My road to digital nomad-ery has been filled with trial and error, and a lot of learning and adjusting my behaviors.
I’ll be honest when we first started traveling I had no idea what I was doing work wise, and while I knew it would be difficult and take some figuring out I made some epic mistakes in that first year.
Here are some of the biggest blunders I’ve made as a digital nomad and how I corrected them so you can hopefully learn from my mistakes. And if you’ve got better solutions please let me know in the comments! I’m always wanting to learn and improve too!
The Mistake No. 1: Not scheduling work days vs travel and fun days
When you first get on the road you are so excited, you want to go everywhere and do everything! Some super humans can work on airplanes and in transit or after a long day of sightseeing, but I’ve found that I don’t get much done in those kinds of situations. When Rob and I first started traveling, and when I first started this blog I would plan out all kinds of activities and things for us to do without leaving any time for either of us to work. This lead to missed deadlines, frustrations, and arguments. I was literally missing deadlines because I was spending all my time “researching” and experiencing things and not giving myself any time to actually write about those experiences.
The Solution: Schedule work days
When I’m planning out trips and figuring out how many days to be in a certain place I factor in the things I want to do and see, and I also factor in work days. Depending on what both my and Rob’s workload will be at the time I’ll usually allocate half to a quarter of the days we are in any given city as full work days. A lot of the time I will also schedule more work days when we are in larger cities where we are sure to have reliable internet and power if we plan to be in more rural areas during other parts of the trip.
I also make the distinction that travel days – any day we spend any amount of time in transit – do not count as work days, and I don’t plan to be getting any work done on those days. While working in airports is fine, I don’t want to rely on having that time for work. All kinds of things can go wrong from flights getting delayed to the internet being too slow to not being able to get to a plug to charge your laptop. Too many things can go wrong to rely on travel days as work days, any work I do get done at the airport or bus terminal I consider an added bonus.
The Mistake No. 2: Not prioritizing your work like you would if you were regularly going into an office
While you are traveling there are so many new and exciting things to do that work can sometimes take a backseat to new experiences. When you work in an office you come in at a certain time, do your work, and leave at a certain time, and all the fun things you want to do fit in around that schedule. If you take that schedule away and you have no plan things can go awry.
The Solution: Have a plan and schedule
This is where having a lot of self discipline is going to be key. There are two ways you can plan and prioritize your work. The first is scheduling yourself full work days to get as much as you can done in a day and then have full days for fun. The second is assigning yourself tasks to do before you go out and have fun each day so you get a little bit of work and fun everyday.
Mistake No. 3: Not knowing the time of day and environment you work best in
When I was in college I had a desktop computer, which meant I had to do all my school work in my room at my desk, either by myself or with a roommate or friend. When we hit the road I started working from cafés, coffee shops, bars, pretty much any public space with free wifi, the problem was I couldn’t get anything done. I would get distracted by the conversations happening around me and people watching. It took me a while to realize it but I needed a quiet space without much distraction to work in.
Timing is crucial too, I can focus really well in the morning, but the afternoon is usually shot. I like to joke that it doesn’t matter if I start work at 7AM or 12PM either way my brain shuts down by 3.
The Solution: Know when and where you work best
It doesn’t matter if you are an early bird or a night owl, just figure out when you feel most productive and schedule your work time for then. You’ll get so much more done than if you are trying to fight your body’s natural chemistry for productivity.
If you are like me and need quiet and minimal distractions make sure you are booking accommodations with wifi and that are comfortable enough for you to stay and work there. Rob is the exact opposite, he love the hustle and bustle of working in a busy café. So if that is more your style make sure there are plenty of cafés nearby.
Another great idea that fits either personality are coworking spaces. They are popping up in big cities and small towns all over the world. Most coworking spaces have a day rate or a punch card type system so you pay a fee and have access to what is essentially an office for digital nomads and independent contractors. That way you’re not having to drink seven cappuccinos a day while you sit in the coffee shop for hours on end.
Mistake No. 4: Taking on more work than you reasonably have time for
Depending on your travel schedule sometimes a 40 hour work week just isn’t humanly possible. When you are hopping from city to city every few days or weeks that travel time adds up and that’s less time that you have to work (and play). The year we began our digital nomad life we hopped around Europe all summer, hitting a new destination every few days to a week. It was an exhausting schedule even if you weren’t trying to work, but we were. And that meant a lot of late nights and feeling frustrated that there weren’t enough hours in the day.
The Solution: Travel slower and/or take on less projects
When you have a big project that needs a lot of attention make sure you are going to be in one place. Jumping around from destination to destination is fun and exciting, but it’s not so fun if you are stressed and working the whole time. For times when you have less work take those opportunities to move around a bunch and see all the things. The biggest take away is to plan your movements in accordance with your workload.
Mistake No. 5: Not planning for bad internet connections and power outages
There are many places in the world where internet connection and sometimes electricity are spotty at best, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there. Many of these places are amazing, beautiful, and full of rich culture that doesn’t require constant connectivity to the outside world. We lived on Koh Tao, a little island in the Gulf of Thailand for a few months and soon found out that every time it rained the internet would inevitably go down. This could be frustrating when working on something that required the internet (or you know watching Netflix), and down right panic attack inducing when you need to submit a project via email.
The Solution: Always have a way to work offline and be upfront with your clients about your situation
Once we figured out the pattern that rain=no wifi we could prepare for those situations. This meant making sure that whatever project I was working on was completely downloaded to my computer. I use Google Docs for writing and drafting blog posts and usually just use it in the browser window, but you can also select certain documents to be available to you offline. So whenever I was working on something and the internet was seeming like it was a little sketchy I would make my files available offline so when the internet did go down I could keep working.
Having another power source is pretty nice too, we’ve got a little solar powered charger that works great for phones and other small devices. That way whether you are camping or just in a rural part of the world you can always have a charged phone.
Be up front with your clients and the people you are working with that you will be somewhere that you won’t be online all the time. If you’ve got a client who can’t get ahold of you because you’ve got no internet, but they don’t know why you’re not responding that will cause some problems. So just be honest and upfront.
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