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’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.
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.
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!