Ditching the 9 to 5 and a cramped office cubicle for a pristine beach might seem like a dream, but behind-the-scenes is a lot of hard work and preparation. Digital nomads are used to round-the-clock travel, temporary homes and consistently working throughout.
But for some, the lifestyle is worth it - otherwise digital nomadism wouldn’t be on the rise. Pieter Levels, the founder of Nomad List, predicts that there’ll be 1 billion digital nomads by 2035, all living and working remotely across the world. It’s made possible thanks to faster Internet speeds, cheaper travel and collaboration tools such as Slack and Trello.
Digital nomadism can provide a heap of benefits, for both employer and nomad. However it does require a bit more planning to achieve seamless working practices regardless of location.
Research before you travel
Research is key when working and travelling at the same time. In Anywhere, a book compiled by AND CO featuring tips from 100 digital nomads, Joshua Hayford introduces the 70-20-10 rule. Used when starting a nomadic lifestyle, it follows the principle that you should do 70% research, 20% preparation and 10% improvisation.
By researching beforehand, you can work out the best countries to visit, the most cost-effective way to travel and where you will work and live. It allows you to determine whether you’ll move around a lot and how to achieve this (through a campervan, for example) or whether you’ll remain in one location for an extended time before moving elsewhere. Importantly, it will help your work remain consistent if you research the best working spaces and wifi ahead of time.
Separate your work and personal life
The lines between your work and personal life tend to blur when you’re on the road a lot. However, it’s vital for the quality of your work and your mental wellbeing that specific time is carved out throughout the day for both work and non-work activities. The Pomodoro technique is used by some to balance their work day, others try Workstation Popcorn where you assign specific tasks to achieve in different work spaces. You could answer all emails and write a blog in one coffee shop, for example, before moving onto a marketing strategy and brochure design in another.
Some nomads prefer to work from their living spaces (especially if in an Airbnb with good wifi!). Others prefer co-working or co-living spaces. In 2017 there was an estimated 13,800 coworking spaces serving 1 million nomads and remote workers. Having a dedicated co-work space provides you with a clear boundary between work and play, along with the usual office perks of a desk, reliable wifi and people to chat with.
Get accountability and a community
Finding the motivation to start work, especially when in a stunning location, can be tough. There’s different accountability groups online where you can connect with other digital nomads and remote workers who will keep you on-track.
These groups can also stop you from getting lonely whilst travelling, and can offer tips to newer nomads. Some, Like Digital Nomad Girls and Nomad List’s forum also arrange physical get-togethers.
Communication as a digital nomad is important because you’re not in the same office (or even timezone) as your employer or client. Instant messaging tools such as Slack, Skype and WhatsApp can help you keep in touch. Anyone you’re working with, including fellow team members, should know when you’re working and in what timezone.
Make sure that any clients and colleagues are aware of when you’re travelling so they don’t expect an immediate answer from you in-transit. Also, don’t set any deadlines 48 hours before or after catching a flight, in case of unforeseen circumstances.
Use technology to your advantage
Digital nomads, by definition, use technology to do their work. Trello and Asana can help keep track of projects, whilst Evernote syncs to-do lists across devices.
Consider keeping a backup of your work either on the cloud or on an external hard drive. Using Google Drive or similar will sync your work across devices, and reduce downtime if your equipment does goes missing. It also makes it easier to collaborate with clients or colleagues.
A VPN (virtual private network) is crucial if you’re working on public wifi at cafes or airports. As is up-to-date anti-virus, firewall and malware protection.
Pack for a digital nomad lifestyle
Packing as a digital nomad is very different to packing for a holiday. Firstly, you should prioritise everything needed for work. That includes a laptop, charger, portable charger, external hard drives, a smartphone, camera equipment, universal adapter and extra plug points.
Depending on your destination and plans, you might want to consider a mobile wifi system like Skyroam which covers over 130 destinations without roaming charges. A lightweight portable laptop stand can also help on-the-road. Spend a few months crouching over a coffee table combined with uncomfortable plane seats and a laptop stand will be a Godsend.
Finding work whilst travelling
Digital nomads usually fall into two categories: some work remotely for one company as a permanent employee and others are freelancers or run their own businesses. If you fall into the latter category, then it’s a good idea to have work lined up before setting-off. However there are several ways to find work whilst travelling. Some digital nomads groups have posts of remote positions or jobs from fellow nomads. There’s also standalone jobs boards like Working Nomad. Freelancer platforms such as Upwork are another option, but it can take some time to become established.
Then there’s the passive income route, which is much-lauded by Tim Ferriss in his book The Four Hour Work Week. Many nomads use passive income to supplement their earnings and provide some security. This could take the form of a blog or vlog which generates ad revenue, a dropshipping business, or offering online courses via Skillshare.
A unique lifestyle = unique challenges
The benefits of the digital nomad lifestyle can only be unlocked through hard work. There are some unique challenges that nomads face when it comes to working remotely, in different timezones with sometimes sketchy wifi. But there’s also a lot of tools, technology solutions and nomad-specific services that can help - from cloud-based apps to global mobile wifi and co-working spaces. Because of this, it’s easier than ever to become a digital nomad. With a bit of planning and determination, the world really can be your oyster.