Becoming a digital nomad as a freelance creative
Aktualisiert: 30. Mai
My experience and helpful tipps on being a solo traveler and digital nomad.
Congratulations on having started your journey as a freelance creative! You've achieved the ultimate freedom - doing a job you love without the constraints of a 9-5 job. However, even with all this freedom you may have noticed that your days start to look pretty similar. You're talking to the same people, seeing the same things every day and working from home can feel pretty isolating. You might have even found yourself working from your bed all day during a cold and grey winter. That's when the idea of becoming a digital nomad starts to sound like a dream - traveling the world and working from cute beach cafes and cozy Airbnbs.
In this blog entry, I'll share with you the pros and cons of a digital nomad lifestyle as an artist, as well as some tips on how to survive the digital nomad lifestyle on any budget. I started solo traveling during my semester breaks in university and became an on-and-off digital nomad in 2021, so I have plenty of helpful advice to share with you.
The good news is that traveling as a digital nomad doesn't have to break the bank. You won't be booking expensive hotels or taking sightseeing tours every day like your employed friends might on vacation. As a freelancer, you have the flexibility to choose affordable and safe destinations and travel dates that work for you. In fact, I once booked a flight with no money saved because I realized I wouldn't be spending much more than I already was on my expensive rent and living costs in Berlin. Of course, traveling without a budget can be risky, as unexpected costs can arise. However, if you have a larger budget, the sky is the limit and you can follow your heart when it comes to your destination and lifestyle.
It's important to note that you don't have to commit to a full year of traveling and move out of your current apartment. I usually travel for 2-3 months at a time and sublet my apartment during that period to avoid paying double costs. Depending on the demand for flats in your area, it can be easy to find someone willing to move into your place for a limited time. I usually set this up only days before I leave. Also, try to cancel any subscriptions you have at home for services you won't be using while you're away to save money.
As a creative, you may find that you are a bit introverted and feel awkward around others. You might even assume that other travelers are the opposite and fear that you won't fit in. However, in my experience many travelers are introverted and charming weirdos who simply want to share their travel experiences with others. You don't have to approach strangers in bars or on beaches to make friends and connect with people, although that's always an option! As an introvert myself, I know that it's not always easy to do. Still I almost never had any problems meeting people because in the digital age there are so many different ways to meet people.
There are plenty of meetups available in larger cities, ranging from yoga and hiking to language exchanges and art and creativity-related events. It's an excellent option if you want to combine meeting new people with your passions or try something new. However, attending a big event alone can still be overwhelming but keep in mind that most attendees are also new to the group.
Couchsurfing hangouts used to be my go-to for meeting fellow travelers even though I never used the app for "couchsurfing" itself. Its hangout feature allowed me to connect with like-minded wanderers in my area by just suggesting anything from grabbing a beer to exploring the local sights. Sadly, since the app started charging money, the number of users has dropped and I noticed that mostly local guys were using it - often treating it as a Tinder alternative. After a few bad experiences I decided to delete the app and I would even go as far as saying it is not safe anymore. So unfortunately, I can no longer recommend it.
While you might feel weird about using it in your own city - even though there is no reason to - it absolutely makes sense to use it while traveling.
It's stress-free and allows you to chat first to see if you have a connection before meeting up for an activity or drink. If you match with multiple people, consider arranging a group hangout to increase your chances of meeting new friends. If you hit it off with someone, you could have a new travel buddy for the duration of your trip. And even if it doesn't work out, worst case scenario is you have a coffee date with lukewarm conversations.
Dating apps can be a great way for singles to meet new people while traveling. It doesn't always have to lead to romance and can be a fun way to explore a new place with a local. Just make sure to exercise caution and use common sense when meeting up with strangers. Try to get to know them a bit online first and make sure they seem trustworthy before meeting in person.
Facebook and WhatsApp groups
While Facebook may not be as relevant to our daily lives as it once was, there are still many groups for travelers, locals, and expats in specific locations. These groups can be a great resource for finding events, asking for recommendations or advice, or even just connecting with others in the area. In fact, I even discovered a digital nomad Slack group in Gran Canaria through a Facebook group!
It's worth doing some online research or asking people you meet at your destination if they know of any WhatsApp groups too. Often these groups are a great way to find like-minded people, get recommendations for things to do or even organize meetups.
Although I don't personally recommend staying in a hostel or shared dorm as a freelance creative (more on that later), it's no secret that a lot of travelers meet people in hostels. You can still take advantage of the social atmosphere by visiting the hostel bar, which is often open to the public. Just sit at the bar, strike up a conversation with the travelers next to you and see where it leads. Keep in mind that hostel guests are usually very open to meeting new people, so it's generally less awkward than trying to make friends in a regular bar.
Free guided tours
Many destinations offer free guided tours you can join. My friend did this when she visited me while I was in Barcelona and we both ended up spending the evening with a bunch of people she met there. However, it's important to keep in mind that most people on these tours are short-term tourists and might not be in the area for long.
If you want to actually get work done while traveling, experience the local culture and save money, slow-traveling is highly recommended in my opinion. By staying in one location for at least a month, you can enjoy the benefits of lower accommodation costs as well as save on transportation expenses such as flights, trains, buses, and cars you would have when traveling around a lot. Monthly deals for gyms, yoga classes, and co-working spaces can also be obtained.
With a slow-travel lifestyle you can work all day without feeling guilty about missing out on sightseeing opportunities. You'll have plenty of time to explore your chosen location at your own pace and without stress. You won't have to worry about packing, unpacking, or catching trains, and you'll have time to sit in a café, read, and soak up the local atmosphere. Over time, you'll feel like a local and have the opportunity to build lasting friendships with other digital nomads or locals. Additionally, you'll be less distracted by the constant change of scenery and can truly immerse yourself in your creative work and surroundings.
AirBnB vs. rental groups on WhatsApp and Facebook
When it comes to finding a place to stay as a digital nomad, your options will depend largely on your budget. I have found that booking an Airbnb is the easiest and most convenient way. Many hosts offer significant discounts for bookings of a month or longer, though prices can still vary greatly depending on your location and therefore still might not be affordable. Here you can decide on renting a whole place for yourself or a room in a shared place. While sharing a place will be cheaper, I personally prefer to find a place on my own since I am not used to the flat-sharing lifestyle anymore.
Another option is to search for local rental groups on WhatsApp or Facebook, where people often post listings for short-term rentals or sublets. I have used this method twice when traveling to Barcelona, as the prices on Airbnb had gone up over the years at this location. While this can be a great way to find good value, keep in mind that it may take some time to find a place that meets your expectations and is available for your travel dates. Additionally, if there is any disagreement with the person renting the place, it may be harder to resolve.
As I've already mentioned, I wouldn't recommend staying in a shared dorm or hostel if you're a freelance creative who needs to get work done. While this option may be the cheapest and allow you to make lots of friends, you need to ensure that you can get a good night's sleep and work from your accommodation. Saving money by staying in a shared dorm or hostel might end up being counterproductive if you can't concentrate on your work due to noisy partying nearby. In my opinion, this option is more suitable for travelers who have taken time off work to focus solely on their travel experience.
I have considered staying at a co-living in the past but ended up never actually doing it. Co-livings have the advantage of providing a built-in community of people, as well as a co-working space right on site. Additionally, the rooms provided are usually of good quality and well-equipped. Prices can range from medium to high - depending on the location and amenities. However, I found that the best and most affordable rooms are often booked out well in advance, which means that booking at the last minute is not always possible. Another downside to co-livings is that many require a minimum stay of three months.
The decision of where to work from as a digital nomad depends on what type of creative you are, your working setup and whether you have regular meetings or not. As an illustrator who mainly works on an iPad and rarely has virtual meetings I am lucky enough to be extremely flexible and can work from almost anywhere. You might find me sketching in a park, by the beach, in a cafe, or even on a bus. However, I've also met many digital nomads who have a strict working schedule, regular video calls, and rely on power outlets and strong wifi and still made "working from anywhere" work for them.
Even I sometimes need to use my MacBook, for example when writing this blog post. I strongly recommend investing in a lightweight laptop with a strong battery (in case power outlets are unavailable) instead of a fixed monitor because it will make traveling much easier.
When I'm traveling, I like to find good cafes with reliable wifi where I can work. To do this, I often research popular cafes online and read reviews from other people who have worked from there before. They might mention things like how strong the wifi is, whether the cafe is welcoming to laptop users, how comfortable it is, and so on. I love the atmosphere of working in charming cafes and it's become part of my lifestyle 'm drawn to aesthetically pleasing designs. Of course, everyone has their own preferences, and some people may prefer a more neutral workspace with fewer distractions. Whatever your preference, it's important to find a setup that works best for you. Sometimes, I'll even meet up with other digital nomads I've met on my travels and work together at a cafe.
When looking for a place, make sure they have good and reliable Wi-Fi and a desk because you will probably want to work from home once in a while. It is the most convenient way; you won't have to research anything and can just concentrate on your work. However, of course, it can get a bit lonely and feel isolating if you work from there every day.
With the increasing number of freelancers each year, co-working spaces are popping up in cities worldwide. Therefore, chances are there are some available at your destination as well. Typically, you have the option to choose between a monthly or weekly flat rate or simply pay for a day pass. Often the price includes coffee and you can expect a productive and focused working atmosphere that helps you accomplish your daily tasks.
While you might anticipate building friendships with other remote workers, I personally found it difficult to connect to others because everyone usually is very focused on their work which makes it hard to start a conversation. However, co-working spaces often organize networking events where you can engage in conversations and then potentially have lunch with the people you met there.
Inspiration vs. distraction
You have the desire to travel, partly for the purpose of finding inspiration for your art and creative practice. However, the reality is that sometimes the distractions outweigh the inspiration. And you know what? That's absolutely fine! It's important not to be too hard on yourself for not producing as much art as you initially expected. Traveling opens up a whole world of possibilities and excitement, allowing you to live in the moment and embrace the wonderful experiences that come your way.
Nevertheless, as a freelance creative, you made the deliberate choice to combine travel and work. Therefore, it's crucial to find a balance and make time for your creativity. I divide some of my days into half work / half experiences and then have days where I mostly work and then give myself some days off as well - trying to keep it in balance. Now let's talk about product management. You may already have a system in place to manage your work, such as a planner or digital project management tools, that help you stay organized and meet your deadlines while on the road. If you are a bit of a chaotic person like me you might not have any of that - in this case I highly recommend starting a bullet journey. Bullet journeys make you keep your thoughts, projects and to-dos organized with a minimal amount of effort and you can personalize it as much as you want. Here is how you set them up. The reason I recommend it especially for travels is that you will notice that time will move in a very different pace when you are traveling.
It is also important to not compare yourself to other travelers and their journey. It might make you fall into stress feeling like you either should work way more or have much more travel experiences. Keep in mind that keeping your sanity over a long time in a foreign country where you have no close friends or family is the most important thing, as it can get overwhelming quickly. Be patient with yourself, prioritize sleep and self-care and make sure to check in on friends and family back home regularly.
To stay safe during your travels do some basic research about specific areas to avoid, reading up the culture and customs of your destinations and be aware of common scams. But most of all listen to your intuition and stay aware of your surroundings. Also make sure you have a travel insurance in case you get sick.
Becoming a digital nomad can be a challenging but rewarding experience for freelance creatives. It allows you to explore new places, meet new people, and find inspiration for your work. If you allow all the impressions, experiences, the culture, the people and the vibe of your location impact you the right way, you will gain great new insights, stories, emotions and memories that will have a wonderful influence on your art and on your practice. Changing up your routine can work wonders to get your head full of new ideas. By budgeting, meeting people, staying productive, and staying safe, you can make the most out of your digital nomad experience.