Traveling is one of the most powerful ways to challenge your mindset and your flexibility, forcing you to learn on the fly and adjust as you jet-set. It’s a lot like the experience of becoming a freelancer — you never know quite what to expect and you can’t predict it, but the journey is worth it. That’s why many location-independent wordsmiths don’t just test out the digital nomadic tango — but they make it their permanent lifestyle.
As we have explored in this series, there are numerous benefits to taking your writing career on the road, including but not limited to, tax savings, access to local communities and sources, and of course, freedom to set your own hours while growing your network. Even so, it’s no easy task to live off of a few suitcases and hop around every month or so to a new country, or perhaps, continents. Though I still travel three months of the year, I ultimately decided to build a home base in Boston. The nomadic state-of-being hasn’t left me though — I still prefer a WeWork over my apartment, and when the chance to travel arises, I almost always take it.
If you want to take your two-week adventure abroad to a two-year tour, consider these tips from digital nomads who have made this burgeoning sector of work their lifestyle:
How to make digital nomading a lifestyle
1. Decide if you really want to be a professional on the move.
There are plenty of ways to define a digital nomad, but ultimately it boils down to a few words, according to content creator Akua Sencherey: a professional on the move. This means no two days look the same, sure, but more so — you can’t overstay your welcome.
Even if you fall in love with a region in Europe, there are limits to how long you can spend in various areas as a tourist. Because there is a whole host of regulations across the world regarding work permits, digital nomads skate by these because they aren’t paid by the countries they’re visiting for extended periods.
This type of lifestyle allows writers to see the planet and pitch fascinating ideas as they stumble upon them — but isn’t the same as relocating to Australia or Canada. Instead, you gotta keep packing, flying, unpacking — and repeat. “I’ve maxed out my visa in some countries to really get a sense of living there and have moved every few days in other regions of the world to cover ground and take advantage of cheaper travel rates,” she explains. This must be part of the job description you’re comfortable with to make it a successful venture.
2. Remember your “why.”
As you adjust to a new time zone, figure out the best neighborhood to build your roots-of-the-month and set up shop, and balance how you’ll be dedicating time and energy. Sometimes this means sacrificing sleep to meet a deadline — or overcoming a difficult language barrier. The demands change as you cross borders, but remembering your “why” will get you through the difficult transitions. And of course, dictate your route. It’s easy to constantly go-go-go, but since this is your life and not a holiday, you have to build blocks for everything, including rest.
“You have to understand your ‘why’ in wanting to live it out. And that will help you prioritize your plans. Once you’re on the road, it’s very important to build in work/life balance and take care of yourself,” Sencherey explains. “Though others may think your life is a vacation, it won’t be if you’re committed to balancing your work alongside weekend trips and sightseeing. Make sure you do have time to rest and recharge so that you don’t burn out — which is the worst feeling while doing what you love.”
3. Set a schedule — literally!
Though some freelancers are experts at waking up, throwing on a robe and working for hours without leaving the house, others struggle with productivity at home. I’m definitely in the latter group, and wouldn’t be able to meet my many deadlines and client demands without a co-working membership.
Even if I don’t speak to another person at my Downtown Crossing Boston WeWork location, seeing others work and being surrounded by others keeps me on track — and far away from Netflix.
I learned this essential truth about myself while traveling: Some of my fellow remotes worked from their temporary apartments, but I also retreated to the workspace. Sencherey says setting a schedule is a game-changer for digital nomads. This means blocking off a lunch hour (even if you live alone), adding walking tours to your calendar and any other items you need to remember. Sure, you’re technically traveling, but a dedication to normalcy will help you stay focused.
“The best advice I ever got for working remotely was to sit in the same location, say at a coffee shop or co-working space, each day. This helps to build a sense of routine that makes it much easier to focus on your work even if the liveliness of the location changes from day to day,” she explains. “You’ll have a familiar association with the location and getting work done and it’s one less decision to make in a day full of decisions.”
4. Don’t work during vacation.
When I returned from my world tour, I had a friend casually say,”‘Well, it’s not like you really worked while you were traveling.” She meant well — but I quickly corrected her and explained how every single day was a careful balance of work and play, and sometimes deadlines meant I didn’t see as much of a city as I would have preferred.
Though as a freelancer taking a vacation seems impossible no matter if you’re at home or living in Bali — actually giving yourself an OOO is great for your psyche. Sencherey says many people believe the digital nomad lifestyle is a constant vacation. But as I experienced as well, it’s far from the truth.
“When you do take time off to actually relax and recharge, free yourself from your phone. Notify your clients and or co-workers that you’ll be taking time off and stick to being reachable only during a dire emergency,” she urges. “Set the proper boundaries for them — and yourself — to respect your time off, equip them with any resources that can assist while you’re out, and you’ll surely return to work more refreshed and ready to be productive again.”
5. Check in with yourself.
Though there are some days when I reminisce and romance about my digital nomadic days — most of the time, I’m happy to have a home. Though I learned how to live with less, grew my confidence and became much, much more comfortable traveling to anywhere and everywhere, I knew I needed a place of my own.
If you’re considering the digital nomad life, start with four months. This will give you plenty of time to adjust, understand how you like being abroad and discover what you need out of your routine. Throughout this time — and especially when you’re deciding to keep going or come back stateside — check in with yourself. Sencherey says this is the key to know if it the set-up is compatible with your habits.
“It’s more than understanding your intention but also checking in with yourself to ensure that the path you’re on is still right for you. It can be hard to come to terms with the challenges that are unseen on the road like psychological and mental stress, as well as loneliness that can come about even if you’re traveling with a group of people,” she shares. “Be completely honest with yourself at moments when you don’t feel comfortable or at your most productive and try to parse out whether it’s the current situation you’ve put yourself in or the overall lifestyle of moving from place to place that needs to be adjusted.”