The story of how I became a digital nomad with a background in social work is nontraditional and unconventional. When most people think of digital nomads, they think of people who work in tech. To be someone with a traditional job who works remotely, in a field so stereotyped such as social work, often perplexes people.
Yet, due to the pandemic that started in 2019, many ” traditional ” jobs have changed. There is freedom and flexibility now that did not exist for people who work in Social Services, Education, Health, and any other traditional job sector. So while my story is rare or unique, others can do the same.
And here I am, a traveling remote social worker, ready to spill the beans! I love being a research and evaluation consultant in macro social work (with no LMSW, LCSW – only a MSW). So as someone who talks a lot about finding freedom and flexibility outside the office with a nine-to-five job, I thought it would be good to share my story of how I became a digital nomad and how to prepare for a similar journey.
What is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is a type of remote worker who earns a living online and is not bound by a specific business location, meaning they often travel and work simultaneously. Digital nomads spend one month or more in a place and can be 9-to-5ers, freelancers, or entrepreneurs. They also often earn money working for a company outside the countries and cities they visit.
How do you become a digital nomad?
The common question is, “how do you become a digital nomad?” And to be honest, the answer varies. There are many ways to become a digital nomad. The first step is finding a remote job that allows you to work from various locations.
As someone with a traditional job who works remotely, finding a job that works from anywhere in my field can be a bit difficult. In a conventional job like mine, I am still required to have lots of meetings. And because of that, I have to be mindful of time zones which means “working from anywhere” can be difficult.
So if you are seriously considering becoming a digital nomad, you need to figure out what kind of job lifestyle you want. Then finding a remote company that aligns with that lifestyle. Nowadays, “remote” can mean hybrid, remote in the U.S, or indeed “work from anywhere.” The companies vary, so we will have to dig and apply to find the right one for you.
How much money do you need to become a digital nomad?
The amount of money you need to become a digital nomad depends on the person’s lifestyle. However, there are some income requirements for digital nomad visas. These have been launching since 2020, when countries are attracting more remote workers to their cities.
Places such as the Cayman Islands require a salary of $100,000. Other countries, such as Georgia, require $2000 per month. So, in addition to finding a remote job, you must research the country you’re interested in. But you can be a digital nomad without these visas, depending on your passport and general visa requirements, and length of stay.
How I became a digital nomad as a remote social worker
My educational background
It’s not required to have a degree for many remote jobs that can make you a digital nomad! However, in the beginning, I had other dreams. I didn’t even know what a “digital nomad” was until the 2020 pandemic because working remotely was never the end goal.
My original plan was to become an International Social Worker. Instead, I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology and Spanish, with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, in 2016. Then I spent a year in Spain on a Fulbright Fellowship and followed that up with a year in the AmeriCorps program Public Allies. Finally, wanting to bridge all my experiences, I enrolled in a Master of Social Work program with a concentration on International Development.
The 2020 pandemic pivot
Eight weeks before graduation, COVID-19 shut everything down – including my postgraduate dreams. In the final semester of my grad school year, I applied to be a traveling social worker on study abroad programs that also traveled worldwide. I wanted to work with students and support them in unpacking their journeys abroad.
But with the pandemic, all those jobs disappeared, and some companies no longer exist. Therefore, I had to pivot to a Plan B. I looked at the skills I already had to find a job that would align with what I wanted to do. And that’s how I was introduced to the evaluation consulting world.
Learning how to be a remote evaluation consultant
While in grad school, as part of my social work internship, I worked remotely for a company based in Berlin. I also had some experience in research and evaluation and consulting with organizations. Yet, I felt very unprepared for my job in many ways.
In the beginning, I relied on my transferable skills from past experiences in social work, Fulbright, and Public Allies. But I needed to learn the evaluation skills to facilitate focus groups and interviews, create surveys and lead strategic planning.
Due to the pandemic, we were a remote organization, and in 2021 we became permanently virtual. Over time I began to excel and get promoted, and traveling seemed to be a possibility. That’s when the wheels in my brain began to turn – I realized I could be a digital nomad.
Testing out the digital nomad waters
Something else unconventional about my “how I became a digital nomad” story is that I started in the U.S. While many people want to go abroad as part of their remote work journey, there have been places I wanted to see here too.
For four months, I traveled solo and worked remotely around the U.S as a digital nomad. I visited New Orleans, Charleston, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, and Houston. Testing out the digital nomad life and staying in hostels in the U.S helped me learn:
- Not to plan a remote work and travel journey during multiple seasons
- I did not like lugging around my checked bag and needed to pack lighter
- The U.S still has so much beauty I have not yet experienced
Life as a digital nomad now
At the time I am currently writing this, I am plotting to travel for a few months abroad. Though I do have a U.S home base, I also have the financial and physical freedom and flexibility to hop around. I know I am not a digital nomad that needs to be on the go all the time, which is essential to know your remote work style.
My “how I became a digital nomad” story is still being written. Working remotely as a social worker in a nontraditional space, such as evaluation consulting, has opened many doors. This is just the beginning of new remote and international career opportunities.
Top tips for social workers who want to work remotely
Social work is an emerging remote work field. There is so much possibility for us to have freedom and flexibility in ways we never could have imagined. Gone are those burnt out, in-person jobs draining us. If you are a traditional job holder who wants to work remote, here are my tips:
- Do a skills analysis of the current skills you had to find overlap with remote work jobs
- Focus on your skills more than your degree when job searching
- Consider that a pivot into remote social work may mean pursuing macro social work
- Download my remote social work 101 guide to learn how you can pivot into a remote career
A digital nomad lifestyle has its ups and downs, but…
Though I love being a traveling remote social worker, the digital nomad lifestyle is not as perfect as it seems. For example, some days you are too tired to explore the new place you’re in after work. And as a social worker, my job is still stressful at times, and it can be hard to be away from loved ones when I need extra comfort.
Nevertheless, I love the journey of how I became a digital nomad. The remote work lifestyle is not something I anticipated for myself, let alone while maintaining my social work career. However, it has been a rewarding and unique experience thus far. I hope you can create your own free & flexible lifestyle too!
Want to know more about digital nomad life? Here are some digital nomad advantages and disadvantages!