How to be free of the 9-5 (and tackle your bucket list)

Do you live to work or work to live? And what if you could strike a balance between the two, and tackle your bucket list while you’re working?

This isn’t a trick question. Thanks to the incredible piece of technology that sits in your pocket, and the wireless networks that keep you connected to everyone and everything day and night, it’s now possible to pursue the things you want to do in life AND take your work with you.

Whatever’s on your bucket list – whether it’s traveling, writing, a motorhome adventure, or starting a business digital nomad style – if you’re working a job outside of your passion, you need more time and flexibility to focus on what’s really important.

Because let’s be honest, your annual holiday allowance isn’t really enough to embrace those experiences of a lifetime.

Saving up to go travelling when you retire? Great! Do that too. But why wait? What if you hit retirement and realise you’ve lost your thirst for travel and adventure? We could be looking at 20 or 30 years before you retire. A lot can happen between now and then.

That’s why growing numbers of people of all ages, from 20-somethings to retirees and every age group in between (including families), are embracing the opportunity to work remotely and achieve real work-life balance.

What is the ‘digital nomad lifestyle’?

People who work from home or from ‘third place’ locations, aka anywhere, are often known as remote workers. This in itself has grown massively over the past 10-15 years thanks to huge advances in mobile technology and wireless internet connectivity.

In fact, it’s estimated that by 2020, 50% of the workforce in the US will be working remotely.

But there’s another branch of remote working that has captured the imagination of wanderlust workers. It’s known as ‘digital nomadism’ and as the name suggests, it’s not just about people who work remotely; it’s about people who like to work in a nomadic way.

Generally speaking, a digital nomad is someone who works while traveling. We’re not talking about working a bar job on an extended vacation. We’re talking about traveling and moving from place to place, while keeping up a semi-regular job using technological tools such as a laptop, smartphone, and WiFi.

Typically, digital nomads are self-employed and operate on a freelance or contractual basis, which allows them to work flexibly. This makes it easier to split their time between work and leisure rather than restricting their day (and daylight) hours to a 9-5 work routine.

That said, while many digital nomads are freelancers, entrepreneurs, and contract workers, they can also be full-time employees.

There are various companies that have embraced work flexibility and employ remote workers – such as Buffer, Automattic, InVision, Zapier, Gitlab and Trello, and Alliance Virtual Offices – and many of whom work on a location-independent basis.

Four ways you can make money as a digital nomad

The whole point of being a digital nomad is that you are not chained to a desk 12 hours a day.

Therefore you need to think about how you can make money and earn a living by doing something that’s flexible, or part-time, or better still, something that brings in passive income. The more automated your choice of revenue stream, the better. That way, you get to make the most of your surroundings while your revenue generator runs in the background.

That’s why you’ll read about a lot of digital nomads who are affiliate advertisers or internet marketers, and make money online by running social media ads and building sales funnels for items such as ebooks, guides, and online courses.

But you don’t have to be a marketing whizzkid to become a digital nomad. Here are four more ideas to help make your travel dreams a reality.

1) Keep your day job

Is your current job one that can be carried out from anywhere? Do you really, really need to commute to an office every day? Can face-to-face meetings be replaced by phone or video calls and conferences? The technology exists, it’s seamless, and it’s often free, too. 

Ask the question: can you take your job remote? You have nothing to lose by asking, but potentially a lot to gain.

2) Negotiate working from home

If you’re not interested in traveling but you want to reduce your commute and spend more time working from home, consider negotiating a work-from-home arrangement with your employer. In this article, remote work specialists FlexJobs posed a number of home-working negotiation strategies. Here are three of them:

  1. Evaluate your position – Are you required to supervise people around you, or regularly meet clients in the office? If so, these might not be the best roles for a remote position. However, you could consider adjusting your schedule and only meeting people at specific times or days.
  2. Check with HR – Find out whether your company has a remote work policy in place. If not, ask why. If there is, speak to someone who is using it and ask how the flexibility impacts their job. Then present any positive feedback to your manager.
  3. Plan for a trial period – Propose a trial period and map out what you will be doing during that period. You should include the tools you will use to carry out your job (smartphone, laptop) how you will stay in touch (email, scheduled phone calls, video conference calls), and how your boss can measure your performance.

As part of your proposal, be sure to point out the potential benefits for your employer. When implemented company-wide, remote work means less money spent on office space, better access to a wider talent pool that’s not restricted by location, and happier, more productive employees.

3) Find a new job

We’re not suggesting you should ditch your job in favor of romantic ideas about traveling and working from the beach. However, if the time is right and you’re considering alternative career options, it certainly doesn’t hurt to look for remote or home-based job opportunities. You may be surprised at what you find.

For instance, remote jobs platform FlexJobs revealed in a recent survey of global businesses found that almost half of companies offer some degree of remote working, including Fortune 500 companies such as Amazon, American Express, Dell, Oracle, and more.

For help finding remote jobs, check out FlexJobs, We Work Remotely, and Remoters.

4) Consider going freelance

Moving from employment to freelancing or contractual work is a big leap. Don’t take the decision lightly. Do your research and examine your potential self-employed career path to ensure there is ample demand for the products or services you supply, and that it can cover your living costs.

When you’re ready to take the leap, there are a number of freelance job sites that can help you connect with other people and companies looking for your skills. These include People Per Hour, Upwork, and Freelancer.

Here are some of the most common remote jobs that you can do in full-time employment, or as a freelance professional:

  • Virtual assistant
  • Programmer, developer, or systems engineer
  • Marketing professional
  • Freelance writer, proofreader or editor
  • Graphic, product or web designer
  • Sales or customer support
  • SEO specialist
  • Business analyst
  • Translator
  • Transcriber
  • Medical transcriptionist
  • Social media manager
  • Online teacher or tutor
  • Data entry
  • Quality assurance
  • Travel agent

How do digital nomads unwind?

Traveling can be tough. It’s exhilarating, exciting, and unforgettable, but travel can also be exhausting. Constantly moving around from place to place, checking into different hostels or B&Bs, arranging transport, overcoming language barriers, carrying luggage, and of course, all this time you’re working to keep the money coming in. The days are long and tiring.

Sometimes you need downtime that’s not related to work or travel, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s really important. Everyone needs vacation time to just sit, relax, read a book and do nothing.

That’s how you recharge your batteries, ready for the next adventure or the next new project. After all, working flexibly isn’t about cramming more work into your day. It’s about empowering you to use your time more effectively and having the freedom to work when, and where, you are most productive.

Could being a digital nomad be right for you?

For many of us, the 9-5 simply doesn’t work. But when your day is flexible you can put your energy into working productively and knocking out your bucket list, instead of talking aimlessly at the water cooler while waiting to punch out.

So if an adventurous lifestyle sounds appealing to you, then take a closer look at the trail less traveled. Becoming a digital nomad can be a rewarding and unforgettable experience, whether for a few months, a year, or as part of a longer-term flexible lifestyle.

Bucket list? Done.

Photo by Andre Hunter