So you’ve decided to take your job and your family on the road!  Congratulations on going the over thirty-five million other digital nomads combining making a living, with living a life.  You won’t regret it.  But there are a few things to keep in mind.  This post highlights some the most important considerations when starting out and provides some tips (we’ve learned the hard way) for making the transition successful over the long run.  

Approaches to being a digital nomad

Maybe you’ve already got location figured out, which is great. But even if you do, one thing traveling tends to do is open your eyes to all the places you didn’t know about before. It also tends to challenge your preconceptions. So keep an open mind about the places you want to explore. And if you are embarking with your family, think about what is going to work for you kids once the novelty of travel wears off. But making the big decision of where you want to work next as a digital nomad is a great problem to have! Here are a few basic models to consider…

Travel Around Your Own Vast Country

Staying in your own country while traveling is a great way to have adventures and explore but with less red tape and uncertainty. It does not allow you to experience the same variety of cultures as international travel does (although California and Mississippi are pretty different), but it can be a great way to get your feet wet while exploring while you work.

Camper van travel for instance has exploded in popularity.  Driving across your state or country, while living primarily in your van or RV is not only fun, but cost-effective. The appeal of van life is the ability to have freedom, mobility, and the opportunity to escape from the traditional 9-5 lifestyle and the high cost of living in urban areas.

travel kids

Travel kids

We know several people who spent years driving across the country, both as couples or with kids, seeking adventure and new experiences.  We met up with friends to surf In Santa Barbara while they drove the entire west coast of the United States in search of the best surf spots and hiking trails.  Between adventures with their kids and long hikes, they would find time to complete work projects while gazing out from their oceanfront office in their beater van.  

We also hosted our friends who were touring their home country of Spain in their RV.  They camped and stayed in hostels while visiting national parks throughout Spain.  They would also stop in small villages and picturesque towns to work throughout the week but spent the majority of their time out in nature.

We’ve done van life for vacations but never for an extended period, because honestly, I think I would go nuts with so many of our spawn packed into small box. But that’s just me (I guess). For lots of our friends and lots of families it’s a great way to explore and make memories while still getting work done!

Travel to One Country and Make it Your Home

Becoming a digital nomad while spending considerable time in one country allows for dramatic lifestyle changes and cultural immersion but with some predictably for a period of time.  Settling in one country for a longer time allows you to get deeply ensconced in a new culture, language, and community.   Many people enroll their kids in local schools and even buy property while following this model.

San Sebastián

Donostia

We’ve had truly nomadic chapters, but more recently we’ve adopted this model because it allows for some consistency and community for our kids, while also allowing us to explore neighboring countries.  While living primarily in Spain, where the kids have weekly activities and friends, we drive and fly and train all over Europe and beyond. By North American standards, nothing is very far away here. If you pursue this approach, you will need to plan accordingly in terms of longer stay or residency permits, taxes, schools, a car, etc. Check out some of our other blog posts for more details on these topics.

Continually Travel to New Locations

Some digital nomads are constantly moving and traveling every couple of weeks or months. The benefit of this is maximizing your exposure to different locations, cultures, and environments throughout the world.  It allows for constant contrast and exposure to the remarkable variety and diversity that we have on our planet and ranks high in adventure and excitement.  

On the flip side, you can lose the opportunity to get more acquainted with a place and its people and to develop relationships.  This model requires tolerating a lot of unknowns, and unpredictability, and navigating many changing circumstances. Families need to honestly assess if this model is working for the kids over the longer term. To be clear, sometimes it absolutely does, because seeing the world is an incredible education in its own right. But their needs can shift and continually reassessing what’s working and being adaptive will help make sure the digital nomad life is serving everybody. Because friends and community can be important to kids, especially in certain phases.

Kids in Paris

Feeding the ducks in Paris

Working….

You might already have a job that allows you to work anywhere you want. Lucky you! But if not, don’t despair, there are endless opportunities for those looking for remote work.  Check out our other blog post detailing job options and search platforms available to digital nomads. But no matter what job you have, here are some thoughts on where, when, and how to sustainably do it on the road.

Where to Work

Deciding where you want to set up your office each day is one of my favorite aspects of working remotely. You may decide to stay at home, venture out to a different café in a bustling city, or sit on a teeter-totter in a duck-filled park. You can meet people in community work-hubs, be a fly on the wall while watching the locals interact at a bistro, or sit in solitude on the beach while working hard on a project.  Of course you also need be productive…but there are endless options. Co-working centers are great because they often have fast and reliable internet and other amenities (like wine) for nomads.  They are also a good spot for networking, both professionally and personally.  There are now co-living centers for digital nomads where you can live cheaply, work productively, and meet like-minded nomads.

There are some days I want to be productive and efficient, working from home with my head down on reliable WiFi and then heading out for adventures with the kids. On other days, I might take the computer or notepad to the beach to work throughout the day while taking swim breaks. Other days I just lie in bed and think about how simple life would be if I never left and didn’t have to deal with Spanish bureaucracy…but those days are few!

Schedule

Managing your flexible schedule is also a crucial aspect of being a digital nomad. Adventure is amazing, but research says that over the long-term, we all do better with some daily routine.  I recommend incorporating consistent periods for eating, exercising, sleeping, work, and play into your schedule.  I always suggest people make a schedule that allows them a skeleton framework for the week ahead. It’s helpful to keep a few things consistent while still allowing flexibility throughout your week.  

For those traveling with kids, considering your schedule is paramount. If you have older kids who are either in school or homeschooling, create a schedule where they are self-directed and stick to their own program.  Let them know your schedule when everyone needs to be working quietly, and communicate to ensure everyone is on the same page so everyone can accomplish their work. For instance, our teenager who was finishing a few high school credits would get on the bus every morning and head to her favorite cafe while exploring our new city.  This gave her a sense of independence and life skills that only international living allows for. With our younger kids, we planned our day around naps and downtime. 

I know many digital nomads who find it economical to hire a sitter to come and watch their younger children for a few hours every day so that some work can get done without interruption.  Especially in some places, that’s money really well spent. But determining what works for the family dynamic is a central aspect of making the digital nomad life work over the long run.

Other Things to Consider

Wi-Fi: Having a reliable and fast internet connection is of course crucial for digital nomads as it allows you to work remotely and stay connected with clients and colleagues. This means that it is essential to research and find places with good Wi-Fi coverage before deciding on a location. Plan ahead, and DO NOT let the fact that your a digital nomad become a liability to your team or your clients.

A reliable and decent computer: A good quality and reliable computer is necessary for digital nomads. We rely daily on our laptops to work and stay productive. It’s important to have a computer that can handle the demands of your work and that is easy to repair or replace if needed. We are hard-core Mac fans and have been happy with our MacBooks that have amazing battery life and are fast and durable. Our entire family uses them and we have never been disappointed after being digital nomads for over a decade and traveling the world. They are like appendages with stickers.

VPN: You will frequently need a 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.

Mail service: If you don’t want to bother a friend or relative with your mail once you hit the road, check out virtual mailbox services.  You route all your mail to the physical address they give you, they scan it, and you can see whatever it is on an app on your phone.  You can tell them to trash it, send it to you no matter where you are, and most importantly, if it’s a check, deposit it for you.  This has been instrumental for us and getting paid by clients who still send paper checks.  There are other services but we are really happy with Earth Class Mail.

Earphones: Digital nomads often work in public spaces or shared living spaces, and earphones can help to block out noise and create a more focused working environment. These earphones are fantastic for reducing outside noise and helping you stay focused in public or loud locations. The sound quality is amazing and they are aren’t super bulky on your head.

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 permanent residents. You need to keep an eye on your tax obligations at home too. As Americans, this book has been really helpful for us on that front.

Visa Requirements: Be aware of the visa requirements of the countries you plan to visit or work in. Some countries have strict visa requirements that may require digital nomads to have a work permit or a special type of visa in order to enter or stay in the country.

Final Words

The challenges of traveling or international living while working are real, and can include lack of community or social life, difficulties around lack of routine, financial challenges, and work-life balance. Overall, knowing what you (and your family) want to achieve through this lifestyle is important, and understanding your capacity for uncertainty will influence how and where you decide to work and travel.

Despite the challenges, becoming international digital nomads has completely changed our lives. This lifestyle has allowed our children to see the world, while we pursue rewarding careers. The lifestyle is not for the faint of heart and requires some courage, flexibility, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of humor!  For us, working while raising three kids and navigating the worldhas been a tremendous amount to juggle, but ultimately the pros far outweigh the cons!

Wishing you much luck in your adventures! Keep us posted!

 

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