A common question on forums and websites related to location independent work and travel is “what’s the best job for a digital nomad?”. I’d like to point out straight away that this is impossible to answer. There are just too many variables involved. It’s like asking “What’s the best food?”. Your personal situation, travel style, and life goals will determine the best career path. However, there are some jobs that are particularly suited to the digital nomad lifestyle. If you're considering a change of job or you want to hit the road and work online, one of these jobs or business ideas might be perfect for you.
The list of things that digital nomads find to generate income is endless. And many don’t have jobs in the traditional sense. They work for themselves or manage their own companies. Others still work for a company but they don't sit in the corporate office or work in the same timezone as their bosses.
But let’s imagine for a moment that any job one can do online while travelling fits in the category “Digital Nomad Jobs”. What are some of the most popular work options for location independent employees or business owners?
An obvious choice for people that like to work anywhere and anytime. It's worth pointing out that web development can be a lonely job. But this factor can be an advantage for location independent people. Developers spend most of their time coding (no way!) Meetings, communication with team members and clients is often a small part of their daily routine. Communication is asynchronous so emailing at 4 am from a coworking space in Bali won’t make any difference to the hiring manager in San Francisco.
Development can be a well-paid career option. The demand for good software engineers, app developers, and website coders increases year after year (despite the advances in self-writing AI code). With location arbitrage, most programmers can raise their standard of living and quality of life simply by moving to a cheaper country. A developer in London, San Francisco, or New York could see their disposable income double or triple if they moved to Bali, for example.
Software, app, and web development are not easy (otherwise we'd all be doing it). And in most cases, it's not a quick path to income. But if you stick to this path, you'll create a lot of opportunities for income and travel.
Resources for learning web development are easy to find. A simple Google search will pull up tons of courses. These are some of the most popular and best-rated courses to get you started:
- Web Developer Bootcamp
- Treehouse is great for visual learners. It's based on high-quality videos to teach you coding.
- FreeCodeCamp is not only Free, it supports a good cause too.
- Learn to code with one of the original online coding apps with Code Academy.
E-commerce Store Owner
E-commerce is a solid way to build an online business without two of the most frustrating aspects of online work
- Dealing with clients on projects
- The need for technical skills
Software has come a long way. It’s now possible for almost complete technophobes to put together a store in a few hours. But this also means that anyone can slap together an e-commerce store in a few hours. If you want to make it in the e-commerce world, you’ll need some tricks to stay ahead of the also-rans. The lower barrier to entry means that there are countless stores in every niche. Standing out takes more work.
I prefer to use WordPress, which is free, but the platform not for people that are technology-averse. Shopify is a solid choice for beginners. I don’t like the closed system and find it quite frustrating to use but if you can make it work, it’s a solid platform. Squarespace is another option but I would avoid this platform. In my experience, it appears to be an easy-to-use system but the cumbersome interface can suck your time away on even the smallest tasks.
What kind of things can you sell in your e-commerce store? Anything. If you're just starting out, try to go for a less competitive niche. Buying inventory will be a stumbling block for many people and this is where painters, clothing makers, photographers, and anyone that creates their own products can thrive. Amazon has the market covered in the cheap mass-produced products category so avoid these products. Selling something unique will give you that edge.
Here are some good niches:
- Food – Protein bars, paleo bars, and anything that you can create a brand out of.
- Backpacks – A popular option and one that appeals to digital nomads at the same time.
- Tea – Matcha tea, Pu Erh tea, and any other trendy tea can be turned into a brand and marketed online.
Queue eye roll! The term drop shipping triggers derisive comments from some digital nomads. One of the strongest voices in the DN community, Pieter Levels, has little love for entrepreneurs living from drop shipping. He believes it’s all a scam. But this is unfair and it's not a scam. Many people make good incomes entirely from their dropship stores. And the fact is, not everyone can be a programmer, Pieter.
What's dire about this dropshipping stuff is that these ppl from poor areas in U.S. pay 1,000's $$$ for dropship courses that don't deliver
— Pieter Levels 🏝 (@levelsio) February 12, 2017
Admittedly, he's talking about drop ship courses and not the actual running of a store. But I'll bet he's not too fond of that either.
If drop shipping gives you the income to live your own lifestyle, create more businesses, and support yourself and your family, then more power to you. It’s a legitimate way to make money. It can also be a creative outlet. Success in this field calls for ingenuity and perseverance. Read Shopify's guide to dropshipping for more info.
Drop Ship stores follow the e-commerce business model but are a bit different. Dropship stores are popular among digital nomads. But details are hard to find as most site owners hide their niche from copycats.
If you want to make money right away, then drop shipping is not a good option for you. This is a long-term strategy for income creation. Expect 6-12 months to see results, unless you’re lucky, exceptionally talented, or have a stack of money to invest at the start.
Want to get started as a drop shipper?
Check out this course which looks at combining Facebook Ads and Shopify to drop ship products.
Language teaching is one of the original nomad jobs. A couple of decades ago you could easily travel the world with a basic understanding of how to teach English. These days native-level English, a degree, and sometimes a TEFL certificate from a good school are the minimum requirements in a lot of countries (although there are ways around these barriers). The demand for teachers is still increasing but the supply of able candidates has exploded in recent years.
In countries like Vietnam, the need for English teachers is high and wages for teachers are good. The proficiency level in Vietnam is poor but the economy continues to grow and tourist numbers are increasing so I can’t see a slow down in this demand for teachers.
In Hanoi, I met plenty of non-native English speakers with English teaching jobs. Some of them had (and I'm being generous here) only a basic command of the language themselves.
Setting yourself up as an online language teacher is easy. Use a service like Verbling or Italki and post your teacher profile online. Through these services, you can teach people anywhere in the world. So if you wanted to focus on ‘richer’ countries you can do so. It’s often more lucrative to teach in person, but online is a great way to build a reputation, improve your teaching skills, and avoid travel costs. All you need is an internet connection.
This is one my main gigs and can be lucrative if you market yourself properly. The key is to aim high. It’s easy to find cheap writers online so don't fall into the trap of trying to lower your prices to compete. Upwork is awash with dirt cheap writers and there’s a market for that. Many clients couldn't care less about quality. But there is and always will be a market for premium services. If you can write well and you have a good portfolio, you can earn an income from higher paying clients.
Check out this article on finding work on Upwork, based on my own experiences of finding high-paying writing work on the platform. The key is to avoid being part of the race to the bottom. Put your time into building your portfolio online an creating content to drive traffic to your website. Save your energy and motivation for clients that want more than just fluff.
But there is and always will be a market for premium services
Social Media Marketer
This is a popular job for digital nomads and it’s easy to see why. Most nomads understand that power of social media and use it to build their own brands. Once you’ve mastered the art of creating brand awareness and driving traffic to your own businesses, it’s not too much of a leap to apply the tactics you’ve learned to the social media accounts of clients.
The social media marketing space has become more competitive and difficult recently. Changes in Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have made automation more difficult. Marketers need to be a bit more hands-on but there's still room for automating and reducing workload.
Want to get started as a social media manager? Reach out to businesses that you know and ask them about their social strategy. Find out if they need help. Show them how you can increase sales. Walk the talk by building your own engaged social media following. Use tools like SocialInsider, Promo Republic, Buffer, and ContentStudio to make your life easier.
Adwords, Facebook ads, Pinterest ads, and to a lesser extent, Twitter ads have become the lifeline of many businesses. With Facebook's almost complete destruction of the organic reach for businesses, ads are one of the best traffic channels for leads.
It’s easy to get started as an Ads manager but it’s hard to get good results unless you have studied your ad channel well. There’s an art (especially with Adwords) to crafting good advertisements and matching them with landing pages. And you need to manage keywords and keyword groups to keep costs down. This is a task I perform daily as an Ads manager and I like to think of the process as a type of game. Keeping costs down while getting the most clicks possible can be challenging. It’s not a job for everyone but if you can learn the ropes, it’s a great way to get started in online marketing.
Did you know that there are other platforms that can offer a better return on investment for businesses buying ads? These platforms are still relatively untapped by marketers. Reddit and Quora are just two alternatives to the main ad networks. Now’s a good time to learn these platforms before the gold rush. If you can prove to clients you understand how to generate traffic and revenue from these platforms, you have a business model.
Once you’ve got a handle on ads, a good place to start for prospective clients is the digital nomad community. New dropship entrepreneurs, e-commerce store owners, and bloggers need ads to sell their products. If you can get them a good return on investment for their ad budget, they will continue working with you.
Customer Service Rep
Since about 3 or 4 years ago it’s been quite hip to call this position “customer happiness engineer” or “client joy architect”. I made that last one up. Whatever ridiculous titles startups use for this job it amounts to one function: providing solutions to customer problems.
As most customer service jobs cover specific time periods, for example, 9 am to 5 pm EST, this isn’t an ideal job for the location independent person or anyone averse to fixed schedules. Some customer service representative jobs are flexible on schedules and time zones. If the business provides support by email, then you can sometimes fit your work around your personal schedule. If the business offers chat and phone support with fixed hours, your chances of travelling on a whim or taking a day off are much reduced.
Customer service positions traditionally pay at the lower end of the scale. But live in a cheaper country and benefit from exchange rate arbitrage to improve your standard of living.
People that travel are often pretty handy with a camera. Documenting the world while travelling is, for some, the most enjoyable aspect of the digital nomad lifestyle.
As with everything technology related, the ease of entry into the photography market means there are a plethora of photographers in every niche. Again, you need to stand out. Take some tips from the National Geographic photographers (who know a thing or two about travel photography)
If you have a camera, plenty of time, and are keen to try the pro photographer route to digital nomadism, check out one of the original digital photography courses from Digital Photography School. Incidentally, this is the main revenue-generating website for super blogger Darren Rowse, a man who knows how to make money from blogging. And that leads me to the next digital nomad job, Blogger.
Unless your business has good brand awareness, or it relies on paid ads, a company blog is a great way of generating traffic. Almost all businesses use blogs and content for lead generation. Bloggers write to generate traffic for their own blogs and they make money in a number of different ways. Here are just some potential revenue-generating options for bloggers:
- Affiliate marketing – getting paid commissions for recommending products on your blog.
- Advertising commissions – getting paid for showing ads on your website
- Info product sales – selling ebooks, courses, and other virtual products from your blog
The number of blogging niches is ever expanding. The long-tail of interests means that even the weirdest, most obscure niches have thousands (or more) potential fans all around the world. In the Digital nomad world, travel blogs are popular. Location independent business people travel regularly so there’s an opportunity to document these travels and make money or create brand awareness at the same time. Starting a travel blog is easy but creating a solid blog that stands out from the crowd is more difficult.
It’s hard to give a definitive answer on the most profitable niches for bloggers because revenue sources change for each niche. Affiliate marketing works well for travel blogs and finance blogs. Advertising is a good revenue stream for entertainment blogs. How and ever, here are some of the best niches for blogging
- Health and Wellness
- Personal Development
If you write well in a niche with low competition, you will get the lion’s share of the traffic results. Look for a niche you’re interested in but nobody else has covered well. This is a good place to start.
Generalist on Fiverr
A bit of a random one, but it’s possible to list several skills on Fiverr and live off the one-off jobs. Yes, believe it or not, some people have made a lot of money on Fiverr. And you’re not limited to $5 jobs. You can charge pretty much anything you like. Clients are used to cheap prices though so setting your targets too high might price you out of the market.
If you own video production software and like writing about Bitcoin, you could create a Bitcoin marketing gig. Software like Rocketium will help you do that even if you have zero coding or design skills.
Like translating from Spanish to English in your spare time? Post a translation gig online.
You’re a digital nomad, so you like travelling, right? Post a travel writing gig on Fiverr and see if anyone bites.
Social Media whizz? Sell small social media management packages and upsell once you get people on board.
Blogger, lifelong learner, entrepreneur & musician from Ireland. I've been travelling and living overseas for over 20 years. My mission is to build businesses that allow me to have a simple and independent lifestyle. In the process, I hope to help myself and others with my writing.