25 tips from well-practised (and well-traveled) digital nomads to help start, or improve, your digital nomad lifestyle.
Being a digital nomad isn’t all ‘unicorns and rainbows’. Learn how to overcome the bad times while making the most of the good.
From weekly routines and daily schedules to wellness and ‘me’ time, become a better digital nomad in 2018.
Thanks to greater acceptance of flexible working and huge advances in mobile technology, the digital nomad lifestyle is growing in leaps and bounds. Gallup’s February 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report found that 43% of employed Americans worked remotely last year at least some of the time, and that trend is expected to keep rising.
But how do you successfully combine working responsibilities with travel? Are you still regarded professionally when you’re working poolside? How do you establish boundaries? Is it possible to remain tethered to your business while traveling?
To find out, Robert Kropp, Allwork.Space contributor and author of Cowork22, asked a number of successful digital nomads how they tackled the challenges of blending entrepreneurship with travel. Here’s what Robert discovered:
1. Have the right mindset: The digital nomad life is definitely not all “unicorns and rainbows”. However, some of the best things come out of the more challenging moments people don’t see until they start their journey. Christina is a digital marketer and travel blogger at birdwinks. She said, “I started dreading returning home and hearing ‘how can you do this, so cool, so courageous, you’re living the dream’. There are challenges. It’s part of the game I guess, and I love it.” I find people typically look at the glamour and not the work. One important tool of any digital nomad is understanding that there will be bad times as well as good. It’s up to us to have the right mindset, be flexible, and solve whatever challenges lay in front of us.
2. Take it seriously: Kelly Dunning is a freelance writer and travel blogger at Global Goose who has been traveling for a number of years as a digital nomad. “Even though you have no routine or schedule, it helps to make one,” she says. “The more seriously you take the work and the more you build discipline, the more efficiently you get it done and the more time you have to enjoy your travels.”
3. Find balance. Nisha Garigarn is co-founder of workspace app Croissant and a well-practiced digital nomad. She recognizes that when you run a business, you have to knuckle down and work even when you want to go exploring. “The traveller can spend 100% of their time experiencing the city. But I might stay in a city for one month and see less of it than someone who is there traveling for a week.”
Still, compared to the traditional 9-5, that’s a happy problem to have. For Nisha, it’s all about finding balance. Set your daily objectives, get it done, then go explore.
4. Combat loneliness: Coworking is a great way to combat isolation. Georgette Eva says: “I work with a remote team and I do have access to coworking spaces, which definitely helps. Before, when I worked out of cafes or my apartment, I struggled with loneliness and the camaraderie that naturally comes from an office environment.” According to Georgette, the friendliness and support of your environment also helps you “power through those days when your to-do list is super long!”
5. Remain positive: Dave Barr, web developer at Duo48, says to “always remain positive, be ‘nice’ especially when those around you aren’t so much, and *be brave* — keep trying new things and keep travelling, see as much as you can!”
6. Routine rules: Even when you’re wandering the world, you still need a routine and a set of ground rules. Bex Band from The Ordinary Adventurer says being a digital nomad can be a lonely existence. “I often work in my hotel room, rarely take a day off and work long days.” Aim to set a daily routine and a set of rules — such as logging off at a specific time of day — and enjoy your free time. You’ve earned it.
7. Find a workspace: I have been a digital nomad for almost two years now. My number one rule for a new city is to find a coworking space or shared workspace to work while I am searching for a place to live. It is an important part of my routine. Each day, I leave where I am staying and go to work. I need to be around people and appreciate the normalcy and consistency that a workspace adds to my life. Leanne Leeds, an author working on her debut novel, says “writing is such a solitary activity that sometimes, you just need people”. Coworking and shared workspace can fill that need.
Kate Harvey, Content & Search Marketing Manager at Chargify, says: “Digital nomads are living their dream lives, but remote work isn’t for everyone. It takes discipline to remain productive and continuously produce quality work, without being distracted by travel or the exciting new scenery in front of you.”
Here are a few things Kate has learned along the way:
8. Block out distractions: Whether at my home office or in another country, I use my Bose noise cancelling headphones EVERY DAY. They’re fantastic for helping me focus, especially in loud places like airports.
9. Make friends: Having connections with other people is especially important for solo digital nomads. Some lodging environments make connecting with other people easier, but coworking spaces are also available all over the world! I love taking advantage of coworking spaces — I can interact with others, have a dedicated work environment, and they provide everything from the internet to the coffee.
10. Do your research: Find out about the cost of travel, living expenses, and internet availability so you have that information beforehand. I love Nomad List for that kind of research — it is a huge database and free to use. The other side of doing your research is to remember to be flexible. There are usually hiccups during travel, and your ability to make changes can be the difference between a nightmare experience and a funny story to tell.
11. Be realistic: Work to your own strengths and personality. Are you the type of person who can work alone in an atypical office setting and still be productive? Be realistic about your capabilities. If you tell yourself you’ll work nights to be able to sightsee during the day, is that realistic (knowing your own habits and capabilities)?
12. Pay attention to time zones:Sharni-marie Barney, a digital strategist and founder of Forj Marketing, says it is important to understand that “I am the one who has chosen to travel and not my clients. If my clients want to talk to me at 10 o’clock at night my time, that is when I talk to them. I have chosen to do the traveling, so I have to work the time zones.”
13. Apps and services: There are a tremendous number of apps and services out there. How do you decide which ones are best? Choose apps that are regularly updated, high rated, and have an active community. In addition to my own research, I also ask people I know within coworking spaces and the tech community for advice.
Whatever you decide to use, it is important not to switch back and forth frequently between different apps. It is easy to have the ‘shiny-object syndrome’ of thinking you should try every new app. Believe me, most of the time, it’s not worth the switch. Sharni-marie also suggested a few of her favorites that have made her life easier while traveling and working:
Dropbox for storing and sharing files in the cloud
14. Managing expectations with your employer: Mericia Gonzalez says: “I am currently the only person who works remotely in the company and I struggle to be kept in the loop.” When it comes to companies that have only a few remote workers or digital nomads, it is important to push for clear guidelines and processes. This can be as simple as using Slack to improve communication across the decentralized team or using more cloud based services to increase collaboration. Apps can’t solve all problems though. It might also require a conversation with the team or managers to express your concern so that the team as a whole can work together to improve.
15. Grow your business by hiring digital nomads and remote workers: Kavi Guppta, who writes about the future of work and business innovation, suggested that hiring for remote work “should be earned”. She recommends looking for employees who are organized, have a solid process, and communicate clearly.
Digital nomads and remote workers are often more affordable to hire, fit the right skills, and can improve the flexibility of the entire team. In order for this relationship to be successful, it is important to have “clear expectations of when a worker is needed and when they can be flexible”, while also having “regular check-ins on productivity and progress.”
16. Don’t think in stereotypes:Maurice Codourey of Digital Nomad Academy (DNA) had this to say about being a better digital nomad. Put simply, “being a digital nomad just means being a person who is on the road traveling and earning money. There is no recipe for it. A ‘digital nomad’ or remote worker or coworker can be a traveller within the same country, or doing 4 little travels a year. So my tip would be — don’t think in stereotypes. At DNA, we say – nomad as you are. An analogy to Nirvana, come as you are.”
17. Travel less: Nisha Kotecha, creator of The Moment’s Journal, says: “Follow your own path, not what you think you should be doing as a digital nomad. Don’t feel under pressure to travel all the time or to go to particular destinations just because that’s what others do”.
You don’t have to go to the top 10 places or move cities at a rapid pace. Often times, my best experiences as a digital nomad were in cities off the beaten path when I was there long enough to fall into a routine (at least a week). This means I was able to connect with people and actually feel like I was living in the city. The digital nomad life is about creating your own journey — not following someone else’s idea of what your journey should be.
18. Meet people: Tal Bright, a travel blogger at Bright Nomad, believes “it’s important to meet people when you travel. Spending too much time just working on your laptop can take the fun out of the trip.”
Tal advises: “There are many, many ways to meet people wherever you are. Use meetups, social events, professional networking events, guided tours, coworking spaces and Facebook groups. It’s easy to meet locals who are keen on showing you around their city and who know all the cool places that tourists can’t find. It’s also great to meet other digital nomads, expats and visitors and explore together. These meetings can also lead to networking opportunities with other location independent people.”
When looking back at all of the places I have been, it’s the people who really stick in my mind. Without people, a place is just a checklist of things to see. The more people you meet and interact with, the more you learn, experience, and grow — both as a digital nomad and as a human.
Inspired by the needs of so many people, not just digital nomads, it is incredibly important to focus on our wellness while we work and travel in order to maintain our health physically but also mentally.
19. Get your sleep: Up until the last few months, I have been quite horrible at sleeping 7 – 8 hours a night. Late nights followed by early mornings. I wanted to do it all. I want to build a successful company, see the world, go out at night, and meet as many people as I could. Sleep can wait, I thought. My inspiration to finally start prioritizing sleep came from a good friend of mine. I finally understand. There is no upside to lack of sleep. Even in crunch times, sleep is crucial for good decision making, productivity, and good health. When you have a good night’s rest, you will:
Get more work done
Be less stressed
Enjoy more of your digital nomad experiences
20. Stay in shape: Part of any healthy lifestyle will be some level of activity. Many of us have roles that put us in front of laptops and other screens the majority of the day. A sedentary work life needs to be counteracted by an active non-work life. Whether it is walking around a city, going to the gym, Yoga, or playing a sport, we need to get our bodies moving. Similar to sleep, staying in shape improves our energy, health, reduces stress, and improves our mood. For me, a stressful or difficult day can be counteracted by a quick workout or a walk. Just put on your shoes and get moving.
21. Cook your own meals: Being from the United States and having now traveled throughout Europe and South America, I have come to realize that the food we eat from many restaurants and even prepackaged from the supermarket is quite unhealthy. Almost everything includes an unnecessary amount of salt, butter, sugar, fat, and other ingredients that don’t do much good for us. Cooking your own meals not only dramatically reduces many of these unhealthy ingredients, it also saves money. My personal approach is to make food for 5 – 6 days of the week and then have 3 – 5 good quality meals out.
22. Budget: One of the biggest stresses of many people’s life is money. Without a plan, you can easily spend too much putting yourself in positions you otherwise wouldn’t need to be in. Why add stress to your life? In my experience, ignoring something usually just makes it a problem. Review your money situation before you start each week. A little planning and reflection will help you focus and to manage the potential stress that is money.
23. Take ‘me’ time: As a digital nomad with Cowork22, I am constantly surrounded by people. Whether it is in a coworking space, a coffee shop, or a hostel, there is a pull to engage with people at all times. What I have found to be important is taking moments for yourself. About once a month, I rent a private room somewhere, turn on the TV and order a pizza. Even if this isn’t your thing, find something that gives your mind a break. Relax and pay attention to your body, mind, and soul. These are the times I ask myself: Am I happy? Where do I want to go next? Should I do something different next month? Am I stressed about something? Take ‘me time’ to focus on you.
24. Structure your time: One of the most valuable decisions that I made early on in my journey as a digital nomad was to structure my week. It has brought me a tremendous amount of focus and removes a lot of the stress around wanting to explore a city or even wanting to catch up on work over the weekend. This structure brings me balance while also giving me time to explore. I typically look at each week in the following way:
Monday – Friday is working time. I need to make money and build my business as I travel. Sometimes I will do something touristy during the week but I will always prioritize my working schedule first.
Saturday is my tourist day. This is the day that I go exploring and visit all of the things I want to see.
Sunday is a day that is part tourist, self reflection, and relaxation for the week ahead.
25. Focus on your mental health: Most of my thoughts around wellness have direct impacts toward my mental health. I am constantly asking myself, am I healthy and am I happy? There are moments in the digital nomad life where you will feel sad, down, or even depressed. It is important to pay attention to how you are thinking and behaving. Should you decide to take a break for a little while? Do you need to talk with someone? Focusing and maintaining your mental health will improve your life as a digital nomad and as a person. Don’t ignore your emotional state. Do something about it.
Bonus Tip: Just take the plunge! Just getting started can be the hardest challenge to overcome for anyone interested in becoming a digital nomad. The secret for how my digital nomad journey started was to tell everyone that I was leaving at the end of the month to work and travel as a digital nomad. And I mean everyone. I have a good amount of self-motivation but there is nothing like a little bit of external pressure to push you to do something you want to do. Today, I am almost on my 2 year mark as a digital nomad!
In July of 2016, I decided to go on a life journey working remotely while exploring coworking and flexible workspaces around the world. So far this journey has brought me to 25+ states, 2 provinces, 20+ countries, and 150+ workspaces globally. You can find me contributing articles to Allwork.Space, blogging at RobertKropp.com, and building a better way to distribute workspace updates through Syncaroo.com.