Not everyone can just quit their job and travel the world.  But lots of people can do it if they take their job with them!  Digital nomads are people who are location-independent and use technology to perform their job, living a nomadic lifestyle. They work remotely, telecommuting rather than being physically present at a company’s headquarters or office, and in many cases are freelancers or entrepreneurs.  Some digital nomads travel continuously, while others move to one location and stay for a longer stretch.  My husband and I (and now our kids) are digital nomads and at times we have bounced around, but more recently have set up a more permanent camp for the sake of community and pace.

parenting patience

working while parenting takes patience…no matter where you are

When we started it was a little unusual, but working remotely is becoming way more common.  In large part, it’s one of the few silver linings of Covid, but it’s also due to enabling tech and the transition of many businesses to more virtual environments. People are becoming digital nomads to increase well-being, have more family time, and improve work-life balance.  And (some) companies see it as an opportunity to save on overhead and increase job satisfaction. others are also becoming increasingly aware of their carbon footprint in terms of commutes and work travel.  But the net result is that there are now thirty-five million digital nomads globally, and that number is  rising fast!

Many countries are also now working overtime to attract digital nomads in order to gain economic benefits through taxes, local consumption, boosts to innovation, etc.  We have been lucky enough to be digital nomads for a long time and love encouraging others to join us by sharing helpful tips, tricks, and resources.  Because while being a digital nomad is amazing, it can also be a bit of an art to stay productive and sane at times. There are certain habits and practices that can greatly improve your productivity and happiness while working remotely.  Here are some perspectives, suggestions, and considerations….

Essential Considerations for Digital Nomadism…

Employee or Self-Employed?

There are pros and cons to being employed or working for yourself.  And the structure you take on the road may largely depend on your current work arrangement.  But to the extent you can design things anew, we personally prefer being self-employed and find it works well with living internationally and being in different time zones than colleagues and clients.  You still have to meet with people when it’s necessary, but we have found that you tend to have fewer non-essential meetings (about organizational, administrative, blah blah blah) if you’re self employed and not on staff.  However, I know many people, both personally and professionally, who don’t like the uncertainty and unpredictability of self-employment and therefore choose to be an employee.  It just depends on your comfort level, how much work is in the pipeline, existing relationships, cash reserves, etc.   My husband technically has a hybrid model where he is an “employee” of his own S-corporation (which can have structural/tax advantages) but in essence is self-employed.  More on that below.  

Berria beach in Spain

self-employed = the kids with this beach to themselves. See them?

Finding a new gig…

But if you’re just starting out or making a new start, there are thousands of companies that offer jobs for remote workers and you can find a dizzying array of possibilities on sites dedicated to international jobs .  You can find remote jobs in tech, healthcare, and tourism to name a few.  Apart from your qualifications, it’s important to think about how the new job will jibe with the lifestyle you are trying to create by becoming a digital nomad.  First and foremost is timezone and the frequency with which you will need to meet with clients and team members during off-hours.  My husband’s clients are mostly on the west coast and so are 9 hours behind us in Spain.  That generally means he works until about 11-12 at night. He’s a night owl anyway and then he gets all day to himself, so that works for him, but make sure you’re being honest with yourself about if you can regularly work at night and have it be sustainable.  Another thing to consider is how often you’re going to need to travel to meet people in person.  There have been chapters where we have had to fly back and forth to the states in quick succession and it takes a toll.  At one point I did five trips inside two months and I was over it.  Fortunately that was unusual, because frequent repetitive work travel is a drag, expensive, and bad for the planet.  Lastly, think about what percentage of your day you will be in virtual meetings. When you’re in them all day, back to back it can be tiring and it influences the physical setting where you can work (i.e. not a coffee shop).  We have found that the ideal mix is about 70% quiet writing and 30% clients/team meetings to stay connected.   Of course work is work and there is no magic wand to design things perfectly, but  if you’re looking across different available work options, these are things to keep in mind.

Choosing the right equipment…

Having the right equipment is critical to successfully traveling while working.  We like to travel fairly lightly and try to keep things  streamlined and simple, but here are a few of our must haves for working on the go….

Computer and other equipment

Of course every digital nomad needs a computer.  Investing in a good laptop can be painful, but if you can swing it, it’s worth it.  And unless you’re into processing heavy video files, opt for something lightweight and with serious battery life. We are Apple ecosystem people and I have a pretty new MacBook Air with the M2 chip and it is super light and the battery lasts forever. Having a more expensive a MacBook Pro makes my husband feel cool and important, but it’s too heavy for me and has noticeably shorter battery life.  

Of course you will also already have a phone, but using it (efficiently) in your new location will require a little research. We were Verizon customers forever but then switched to T-Mobile before moving overseas permanently because they have a great international business plan. So now we have T-mobile in the U.S. because we needed to keep our U.S. numbers for work, and we also added local service in Spain through a second (electronic) SIM card. It works great and you can easily toggle back and forth between carriers for both voice and data. We have been thinking about moving the U.S. numbers over to Google Voice and getting rid of T-mobile entirely. The tradeoff appears to be that while we could still get calls on our old numbers, we wouldn’t be able to get texts without using a separate app.

Beyond a computer and a mobile plan, other key items include:

  • universal power adapters (more than one)

  • a high capacity external hard drive or thumb drive, mostly for backup and peace of mind

  • VPN service for access sites you may not be able to access from your location.  We like ExpressVPN because it’s pretty cheap and it works well

  • noise canceling headphones are essential.  I also love the good AirPods but always seem to lose them

  • I have this case that has enough space to carry everything plus a sandwich. There are more streamlined ones out there, but you need a little capacity

  • For more details check out our Digital Nomad Gear Guide (coming soon).

Internet

Understanding the bandwidth available in your new location is key, especially if you’re going to be doing a lot of video calls.   Checkout the internet speeds in some favorite digital nomad countries.  But of course bandwidth also varies hugely depending on where you are in a country and even from one specific location to another.  So if I am going to be having a virtual meeting in an unfamiliar spot, I make a point of showing up early and to ensure things are working properly and that the connection is reliable.  I like to see a connection that is at least 10mbs and preferably higher.  Beware that sometimes Wifi will be sufficiently fast when you test, but then the signal drops periodically, kicking you off your call (again and again).  Having a good international and/or local phone plan with roaming data so you can hotspot your phone in an emergency can get you out of a bind, but it’s not ideal.  Be aware of alternative locations close by (library, coffee shop, work-space) where you can find reliable internet in a pinch.

Because of these uncertainties, we take truly mission critical calls at home and pay for fast internet.  We also have a stable Wifi router connected to an uninterruptible power supply because the power grid and in-house electrical can be dodgy  depending on where you are.  For really important calls, my husband avoids Wifi altogether and strings an ethernet cable across the house and connects his Mac directly to the router with this ethernet adapter.  While that is the fastest, most stable connection possible, one time our Labrador got tangled up in the cable and panicked and it ripped his computer completely off the desk from  the other room.  It was funny later.  

working with dog

Post-tangle calm (but you can tell they are both still thinking about it)

Overall, you DO NOT want the fact that you’re a digital nomad to become a liability to your team or clients.  In the normal work world, when someone’s connection sucks and they have to turn off their camera or they keep dropping, everyone just chalks it up to the vagaries of the internet.  But when it happens to a nomad, people can get irritated because your choices are now impacting them negatively.  Don’t let it happen!

Lighting

Again, due to timezone differences, we often take video calls when it’s dark in our part of the world and lighting can be a challenge. Bad lighting can make you look tired and you don’t want to have to think about how bad you look the entire meeting.  Portable lights that plug into your laptop can help, but the light rings that you see create these distracting circular reflections in our glasses, so much so that we stopped using them.  Instead we now opt for this better square light for supplemental front lighting which doesn’t have the same effect.

Stay Organized and Productive

Being a digital nomad means there is less predictability and consistency in almost every aspect of your life.  As a result you will need to understand when you work well, and how and where you are most productive. You will need to notice if you require quiet and solitude in order to stay organized, or if you are able to be productive in a busy coffee shop or remote working location.  Notice if you are more productive in the morning or late at night, and how this impacts your performance and schedule. 

As a psychologist for 20 years and a digital nomad myself raising three busy kiddos, I know all too well how important patterns and consistency is when it comes to one’s well-being. One of the things I encourage digital nomads to do is to keep as much of their day consistent and constant when working on the go. Things like waking up at the same time, eating at the same time, keeping your working hours consistent and routinely getting exercise helps you stay organized and productive. I encourage people to keep track of their habits in a journal which helps you see clearly the habits and practices you keep consistent, as well as the ones that need a little work.

Managing Finances as a Digital Nomad…

There is often more variability and inconsistency with expenses while being a digital nomad.  Factors that contribute to this may possibly be not having consistent work, shifting weekly and monthly overhead, and variation in cost of living depending on your location.   Due to these factors it is important to do some effective and thorough examination and planning when it comes to matters of money.  

Create a Budget

Having a clear budget is critical to mastering a successful digital nomad lifestyle.  We have unfortunately seen many digital nomads eager to have a life of adventure while working remotely, not take enough time to determine cost of living while on the go, resulting in major financial stress and challenges. 

Creating a budget doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cut costs and live frugally, in fact in many places you may have more of a disposable income due to decreased cost of living.  However, things like repeated overspending or being unaware of costs in a particular location can result in expenses getting out of control over the long run.

Planning and charting out your route is essential and working up a budget for each location including things like overhead, transportation, insurance, food, and recreation will serve you well.  There are wonderful resources on line that allow you to get a sense of the cost of living in each location you intend to visit.   

Many people worry about creating a budget either because they don’t want to think about it or are intimidated by the process.  In both cases this is exactly why you should commit to doing it!  Budgets don’t have to be incredibly detailed, but rather provide a clear and streamlined understanding of the financial basics of your time as a remote worker and what you can anticipate financially.  Taking the time to create a budget allows for significant peace of mind while living a digital nomad lifestyle.

Choosing the right destination

Not all locations are created equal in deciding where to be a digital nomad and for how long.  There is a wide range of living costs across the globe.  It is important to research the exact locations you are eager to explore and the cost of living and expected expenses.  Again, it is important to work up  a budget for each location to get a sense of your overhead and expenses.  

While most digital nomads try to keep overhead low, there are some locations many remote workers are eager to see despite a very high cost of living.  One way to manage this is to plan to travel to that destination, but to spend less time there.  For instance, many digital nomads are eager to travel to Switzerland, but the cost of living is quite high.  So what works well is to visit and work while traveling, but to not spend as much time in that location.  This allows you to appreciate places on the globe you are eager to see, but without living out of your means. Other places like Portugal and Costa Rica, have lower costs of living in exceptional settings and with many amenities that allow digital nomads to greatly reduce overhead for an extended period of time.  

digital nomad kids

kids become digital nomads too…

Managing taxes

Make sure you are aware of the tax laws and regulations of the countries you are working and living in. Some countries have laws that require digital nomads to pay taxes on their income earned while working in that country, even if they are not citizens or residents.  For American digital nomads like us, this book on taxes for American expats  has been an invaluable resource.  

Building a buffer

Additionally, be sure to set aside extra savings in case you need it for an emergency. It is inevitable that unforeseen expenses will pop up.  While traveling and working we have had to deal with unexpected medical expenses, transportation mishaps and lost gear…to name just a few! But building in a buffer to your budget will allow you to be less stressed when these things happen (which they always do!)

Tips for a Work-Life Balance…

There are a lot of practices and habits one can develop to have a healthy and balanced life while being a digital nomad.  Here is a look at a few very important things to consider….

Establish a routine

Managing your flexible schedule is a crucial aspect of being a digital nomad. Research suggests that we all do a bit better with some planning and predictability in our lives.  I recommend incorporating consistent periods for eating, exercise, sleep, work and play into your schedule.  I always recommend people make a schedule that allows them a skeleton framework for their week ahead. It is helpful to keep things consistent, while allowing for some pivoting and flexibly throughout your week.  

Boundaries between work and leisure

A lack of boundaries around work and leisure is one of the biggest complaints I hear from digital nomads.  While people romanticize working while traveling, the truth is it can allow for too much unstructured time and feeling concerned that you are either working all the time or not enough.  So make sure to schedule your days and weeks accordingly and make definitive breaks for work and play.  It is important to have times where you are not checking emails or your phone, as well as finding time where your head is down and you are focused and deliberate about logging productive work hours.  

Social connections

Being a digital nomad often means you don’t know many people (if any) in your new location.  One of the biggest benefits of traveling while you work is meeting amazing people from all over the world.  There are tremendous physical and mental benefits from having social interaction and prioritizing connection and relationships.  Most digital nomads are eager to connect with fellow remote workers, so take advantage of online forums for expats and social apps such as facebook and meetup, as there are great communities of digital nomads. Be sure to check out our blog post on meeting people after an international move!

Staying Healthy While Living the Digital Nomad Lifestyle…

Diet 

If you are traveling and on the go having a regular diet and consistent nutrition can prove to be problematic and challenging.  I suggest setting eating hours and trying to keep as much of your diet consistent.  For instance keep your breakfast and lunch hours the same, try to cook at home as much as possible, and reserve splurging or eating out for the weekends.  I always have healthy snacks on us no matter where we are.  That way when everyone gets hungry on the go we have options to get us to the next location or meal without crashing. It’s a great tip if you are unable to cook or find a healthy and quick option.  

Exercise

One of the biggest thing you can do for your health is to keep moving and to stay active.  Many digital nomads give up their gym membership or exercise routine while embarking on their journey.  However, make sure to stay up with your activity and exercise even while on the go.  You can buy day passes to gyms all over the world, and walking and exploring your new location is also one of the best ways to stay active while learning and seeing your new community and culture.  Take the dog that has been staring out your for hours for a long walk.

dog with ball on beach

exercise is good for everyone….

Sleep

This is one area where I see a lot of challenges for digital nomads.  Many digital nomads are working in different timezones which can lead to meetings and calls falling outside to the normal work hours.  We do a lot of work in the Pacific timezone, despite being nine hours ahead most of the time.  This can create some late evenings and sleep challenges.  Additionally, you may be sleeping in a variety of different locations and settings which can interrupt quality sleep as well.  Try to keep the time, duration and patterns around sleep as consistent as possible even when on the go.  We always use sound machines and go to bed and rise as close to the same time as we can regardless of our work schedule.   

Mental Health and Stress Management

Maintaining mental health while on the go is incredibly important.  There are unique stressors for digital nomads including things like unpredictable work, feeling lonely or out of place and financial unknowns.  Paying close attention to your mental health is important while being a remote worker.  Things like journaling, talking to friends, mediating, getting out in nature, and exercising are helpful in mitigating any stress.  

Strategies for Staying Motivated and Productive…

Set Achievable Goals

Make sure you are realistic with things like career goals, travel plans and socializing while being a digital nomad.  Having clear expectations will help you feel at peace and content while working and traveling.  I often see remote workers over schedule or plan their lives, creating undue stress.  So remember to simlify things and dont overextend yourself.  

Eliminate Distractions

Make sure you set yourself up for success by having distraction free time and locations to meet the demands of your work responsibilities.  This will allow you to accomplish goals and feel more willing and able to explore and travel in your time off. 

distracted from working

some distractions just land on your desk and there’s not much you can do…

Take Breaks

Just like working at an office, digital nomads require taking a discrete amount of time off work.   Just because you are traveling while working doesn’t mean you should skip vacation time.  It’s important to take time off and recenter and recalibrate.  

Final Words…

The digital nomad life is here to stay, and more and more people are venturing into it. becoming international digital nomads has completely changed our lives and has allowed us to see the world, while we pursue rewarding careers. The lifestyle requires being able to tolerate some unknowns and remaining nimble and flexible, but ultimately the advantages FAR outweigh any disadvantages or challenges you may encounter. Becoming a digital nomad is one of the most fulfilling and worthwhile adventures you will ever have!

Looking forward to hearing about your adventures!

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