A Veteran of the Digital Nomad Community Offers Her Best Tips for the Location-Independent Lifestyle
Krystal Pino is a certified public accountant and personal financial specialist with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA in finance from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She’s been at the tax game for over a decade now, working on both the corporate and public sides of accounting, and now she specializes in taxes for digital nomads. Pino herself has been a digital nomad for more than five years, visiting approximately 50 countries to date.
What inspired you to make the transition to the digital nomad life?
I spent a lot of time doing what I was “supposed” to do: college, master’s, CPA, internship, finding a partner, buying a home, etc. When my relationship ended, it allowed me to reflect on what I wanted to do. I had the chance to travel the world while working, which I didn’t realize was possible. I thought I would do it for a year, then come back and resume my “life.” Five years later and I’m still going—this is my life.
How do you decide on a destination, and how do you choose accommodations?
One thing about travel is the longer you travel, the more places you want to go. After five years, my decisions are primarily based on the people I’ve met and the adventures we plan together. That said, I still steal off for the occasional solo adventure to somewhere beautiful on my list. (I’m currently answering these questions on a solo trip to Lake Bled in Slovenia.)
How I choose my accommodations largely depends on the type of travel. I tend to stay in one place longer now—three months or so. I check Facebook groups for better deals on longer-term stays. For a month or so, Airbnb is the winner. After that, anything less than a week will probably be a hotel stay.
Any guidance on how to ensure income stability as a digital nomad?
Have a plan. I was essentially winging it when I left, but all that education and the letters behind my name provided a pretty good safety net for me. Know how you’ll make money, have a backup plan and stay open to opportunities that will inevitably come. Flexibility is key.
Is it important for digital nomads to have a home base when planning to travel? What factors should be considered?
Not at all, unless that makes you feel more stable and is financially feasible. Most digital nomads live out of their luggage—I used to say home is where the big suitcase is. However, if having a familiar place to return to sets your mind at ease, that’s OK too.
Is it feasible for Digital Nomads to save up for retirement, even if they aren’t living in one place and are unable to contribute to traditional retirement plans?
Absolutely. There are a lot of options out there to save for retirement, and most of them aren’t restricted by being a digital nomad. If you’re employed, you can likely take advantage of your employer’s 401(k), and I highly recommend you do. Self-employed individuals have both SEP IRAs and solo 401(k)s at their disposal. If you’re claiming the foreign earned income exclusion, that can limit what you contribute to traditional and Roth IRAs, though, so keep that in mind.
What are your top three financial tips for digital nomads?
- Make a budget and do your best to stick to it. Of course, being a digital nomad means your costs from place to place can vary widely—European summer will cost you a lot more than your Asian adventures, for example—but that doesn’t mean you can’t stick to a plan. There’s a lot of FOMO out there that [will] have you roaming around, but keep in mind how much exploring your bank account can handle.
- Get the right tools in place. Credit cards with no foreign transaction fees and significant travel benefits are a must, and a bank account that refunds ATM fees is a good start. Life is hard enough on the road; having affordable access to your money is helpful. Also, buy travel insurance. Nobody wants their travels to go wrong, but sometimes they do. Delayed/canceled flights, lost luggage, and robberies can all put a dent not only in your plans but also in your wallet. Insured Nomads is a great option to hedge against these unfortunate mishaps.
- Know what to expect tax-wise. There are some significant tax savings available to digital nomads if you meet specific parameters, so have a chat with a tax professional to see whether these things apply to you.
What nomad communities or groups would you suggest if someone is just starting this lifestyle?
I started my travel life with a program called Remote Year. If you’re just starting out, I can’t recommend programs like Remote Year and WiFi Tribe enough. Both focus on community, and in the beginning, that built-in community can be instrumental in helping with a lot of the scary parts of becoming a digital nomad. If you’d rather go it alone, there are some great Slack and Facebook groups designed to facilitate supporting this lifestyle. Check Facebook for local expat and digital nomad groups and/or sign up for NomadList, a Slack community for digital nomads. Joining a co-live can be great for some social structure as well. I like Outsite, and there are countless locally run co-lives around the world, including LOKAL in Tbilisi, Georgia; Sun and Co in Jávea, Spain; and WildWifi in Namibia.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos courtesy of Krystal Pino
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