The 8 Most Common Digital Nomad Careers (with Examples of Each)
Before I decided on becoming a developer, I would scour the internet for articles on digital nomad careers. I knew I wanted to have a career that allowed me to travel but I wanted to know my options.
The following list is based on my experience of meeting and connecting with over 100 digital nomads over the last year. While the lists I found online provided many ideas, I didn't get a sense of how location independent people were making money until I got out there and joined the community.
Below are the 8 most popular careers (from most to least common) that I've found digital nomads use to make a living 100% location independently and a few testimonials of each path from the people who make it work.
1. Web or App Development
Developers are by far the most common digital nomads that I meet.
As a developer myself, this didn't surprise me. Apart from a 5-week government contract, I've been allowed to work remotely (at least some of the time) during every one of my jobs.
It's very common amongst web and app developers to work from home and if you do a quick browse on Remoteok.io, you'll see the biggest category of jobs (by far) is the 'Dev' section.
Why is being a developer so remote-friendly?
- Culture - The tech industry is always on the forefront and remote work is the future of work
- Tools & Tech - Everything a developer works on is on their computer or on the cloud. Therefore, it doesn't matter whether their colleagues are physically next to them or not.
- Self-paced & Low-Client Facing: Being a developer can be a very 'background job'. You don't have to write code at any particular time of day and all tasks and issues are (hopefully) logged and organised.
Becoming a developer is also a great career choice besides remote work as it's high in-demand and growing as a profession. I would recommend it to anyone with a technical mind.
If you're not a huge fan of algorithms and logic, continue down the list. Otherwise, check out the recommendations and examples below:
Resources to Get Started:
For Web Development Specifically...
I’ve put together a selection of classes for you to explore on my Skillshare.com page here. Remember: all of my Skillshare.com classes can be accessed for FREE for a whole two months for new members, so check it out!
Guido Rus, Web Developer
I started coding (QBasic FTW) when I was really young, but I started my first real programming job when I was 24. About 2 years ago my girlfriend (Marjet) and I decided we wanted to go travelling but I didn't really want to give up my job.
I was working 3 days a week as a contractor in the Netherlands at that time, so I went to my boss and told him about our plans. I told him I would like to keep working for them remotely and he thought we could give it a shot.
8 months later, I'm still working for this company and things worked out pretty well. I'm living on a tropical island surrounded by a lot of smart and inspiring people.
Nicolas Mahe, Mobile App Developer
Being a developer is one of the few jobs that offers the possibility to work completely remotely. Back in the day, when I worked for a company as developer, all the tools we used were already in the Cloud except the computer itself. We were essentially remote workers without even noticing it. Nowadays, all I need is a good portable computer and a decent Internet connection.
I do video calls and mostly text exchange with clients. To begin a project I call my customer and speak directly with him but when the project is rolling, a message on Slack - or even better a ticket on Github - with a clear explanation is 100 times more fast and precise than a call. My customer relation went from bad and boring to clear and fast. Being a remote worker definitely improved the vision of what work should be - No more 9 to 5 everyday!
2. eCommerce Entrepreneurship
While starting any online business is a fantastic way to achieve location independence, I've found the most common nomad entrepreneurs to be selling some kind of physical product online.
If you've ever heard of dropshipping or fulfilment by Amazon, you probably know what I'm talking about. Using these alternative product fulfilment methods, nomad entrepreneurs do not need to hold physical inventory. All they need is a laptop to manage and market their online store. The supplier (or a fulfilment service like Amazon's) handles all of the stock, allowing the entrepreneur to work completely on the web store and marketing.
Ecommerce is an industry that scaling fast and can take as little as a few months for a newbie to start making sales online.
Resources to Get Started:
Trevor James, ecommerceparadise.com
Thanks to our e-commerce business, my wife and I can enjoy our life traveling and do the things we love without being tied to any one location, employer, or the need to work any particular set hours.
The best part about this business is that it only requires me to work on it 2 hours per day minimum. One hour in the morning doing customer service, order entry, and entering tracking numbers, and an hour in the evening doing the same and then about half a day, a few days a week, building the business, optimizing the website, creating SEO optimized content, optimizing the email marketing sales funnels, and building backlinks and our presence in social media.
Our goal is to create long-term wealth for ourselves, our family, and our future generations while living a healthy, vegan lifestyle, exploring the far reaches of the world, and helping others create lifestyle businesses for themselves as well.
Riley Bennett, youtube.com/livinthatlife
My dream job was selling stuff online from my laptop while traveling the world and through Amazon I got into selling with zero online business experience. Ecommerce is obviously a good choice if travel is your goal, because it can be done all online from your laptop with a relatively low investment and startup cost. It's also a rapidly growing industry and it's very automate-able. I only spend a few hours a week managing my product sales, freeing up most of my time to focus on things I'm into like travel, other business projects, and making videos.
3. Online Marketing (often specialising in SEO or PPC)
The third most common nomad I find on the road is some kind of online marketer. These are often specialists in certain traffic generation strategies like SEO or Paid Traffic or generalist digital marketers.
For someone with a knack for marketing, this can be an incredibly fast-paced career as your success is only limited by the results you can get for your clients or employer. If you find yourself really doing well, you have the option to partner with your clients and other entrepreneurs, become an affiliate marketer or start your own business.
There are plenty of businesses (both online and offline) that need to better market themselves online so if you can help these businesses out, they'll allow you to work from anywhere in order to keep you.
Bauke Vreeswijk, libertytotravel.com
For a long time I've been doing Affiliate Marketing across different sources of paid traffic (search, email, Facebook).
Since about a year ago I specialized more and more on Facebook advertising. As a result, others have been asking me to teach them more about the Facebook ad platform and I've moved into consulting and freelancing. I now teach others how to use Facebook ads to grow their business or start an affiliate marketing business on it from scratch.
4. Infopreneurship, Blogging & Affiliate Marketing
If you enjoy creating content and/or have some valuable knowledge to share, creating digital content is a 100% location independent business that can be started with little to no startup capital.
There are hundreds of ways to monetise digital content including selling eBooks and courses, affiliate marketing, sponsorships and advertising. As an infopreneur & blogger myself, I make money selling digital products, sharing ad revenue from YouTube and promoting other people's products through videos and blog posts like the one you're reading now.
It's a very easy-to-get-started business but you'll have to be dedicated and passionate about creating content or willing and able to spend money to invest in content creation and/or ads.
As there are many that aspire to live the location independent lifestyle, you'll often see successful nomads start some kind of part-time hustle in blogging and digital products to show others how they can live and work remotely as well.
Resources to Get Started:
Max Miller, Infopreneur, HealthGuardian.hk
I've been passionate about health and fitness since 2010 and started my own business to help others with more effiecient diet and exercise programs in 2014.
Using shipBob to fulfill supplement orders to the United States and Canada and my own website to deliver my my videos and guides to anyone around the world, I'm able to run the business 100% location independently and live abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Johnny FD, Affiliate Marketer, JohnnyFD.com
I started making some serious money in affiliate commissions by sharing my journey on my blog (johnnyfd.com) and through my podcast (travellikeabosspodcast.com) I've now replicated the same success with other products and even started teaching others how to do the same in their niches, whether it be health, fitness, investing, or online business.
There are a ton of different ways to make money with affiliate marketing but my favorite is through recommending products that you've personally used yourself and monetizing your personal brand.
5. Copywriting / Content Writing
I've met so many Copywriters on my digital nomad journey so far and the reason why is because copywriting is one of the easiest careers to get started in as a native English speaker.
What is copywriting? - It's basically writing with the purpose of persuasion. While a content writer will write blog posts, copywriters will write sales pages. Both are similar but copywriting is much more lucrative as your income is only limited to your ability to write persuasively.
It's also one of the best skills to learn as an online freelancer as both your ability to gain work and sell your client's products will come down to your ability to persuade. And, as there's little formal qualifications for being a salesperson, you can start learning and practicing your copy by applying for jobs on sites like UpWork as soon as you're finished reading this post!
Lewis Parrott, TheFreelanceEffect.com
In my opinion, copywriting is one of the few well-paid skills that can be acquired in a relatively short space of time. Within 6 months, I was able to teach myself copywriting, secure clients at rates of up to $100/hour and most importantly, achieve complete location independence
6. Web, UI and Graphic Design
A little less common but still an amazing location independent career is being some sort of designer.
Design of course, is a bit more of an artistic and creative career path and so, I'd only recommend it to people who have some kind of artistic talent already.
If you already have a eye for design then I'd definitely recommend using these skills to freelance online. A great area to get started is in web design as almost all businesses need a website these days. Otherwise, you can specialise in graphics, User Experience or User Interface design. All of these skills are in-demand for freelancers with the right level of creative ability.
Steph Danforth, Web & Graphic Designer, StepDanforth.com
Becoming a web designer is a great option if you want to try out the digital nomad lifestyle. I’ve worked as a freelance web designer, which I’ve found to have a lot of freedom. I’ve been able to set my own hours, set my own rates, and find projects and clients that I enjoy working with.
Web design is also extremely easy to learn because there are TONS of resources available online, both free and paid! I’ve always been pretty artsy and design-oriented, so becoming a web designer and branding specialist has been a perfect fit for me. I definitely recommend it for people that are design oriented, but also for people that are just getting into tech or computer-related work. I think basic web design is an extremely useful skill and can be applied to so many fields!
Emmanuel Drouin, UI Designer, EmmanuelDrouin.com
I started freelancing because I felt a need for new meetings, new exchanges and a desire for traveling.
Being an Independent Designer allows me to meet and learn from people from all over the world. Next month I will live a week in Vietnam and that will not change anything for my clients. I will continue to create their graphic identity or to design their IOS application everyday.
Being a freelance designer freed me from my French routine and allowed me to get the geographical flexibility I was looking for when I started this adventure.
7. Coaching & Consulting
A common occurrence you'll find in the digital nomad scene are experienced professionals that have decided to exit the corporate or traditional business world and start a career as a location independent coach or consultant.
These individuals combine their experience and knowledge around a certain industry or topic with communication strategies to advise and help small businesses and individuals achieve a desired result.
This path tends to be more suited to those with a large amount of business experience but in theory, you can become a coach or consultant around any topic where your expertise or knowledge lines up with demand for help.
Mariana Pimenta, Career Coach, MaxiCareerCoaching.com
Being a digital nomad career coach has been a gift. I wake up excited to get to work and help as many people as I can, have the same freedom and excitement I have, to work with something they enjoy, meaningful to others and to actually get payed for it. I notice my clients love traveling the world with me, “in my lap top”. That gives my sessions an extra spice and triggers even more their desire to come have the same freedom I have to work from wherever I want.
8. Software Entrepreneurship
While I know that they exist, I haven't met too many location independent software entrepreneurs.
Software Entrepreneurship by its nature, is a fully location independent business but it's perhaps not the best when it comes to being a 'solopreneur'. As a software business grows, so does the complexity and therefore it's not often touted as a good 'lifestyle business' either.
Software entrepreneurship (in my opinion) is most often the next path of already established software developers. Unless you have the skills to develop yourself, software is expensive to build and therefore, I recommend to learn at least some code before going down this path.
Example: Pieter Levels
Some of you will know that software entrepreneur, Pieter Levels was my main inspiration and introduction to the digital nomad movement. He is the founder of the website NomadList.com, from which he makes over $200,000 a year as well as a serial app maker.
He's also an excellent example of a solopreneur who's built a successful software business, doing almost all the marketing and development work himself.
I've met one photographer on my digital nomad journey but I wouldn't necessarily call it a digital nomad career path as it's not 100% location independent. However, if you're able to find clients whether you go, you can definitely make it work. You just need to be good at what you do!
I've met two translators on my journey so far and while it doesn't seem too common, I'm sure it can be a great location independent career as languages and travel go hand-in-hand.
Testimonial: Sara Baroni, SaraBaroni.co.uk
Freelance translating is the perfect fit for digital nomading: you can work more or less your own hours, take time off as and when you want, and best of all you can be open with your clients about where you are. I have been working as a translator in the videogames industry for 10 years, and having never had to meet, or even talk to, my clients.
Two years ago I decided to travel full time. I use email and Skype to keep in touch with my clients: the time zone can be important as sometimes there are last minute things to be done before close of business, but other than that it is extremely flexible, and fun! I won’t get rich doing this, but it allows me such freedom and a stress-free life that it will be hard to beat.
Online English Teaching
While teaching English as a foreign language is an easy opportunity for native speakers to work abroad, you'll have to move your practice online if you want it to be a true location independent career. I've met one online English teacher on my journey so far but I've heard there is a lot of them out there.
If you like to play poker online and are able to gamble responsibly, this could be a way you are able to make money location independently but I wouldn't bank on it. Like trading stocks, gambling online should only be started by people with money to lose and are comfortable with risk. That being said, I've met one person so far who has funded his travels exclusively by online poker.
And the list goes on....
A comprehensive list of ways to make money online is almost impossible to produce and hence, this is the reason why this article focuses on the top 8 most popular careers.
Also, while there are hundreds of ways to make money online, can they really be considered 'careers'? All of the above 8 careers are legitimate in their own right. These are not limited to being a digital nomad. In fact, they are all great careers even for those who want to stay at home.
If you want to make money online in any old way, be my guest. Just know that one day, when you're sick of travelling the world and may want to settle down, you'll need to build a legitimate skill set in some sort of in-demand field.
One of the biggest lessons I've had this year is to focus on the long-term. If any of the careers above resonate with you, my recommendation is to stick with it and continue to build your skills, even if you can't find work or make a product in the short-term.
Until next time,
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is however at no extra cost to you. You'd just be helping me out :)