Becoming a Digital Nomad: How to Prepare for ‘Location Independence’

The fantasy is that you drop everything, throw some essentials in a suitcase, and hit the road. At least, that’s how it always was in my imagination. Travel was adventure, escape, rebellion, and freedom. Shortly after my 25th birthday, the idle musings became an itch that eventually became too persistent to ignore. Looking back, we call it my quarter-life crisis. One morning while making coffee, Jacob looked at me and said, “OK. Let’s do it.” That’s the moment that the fantasy ended and planning began.

The reality is it takes a lot of planning to achieve “location independence.” Think of what goes into preparing for a typical road trip –then quadruple it. Even if you’re mentally prepared to leave immediately, for most people it takes about two to three months to get ready. Once you decide to pull up stakes, you have to consider big things like how you will earn an income, health insurance, and residency, and more mundane details like showering, laundry, and meal preparation.

We spent 5 months traveling through Europe, Asia, and Latin America, carrying everything we needed in a pair of 55-liter travel backpacks. We were digital nomads, but it felt temporary. The bulk of our belongings were in a storage unit two miles from my Dad’s house in Florida. It wasn’t “home” exactly, but it was a spot on a map. When we got back and purchased our RV, it was a new phase in our journey. Home is now a 22-foot Winnebago Minnie.

Whatever your nomadic fantasy looks like, be ready to so a lot of research and planning. Here are 8 tips to prepare for location independence.

1. Managing possessions

Once you give up your current living situation, you’ll have to figure out to do with all of your stuff. Until you actually start to pack things up, you probably won’t even realize how many possessions you’ve accumulated. We’ve maximized every nook and cranny, but there was no way all of our old stuff would fit into our RV. It took eight or nine rounds of decluttering, downsizing, and pruning to get where we are now. And there are still probably some things we could eliminate. The sooner you start, the better.

    • Sell, give away, or donate items you don’t need and aren’t sentimental.
    • Separate the possessions you must take along with you.
  • Put into storage any sentimental items or belongings you think you’ll want later. (Don’t be surprised if you end up changing your mind.)

If you’re unsure about a few things, put those to the side and decide after you’ve made other preparations.

2. Plan for RV maintenance

RV maintenance is going to be a significant lifestyle change that will take some getting used to. Maintaining an RV entails far more than bringing your car in for its routine oil change or 30,000-mile checkup. Your RV will be more than your transportation, it’ll be your home. You’ll need to ensure it’s in always in good shape.

  • Read your RV manual cover to cover.
  • Watch YouTube videos about connecting and disconnecting your hookups. It will become second-nature, but at first you’ll want to remember to always do electric, water, and sewer in that order.
  • Invest in a surge protector, water pressure regulator, and exterior water filter. Trust us on this one!
  • Get a good do-it-yourself repair book to guide you in making small repairs.
  • Buy a quality tool kit so you can perform basic preventative maintenance, fix flat tires, replace basic parts, and repair minor plumbing issues.
  • Use a waterproof, UV-resistant cover on your RV’s roof and don’t ignore leaks no matter how small they appear. Apply water sealant at least once a year.
  • Be proactive and get your RV checked out before each trip.

You can get roadside assistance, and you’ll definitely want to take your RV in for that routine maintenance, but you don’t want to call on either for everything. Prepare for location independence—don’t find yourself unexpectedly stranded with no help in sight.

4. Plan connectivity

If you’ve decided to become a digital nomad, you’re probably relying on the internet for your income. This creates a challenge because, if you need constant connectivity, you can’t simply log in to your home router. Here are some solutions.

  • Up your mobile plan to include unlimited data and use your smartphone as a mobile hot spot.
  • Plan for stops at places offering internet access (this may cramp your style/limit flexibility).
  • Purchase a wireless network device.
  • Invest in a satellite device.
  • Stay at campsites offering reliable internet access.

Tip: If you’re relying on campsite access, check ahead to see which parks offer this service for free and which ones charge fees.

5. Make a budget

Living on the go eliminates many expenses but creates new ones. List all your sources of income in one column and your expenses in the other and reconcile them with one another. Also, be sure to do your homework because you might not be accounting for all the expenses you’ll have while living out of your RV. We found this example helpful when we started. We also relied on recommendations for cheap places to park. Once you figure out your routine expenditures, set your bills on automatic payment so it’s one less worry if you can’t get to the Post Office.

6. Meal planning

Eating on the road eliminates many of the conveniences you’re used to when living in a home or apartment. You don’t have a full-size refrigerator, extra freezer, or massive pantry. Yet, you don’t want to live off fast or convenience store food because it’s unhealthy and will add up in costs after a while. When preparing for your new lifestyle, consider the challenges associated with storing fresh and frozen food, and plan your road trips so you can make your purchases as needed.

7. Setting up residency

Setting up residency is a big consideration. Currently, only a handful of states support full-time RV residency—if you plan extended trips, you’ll have to check out the laws in your home state. One solution is to ask a family member or friend if they’ll let you use their address for residency purposes. Some states have lower taxes than others, so you might want to take this into consideration as you set up residency.

8. Do a practice run

Before committing to life on the road for a year or forever, try a few practice trips. This will give you time to figure out what details you might have missed or if you even want to do it long-term. To really get a feel for it, try a few weekends or a two-week vacation. This gives you time to decide what kind of surroundings you prefer (i.e. campsites or isolated parks), along with the daily lifestyle. For instance, we don’t like to take showers in our cramped RV shower, so we shower at campgrounds. We love our digital nomad lifestyle, but for sanity, we also stay in Airbnb’s from time to time. To get our pet fix (which we really miss!) we stop by dog parks to enjoy furry friends.

As they say, your mileage will vary (in the case of RV living, this is both literally and figuratively!), so be sure to do some trial runs and see how you cope. You might decide to alter your plans a bit if it’s not all you’d dreamed it would be. This life works for many, currently, there are about 4.8 million digital nomads in the U.S., but this life is not necessarily for everyone. Definitely give it a short-term whirl before committing.

Entering an RV lifestyle involves making numerous lifestyle changes. Once you’ve done your trial runs and have decided life on the road suits your fancy, try to join with other like-minded people. Sign up to join a camping club, link up on social media, and peruse and contribute to online forums.

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