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The Ultimate Guide on How to Become a Digital Nomad as a Software Engineer

June 17th, 2022
Learn how to become a digital nomad (but keeping your current job) with the help of Rafael Martins and his own experience as a software engineer and a digital nomad!

Working from home is the trend for the last 2 years, but did you know the concept exists since 1973?! How is that possible?! 

Hum... 🤔🤔

Why would people even consider a reality in which their workstations would only be 2 meters away from their beds? Where most of the commutes would be between their room, office, restroom, and kitchen with their cute pet always by their side? Odd right?!

Remote work popularity only rose once companies didn’t have any other option than allowing their employees to work from their homes due to the quarantine caused by Covid-19.

So this article is about how I managed to scale up my happiness by leveling up the concept of working from home - and became an occasional digital nomad! 🎒

Considering my own experience, I summed up the most frequent questions asked by non-digital nomads, and answered them in this article, so you can understand if this lifestyle is suitable for you or not.

Why would one consider working as a digital nomad?

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” - T.S. Eliot


Being in the same country, with the same people, in same places, visiting the same monuments and the same parks, that thirsty feeling of discovering new places, new gems, tends to fade away in time. Unavoidably, as human beings, we create routines based upon places, food, people, etc, and we do it week after week, month after month, year after year.

Moreover, as a software engineer, it’s so easy to get stuck in front of a monitor, working, exploring the internet, playing games, and studying while time flies away. That scary thought of living without experiencing what life has to offer was starting to get into my head, so I decided to look out for a solution. 

Before I became a digital nomad, I did some traveling but never tried long stays, as it required a considerable amount of money and to embrace the unknown daily. 

Plus, being in a new environment can be truly challenging. Being out of your comfort zone will for sure challenge the way you do your work, how you commit to it. You won’t simply be on vacation, so doing the most out of your temporary workstation should be your top priority so you can make this work. Make it as comfortable as possible, as it will be yours for the next few weeks. 

Working from a different location allows you to embrace new cultures and meet people around the globe, where in other circumstances wouldn't be possible. The feeling of finishing your job for the day and having a new city to explore, as a regular person would do only on their holidays, is special. You feel like life is only getting started! 

How to choose your destinations?

There’s always that question… But where to?! What's next?!

Some conditions need to be aligned to define the next destination. Those conditions will classify a given place as reasonable to work from or only for holiday purposes.

Timezone

It will always depend on which type of company you work for, and how often they will require you to be present for a meeting. 

Is your company ok with asynchronous work? Or do you have frequent virtual calls?

A three-hours difference is the maximum time difference to be able to work. Beyond that, in my opinion, your personal life will get significantly affected. Imagine having a city to explore only after 9 PM without sunlight and/or freezing outside? Or even waking up at 5 AM to have a client meeting and then not being able to enjoy the city - because you’re too tired - after 6PM?

Budget

An important aspect to choose a location is how much it costs to live in that place.

To have a sustainable life, after all the expenses, you should still be able to save some money. What allows one to have such a lifestyle is having savings! Saving should be your top priority. Moreover, remember to have them accessible, in a savings account, as most apartment rentals require money upfront, as do airline companies.

Some people might think that, with this lifestyle, I’m spending most of my money on travel, but that’s not true. I’m still able to save enough money for things other than traveling!

Housing

As a software engineer, having a comfortable working space might be the difference between being productive or not.

The wi-fi must be stable! I can’t afford to have important meetings getting postponed because of a bad internet connection. I shouldn’t be giving any reasons to my employer to think that my work efficiency is being affected, so make sure you test the wi-fi before you get down to work.

You can also check about the quality of the wi-fi in the country you’re planning to go to before you’re actually there.

Since half of my time abroad is working, when no house is fully equipped to allocate such a lifestyle, I try to ask the owners about what's missing. For example, while searching for accommodation, there was this apartment in which there wasn't any proper desk to work at where a notepad, a mouse, a laptop, and a keyboard would fit. It would be a shame to give up this great house due to a desk. Fortunately, the hosts were open enough to buy one. And here I am, writing this article on my comfortable desk!

Fully

My current workstation in Budapest.

But remember, as a software engineer we tend to use several pieces of equipment throughout our work, however, as digital nomads, we should simplify the most!

Would you really want to risk having your 34 inch monitor broken after a plane landing? Can you handle working for a month without one? If not, consider renting equipment from a local store and save yourself from the risk of bringing it from your home. Flexibility is the key once again. 

Regarding other aspects of the accommodation, I don’t need a big apartment since my goal is, most of the time, to be out after work exploring the city until I can’t. Of course, it is still good having a comfortable place that we can go back to every evening. 

It’s also good having an equipped kitchen that allows me to cook and eventually save some money. Eating out is still a goal, but a balance between saving and spending should be a priority.

Regarding the location, I tend to select apartments near the center, so I can be closer to the intriguing monuments and places that I want to see and explore.

Finally, how about choosing a place with a coworking area? That would allow you to interact with other people and make new friends to explore the surroundings.

Here's a guide to help you choose a coworking space in case you're interested!

How long should you stay?

As a European citizen, there’s no time restriction while working abroad. Although you might need to fulfill some formalities like reporting your presence, or eventually register your new residence. More details can be found in the europe.eu blog. 

After a working day, I enjoy going out. I take my camera and my lovely girlfriend so we can start a new adventure once again. If you are by yourself, don’t be shy, try having some conversations with people in bars, join a city tour, or try to find some events to meet expats like yourself, through apps such as Meetup. All those people are looking for new experiences and connections, they will be striving to meet you.

Until now, I had the opportunity to work abroad from three different countries, Italy (Rome), France (Paris), and currently Hungary (Budapest). Usually around two months, so we can balance between being far away from family, friends, and company events.

Average Expenses

Everything in life comes with a cost, and our wallet tends to be one of the primarily affected parties. Below, you will find a summarized expenses report that might affect how ready you are to start living such an adventure.

The price ranges will always vary based upon:

  • Location:

    • Near transportation;

    • Near interest points;

  • How comfortable you want to be:

    • House size;

    • How well equipped it must be;

    • Super hosts with great reviews;

  • Which season do you intend to travel to? 

  • How much time will you be there?

  • Which airline will you choose?

    • How much time in advance will you buy your ticket?

    • Stopovers vs direct flights;

    • Luggage for a month?

As you can see, there’s a lot to have in mind. It's not easy to come up with a fixed price that you could use for every trip. Having that in mind, let’s select a city as a use case, through which I'll show you my whole process: Athens, in Greece.

Airbnb has been my top selection by far. It has a great customer help desk in case you might need to solve any issue. Houses get frequently reviewed as commodities, prices, and photos. 

One of Airbnb's significant advantages tends to be the long stay discounts. Within three weeks, you start noticing the difference in the final price.

Use case: Athens

The first thing I usually do is check out the average prices near the location I want to be. And let’s say I want to choose November as the start date, before the Christmas season starts influencing prices.

Be sure to define your budget and requirements. Usually, I use the following filters:

  • Price range: 0€ - 1400€

  • Type of place: Entire home

  • Amenities:

    • WI-FI;

    • Kitchen;

    • Air conditioning, depending on the season and normal weather;

    • Dedicated workspace.

Applying these filters, you’ll instantly see how many places match your expectations. 

After considering the result from the filter, I select one that fits my needs the best. The prices are displayed by how much you would pay each month of your stay.

Let’s say I want to select the one with the price of 310€. As you may see, there’s a nice discount due to the long stay.

House selected, let’s now choose the plane. Momondo and eDreams are well-known websites that combine a significant range of the best prices you can find to travel around the globe.

We now know that 215€ per person would be the price to pay from Lisbon to Athens and Athens to Lisbon. More 30-60€ for the luggage, as a month with a small bag might not be enough 😉   

...Unless you make sure your house has a washing machine and you wash your clothes? 🤔

We’ve got where to stay and how to go. What about commodities like groceries, entertainment...? Plan ahead for the attractions you really don't want to miss and the dishes you want to try. 

And regarding the meals you will have to prepare in order to save money, here's the bright side: you'll probably find different products in the supermarket than the ones you have in your home country, which can lead you to find new tastes and new ways to cook your favorite meals.

⚠ Meals and shopping are where you can save the most: by not going out for dinner very often, and trying not to buy in every shop you see in front of you.

On average, I tend to avoid spending more than 300€ during the month on things I don’t need, and since I’m a nature guy (I love the outdoors!) I tend to achieve that goal. 

Having all that said, let’s find out the final numbers... 🥁

By adding the house, about 310€, the plane ticket, about 245€, and the remaining food and entertainment, about 300€, we’re talking about 855€.

That’s not so different from what you would spend in Portugal if you live in a city such as Lisbon or Porto (considering 400€ for accommodation plus 400€ for everything else) but, by spending a whole in Greece (or Poland, Romania, Croatia...) you’ll be living a totally different experience. A month of adventures in a foreign country, with plenty of time to explore it, and that you will never forget!

Moreover, if you find a way to rent your room while you’re away (Airbnb? A friend looking for a similar experience? Or perhaps you find someone to switch places for a month?)

Also, keep in mind that there are always ways to reduce the final price, from splitting the rent with your girlfriend, boyfriend, or friends, booking in advance, choosing an apartment located further from the city center, staying in a hostel, etc.

The Ultimate Guide to Become a Digital Nomad as a Software Engineer: Final Thoughts

I hope that after reading this article, you can now have a clear idea of what it takes to live abroad and work remotely. Like everything, it has its advantages and disadvantages. 

In my personal opinion, I’m loving it and hoping that I can still be doing this for the next few years!

Balance is the key. Save, spend, and enjoy life. Every month I save a significant amount of money for the future, not specifically for trips like these, but for investments, houses, family, etc. Never stop looking for a better way of living. You deserve it! 🙏

And if your current job doesn't allow you to do all these things, you don't have to simply give up on your dreams. Get in touch with KWAN and learn about the job vacancies available!

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