I’m going to venture a guess, and say that you don’t actually want to be a digital nomad.
Sure you’d love to travel more, see exciting new places, and be able to take your work with you – but it’s that nomadic part, that most of us (including myself, don’t actually want).
We do however want a digital hybrid lifestyle. We want our cake and to eat it too.
We want to have a stable home base, tight-knit and supportive community, and the benefits of being in one place – but we also want to be able to travel a few months out of the year, and have the freedom to take off at a moment’s notice.
The reality of nomadically traveling for 12 months out of the year sounds like a nightmare for most people (even the ones who lust over travel porn while sitting at their day jobs). And many that thought they wanted it failed to sustain the fully nomadic lifestyle.
But once you’ve got this hybrid lifestyle, the reality is, you still need to be able to work from the road. To have that freedom, you need to be able to manage your business from anywhere, and whether you’re gone 12 days, 12 weeks, or 12 months out of the year, mastering the art of working from the road will be incredibly valuable to your business, personal life, and stress levels.
There’s a harsh reality you should know about though:
Not everyone wants you to work on your business.
In fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that in most cases your hustle will be an inconvenience to others.
When I originally wrote this, I was three weeks into an 8 week trip around the world with my wife.
Here’s one of my “office” views in Milan, Italy:
The trip was great. We walked all over NYC, drank beer at Oktoberfest in Munich, hiked in the Dolomites, and went wine tasting in Tuscany (my only regret was we didn’t make it down to Positano, which has been a bucket list thing for me for years.)
Every single day I tried valiantly to get half a day of work in.
And you know how successful I was?
You see, the people around me (to absolutely no fault of their own), didn’t have online businesses and weren’t digital nomads.
My friend Ryan is a tour guide and this trip was in his offseason. His girlfriend is a teacher and was on her fall break. And my wife, Tate, was on a two month sabbatical from her job that she’s looked forward to for years.
These are just a few of the people we’ve traveled with, and nearly all of them have their own goals and agendas, which, unfortunately for my productivity, doesn’t include taking days off of sightseeing to work.
If you haven’t tried working while traveling yet, this is something that is going to probably come up, even if you’re a solo traveler or on a workcation. Not a lot of people talk about it, but trying to find that balance between work and travel can be a struggle.
Here’s the thing I’ve come to realize after working online for nearly a decade:
This doesn’t change.
Whether you’re traveling, at home, with family, with friends – no matter where you are, most of the people in your life will actively try to keep you from doing your work (even if they don’t realize it).
And if you’re trying to build a lifestyle business, then, as you might know, things are already hard enough.
Despite books, blogs, and, videos that have made this type of work seem much more attainable – the reality is, you’re still trying to go against the grain and against what society says you should do.
These days I have to fight for my right to work.
It sounds odd, but it’s true.
My Sabbatical trip was the most enjoyable and memorable that I’ve had in years – and I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything.
At the same time, I have responsibilities to myself, Location Rebel members, and my readers to get things done despite being on the road – and for the first part of this trip, I didn’t do a very good job.
You’d think after this long, I’d have all of the tips and tricks locked down.
Spoiler alert: I don’t.
Fortunately, there are some strategies I’ve had success with for stress free travel, even if there are productivity demons lurking around every corner.
How to Become a Digital Nomad
Before we dive into travel tools and travel strategies for being productive as a digital nomad, it’s worth answering the question of “how do you become a digital nomad?”
As you can imagine, there are lots of ways to become a digital nomad. But the easiest way, boils down to a simple three step process:
- Learn the fundamental skills you need to be successful online. Skills like SEO, copywriting, how to build a website with WordPress, basics of design, social media for business and so on.
- Create a Training Ground to Practice These Skills. Setup a blog in order to start having a way to actually practice all of these skills that you’re learning.
- Freelance one of these skills to build your income and your confidence. Most people start with freelance writing because it’s a skill most of us have already, there’s a huge demand for it, and you can do it just as easily from Bali, as you can your dining room table.
If this type of business is interesting checkout Location Rebel Academy where we walk you through every step of how to do it.
Digital Nomad Productivity: How to Get Stuff Done While on the Road
Ok, so now that you’ve had a quick refresh on how to become a digital nomad, what about those of you who already are working while traveling?
The rest of this post is for you.
Here are a few things you can implement to help you do the work even if those around you aren’t so keen on it.
#1) Wake Up Earlier…No Matter What
Mornings are my favorite. Even though it can still be difficult for me to wake up early, once my coffee is made and I sit down at my computer, I find early mornings are by far the most productive time of the day both at home and on the road.
On this trip, my travel companions typically slept in until 9 or later. So when I started getting up at 7 I was often able to get in 3 hours of work before they even realized what’s going on.
It’s not enough to get everything done. But a few hours of super focused work allows me to stay on top of emails, participate in our Location Rebel forums, and get the occasional blog post written.
Plus, no one can travel full speed for days at a time. Usually, there’s some point, maybe late afternoon or before dinner, when everyone heads back to their rooms to relax for a few hours.
This is the perfect time to schedule an afternoon check-in or another solid hour of work.
#2) Schedule Work Days in Advance
Whether you’re traveling solo, with a just a couple friends, or a larger group, doing at least a little bit of planning is important.
I’m notoriously bad at planning. I’ll put off booking things til the last minute, not schedule out tours or treks, and try and leave as much of my trip up to serendipity as possible.
This becomes a problem when you have to work.
Try and schedule your rough plan for at least a week out and identify two days where you can make work your #1 priority. This might mean missing out on something fun, or taking a night off drinking – but this is what you signed up for.
There’s a cheesy adage that states “work for 8 years when no one else will, and live the rest of your life like no one else can.”
While this definitely doesn’t explicitly apply to what we’re doing, there’s some truth in the concept.
I’ve been working for years, and continue to occasionally miss out on fun opportunities – but because of this, I’m able to take a two-month global trip without having to ask for permission or worry about the business falling apart.
If you know you’re going to hit the road for awhile, take some time to get ahead. We did this over the past month of the game before you go. and it’s paid of in a big way.
And if the idea of having to plan a big trip while working feels like too much then consider working with an expert to plan your trips. Here are some sustainable travel companies that can get you going in the right direction.
#3) Know Exactly What Needs to Get Done
This plagues me all too often. When you’re traveling and are the only one working, you’ll often have to rely on pockets of productivity.
45 minutes here, 20 minutes there – it could go on like that all day, so knowing exactly what you need to get done, and what order you need to do it in, is absolutely crucial.
When I’m at home I’ll often spend 20 minutes cruising news or social media before getting down to work.
On the road, those same habits will ensure nothing ever gets done.
I use Asana to manage all of my to do items, projects, and tasks.
So at least 4 times a week while I travel (daily if I’m at home), I review what has to be done, organize them based on importance, and make sure that as soon as I sit down for my next work session I know exactly what to do and can jump in right away.
#4) Create Buckets of Tasks
While traveling, not all work time is created equal. You might be on a train without wifi, squished in the back of a van on the way to the airport, or have a full half day to spread out at a local coffee shop.
My buckets look like this:
Can Do on Phone
These tend to be more simple activities like posting to social media, responding to forum posts, or answering light emails. If I end up waiting for a bus or a train, these are the things I can easily tackle in short bursts of time.
Can Do Without Internet
I was on a lot of trains on this trip. Unlike most of the Amtrak trains in the States, many of the European trains we were on, didn’t have wifi.
But that’s ok! I had a list of things I knew I could do without wifi.
So much of the work I need to catch up on is writing.
Need Computer and Internet
If I need to do any research, or if I’m going to go on a big email binge – it’s best to have a computer and internet. There are ways to do email offline, but if I have a big backlog, it’s just easier to do it when I’m logged on.
Other examples of these tasks are:
- Doing any kind of online research for writing
- Doing SEO work
- Working on a website or landing page
Need Perfect Workspace
And then there’s the work that I feel like I need the best workspace possible and a significant chunk of time to make progress on. We’re talking a full table at a coffee shop, noise canceling headphones and at least a couple hours to dig in.
These tasks are usually things like writing sales pages, email copy, or anything marketing related.
Personally, I have to be a certain headspace to write effective copy, and I don’t even bother unless I get a nice workspace where I know I’ll be productive and not waste time.
#5) Outsource Where You Can
Just because you’re a soloprenuer, doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. There are usually plenty of tasks that always end up taking up a bunch of time that you can outsource to someone else to do.
This could be as simple as scheduling your social media or design tasks. Or you can work with a virtual assistant to hold down your email inbox and only let you know when something important rolls through.
Even if these things seem small anything you can take off your plate that is time-consuming (and not your direct work) can make a huge difference when your traveling and trying to find the right balance.
Since Liz and I (usually) don’t travel at the same time, it’s a lot easier for me to have some peace of mind knowing that she’s totally able to hold down the fort if I run into a lack of wifi or communication issues.
Hopefully these digital nomad travel strategies help you to manage your work and travel. Now let’s take a look at some of the tactical tools and apps we use to manage our productivity when traveling!
Digital Nomad Tools: 5 Essential Travel Tools
There’s no need to cover the obvious stuff, like a laptop (duh), email marketing and social media tools, and backpack, you already know all that. But here’s a list of things that I’ve overlooked at one point or another, and wish I’d thought about. Now, I use them on every working trip I go on.
#1) Reliable VPN
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and the primary purpose is to allow you to allow you to securely connect to a network remotely.
Why would you need this when traveling? Well, essentially a VPN can allow you to hide your actual identity or location. Many countries around the world block certain sites completely, so the only way to access them is when connected to a VPN.
#2) Call Tools
I remember sitting in our apartment in Playa del Carmen a few years back trying to have a call on Any Meeting. It went something like this:
“How is ehd, uh, what was, sor, berh”
When you’re abroad it’s not as easy to pick up a cell phone to talk to your team or clients, so a good way to communicate is essential.
I use Go to Webinar for big calls and webinars, Go to Meeting for smaller private stuff, and Skype for one on one calls. These work great for me, but the Go To products aren’t the cheapest option. I know plenty of people who use Join.me and Zoom too.
In a pinch, you can use WhatsApp to make video calls too, but just pay attention to your data rates.
#3) Computer/Device Tracking
Let’s face it when you’re on the road the chances of someone swiping your stuff go up a notch. While in Bali, my buddy Evan lost his iPhone because of a couple tricky thieves on a motorbike.
Lucky for him, he had the software installed to not only locate it but wipe it clean as well.
So how does this work? Say someone steals that fancy new Macbook from you. Login to a website, report the Mac as stolen, and you can actually remotely turn on the webcam and see who is using your computer and track their GPS coordinates.
At the very least this will keep your data safe, and best case you’ll actually get your stuff back and catch the perp in the process!
#4) Reliable Hosting with 24 Hour Support
Do you know how many times I’ve been abroad and I’ve broken something on my site? Too many to count.
Because of that, I will never recommend a hosting site that doesn’t have really high quality 24/7 support. You have no idea how many times you might screw up something major and end up thanking your lucky stars your support person was able to fix things for you. Trust me, it will happen.
Don’t believe me? Read about the most expensive “work out” of my life.
That said, I highly recommend two hosting sites. The first is Bluehost, they’re great, reliable and very affordable, you can’t go wrong here. For people just starting out, this is what I recommend.
If you’re willing to pay a bit more money per month and want even better service and reliability, then WPEngine is what I’d check out.
#5) Portable Hard Drive
There are SO many reasons you should have a high capacity portable hard drive with you at all times.
Whenever I travel, I always try to have any new media (photos, videos etc) in at least two places. You never know when something might fail, get lost, stolen, whatever.
This is even more important if you’re doing any media editing on the road. All media is stored on the external when I’m editing on say Final Cut, so that it frees up the computer resources to make the software run smoother.
I personally use a Seagate Portable 1TB, the size is great, and it’s a portable USB powered drive.
Want more tools and apps for planning a trip? Check out this post.
Digital Nomad Apps: 5 Essential Apps for the Location Independent Entrepreneur
There are about a million really useful travel apps out there, so it’s hard to choose just a couple of them. But, I have to say these have been my go-to options for years and I use them every time I travel.
#1) Galileo App
But what about those times where you’re out of the country and on airplane mode? Galileo to the rescue!
Not long ago, I remember walking through the SoHo district of Hong Kong trying to find this bar that my Airbnb host was at. An hour later, I still couldn’t figure out where I was going – and no one else had ever heard of this bar.
Galileo can help make that a problem of the past, as their offline maps are second to none. If you adventure often and find yourself getting lost frequently, look no further than Galileo.
I still remember my first time abroad. After losing my backpack, I was forced to travel through Europe without any stuff.
One of the more memorable moments of the trip was getting lost in the Milan subway system for 3 hours trying to find a bus station that we were pretty sure didn’t exist.
CityMapper can help solve this problem as they have subway maps and routes for dozens of major cities around the world. And they include all sorts of local transport including ferries, rideshares, taxies, and even bike shares, when available.
If you’re heading to a city, not on CityMapper, Moovit is another good option too.
If you play your cards right as a Location Rebel, much of your travel can be a write off. But what happens when you’re hopping around Bangkok for your business meetings, and you’ve had a few too many Singhas? Receipts are the last thing you’re thinking about.
This is where Shoeboxed comes in. I can take photos of all my business receipts immediately after getting them, it logs and categorizes them for me, and I can throw away the receipt. As someone who is terrible when it comes to keeping track of receipts on the road (or well, ever) this app has been a lifesaver.
While I haven’t used it, I’ve also heard that Expensify is a good alternative.
#4) Work Hard Anywhere
Sometimes you don’t want to sit around in a hotel all day doing work. So, being able to find a killer place to get some work done AND experience some local culture is a very good thing.
That’s why I love the Work Hard Anywhere app. It’s got a massive list of coworking spaces, cafes, and hot spots around the world. It’s the perfect way to know where I know I can get some work done before I head to any new location.
And, don’t forget, you can also work from anywhere with wifi, so LoungeBuddy is a cool app you can use to book yourself into airline lounges around the world. And HotelsByDay is another app you can use to find day rates (usually 10am to 4pm) at hotels around the world.
#5) Pro HDR X
How often have you been in some obscenely beautiful place only to take a photo on your camera and have it turn out like an out of focus, underexposed monstrosity?
With Pro HDR X that’s a thing of the past. Hold the phone up, tap the screen, wait for it to analyze for a few seconds, and then take full control over your new bracketed HDR photo, controlling brightness, contrast, warmth and more.
Most of my photography on my DSLR is HDR, so to have similar flexibility on my phone has been awesome. Most of the best photos I’ve taken on my phone have been with this app.
Plus, with awesome photos like these, you’re Instagram is gonna look amazing!
Ready to finally start working from the road (even if it isn’t as a permanent digital nomad)?
Like I said, I’ve been working all over the world for the better part of the last decade. There will always be challenges and inconvenient situations you’ll need to adapt to.
Most people will have different agendas, and often you won’t be as productive as you’d hoped.
But hopefully this digital nomad strategies, tools, and apps will help you to feel confident in taking your work with you anywhere you want to go.
And if you have questions on how to apply any of this or how to manage your time while traveling, then just leave a comment below!