When you are reading all those traveling blogs about digital nomads, in almost all the cases you see people who have the opportunity of having a steady income from their blog while enjoying exotic destinations, taking amazing photographs and reviewing one of a kind hotels. In a way, travelling and enjoying the most amazing things is their job, and a pretty dreamy one, I can say. But, of course, not all digital nomads are travel bloggers. There is the category of explorers who have another kind of job that allows them to work remotely, for example software developers, like me. And the travel experiences for this category of digital nomads are a little different, as they need to combine them with the work of a non-travel-related job.
When me and Victor first started to travel while working remotely, we didn’t have a clue on how we should organise our time, what kind of accommodation should we get or what to do about the transportation. We just planned it like any other trip, following our instincts and thinking that the work will probably not interfere that much. Well, that first trip showed us fair and square that we had no experience with this because we did more work than travel, and this was because of just a few trip organising mistakes. Fortunately, with every further trip that we took, we kept learning what is best to do and so, we put together a few tips that we think might help others that are doing this for the first time. Take into consideration that these pieces of advice target the ones who need to work remotely full time, with slightly flexible working hours.
1. Comfortable accommodation
The main thing a digital nomad with a full-time job needs to be aware is that during traveling times he/she will be a lot more tired than when just being on a vacation. Vacations are for relaxing, while traveling as a remote worker combines the 8 hours of work per day with full-time exploring periods. In these cases, you can find yourself sleeping half the night with the next day starting all over again. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a hustle, is just how digital nomads see the life, and so do we! But, we learnt that in order to be able to manage this kind of life, we need to first have the most comfortable accommodation possible during travel days. The little sleep we get must be a very good one and also the working area must help us be the most productive selves. In short, to feel just like home.
Since our early days as travellers while working, we have tried different types of accommodation: smaller or bigger hotel rooms, private room in an apartment along with other roommates, studio or one bedroom apartment. We learnt that the best solution for us was to have an one bedroom apartment with a bigger living room to use as a working space, preferable with a desk to use for video calls and with a kitchen for the times when we need to prepare a fast meal.
2. Stay near your favourite attractions
For digital nomads one thing is never enough, and that is time. And in order to not have it lost on things that are not enjoyable, the best thing to do this is to book accommodation near the attractions you want to see in the place you travel. We found that during the times we chose to stay in cheaper places outside a city, the money we spent on transportation were at the end of the day more than we would have spent on a more expensive room in the city centre. Also, the one or two hours a day lost in traffic, from a total of maybe six available of free time, were definitely not worthy.
In case there is no other way than to book a place further away from the main areas, a good solution is to at least be near a subway station, to be sure you get in the centre in the fastest way possible.
3. Travel to a different timezone to gain extra day time for visiting
Regarding the free time you have available during week days, another good solution is to travel to different timezones than yours. We found that the best solution for us is to go to places where the time is before ours, to be able start work very early in the morning and have more free day time.
For example, if you work on Eastern Europe timezone, you can travel to Western Europe and you can start work at 6-7 in the morning and be free in the afternoon. Or if you go in the USA, you might find yourself working from 3am to 10-11am. Might sound bad, but after a quick afternoon power nap, you have more than half a day of exploration time. Another good solution for night owls can be travelling to Asia and start work in the evening, having the morning and afternoons for beach and sun.
4. Travel during week days to have the weekends free
Remote workers know that when travelling, the weekend are sacred and not to be lost on transportation or work, but to enjoy the place you are visiting. They are the two days that are the only ones fully available from the week. That’s why we think a good tip is to make an effort to travel during the week days, before or after you work. We learnt that is more worthy to be a little more tired than to lose a weekend day.
5. Stay in one place double the time you would normally stay
When you work while travelling, the available time to explore the destination is half of the usual time you have when in vacation. And if you want to fully enjoy it, we recommend staying at least double the time you would normally plan to stay.
We have tried different solutions since we started doing this, sometimes changing locations once at two days or sometimes staying 3 or 4 times more than we usually would need. For us, the best kind of trip is when we spend 3 days in the really small cities, like Braga, a small town in Portugal (that you would normally see in a day), or at least a week in big cities like Barcelona or New York, going up to even two weeks in locations with beach like Miami. This way, we would not get too tired from packing/unpacking or travelling between places.
6. Don’t travel more than 3-4 hours a day (unless you have to)
Regarding the same matter of how to organise the trip, we learnt that the best for us is being on the road/in the air 3 or 4 hours maximum a day. Unless is the first destination or returning back home, travelling between locations must be as little as possible, not to get too tired for the next days. As I said, these times are the most tiring, but we need to make sure we are still capable of doing it at the end of the day and not to overdoing it.
7. Don’t plan calls during check-out times
I think everybody loves to be a free spirit and go with the flow in vacations. But when you work during your traveling, you must be prepared to always organise your time and plan in advance your next days.
Working remotely involves having calls with your team mates or your bosses, weekly meetings or retrospectives. Don’t plan your check-ins/check-outs near the times you would have those calls, not even a few hours apart. Unexpected things might happen, like traffic might be bad and you can be late, your place might be delayed or even have problems with the room you leave behind. Your work is a priority even during these times and travelling must not interfere with the professionalism of your work. It is a small price to pay to be free of this stress 🙂
8. Always have extra internet options
As Eastern Europeans, where the internet options are the best in the world, we didn’t even thought, in the beginnings, that we might have problems with it or that work might be affected by it. But you learn as you live, so now we know that going far away from Eastern Europe, the internet becomes worse and sometimes the wifi is not even free.
As software developers, good internet is a must for our work. So now, when we plan our trips, the first thing we check is the internet speed at the hotel/apartment. Of course, we are not in luck every time to find good options, even if the booking website says so. The first thing we do when we land to a new place is to buy a sim card with internet options on it and use it as a hotspot whenever we need. It usually comes in handy also when we are not working, having an available map or directions to explore the destination.
9. Book accommodation near food options
One of the best thing to discover in new places is the culture of those locations and, of course, the local food. But, and I know there is always a but for remote workers, you might not always have the time for every meal you have to discover new tastes. You lunch time might not be the lunch time on the timezone you need to work, so food options need to be available to you at every time. For ourselves, what works best is to stay near a restaurant that serves both breakfast at lunch at any time, but also a non-stop supermarket if we want something fast like fruits or snacks. Of course, an apartment with a kitchen is even better, as you always have the option to prepare something yourself.
10. Always have options for washing clothes near you
The first longer road trip we have taken, we thought it would last less than it did and so we booked accommodation with no options for washing the clothes. Of course, because we couldn’t help it, we stayed double the time and we found ourselves in a situation we need to wash our clothes. Because we were staying just a day or two in one place, dry-cleaning was out of discussion. That was a good lesson to learn, as it was the first time we had to buy socks and underwear, not to mention almost an entire luggage of clothes to be able to get by. Since then, we try to have a good washing clothes option at least once a week.
11. Pack light, only with necessary items
If you plan to move from one place to another, like we usually do, you should pack as light as possible. If you book a place with a washing machine, there is not need to have too many clothes with you. Also, if you have only the necessary items with you, you leave behind the frustration of packing/unpacking a lot of stuff. And trust me, after doing this for at least a month, you start to get a phobia against packing.
12. Know your gadget game
Many people prefer when travelling to be as free as possible of technology. But (I know, another but), this is not the case for digital nomads. After all, the word is digital, it has to involve some kind of technology. Gadget or apps start to become part of who you are and you already have them organised and ready to go in your home. What we recommend you always have with you:
- A hotspot device – as I previously mentioned this is to be used when the internet is not the best in your hotel, but also on the go for directions or fast information research
- Good battery on your phone – your phone becomes the second tool apart from your laptop used for work. Is the fastest to use to answer the urgent emails when you explore the city or to answer messages on the work chat. Also, it can be used for directions when you need to get to some place. Because of this, you need a battery that gets you as long as possible
- External battery – For the case when you remain without power on the two gadgets from above
- Several multi-travel plugs – Not all the countries have the same sockets, so if you plan to travel to different continents, a gadget like this is a must. They usually have USB ports, so they are certainly helpful for charging all the other tools you have with you
- Lightweight laptop with a lightweight bag for it – You might find yourself in situations when you might need to take you laptop with you when visiting the destination (maybe you expect to have a call at some point and you don’t want to lose the time not exploring)
- Noise cancellation headset – Sometimes you may find yourself in a noisy environment when having a call, so having a headset with noise cancellation is necessary
- Good camera, as lightweight as possible – for photography amateurs, this is a must; and if lightweight then is even better because it is easier to carry
13. Find the most productive time of day and use it fully
The time when you are the most productive helps you make the best of your day and to finish your tasks faster. And if you finish your tasks faster, there’s more free time available on your plate. For example, I work the best in the morning before breakfast, so I never plan anything then. Victor works the best at midnight, so that time is always reserved for work, if possible. If these time spans pass without using them for work, we know for sure we will not have the same motivation for work, so the whole day might not be fully enjoyable.
14. Slow down. Have a day only for resting and recharge
I know that work and travel sounds like a dream, but sometimes it can get too exhausting and you might find yourself overwhelmed. It is very important to focus on yourself and once in a while have some ‘me time’. Forget about the fact you are in a new place and you need to visit it and take a day in the weekend to just stay in and rest. Catch up on your sleep or you favourite tv shows, go for a run or pamper yourself with a massage. Or just don’t do anything! Take more days if you need to. There is no point in doing all the travelling if you cannot enjoy it.
The lesson we have learnt is that once at two weeks we need a day like this, just for ourselves to be able to function well further on. We usually sleep until noon, watch a few episodes of our favourite shows and order food in. At the end of the day we feel so fulfilled, also because we are focusing on ourselves instead of a place or other people.
15. Make the best of the bad situations
Don’t expect to have the trip of your dreams when you do this whole digital nomad thing. Every time something unexpected or unpleasant might happen and you might think it will ruin your while trip. In one of our travellings, we needed to find a new place in Portugal at almost midnight because the one we had booked had dozens of cockroaches. Or we had no signal neither from the hotel wifi nor from our hotspot and needed to go in search for coworking spaces for a few days in a row.
The secret is to make the best of these situations and not let them get you down. Remember why are you doing this and just make fun of the bad things that happen to you. At the end of the day, life has a funny way of teaching you lessons, so take advantage of them. In Portugal, after those cockroaches, we were so lucky that we found the best accommodation we have ever stayed in and at a cheaper price than the first one. The point is, take the bad situations one at a time and for sure, the good things will come to you!
We are sure that, you, as a traveler who works remotely, have discovered more hacks like the ones above. We want to hear them, so leave us a comment and we will add them to the list in this post.
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