Things are decidedly different for graduating college seniors in 2022 than they were 10 years ago. Gone are the days when you needed a job before you chose where to live. Many college graduates are becoming digital nomads or remote workers who telecommute from anywhere in the world. In the era of the digital nomad, college graduates can go wherever they want and still land an ideal job, start a business or become a solopreneur.
Digital nomads were already a booming trend well before the pandemic triggered a remote work revolution. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of American digital nomads more than doubled, growing from 7.3 million to 15.5 million. In 2021, there were approximately 35 million digital nomads worldwide, and that number will continue to grow as college graduates entering the workforce realize the flexibility the digital nomad lifestyle provides.
Below, we’ll lay out the steps any recent college graduate can take to pursue the digital nomad lifestyle with little to no job experience and even start an official business entity.
What and Who Are Digital Nomads?
The term digital nomad has been around since 1997 when Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners published the book The Digital Nomad. The book predicted a future in which technological advances would change the ways we work. Since then, this label has caught on steadily, and in the past two years, it has become a popular lifestyle choice for millions of workers who are embracing the remote work revolution, becoming entrepreneurs and fulfilling their wanderlust.
Generally, digital nomads are self-employed. However, many people follow a digital nomad lifestyle while working remotely for a company, and these people are sometimes referred to as so-called corporate nomads. The one thing they all have in common is that they are geography-agnostic, meaning they are willing to work from anywhere and often embrace a travel-forward lifestyle. This can mean living in a resort town, living abroad or moving frequently to try out new locations. Vanlifers, RV-ers and sailors have all made the digital nomad lifestyle even bolder!
Digital nomads are all ages and experience levels, with the average age in 2021 being about 32. Millennials are leading the pack of digital nomads, with Gen X and Gen Z right behind. Digital nomads are generally motivated by travel, adventure and work-life balance. Whatever job they have, it is probably done with a laptop, phone or tablet and a good Wi-Fi connection.
Now that you know what a digital nomad is and who is living the lifestyle, becoming a digital nomad yourself is the next step. With some planning and research, you can be sure to get the most out of this exciting step in your career.
Choose a job or start a business. You’ll need to figure out how you will make money on your travels. Have you decided to start your own business, become a freelancer or find a full-time remote job? Do some research into how to start your business or go on a serious job hunt to find the perfect fit that will support your digital nomad lifestyle. If you decide to work for yourself, incorporating an LLC can be a wise move to protect your personal assets and maybe even get you some tax advantages.
Boost your skill set. You might consider adding a little extra education or training to your resume. Some of the most important skills for digital nomads include basic coding, SEO, ecommerce, graphic design programs and WordPress. Find an online course to boost your knowledge and promote your new skill to all of your new clients.
Choose a location. Find a globe, and let it spin! There are countless online personality quizzes that can match you with the ideal digital nomad location where you can start the search.
Get your passport and visa. Make sure your passport is up to date. Plan ahead because the passport agency in the U.S. is still backed up from pandemic-related delays. It takes 5-7 weeks for even an expedited passport. Check your desired location’s visa requirements and get started early to avoid any delays in your plans.
Grow your savings. Travel is expensive and there may be unforeseen expenses. Make sure you have enough saved up to cover your travel expenses. As a general rule, you will want to have enough to cover your living expenses for at least three months in case of an emergency or if work doesn’t pan out right away.
Find a place to live. Ask yourself what you want to live in (an Airbnb, a hotel, an apartment, a van, a boat) and factor in all the costs of living in your city. Do your research to find the right neighborhood, housing option or listing that will make living in a new city feel comfortable, safe and exciting. Don't forget to check the local rules for renting a house or car to ensure you meet the age requirement.
Find a space to work. Do you plan to work from your bedroom or would you like to get out more? Many cities have coworking spaces for digital nomads and cafes set up to support digital nomads. There are plenty of online communities for digital nomads, like Outsite and Nomadstack, to help you find the right option for you.
Pack your bags! What are you waiting for? Once you’ve got your plan, the travel logistics and the money, might as well get going.
Now let's dig further into the available jobs and resources to get you on your way toward fulfilling your digital nomad dreams in no time.
Job Ideas for College Graduates Becoming Digital Nomads
For recent college graduates with little to no work experience, there are still many possibilities for steady work or new business ideas that can sustain a digital nomad lifestyle. While many of the jobs listed below can be started without extensive job history, most nomads would benefit from having some background in these areas, whether that includes college courses, a major, an internship or online courses.
The online gig economy is a great option for entrepreneurial recent college grads with a desire for independence and flexibility. These are often independent or freelance jobs that are short-term in nature, with pay being project-based. Some, however, offer long-term contracts with steady work. If you go the self-employed route, there are good reasons to form an LLC for your freelance business, even if you only work part time.
Some of the best gig jobs for digital nomads include:
Social media marketer
You can also hook up with any of a number of existing marketplaces to offer your freelance services. Some of these marketplaces that can help you get your name and services out there include:
Upwork: Upwork matches independent contractors with companies looking for project-based work.
Fiverr: Fiverr is an online marketplace where you can offer your freelance services or apply for posted jobs
Freelancer: Freelancer is another online marketplace where you can post about your freelance services or apply for posted jobs.
Toptal: Toptal is an online marketplace for freelance software developers, designers, finance experts, product managers and project managers.
PeoplePerHour: PeoplePerHour is an online marketplace that connects freelancers with companies looking for their services to complete projects.
99 Designs: 99Designs is an online marketplace powered by Vista that matches graphic designers to projects.
Outschool: Outschool is an online learning platform where teachers and tutors can offer remote classes and instruction to a global audience.
Cambly: Cambly is an online resource that matches tutors with students looking to learn to speak English.
So many companies have gone fully remote in the last couple of years. If you want the stability of a full-time employee job, look for companies that hire for 100 percent work-from-anywhere jobs. You'll want to be transparent with your potential employers that you'll be working from other cities, states and countries. Forbes reported on 30 companies that offer work-from-anywhere jobs. This list could be a good place to start.
When it comes to great jobs for college graduates seeking the digital nomad life, some may work better than others. Here are some of the top digital nomad jobs that don’t require work experience.
Feeling more ambitious or want to bring a little extra hustle to your digital nomad lifestyle, investing in more travel and bigger adventures perhaps? Why not consider building out your talents right away and start earning passive income too?
If you’re becoming a blogger or a freelance writer, why not also publish an ebook and start selling it for passive income and to wow new clients? If you’ve decided to become an online tutor or teacher, why not develop your own online course that can help promote your services and give you some extra spending cash?
Some digital nomads with a little bit of freelancing experience might even consider drop servicing. This is the practice of helping to connect freelancers with clients and keeping a portion of the money to certify the quality of the work.
Where Do Digital Nomads Live?
If you've got the job figured out, or even if you don't, your digital nomad lifestyle means you can live all over the world. International boundaries won’t hold you back from being a globe-trotting digital nomad either. Countries everywhere, from Malta to Italy, are coming up with new ways to entice digital nomads through work visa programs that are easier to navigate and allow longer stays.
Pro Tip: Try looking into the ways you might be able to use currency rates and cost of living differences to make the money you earn go further abroad than it would in the U.S.
According to a recent study by HSBC, Spain, Cyprus and Portugal are the most desirable countries for American expats.
"Wellbeing was also a clear factor," says Cameron Senior, interim head of HSBC Expat. "When we asked if they expected improvements to their physical health and mental wellbeing in the next 12 months, Mediterranean countries scored well." Greece came out top for "wellbeing," followed by Spain, Portugal and Turkey.
If you’re staying in the United States, there are plenty of remote locations and big cities to explore as a digital nomad. The definitive travel guide, Lonely Planet, even came out with a list of the Best U.S. Destinations for Digital Nomads. You’ll find naturally gorgeous locations like Glacier National Park in Montana and Redwood Forest on their list, but you might be surprised to note that mid-sized cities like Pittsburgh, PA, and New Orleans, LA, top their list, too.
Zillow and Yelp have collaborated on a list of top U.S. destinations based on affordable housing options and community amenities that might be worth looking at if you’re still feeling stumped. The list puts Jacksonville, FL, and Austin, TX, at the top and spans across the entire United States, with a little something for digital nomads with every type of interest, from watersports like paddleboarding to skiing to city life.
Considerations for International Digital Nomads
If traveling internationally, follow a few steps to cover your bases and ensure you are safe and prepared in case of an emergency.
Look up the country code (this is the number you have to enter before dialing phone numbers within a country).
Find out the emergency phone number and remember it. It’s not 911 in every country!
Tell your friends and family your address and the phone number of your Airbnb host, landlord or contact in your country just in case they need to find you.
While the digital nomad lifestyle is appealing for the great flexibility it offers, it doesn’t come without challenges. Moving about often and living like a nomad can prevent some people from developing friendships within their communities. Digital nomads can live a transitory life, which may contribute to feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness. It can also be expensive to move frequently or to live in exotic locations. Many digital nomads will need to have substantial savings before embarking on the travel-forward lifestyle.
Additionally, work-life balance can become a challenge to achieve when you work remotely, no matter where from. For independent contractors and small business owners, this can become even more of a challenge. One study showed that a shift to remote work has resulted in a 10 percent increase in the workweek length.
Plus, if you are an American working in Asia, you will still need to be available during American business hours. Time zone challenges can become tricky. Digital nomads may have difficulty setting boundaries and creating strict routines that balance work and the time off to enjoy their exciting locale.
Bonus Tips from Expert Digital Nomads
We scoured the internet to find some of the best inside tips from seasoned digital nomads to help you plan for the best outcomes possible in your digital nomad journey. Here they are:
Join a coworking space. “Just because you don’t have to get out of bed is not a reason to work from bed,” Lindsay Maisel, an American freelance industrial designer who has worked from France, Thailand and Costa Rica, told CNBC. “The commute may be gone, but mentally (and physically), you need to go somewhere else to work.”
Travel slowly. Most experts agree that to get the most out of a location, and to avoid burnout, it’s important to stay put in a new destination for more than a month. Staying for 5-8 weeks is a common standard that helps digital nomads get into a better flow with work, establish friendships and connections in a new place and explore the local lifestyle.
Join local communities. Because of the challenge of feeling isolated when far away from family and friends, most experts agree it’s important to seek out community in new places. Online communities can be a great resource, and many digital nomads use Facebook groups to find tips for the best cafes and coworking spaces and even to find meetups with other digital nomads.
Set your clocks to your work time zones. Make time zone calculations super easy by setting a clock on your phone and laptop to the time zone where you work. This will make scheduling calls, meeting deadlines and keeping an updated calendar a breeze,
Get a VPN. Since you’re going to rely heavily on your Wi-Fi connections to not only run your business but also to manage your finances, communicate with friends and family and even pay your taxes, you will want to protect your information. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) helps protect your online signature and prevents your personal data from being stolen. These can cost a nominal monthly fee but go a long way toward saving you and your business trouble.
Consider registering your freelance business right away. If you decide to become a freelancer or consultant in one of these roles, you might consider starting an LLC to register your business as a legal entity. Many digital nomads wind up forming an LLC to protect their personal assets and add a level of legitimacy to their business. It is perfectly feasible to operate as a sole proprietor and have a thriving freelance business in the online gig economy. However, your personal assets may not be protected if your business gets into legal trouble down the road. There are also tax benefits in some cases to registering your freelance business as an LLC.
Starting a digital nomad lifestyle is exciting, but just be sure to do it right and set yourself up for success. Incfile is here to help make the journey easier for you. Our free Entity Comparison Guide will help you quickly see your business options to decide what type of business will be best for your digital nomad adventure.
Nicole Bowman is a freelance writer who thinks turning research into stories is the best gig ever. She started writing billboards back in 2002, worked in book publishing in New York for many years and now she creates all sorts of engaging content for the web. Nicole lives in Rehoboth Beach, DE, with her husband, two sons and their poodle, Tootsie. She loves the great outdoors, bookstores and tennis.