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Want to know how to become a digital nomad? Having an income stream is the easy part! Read on for the details you need to figure out before actually leaving your home country.
We decided we wanted to travel abroad as digital nomads when we were engaged, but it took 8 years to figure out how to make that happen. In that amount of time we had a child, built a successful (to us) business online, made a plan for living abroad, and sold our house and all of our possessions to make our dream happen.
If you’re considering traveling abroad with your family you probably have a lot of questions. I did! I took a whole year to plan, research, and get comfortable with the idea!
While it’s an important start, the reality is that just having passion to travel isn’t enough. Unfortunately, there are some very real things to consider and prepare for before moving abroad. But don’t worry- the few things that are really essential can easily happen. I hope this timeline gives you an idea of things you’ll need to take care of before you leave!
Here is the timeline of how we prepared to live abroad!
One year out: Sold the House
Sold our house in North Carolina. We spent the month before closing organizing our things and selling what we wouldn’t need during our time renting a much smaller apartment.
11 Months Out: Temporary Move
We made a month-long road trip staying with different friends and family members whom we’d miss on our extended time abroad. This was an excellent way to start things off and to see some incredible sights in America!
10 Months Out: Temporary Housing
We landed in Orem, Utah. We chose to stay in Utah temporarily to spend a few months with family and to explore the American Southwest. We went on exploratory road trips a few times a month, which really helped us transition to full-time life on the road. We also used this time to work and save as much as we could, to research our trip, and to begin this travel blog to help us stay in contact with loved ones and chronicle our adventures. Believe me, these 10 months were crucial to figuring out the type of travellers we wanted to be and the best way to do it!
6 Months Out: Getting New Passports
Got our son a new passport. He’d had one as a baby, but children’s passports are only valid for 5 years (adults are valid for 10, or until you run out of space.) We only needed 6 weeks or so to get his passport, but we chose to get it so early because we were planning some foreign travel before our extended trip abroad.
3 Months Out: Researching Where to Live as Digital Nomads
We met a local family who had recently spent a year traveling abroad with their kids. This was a great opportunity to ask questions and get advice on what to expect. In addition to helping us get excited, this talk had two huge benefits to us: it encouraged us to home school our son instead of joining an online school (since we may not get consistent internet as we travel, and we could provide a great education through our travel activities) and convinced us to be more flexible as we travel (to make room for loving a certain location instead of planning months in advance.) I highly recommend joining travel Facebook groups or finding locals who have traveled to talk to while you plan your trip!
2 Months Out: Making a Loose Travel Schedule
After talking it over for months, we were finally ready to lay down a loose schedule. This included deciding on our first stop, how we would get there, and where we would stay.
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6 Weeks Out: Necessary Doctor Visits for Living Abroad
Scheduled and started going to doctor and dental appointments. Ben, our son and I each had well visits, and our son needed lots of dental care. I’m glad we allotted 6 weeks for this, since he ended up needing 3 follow-up procedures over the course of a month! Yikes! I would have been really stressed if we cut that any closer!
1 Month Out: Vaccinations for Living Abroad
Visited our local Health Department office for a consultation on what vaccines were recommended for the areas we planned to visit. A lot of good information is available through the website, so you can do preliminary research before going in to the office.
Some vaccines require multiple doses over a period of time to take effect, so giving yourself at least a month to take care of them all is necessary.
1 Month Out: Travel Health Insurance for Digital Nomads
Researched international health insurance plans. There are a few available for nomads! We chose one which provided health benefits, travel insurance in case of missed plans, car insurance coverage, and travel back to our home country. It is a very reasonable rate, so it’ll provide some peace of mind even if we never need it (fingers crossed).
3 Weeks Out: Getting Valid IDs
Applied for new driver’s licenses since ours would expire while we were gone. Ben chose to test for a motorcycle license, as well, so he would be able to rent a motorcycle in bike-friendly areas (predominantly SE Asia.) It takes Utah 2-3 weeks to mail newly granted licenses, so we barely took our test with enough time!
18 Days Out: International Driver’s License
Had extra passport-sized photo printed and applied for international driver’s licenses through our local AAA office. You don’t have to have an international driver’s license to be eligible to rent a car overseas, but it will help if you are involved in an accident and need insurance coverage (our traveler’s insurance recommended we get them).
The AAA licenses cost $20 and are valid in every country except Uruguay and Brasil.
2 Weeks Out: Packing & Selling
Began organizing, packing, donating, and throwing away our things. This is a long process, so it’s nice to start early! We also rented a storage unit for the few items we knew we wanted to keep. We started to slowly move essential items to the storage unit, which gave us a much better idea of any extra space we’d have to store things we wanted to (but didn’t have to) keep.
This sounds like a difficult process, but it turned out to be really liberating. I didn’t end up missing any of the things we’d sold a year ago, so this time around I was actually eager to get rid of it all. I was so excited to leave after planning our trip for over a year that this felt like the best way to make it come a little sooner!
2 Weeks Out: Shopping for Travel Essentials
Shopped for all of the things we still needed. Carry on suitcases, new shoes and clothes for our growing son, better rain/ wind shells, external hard drive, etc. Don’t get the wrong impression, we only packed what was necessary, but we did wait until a couple of weeks out to get these essentials so they wouldn’t get lost or worn out before our trip.
This was also the perfect amount of time to shop so we had time to order things online that we couldn’t find in stores!
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10 Days Out: Make A Will
Created a will and authorized power of attorney. This document included our wishes for our business, belongings, and bank account in the event of my husband’s and my death and also in the event of the death of our entire family. We also included our wishes for custody of our child, as well as who has permission to come and get him from whatever country we may be visiting (important, as some countries may try to detain the surviving family members without legal notice). We e-mailed our will to our lawyer and sent a copy to a trusted family member, but simply having one written which is accessible to others may be enough.
3 Days Out: Moved Out
With just a holiday weekend left before our departure, we sold and moved our biggest pieces of furniture. We could have done this the day before our big move, but we wanted a couple of extra days to to find another buyer in case something went wrong. Getting rid of our biggest furniture a few days early also gave us time to survey what was left to clean or pack on the floor of each room. I like to take my time organizing, so I was grateful to be able to be methodical!
3 Days Out: Say Goodbye to Friends & Family
We slept at my sister’s house during our last weekend as we moved out our furniture. This was an incredible way to end our 9-months in Utah and to begin life abroad! We were able to spend lots of quality time with their family in-between packing and cleaning our apartment. We also saw many friends and other visiting family, whom we were sad to be leaving behind. This last-minute push to visit loved ones has helped sustain us on our travels. We took pictures together and made memories that will last a lifetime.
1 Day Out: Packing our Travel Bags and Carryons
I first packed our travel bags when we were were deciding what to keep or donate 2 weeks earlier so I would know what else we needed to buy for our trip. After getting in all of our last-minute travel stuff our bags needed to be re-packed. Or maybe I’m just the sort of person who likes to fold and organize. This time around I wanted to make final choices on what would stay or go and to make sure everything would fit. It felt really, really good!
We decided to transition to permanently traveling abroad by first moving across the country and making trips from a home base, but you could easily skip that portion of our preparation and condense your preparation to just 2 or 3 months.
The major points are to make sure you’ve ended your housing lease or sold your house, to pack or organize your stuff, and to get all the proper documents in order. This does not have to be a laborious process! By taking it one step at a time you can totally prepare to live abroad in a short period!
Things to know to become Digital Nomads
- We were so excited about the trip that waiting the 9 months we lived in Utah were pretty difficult. We found ourselves planning week-long (or longer) trips almost every month to scratch the travel itch. Once you decide to live abroad it is torture to have to wait!
- We were so grateful to have spent our last few months close to family. We lived down the street from my sister and her family, one hour away from my aging grandmother, and a few hours away in either direction from two of Ben’s sisters and their families. We had never lived near so many family members before, and seeing them as frequently as possible before moving abroad indefinitely really helped us say goodbye to them. So consider spending as much time as possible with loved ones!
- Some people will not understand why you’re leaving. It’s hard to explain travel passion, but once you get the urge strongly enough that you’re willing to leave everything you know behind, people asking you to stay is not going to stop you. Just be prepared for some hard conversations, and be patient with them. They are having a hard time letting you go because they love you. That’s a good thing.
- Traveling abroad will not be easy. Fun? Yes. Beautiful? Of course. Worth it? Absolutely. But easy? No. You’ll be sleeping in strange beds, constantly getting used to new languages and cultures, possibly surrounded by food you may hate, you could get sick, you’ll feel homesick, miss friends and family, have fun plans derailed by weather, etc. It’s an incredible opportunity, just be prepared for some of the tough parts.
- Some people will be jealous. During the year we spent preparing to live abroad I started to avoid telling people our plans. I heard “Oh I’m so jealous! Can you take me with you?” too many times. I started to feel guilty. When around other people the conversation would inevitably turn to our travels and the others would start to feel overshadowed pretty quickly. Be prepared with a simple way of explaining that you’re leaving to travel indefinitely, and be gracious when talking with others. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Give them space to feel important and valuable, too. Everyone’s journey in life is meaningful!
Good luck on your journey! Learning how to become a digital nomad is not easy, but so worth it! Leave a comment with any questions and we’ll be happy to share our experience with you!
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