I’m in a CS program at a top-10 college. When I graduate in two years, I want to travel indefinitely, while generating a decent income stream with apps and freelance work. How and where can one become a digital nomad?

Good for you! Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Read Tim Ferriss’ blog (Google it). He’s done that and done it well
  • Use DropBox as your cloud-based drive and not your local computer drive. Create folders there just as you would on your hard drive for Documents, Photos, Video etc. – same hierarchy – everything but Applications and perhaps Music. That way you keep as small a foot print on your laptop as possible.
  • On most laptops, the iTunes library takes up the most room with videos and music. Buy a WD Passport 1 Terabyte external USB hard drive. It’s the size of a deck of cards and easily fits in a backpack. Move (or create) your iTunes library on that 1 Terabyte drive and you’ll free up 100GB or more on your local hard drive. I’m getting ready to write a blog post on how to do this at my blog (http://digitalminimalism.com/).
  • Use BackBlaze as your online backup service. Between that and the DropBox strategy above, you can lose your laptop and be up and operational in less than 24 hours.
  • “Assume” that you will at some point lose or have your laptop stolen or damaged. This means that if this is the life you want to live, and your job, your income, your food, your travel money all depend on this machine, buy the best that you can afford and take what you just spent on the machine and put it in an interest-bearing checking account or savings account so it will be there WHEN you lose your laptop. That’s called a “contingency plan”. Then get a credit card with a $3,000 limit, but do not use it except for emergencies. WHEN you lose your laptop, that is an emergency. If you have this in place, you can literally make a phone call to Apple and they will FedEx you a new machine most anywhere in the world. But you’ll need a credit card, because most Debit Cards have a daily limit on them of $1,500. As an alternate strategy, look into buying SquareTrade Loss/Damage/Theft protection on your laptop, but 1. Read the policy closely before you buy it as it may not provide coverage outside the United States; 2. You have up to 90 days post equipment purchase to buy the policy; 3. Be aware that it may take up to 2 weeks for a replacement to be sent to you or for claims to be processed or longer. That’s a long time to be without income and unable to service your clients. That’s why it was not my first suggestion.
  • Learn and research the concept and mindset of “minimalism”, which is about “less”. Ideally, all you own would fit in a backpack; or, you buy a small rollaway suitcase that is the size that fits in overhead bins of airplanes and you put your work stuff in your backpack. I have my “office” literally all in a backpack. It’s made by Level 8, but there are a few other good packs you can use for your mobile office.
  • When you travel on planes, your goal should be to never check any luggage. This means carry-on only. Most airlines will allow you to take a personal item (your backpack) and one carry-on for the bins (your rolling small suitcase). If you’ve never done it, traveling with less is such a joy.
  • Research, subscribe to and read blogs by people who travel 200,000 or more miles per year. They know how to pack and the tricks of getting from A to B.
  • Consider using Google Reader to add RSS feeds from blogs to topics related to minimalism, travel etc.
  • Create more than one income stream. It won’t be enough to just sell your time consulting or to have programming clients. Create products that can be digitally delivered and generate revenue while you do other things. Ideally? Six income streams with not more than 20% of your income coming from any one spoke. That way if programming clients dry up you won’t need to go hungry or adjust your plans too much. Constantly re-evaluate your spokes. Have a plan, a backup plan and contingency plans. “If this happens, I will do this.”
  • DO have fun. DO travel. Don’t worry about having an agenda, but DO have plans where your work and income are concerned because they are funding your lifestyle.
  • I bought the new MacBook Air, 250GB flash hard drive with the processor upgrade and maxed out RAM. It is the IDEAL laptop for a Digital Nomad, if you can afford it. Ran me around $2K. So if I were you, I’d set a goal of paying cash for whatever you buy and having a credit card that you use only in case of emergencies. Get in the habit of paying cash for everything. If you don’t have the cash for it, you don’t buy it. If you do use your credit card, pay it off in full every month. This takes discipline but minimalism is about living on less.
  • Carry no debt or as little as you can. Get your expenses as low as possible. Live off less. There are blogs about this. Read them.
  • Learn about ebooks – How to write them, how to market them and how to sell them for income.
  • If one of your income spokes is selling your consulting time, consider using Harvest for online time tracking and billing.
  • Because Macs are less likely to break down, need repairs or have problems, while I know most programmers use PCs, it may be wise for you to learn how to code from a Mac. Also if you do get the MacBook Air, know that you can dual partition the hard drive and put Windows 7 on one half and OS X on the other. I know a handful of people who’ve bought the MacBook Air, wiped the drive and just installed Windows 7 on it, so you have options. Could also triple partition it and put Linux on as well if you want. My point? If your income depends on it, BUY THE BEST, not the cheapest.


ADDENDUM – UPDATED, 2013:

  • The MacBook Air continues to be a great piece of hardware, albeit expensive. Still, keep in mind that your food and beer money (or bourbon money) is going to come from your work; so don’t skimp where hardware is concerned. Can you buy a Google Chromebook for $299? Absolutely. Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for and if you’re backpacking around the world and/or living out of a backpack, your machine is going to need to take a beating. The MacBook Air has a SSD flash hard drive and very thin signature. This is two years later and I’d still recommend it, HOWEVER;
  • Now in 2013 I’d recommend dual-partioning it with OS X and Linux Mint rather than Windows; or a full Linux install. Speed without bloatware.
  • Also I’d recommend you look into the American Express Prepaid Card. Rather than rack up credit card debt, this is a card that you can access and manage online. Your limit is as high as you want it to be via deposit, and anything you buy ON the card is covered by American Express and their warranty. It’s the same as the traditional green card, with all the perks, but no debt. So drop $3K on it and that can become your emergency fund for contingencies.
  • The 1 TB WD Passport USB external hard drives have come down in price since the original posting and are a great investment.
  • I’d also recommend a $79/year central email account via Zurich, Switzerland at http://neomailbox.net. Why not a free Gmail or http://Outlook.com account? Because if the barn is free, you’re the Product being sold, not the Customer. Switzerland-based = Global; U.S.-based = Surveillance.
  • Be CAUTIOUS about connecting to cellular data providers AKA cellular ISPs in countries outside the U.S. via mobile hotspot. Your best bet will be to buy a global unlocked phone via http://Amazon.com and upon arrival at your destination country, go buy a prepaid SIM card for data to pop into your phone or mobile hot spot. Otherwise, be prepared to rack up some serious roaming charges if you’re planning on trying to use a U.S. carrier with global roaming. And when I say serious, I mean like $20K to $30K, which is money that could have been spent island hopping in the Cyclades – Greek Islands via backpack and motorcycle.
  • Security – Consider having a different password for each of your accounts and making them at least 12 characters long and randomly generated. Use http://LastPass.com for storing them in the cloud or KeePass on a USB thumb drive, encrypted. Now is a good time to invest in a 32 GB Micro SD Ram card and USB Micro Card Reader. When traveling it’s really easy to hide a Micro SD card as your backup backup somewhere on your person and the price of storage has come down significantly.
  • Put Belize, Maldives and the Greek Islands on your itinerary. You can get to Athens, taxi to the port city and take a ferry out to the Greek Islands for very little money. Stay with locals who meet the ferry and rent a motorbike on each island. Some breathtaking views. @AdamBoettiger

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