With freelancing comes great freedom. Although there are downsides (like late paying clients), the upsides are unbeatable: afternoons working in the garden and ad-hoc long weekends in Paris for starters.

A growing number of freelancers are taking that freedom a step further and becoming “digital nomads” – slowly travelling the world while still working full-time.

We left the UK six months ago, and we’ve found ourselves part of a community of people who are able to work remotely regardless of their industry – including a lawyer and acting coach as well as the more typical web designers and online marketers.

We still work for at least eight hours per day, but because we stay in the same place for at least a few weeks we don’t feel like we need to pack in lots of sightseeing. It’s just like working from home, but there are new things to explore every time we take a break. What’s more, the constant new experiences have done wonders for our creativity.

If you’re wondering if you can do it too, here are some of our tips for making the transition as pain-free as possible.

Choosing a destination

All you really need to combine work and travel is a destination with reliable wifi – which rules out very few places. And if you want to go somewhere really remote for a while, just schedule in a week’s holiday.

Southeast Asia is a popular destination for digital nomads, but you don’t have to go that far to have a much better cost of living than you would at home. Romania is incredibly cheap and has the fastest wifi in the world, and Estonia has a huge tech startup scene.

If you’d rather test the water before becoming a fully fledged digital nomad, just book an apartment in Spain for a month and see how it suits you. If you’re feeling ballsy, don’t tell your clients and hope they don’t hear the cicadas chirping in the background.

Finding a base

If you’re trying to get a solid day’s work done, you don’t want to be wringing the water out of your tent or listening to people getting it on at the other end of the hostel dorm. No – what you need is a clean, quiet apartment with wifi – and maybe a pool.

That’s where Airbnb comes in. The site has a list of apartment that can be rented direct from the owners, all with professional photos and reviews from other travellers. You can get a place with all home comforts for a few days to a few months, costing a fraction of the price of a hotel. We’ve been living in Airbnb apartments non-stop for six months (currently in apartment #9 and counting), and got so obsessed we wrote a guide to finding the best apartments.

Staring at rented walls can cause you to go just as crazy as it does at home, but almost every city has plenty of cafes with wifi to combine people watching with keyboard pounding. Or if you want a proper office, sites like Loosecubes and Sharedesk can help you find desks to rent by the day.

Communicating with clients

Shaking off unnecessary meetings is one of the best things about being on the move (“Sorry, I’m in Vietnam that day” is one heck of an excuse), but you can still keep in close contact over the phone and online.

The most important thing is to be very clear with clients about when you will and won’t be available – give them advance notice if you’re having a travel day and won’t be reachable, or if you’re going to be moving to a different time zone.

Being in a different time zone actually has its advantages. If you’re travelling east you’ll be ahead of your clients and can have work ready for them by the time they wake up, and if you go west you’ll have your afternoons free of interruptions because they’ll be in bed.

The logistics are easy. A Skype online number costs £35 for a year, and you can choose a UK number that clients can call for the same price as a local call. You can even install Skype on your mobile phone so you can be reached while you explore your new surroundings.

There’s plenty of software to help you run larger remote meetings too, with Go To Meeting being a popular choice.

Dealing with bureaucracy

Doing away with a permanent abode shakes off a lot of paperwork (like council tax and gas bills), and most of the rest can be handled online. But some companies will still insist on sending you letters. If you can’t find a sympathetic and trustworthy friend to open your mail, companies like Scan My Post will scan and send it to you for as little as £12 per month.

Sending post can be handled online too: just email a PDF to PC2Paper, and they’ll print and send it anywhere in the world for a small fee. If you need to sign a form, just scan your signature and add it to a PDF using the free software Foxit Reader.

Before you leave home, it’s a good idea to scan all your important documents and upload them to a cloud storage solution like Dropbox so you can access them anywhere in the world. The only physical documents you’ll ever need are your passport and your driving license (both parts if you want to hire a car).

Have you successfully taken your business location-independent? If not, what problems do you think would hold you back? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by Giorgio Montersino

  • The freedom to build a business around being able to be anywhere in the world is one thing that attracted me. I’m not there yet, but my business model means I’ll be able to. Probably mostly in the UK for me as there are so many places I haven’t visited yet.

    One practical point: tax. You need to get your tax residency sorted and know how not being resident in one place affects you. HMRC is one organisation who will send you letters in the post and no other way and you dont’ want a delay on those.

    • It’s easiest to maintain UK residency for tax purposes – apparently it’s actually really tough to claim you’re no longer resident, even if you’ve not visited the country in years. I’m sure there’d be tax benefits, but it’s a huge amount of hassle.

      Letters from HMRC are definitely not something you want to miss, and that’s where having a helpful relative or a mail forwarding service really pays off.

  • AlexGemmell

    Interesting post. But how does it work regarding working visas? Are you allowed to work in certain countries like this? For example, what if you were working for a client remotely while sitting on a beach in America? Is that legal?

    • It depends on the country and the length of your stay, really. The US almost certainly wouldn’t approve, but you’ll find lots of digital nomads in south east Asia where it’s not an issue. There’s also the issue of where the work takes place for income tax purposes.

      It’s one of those areas where the possibilities of online working have outpaced the laws, so there’s no consensus. But in most cases you’re spending money in the local economy without taking a job away from a citizen, so no one considers it a problem.

      • Why would this not be an issue in Southeast Asia anymore than it would in USA?

        • The US tends to be tight on everything related to immigration, and American nomads have written about having a tough time at the UK border too. Which makes sense, because there are high-paying jobs to protect and government support that can be claimed. It’s a generalisation, but Southeast Asian countries focus more on the income they get from foreign visitors.

  • I’m trying to buy the Airbnb book, but I get this message:

    Due to copyright restrictions, the Kindle title you’re trying to purchase is not available in your country: United Kingdom.

    Any other way to download/buy? Thanks for the article.

  • That increase in capital items allowance is also a good way of taking a sole trader business down into a lower tax bracket, so keep an eye on your numbers before the tax year ends so you can take advantage if necessary.

  • Martin Braidwood

    Interesting information in this post. I have recently been doing some research into other mail scanning services prior to my business trip in June this year. One to consider would be PA Mailing Services.
    Has anyone heard of them? or used the service before?

  • Inspiring and optimistic. Thank you very much