10 Self Care Strategies for New Location Rebels

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 08/05/15 •  11 min read

Today’s post is from Location Rebel Academy member, Ellen Bard. If anyone can speak to taking care of yourself while traveling and living abroad, it’s her. She’s a UK transplant living in Chiang Mai, and I had the good fortune to spend time with her in Portland at this year’s World Domination Summit.

Take it away Ellen!

You’re juiced.

You’ve got a dream. A goal. A vision.

You’re going to leave the rat race and create your own rules. Or you’ve already left, and you’re working around the clock in co-working spaces and cafes to bring that dream to life.

You know you must work hard. Be focused. Drive yourself. Not let up.

But burnout is just as possible for a digital nomad as for a corporate drone.

Your emotions and your mental health are just as important as your physical health. And bulletproof coffee and the Paleo Diet alone won’t cut it when the only one responsible for your success is you.

When the pressure’s on, money’s tight, and you’re working every hour you can to bring your vision to market, it’s not all glitter and rainbows.

But you can indeed stay sane, prevent emotional and mental burnout, and thrive as a digital nomad or solopreneur.

Doing so involves self-compassion, self-awareness, and self-focus. The following 10 strategies will help to ensure you continue to have success and avoid burnout and exhaustion.

1. Know Your Why

Location independence is a lifestyle that requires a deep well of personal motivation. It’s critical that you keep front and center why you chose this lifestyle in the first place and that during tough times you’re able to call up a vision of what you’re working towards and the values that are driving you towards this goal.

Knowing your why will keep your well of motivation full.

ACTION: Write down your why, and plaster it everywhere. Make it your screen saver or desktop. Set it as your password. Scribble it on a post-it note. Read it, visualize it, even feel it, at least once a day.

2. Master Change Fatigue

Change fatigue doesn’t only happen in organizations. The life of a nomad contains constant change, uncertainty and ambiguity because you’re working things out from scratch with new everything — country, climate, friends, shops, products, food, cultures, apartments, skills, and much more.

And even though you’ve already embraced the uncertainty (yay!) by becoming an entrepreneur, change still can be a huge stressor; so you must make sure you take time outs from change in order to be productive.

ACTION: What in your life feels predictable? Stable? Is it certain friends and family members (“they never change” isn’t always a bad thing), or is it the latest box set from HBO (violence, sex and power – oh, it’s another season of Game of Thrones?). Work out your own “comfortable constants,” and include periods of stability and consistency each week in your LI lifestyle.

3. Don’t Just Focus on the Hustle

In order to be creative – and believe me, being a digital nomad takes a lot of creativity – you must fill your brain with new and different experiences not just hustling, hanging with other entrepreneurs, or reading business or travel websites (like this one!). Sometimes I see people come to Chiang Mai and spend all their time in the co-working spaces focused on work.

One of my favorite places to work in Chiang Mai

One of my favorite places to work in Chiang Mai

I understand that for many people the point of coming to a cheaper country is to bootstrap their businesses. But one hour a week on something that challenges your mind or makes you think about the world differently is an investment that will pay off in the long run.

ACTION: Make friends outside the solopreneur space and do non-digital nomad related activities. These don’t have to be expensive – here’s a list of 99 that I came up with when I did the amazing book The Artist’s Way. Create your own list and consciously try a new activity for at least an hour a week.

4. Maintain Deep Connections

Research shows that relationships are the most important contributor to overall happiness.

When you’re a Location Rebel, your relationships can feel transient and surface level — either you move cities, or your new friends do. Equally, those you’ve “left behind” in your home country often expect you to be the one who makes the effort to maintain relationships – if you don’t, you can find yourself with few or no “true” friends.

ACTION: Make new friends who understand your new world (here’s some suggestions on how), but don’t forget to keep those friendships going when you or they move cities. You’re in a group that’s one of the most Internet savvy on the planet after all! Don’t neglect your old friends. Regular Skype/Factime dates with family or home friends can give you a sense of connection and belonging even if you’re in a city where you don’t know anybody.

5. Offer Help

One way to build connections is to offer your help. A direct correlation exists between happiness and helping, and caring about others. The Location Rebel Academy (LRA) community has plenty of opportunities to help out as people are getting started in a new lifestyle, and what you consider easy, others may be struggling with.

For example, I was in a co-working space the other day, tearing my hair out over a tech issue. I was sitting next to another member of LR who suggested I ask if anyone else working there that day could help. They could, and they did. Problem solved in 10 minutes instead of 10 hours. Good feeling for them, huge relief for me.

ACTION: Join communities such as Location Rebel Academy or digital nomad Facebook groups. Look out for opportunities to offer support or advice. Make it a game to see if you can help someone out (big or small) every other day. Add the following to the bottom of emails: Is there anything I can help you with right now?

6. Don’t Always Go for the Cheapest Option

Traveling is hard on the body. Different beds, a curved spine from sitting at the laptop all day, and exposure to germs from being in close confines on planes, trains and buses – your physical environment makes a huge difference to your health and well-being, which makes a huge difference to your productivity.

Sometimes new digital nomads choose the cheapest option, but you need to change your lens from cheapest to best value. (If you have a Mac, you’ve already taken a step down this path!) And note what constitutes “value” will differ from person to person, and that’s just fine.

Sometimes it can be worth paying a bit more for a view :) - Koh Phangan, Thailand

Sometimes it can be worth paying a bit more for a view 🙂 – Koh Phangan, Thailand

I resisted a long-term apartment contract in Chiang Mai, hating the idea of paying for something when I wasn’t there. But in the last six months, despite traveling hard (49 flights this year), I’ve rented the same small apartment for the whole period, even though I’ve been away more than half that time. Having a home base and not having to find a new place each time I’m back has been a huge relief and invaluable to my mental health.

I still travel light, but now I have a hammock to come home to.

ACTION: Next time you’re making a choice, don’t just consider straight monetary cost; take in factors like comfort, time saved, impact on your health, and whatever other factors you value.

7. Don’t Forget Where You Are

Hopefully you became location independent because you wanted to travel and experience new cultures. So don’t just knuckle down in the nearest Starbucks as if you were in your hometown. Take advantage of the opportunities presented by where you are.

Don’t make like some expats and just lift your current life into a new country. Do the tourist thing, but also explore the local community – perhaps by learning a few words of the local language, or going to more local-style restaurants. It takes a different kind of courage and resilience to rely on yourself in such unfamiliar situations, and that can build self-confidence as well as open your mind.

ACTION: What does Trip Advisor say the top attractions are in your current town? Try one. What’s the local dish? Eat it. What does the local arts scene offer in terms of live music, art, and museums? Visit one.

8. Use Your Time Wisely

Location Independent lives all look different – you might travel a lot, or you might stay in one place.

Either way, one sure way to stress yourself out is to look back at a day and feel guilty and stressed because you were supposed to be working on content management for your new website, but you just pissed around on Twitter instead.

Make conscious and active choices about how you use your time. Schedule in work and downtime.

ACTION: Decide how you’ll spend your time in advance. If you’re traveling, know what you can do offline, or decide in advance that you’ll use some time for sleeping or just looking out of the window and daydreaming (no bad thing).  Choose to have a day off. Choose to play golf. Choose to hang out with friends and chat over a beer on a Wednesday afternoon. Factor in work and play. Then feel no guilt.

9. Take Care of the Basics

Right now in Chiang Mai, it’s getting hot. The humidity is epic, and the temperature is over 100 every day. I come from the UK where it’s mostly cold and damp. Here I have to keep an eye on the amount I drink and make sure I get enough electrolytes. (I didn’t even know what an electrolyte was when I left the UK!) To stay at optimum productivity, I can’t just ignore it — even a 5% decrease in hydration can cause fatigue and dizziness.

ACTION: Don’t let the excitement of a new lifestyle mean you take your eye off the basics. For one week, track them: sleep, food, hydration, exercise, overuse of caffeine, fresh air, time away from the laptop, and anything else that you know is critical for your personal wellbeing. Implement a plan to get back on top of these.

10. Embrace Failure

It’s okay to fail. Every human being in the world has had setbacks, challenges, and things that didn’t go as planned.

The ability to deal with failure, to embrace it and the lessons learned, is critical to developing resilience. Resilience helps us withstand and adapt to adversity rather than heading home, tail tucked between our legs.

ACTION: Hack some self-compassion techniques to build your resilience. For example, use critical visualization to look back on a mistake – think back on the mistake and every step that led to it. Relive the steps, and consider each decision point. What would you do differently next time? Through every lens, consider all possible obstacles, setbacks, positives, and negatives. When you’ve learned everything you can from the mistake, put it to bed.

Be Both a Harsh Taskmaster and Your Own Best Friend

It takes discipline to be a successful Location Rebel.

Some get distracted by the shiny possibilities of the traveling lifestyle and don’t focus enough on actually doing the (hard) work.

But others burn out because they’re too hard on themselves.

After nearly three years as a digital nomad, I’ve seen many people burst onto the scene in a fit of enthusiasm and excitement, only to exhaust themselves in a flash of either work or play and head back home to their old lives.

The privilege of being a Digital Nomad is earned.

But you don’t have to pay in sweat, blood, and tears.

That’s for amateurs.

You can crush the lifestyle – with a little self-compassion, self-awareness, and self-focus.

Go astonish. Do amazing. Be awesome. And most importantly, take care of yourself.

For five more unusual ways to take better care of yourself, get Ellen’s cheatsheet here.

How do you take care of your emotional and mental health on the road? Share it in the comments below!

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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45 comments on "10 Self Care Strategies for New Location Rebels"

  1. Andrea says:

    Great tips here Ellen!
    Even though I’m not a digital nomad, I can use most of these self-care ideas in my life. I especially need to practice a bit more of best value vs cheapest to enhance my health and also productivity. We only really give credit to this, once something goes wrong – bad back caused by the wrong type of chair for example.
    Thanks for sharing

    1. Sean says:

      It took me a lot of years to get on board with the best value vs cheapest mindset…but I’m so glad I finally came around (as is my body!)

    2. Ellen Bard says:

      Thanks for reading Andrea, and that one’s definitely a ‘pro-tip’! It’s not easy, especially when you’re living on a small budget and trying to be cost-effective – but it definitely pays off in the long run, exactly as you say, by avoiding things like health issues in the long run. Thanks for reading!

  2. Thanks Ellen and I agree Andrea – what a valuable list of tips whether you’re a digital nomad or not. (PS. That wasn’t one of Thailand’s tasty ice coffees in the photo, was it?) 🙂

    1. Ellen Bard says:

      Thanks Helen, and yes, that’s a delicious Thai iced coffee – one of my few Thai phrases is ‘iced coffee with only a little bit of sugar to take away please’! It always gets an impressed grin from the barista as I mangle it!

  3. Nicki Lee says:

    This is an amazing post, Ellen! I tend to work in isolation, so it’s easy for me to get off point and not take care of myself. So helpful to remember that we need to maintain our relationships, ask for and offer help, and schedule activities and experiences outside of work to keep us happy and healthy. Love it!

    1. Ellen Bard says:

      Thanks Nicki! Glad you found it useful – I think a lot of it probably applies to entrepreneurs even in their home country as you say – when you’re focused on a goal, and you know what you want, AND you enjoy it, it can definitely be easy to let everything else go by the wayside. But looking after yourself is an excellent investment of time that pays off in the end. Hope you have something fun scheduled for yourself this week 🙂

  4. Perfect timing Sean and Ellen! Having been in Chiang Mai nearly a month, I can relate to almost every point Ellen talks about in this post!

    BTW Ellen, your ‘little apartment’ is a great place to stay 🙂

    For me, I have to stick to a daily schedule because I have so many projects on the go at once, but I also include in that schedule time to exercise, time to experience the awesome food here and time to just chill, relax and soak in Chiang Mai and all it’s awesomeness!

    It’s about learning how you work and figuring out what works best for you, while also enjoying being in a new location. Staying in a place for longer than 2 weeks definitely helps with that, and whenever we travel, we always aim for 2-3 months in one country so that we don’t drive ourselves crazy with trying to mix work and travel!

    Look forward to catching up in September Ellen!

    1. Ellen Bard says:

      Thanks Lise, yes, I know my little house and hammock are in good hands right now – and I know what you mean about having a lot of things on the schedule. Right now it’s definitely a test for me as I flit between countries while I’m away from Chiang Mai – I really have to take every opportunity to fit in work – without forgetting the play!

      So glad you are enjoying Chiang Mai as a city as well as producing your usual awesome levels of output – see you in September!

  5. Excellent list Ellen – thanks! I especially liked #8, Using Your Time Wisely. Although I am not a digital nomad myself (yet), the reminder to schedule both work time and downtime is great and something I need to reminder myself to do now, let alone when I begin my travels. And of course #9 is an absolute winner – can’t forget the basics… especially exercise. Thanks again Ellen – cheers!

    1. Ellen Bard says:

      Thanks Mike, and yes, there’s no point in having time off and feeling guilty about it, we need to take control of our time and be its boss, and not its slave. And I was glad to have your exercise post to link to for the basics – great advice there too!

  6. Thanks for this wise post, Ellen. I am deeply curious about your Why. Care to share?
    Also, has it changed over the years at all?

    1. Ellen Bard says:

      Thanks Linda, so glad you found it useful.

      My why has most certainly changed. Three or four years ago, my why would have been working my way up the corporate ladder to run a business in the corporate world.

      My new ‘why,’ since I left that world and became a Digital Nomad, is autonomy and choice over what I do with my time, and where I do it, and variety. I want to be able to balance my creative projects like my fiction writing (first book out at the end of summer hopefully!) my personal development blog, where I love helping people and sharing my experience as a work psychologist and my experiences as a traveller, and keeping one foot in the consulting world via working in many different countries (Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai, Egypt etc all this year), BUT also being able to turn down work. The third ‘value’ is health – I have the word ‘vitality’ as my laptop background to remind me that I need to look after myself every day 🙂

      My values then would include Autonomy, Variety, Balance and Vitality.

      Knowing this drives me in terms of balancing my time, looking after myself and prioritising my activities when I feel overwhelm. Hope that all makes sense!

      1. Makes total sense Ellen. Seems like you’ve custom designed your best life and are delivering your unique gifts to the world. Can’t think of a better way to live. 🙂
        I visited Singapore and Thailand in July 2012, so I understand about the heat. Stay hydrated woman!

  7. chas says:

    I think this is great advice, whether you’re a true vagabond, or your farthest adventure of late has been a stroll in your nearest park. I aspire to the dream. Thank you.

    1. Ellen Bard says:

      Thanks Chas! I definitely think there are nuggets in their for all of us – even with something like number 7 – so many people never take advantage of the wonderful things in their native cities! Appreciate you reading, good luck with chasing the dream (it definitely doesn’t have to just be a dream 🙂 )

  8. This is an excellent post. Well done, Ellen. I’m currently using the 6th strategy in Rotterdam: Don’t Always Go for the Cheapest Option. Just splurged on a lovely AirBnB for a week. Feels great to treat myself and I know my work and productivity will benefit.

    1. Ellen Bard says:

      Thanks Katherine, that’s a fab example and you’re right, it will make a difference to your work and productivity – have an amazing time 🙂

  9. mangala says:

    Great article, Ellen! I’m new to this game after years of structure. Thanks for the practical tips!

    1. Ellen Bard says:

      Thanks Mangala, appreciate you dropping by and reading – there’s plenty of great stuff on Sean’s site that you can dig into which will definitely give you a head start 🙂

  10. Emma says:

    Really inspiring. Thank you. Both Sean and Ellen have inspired me to follow my dream, it’s difficult as a mother of 3, I’m not sure a nomadic lifestyle is really suited to us at the moment but having the autonomy and freedom of running our own business has delivered so many benefits to us already and we’re only in the 1st year of trading. I love that these posts and the blogs helped motivate me to move from a job that gave me no confidence into a position where I’m feeling empowered and entirely responsible for my future. (And sometimes that’s very scary!) but I’m loving it, the new challenges it brings daily and the excitement that we never know what is around the corner next. Keep the posts coming! Thank you bothx

    1. Ellen says:

      That sounds amazing Emma. I’d say autonomy, independence and freedom are just as important in one place as they are when you’re on the road.

      Congratulations on taking control of your future – and I so agree, it’s just as terrifying as it is empowering 😉

  11. Quinn Eurich says:

    Hi Ellen,
    I’m with the non-nomad folks who think your advice is awesome wherever you’re located.

    And talk about reading something that opens you eyes to what’s happening in your own life that you didn’t realize – so very happy to have landed here today!

    Many thanks for sharing your awesome wisdom and experience!



    1. Ellen says:

      Thanks Quinn! So pleased you had your own realisations reading it through, hope you’re able to follow it through and take care of yourself just that little bit more.

  12. Great tips, Ellen. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle that you forget about self-care. My partner and I learnt this after we found ourselves getting super burnt out a few months ago. We also found that even though we worked together and spent all our time together, we weren’t connecting with each other because we were constantly working and when we weren’t… we were too tired.

    We’ve made self care a priority now and by taking regular, breaks and taking the time to connect with each other as boyfriend-girlfriend and not just as business partners has definitely had a good effect on our work too.

    1. Ellen says:

      Thanks Radhika, and that’s some great advice for couples, working and travelling together. Appreciate you sharing.

  13. Mark Tong says:

    Hey Ellen – such a great article – my nomad days are slightly curtailed at the moment but I wish I had read your article in past times, I think I would have made an easier job of it:)

    1. Ellen says:

      Thanks Mark! Hopefully it will help a few others on the road – though I’m pretty sure you’re in France for the summer instead of your native UK, so I still think you’re pretty location independent 😉

  14. Ann says:

    Good post-Ellen, I wish I had read this a decade ago. I forgot #1 and definitely #8 failed. Though I succeeded in the end the pain I suffered would have been avoided.

    1. Ellen says:

      Appreciate your comment Ann. I think number 8 is such an easy one to forget – it’s so easy to waste time, then feel guilty for taking any breaks at all. But we need breaks, and taking them consciously and without that nagging sense of guilt and unhappiness means we can really enjoy them – and then get back to work!

  15. Dan Western says:

    Hey Ellen,

    This article’s been very helpful, thank you! I’ve just quit my full time job and will be travelling to Thailand next month!

    So this article’s definitely been of use!


    1. Ellen says:

      Awesome Dan – you will love Thailand, it’s such a lovely place! Look me up if you hit Chiang Mai 🙂

  16. Lynn Hauka says:

    Hi Ellen,

    You know I just love your phrase “digital nomad”, and what a treat to get your wisdom for self care. Having just become one myself, I do find it somewhat scary and a little disorienting. This post immediately helped me feel more confident!

    1. Ellen says:

      Thanks Lynn, and congrats on joining ‘our’ ranks 😉 It’s definitely a big world to play in, and when you have sole responsibility for your success or failure, it can feel like a huge deal.

      But you have to be kind to yourself about that too – I love the idea of setting goals for example for the things within your ‘circle of influence’ rather than your ‘circle of concern’ (as per 7 Habits which is a book I recommend) – so setting goals on ‘inputs’ like how many emails you send to clients, rather than ‘outputs’ like how many clients you get. (Look up Tom McCann’s post on this blog for a few more useful ideas like these – http://www.seanogle.com/entrepreneurship/triple-online-profits )

  17. Hey Ellen, what a fantastic article, I can’t wait to read through all the links too. I love your concept of balance as we often miss out on this when our heads are down and we are building business. I hope to be able to meet up with you one day in Chiang Mai 🙂

    1. Ellen says:

      Thanks! You definitely need the balance if you’re going to be brilliant in business too. It doesn’t take much, but I’ve seen the odd sickly looking Digital Nomad return to their homes because of burnout, so it’s worth a little time investment 🙂 Definitely give me a shout if you make it over to Chiang Mai!

  18. Hey Ellen!

    Great article. Love the part about knowing your why – it’s definitely been the fuel through some rough times on the road.

    Still trying to maximize value for accommodation. That’s another thing that only experience teaches properly: it’s impossible to get anything done if you can’t sleep.

  19. Ellen says:

    Thanks Jay, and sleep is most definitely one of the basics of self-care on the road, but it can be a tricky one, especially if you’re sharing a place. I now carry an airline mask (though one I got on an upgrade in business 😉 ) and ear plugs always, as this is a quick ‘hack’ for situations where there’s just a little noise and light. With the more dramatic ones, like noisy neighbours, then it can be just time to find another place…

    Wishing you a full night’s sleep soon!!

  20. Loyale99 says:

    Perfect words Ellen.. Thanks 🙂 I’m definitely going to improve by following these actions. And I do believe “self-compassion, self-awareness, and self-focus” should be a priority.

    1. Ellen Bard says:

      I’m so glad that you resonated with the article and are going to put the tips into practice – remember, be kind to yourself and don’t try and do it all at once!

  21. Roldan says:

    Enjoy reading your article! Thanks…

  22. Susan Payton says:

    I love this! For me, it’s all about finding a space I’m productive in when I travel. A desk is essential. Working on the beach? Not so productive for me.

    Also I try to come up with a new work schedule so I can a) be available during US work hours and b) allot time for fun!

    1. Ellen says:

      Thanks Susan, I think having the right environment is a great point. It’s all about knowing yourself and what works best for you. The challenge of time zones is a nightmare too, but you’re right, the best thing is to make a proper work schedule otherwise you can end up doing a 16 hour day while you balance calls at 6am and then at 11pm just to make sure you have availability around the globe…

      Hope you have plenty of time allocated for fun this weekend!

  23. Guadalupe Maldonado says:

    Thank you for thinking about new entrepreneurs, it is really interesting this article.

    I agree with you that focus only in bussines feasible or cost effective in certain pleace is not the most important, we must take in consideration many points to long term.

    Finally, dont let your dreams and take care yourself 🙂

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