It’s my 11th year as a digital nomad. I’ve learnt a lot of lessons along the way. In this post I’m sharing the ones I think are the most essential for both existing and aspiring digital nomads.
When I started out as a digital nomad back in 2009, working remotely or freelancing from anywhere was still a very young trend.
With more employers learning that work from home is perfectly viable, and with employees realising that if they can work from home, they can work from anywhere, remote work is growing so fast that it might soon become part of the mainstream.
The tips in this post are basically the things I wish I’d known when I started out and tips that I give to people when they tell me they want to become digital nomads.
I go into detail about each of these tips to explain exactly how to do it.
Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments.
1) Digital nomads travel light
You can learn this the hard way, or you can listen to an experienced nomad 😉
It will save you not only time and money, but also headaches, worries and stress.
Back when I started out, I had no idea how to do it. I simply thought that I had to pack all my possessions into a couple of suitcases plus a massive backpack.
But I quickly learnt why so many digital nomads adopt a minimalist lifestyle soon after they start travelling.
That’s definitely a personal choice, but the trend is quite clear. Minimalism and digital nomads go hand in hand.
Essentially, you want to follow these rules to travel light:
Take only what you really, really need
Not things you might use at some point maybe. Remember that if you find out that there’s something you need and didn’t pack, you can still buy it at your destination.
Use a smaller bag
Packing a large backpack or suitcase or too many bags is a mistake you’ll probably find yourself regretting again and again during your travels.
If you still struggle with overpacking, you want some clever travel gear to help you streamline your packing process.
To do that, I’ve been using The Journey, a smart set of bags that integrate into one carry-on size piece of luggage. It has an incredible clever design that really helps me stay organised. I’ve written in detail here on how this bag can teach anyone how to travel light.
Buy a slim, lightweight laptop
I’m using an Asus Zenbook laptop which seems to have been designed especially for working remotely.
It has a 13.3″ screen with thin bezels that make it the smallest 13-inch laptop you can get. It weighs just over 1kg.
I bought it last year, mainly because of its size and weight, but after using it intensively I can say I’m very happy with its fast, stable performance and its long battery life. Read more reviews here.
Use quick dry clothes
I carry clothes for a week, even when I go travelling for 6 months or more.
I always choose a place to stay that has a washing machine and simply wash my clothes once a week.
Buying quick dry clothes makes life easier when you need to do your laundry that often, and ultimately lets you pack less.
Pack only essential toiletries
You can always buy toiletries when you settle in a new city for a while.
If you’re a fast moving nomad, then solid toiletries are a perfect solution.
For all the tips on how to pack light, read this guide.
2) Digital nomads need a social life
One of the best ways to make the digital nomad lifestyle sustainable is to make sure you have great company around you wherever you go.
Otherwise, you will most likely find yourself feeling homesick, lonely or just unhappy.
I’m writing this assuming you travel solo, but even if you’re a digital nomad couple, you’ll most likely feel the need to make new friends when you travel.
This isn’t about being an introvert or an extrovert (or an omnivert). We all need that human connection. How many people you meet and how often you hang out with them is up to you.
You just need to be aware that in order to have a social life to your liking as a nomad, you may need to take some kind of action.
The ways to do that are all fairly easy.
Here are some common ways to meet people as a digital nomad:
When you’re nomadic and need to spend several hours a day in front of your laptop, you may soon find that working from your rented apartment may be a bit boring and cafes may have too many unwanted distractions.
Coworking spaces let you work and hang out with other entrepreneurs or freelancers.
They provide plenty of opportunities to start meaningful conversations, attend events together or just have a cup of tea and some small talk in the kitchen.
As an added bonus, coworking spaces often help boost productivity 😉
I use a coworking app called Croissant that gives me access to coworking spaces in big cities around the world.
It’s an app that’s suitable for the nomadic lifestyle, as you never have to commit to any kind of long-term membership at any specific coworking space.
When I move to a new city, I simply check on the app what coworking spaces are available nearby, book a seat and get to work.
Meetups and social gatherings
These days I find that Facebook groups make it extremely easy to arrange meetups with other digital nomads, expats or locals.
Before I arrive in a new city, I join Facebook groups in English that may be relevant to nomads and look at the group events.
I also look at language exchange groups (even when I’m not learning a new language), because these events are a great way to meet new people, especially locals.
In some cities meetup.com is a popular platform that lets you find social events around you hobbies or professional interests.
That’s another easy way to find new friends and develop professional connections and skills.
Digital nomad hubs
Some cities around the world that are particularly attractive to digital nomads have become digital nomad hubs.
Typically these are cities with a relatively low cost of living and nice weather.
If you travel to digital nomad hubs you can easily find fellow nomads there and have a community of like-minded people around you.
Some examples of digital nomad hubs are Chiang Mai in Thailand, Valencia in Spain and Bansko in Bulgaria.
I’m currently writing this post from Bansko. It’s my second time here. The international community here is super friendly and making friends and connections is effortless.
Coworking Bansko organises events every day of the week to help the community connect. I find that it’s very easy to make long term connections even after a short stay in a digital nomad hub.
Coliving for digital nomads
If you stay at a coliving space with other digital nomads, you pretty much guarantee that you’ll always be in the company of interesting people and you’ll most likely make long term connections of friendships that way.
Coliving spaces are designed with remote workers and digital nomads in mind.
You can expect fast internet and comfortable workstations, but also communal dinners, yoga classes and social events.
You can stay at a coliving space as an independent traveller, or join an organised group of nomads moving around the world while living and working together.
3) Keep sharpening your skills
When I started out as a digital nomad I worked as a freelance translator. When new translation software came on the market, I was oblivious to it, thinking I had enough paying clients already, so why bother learning anything new?
That was a mistake that cost me quite a few clients. They expected me to be up to date, while I expected everything to stay the same.
Change is the only constant and things are changing fast in just about any field, profession or industry.
These fast changes, combined with information overload, make our lives as digital nomads quite tricky when it comes to keeping our skills relevant.
Here are some ways to keep your skills in shape as a digital nomad:
Sign up to professional mailing lists
You probably ignore most of the newsletters you sign up to, but if you decide on a dedicated time block each week and read one or two professional newsletters in your field, you won’t miss out on the latest developments.
Take online courses that are based on actual business experience
The internet is flooded with online courses.
I know this sounds cynical, but you can create a course on anything you like just by gathering random pieces of information online and packaging them nicely as a “course”.
So be careful when selecting courses and check who’s behind them and whether they’ve actually been successful at what they claim to teach.
The selection is vast and may be a bit overwhelming, but it’s better to invest some time in checking the reviews before you sign up.
For business training by entrepreneurs with a proven track record and actual experience, look at the courses offered by Foundr on different subjects that are all relevant to digital nomads:
Follow the startup scene
I use sites like BetaList and Launching Next to learn about new startups and product launches.
These sites are somewhat addictive and will probably give you tons of ideas for your next business.
But another reason to follow them is to know where startups are focusing their efforts these days.
Even if some new products or services may not be directly relevant to your own work, this is a great way to stay ahead of the game by identifying trends and even dabbling in trend forecasting.
When you detect any important changes, ask yourself if you have the skills to match those changes, or if it’s time to learn something new.
Feel free to ask questions and share your own digital nomad tips in the comments.