Traveling the world is a dream for many of us. Seeing new places and meeting new people can be life-changing. But, there are very few career paths that allow for the flexibility you’d need to travel around the world while also making a living.
Luckily, there are many roles for programmers that can be done from anywhere in the world, giving you the flexibility to travel and experience different cultures while keeping a steady income. If this lifestyle appeals to you, keep reading to learn about how you can travel the world as a programmer or developer.
Types of work that allow you to travel
What programming and coding jobs work best for traveling? They typically fall into two categories.
Remote work is when you work for a company from home or some other location that isn’t in your employer’s office. You may be expected to keep certain hours and work a specific number of hours per week, but your employer allows you to do that work from any location.
As a remote worker, you can expect to have a fixed salary and benefits. While you have the flexibility to work outside the office, you may still be required to make in-person appearances, which could make working abroad full-time challenging.
If traveling abroad doesn’t seem realistic, you may be able to travel domestically or take extended working vacations abroad. But, keep in mind that if your employer allows you to work abroad, you may need to work odd hours to line up with your employer’s time zone.
Freelance work is when you work for yourself , rather than working for a company, and you earn a wage per-project or per-task. As a freelancer, you have a contract with a company or individual to work on a project or task, and once you’ve completed the work, the contract ends.
Since you’re not an employee, you have more control over where and when you work. You can also take on more work when you want to and less when you’re focused on other activities like hiking or surfing.
The upside to freelance work is the flexibility. You control the amount of work you take on and coordinate with your clients about due dates. The downside is the unpredictability. Work may be erratic, or you may not have enough work when you need it.
You also don’t get benefits from your employer, so you’ll be responsible for finding health insurance, saving for retirement, and managing your taxes as a self-employed individual. You may also need to work odd hours to field client calls and meet deadlines depending on which time zone you’re in compared to your clients.
Challenges of traveling while working
Traveling while working can be amazing. You can roll out of bed and hike, surf, ski, experience local culture, , and meet new people in places many people can only dream of visiting. It does have its challenges, though. Here are some things to keep in mind:
If you’re a U.S. citizen working abroad, you still have to file a U.S. tax return. Still, there are tax exclusions you may qualify for. The IRS offers those exclusions because you may owe foreign taxes for the money you earn in other countries. Consider working with an accountant who’s knowledgeable about taxes while living and working abroad. If you’re traveling domestically, state taxes can be similarly complicated.
Many countries have reliable internet, but it may vary from rental to rental. If possible, ask ahead of time what the internet speed is where you’re planning to stay, and always have a backup plan, like a nearby WiFi cafe or co-working space.
It can be challenging to keep a consistent schedule when you’re traveling. You may also find yourself distracted if you’re staying in places that are tourist-centered, like hostels. Instead, look for hotels and co-working spaces that can offer you peace and quiet when you need it.
Work permits and visas
Many countries have tourist visas that last for three months, which means you’ll need to move every few months. If you hope to stay longer, contact the U.S. Embassy ahead of time to find out the requirements and costs involved. This is another area that requires some planning.
As a digital nomad, you’ll be working on unsecured networks. There’s also a chance your laptop will be stolen at some point. It’s critical to have two-factor authentication on everything you can, full-disk encryption, strong passwords, and a VPN to minimize security risks.
Getting started as a digital nomad
Traveling the world while working can be life-changing. The first step to living the digital nomad lifestyle is to establish yourself at home. You may need some experience under your belt before you can find a fully remote position or launch your freelance developer career.
If you decide to go freelance, you’ll need to establish clients before you start traveling. As you gain experience, be sure to update and improve your portfolio. It should highlight your best and most recent work.
Quick tips to think about
It’s vital to build an emergency fund before traveling. You can consider saving enough money to pay for another laptop if it’s lost, damaged, or stolen. You’ll also want enough money on hand to travel back to a safe harbor, like your home, a family member’s home, or the home of a trusted friend.
There may be times where you’re sick or between jobs and need funds to be able to rest and recover. Having three to six months of living expenses on hand is a good baseline for most people, and that goes for digital nomads as well.
Where to keep your funds is also worth considering. Many banks charge a fee when you use another bank's ATM, and the ATM you're withdrawing from may also charge fees.
Consider choosing a bank that reimburses ATM fees and a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. Even better, find a credit card that offers travel perks as well, like bonus points for travel purchases or access to airport lounges.
Most domestic health insurance plans are little to no help if you become ill overseas (check your insurance plan to confirm). Depending on where you travel, local health care may be relatively affordable compared to the U.S. But, it can still add up, so it's best to have travel insurance that includes travel medical coverage.
You can also purchase travel medical coverage on its own. Travel health insurance plans vary significantly, so look for one that meets your needs. For example, if you plan to travel to one destination for a few months, a short-term plan will work. And, if you're planning to destination hop for a year or more, look for a long-term travel health insurance plan.
Depending on your experience, you may want to consider brushing up on or learning new desirable skills. Since you’ll be competing with other programmers and developers from all over, the competition could be really steep. Adding new skills and developing your current skill set can give you what you need to stand out from the crowd when you’re applying for remote jobs or bidding on freelance work.
Where to go
Once you have work lined up and funds saved, the next step is deciding where to travel. Again, consider factors like the cost of living and which time zone you’ll be working in. A place with a lower cost of living allows your funds to stretch significantly further while having the experience of a lifetime.
Also, consider the community available, especially if you’re traveling alone. Look for ex-pat meetups and meetups related to your developer community. For example, if you’re a Python developer, look for Python meetups. Not only will you find coding support, but you can also make connections and possibly find new work opportunities.
Even though it requires some extra prep and planning, traveling the world as a programmer can change your life. To start building your skills and preparing for your future career, check out our web development Career Paths for Full-Stack Engineers, Front-End Engineers, and Back-End Engineers.