcasters and video-creators on YouTube and even gamers and streamers on Twitch.

It dawned on me how big of a deal this is only in 2018. As I write this, there are a dozen people living off gaming or streaming Age of Empires II—a 20-year-old game. This is a huge deal, and if any of the above is your passion, the fact that you can not only live from it, but also do so remotely, is fascinating.

– Nomads Jobs Are Getting Salaries. It’s not just the expanded demographic. The most important development is that companies are now hiring remote people full-time—the old-fashioned way, with a contract and a salary. It’s not only about freelancing anymore. Nomads can now get a steady (and often very proper) paycheck.

It’s a brave new world. Still, there are a couple of serious limitations:

– Competition is Fierce. The barriers to entry are very low, especially for content creators. It’s fast and simple to start your Twitch stream or new podcast. While this makes it easy for you, it also does so for millions of others—if you’re a YouTuber, or a freelancer, you’ll have thousands of new competitors every single week.

This will soon be an issue for developers as well. If a well-paid job is location independent, thousands of people the world over will compete for it. China, India and beyond graduate hundreds of thousands of engineers every single year, and it’s not unrealistic to expect that they could compete for (and be offered) those remote jobs.

– You Need Advanced Technical Skills. The biggest group within the new, salaried nomads are highly skilled developers and designers. There’s the odd recruiter in the mix, but by and large most nomad jobs require some kind of advanced technical skill. If you don’t have those skills, this won’t work for you.

Regardless, this is all serious progress—and one that has come incredibly quickly. We should be optimistic about the future.

You’ve an Ambitious Corporate Career? Then Nomadism Is Still Not Ready for You

If you’re ambitious and going after a high-stakes in the business world, going nomad will in most cases limit your possibilities of moving up the ladder.

Let’s, for example, assume that you have a good nomad job—e.g. you’re a developer for a new, trendy startup, and you earn $4.500 in hand, every month. There’s plenty of wiggle room with that.

Still, even in that case, you’ll be close to hit (or would’ve already hit) your career ceiling. This for two reasons:

– It’s Hard to Manage Teams Remotely. Leadership and managing teams effectively is the great career level. It’s possible to be both a leader and a nomad, and I know many people doing so successfully—but there’s a hard limit on the amount of people you can realistically manage and the quality of their output. In the best of cases, you can pull it off—but it’s much, much harder and very much dependent on the quality of your employees.

– In Corporate, Face-Time Trumps Everything. In corporate, it’s all about politics: building alliances, making pitches, undermining your competitors. It’s not as much so in the lower levels, but it becomes the norm as you climb up the ladder. It’s very hard to do politics remotely, least so to do so effectively.

The Specialist Track. The above closes most doors, but leaves one still open. If you’re incredibly good at one specific thing, you can become the company’s go-to and highly paid specialist for that. The more specific your niche is and the better you’re at it, the more leeway you’ll have.

For example, in my current company, we’ve two people in charge of helping plan and execute the most important negotiations. They’ve a safe, exciting and highly paid job, no direct reports and complete flexibility. They need to travel for work a fair bit, but where they’re based in the world is up to them.

The Balanced Approach – Travel (Almost) Like a Nomad and Build a Career

In all, going nomad or not will be up to where your baseline is. If you’re miserable in your job, with low pay and two weeks of holidays per year, take the plunge—join the revolution. If you’re earning well, like your job and have a comfortable life back home and plenty of travel scheduled, then whether to go nomad or not is a less compelling proposition.

For the latter case, my suggestion—as things stand now—is to keep to the approach in this book. After all, if you can be out on the road for what amounts to two to three months every year, all while keeping (and growing at) the job you like and living in the city you find most comfortable, full-time nomadism wouldn’t offer you a better deal. At least not yet.

This is an excerpt from How to Travel 60-90 Days a Year – Even If You Work 9-5. You can buy the book on Amazon (Paperback and Kindle).