Work-life balance. It’s a concept that’s been around since the dawn of working humanity, and one that deserves particular attention when you’re working on the road. The vast majority of long-term travelers nowadays support themselves by the work they do on their laptop or other electronic device. Ever heard of the term “digital nomad?” It describes a person who, while traveling the world, sets up shop anywhere there’s WiFi and earns their money that way. However, because you’re not working at an actual job site and you’re spending your free time having adventures on the road, the digital nomad lifestyle requires more self-discipline than your traditional job route. If you’re working while you travel, it’s essential that you take certain measures to get consistent, productive work done. Here are some things I’ve found helpful that may help you be more productive as well:
1. Tune out.
Traveling means sensory overload, which is OK if you’re out exploring and want adventure. While you’re working, on the other hand, it’s crucial to set up a distraction-free environment where you can focus and get shit done. That usually involves having a clean, somewhat comfortable workspace that isn’t too visually distracting. Tune out surrounding noise by finding a quiet place, maybe putting on some soft music if that’s your thing. If you can’t get somewhere quiet, one thing I’ve found helpful is putting in headphones and using a white noise generator like this one. There are also various white noise apps for mobile devices that you can download.
It’s also important to tune out in another sense – stepping away from “vacation mode.” It’s tempting to want to spend another night bar-hopping with the new friends you met at that music festival, but are your escapades interfering with your online business? Of course it isn’t healthy to lock yourself away with your laptop for days on end, but you do need to realize that you may have to turn down a few invites to get those projects done. The last thing you want is to be on a plane headed back home several months ahead of time.
2. Find your “peak hours.”
I’m not a morning person. Although living in the Philippines seems to have reset my circadian rhythms (since I now get up earlier than I used to back in the States), I know regardless that I’m still at my most productive right around lunchtime/the early afternoon hours and in the evening. So what do I do? I schedule my working periods around those times! The wonderful thing about freelancing/working digitally is that 99% of the time, you can do it on your own schedule. Why not work on your projects while you’re at your most productive? If you’re not sure exactly what times you’re running optimally, try this exercise: at various times of the day, make a mental note of your energy levels and how much you’re getting done at that moment. Once you’ve gathered solid data, plan your workweek accordingly.
3. Network with similar people.
As more and more people quit traditional jobs to become digital nomads, we have also seen a rise in working spaces, programs, events, and startups geared towards catering to these individuals – take advantage of these and use them to network with fellow nomads. There are certain areas of the world (think Southeast Asia or Europe) that have vibrant digital nomad communities and tons of resources for newcomers to get their feet wet. This not only gives you a way to make new friends in a foreign country, but it also opens up potential business opportunities and helps you maintain a more entrepreneurial mindset, which can be harder to adhere to when traveling.
4. Travel slowly.
I’m a fan of slow, deliberate travel for several reasons. In a digital nomad context, it simply makes sense. How can you possibly be productive if you change your scenery every few days? Trying to throw work into the mix when you’re already physically and mentally taxed can be a recipe for disaster. Settling into cities for a month or longer, on the other hand, gives you time to establish a routine and familiarity that paints a pleasant backdrop for your work time. Slow travel also lets you get to know the culture and vibe of a city more intimately as well as lower expenses for you since you’re not spending as much money jumping from place to place.
5. Sort out the logistics.
Finally, there are several smaller things to consider that are easy to forget but make a big difference in how you work. Especially if you’ve set up camp in a developing country, how fast and reliable is your Internet? What equipment and software will you need? How will you handle different time zones when you’re working with your clients? It’s imperative that you consider your situation from all angles and have solid plans for each issue you might come across, as it makes the entire process easier to deal with if something goes wrong. In all the chaos and uncertainty of travel, a solid A to Z work ritual will reduce time wasted on nonsense and give your digital nomad life the structure it needs to thrive.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide, as I’m new to this lifestyle myself. As with anything in life, it comes down to balance. Being a digital nomad is as valid a lifestyle as any, and it’s a lifestyle that needs to be controlled. You can’t just hop from country to country thinking you can get by without doing any work, and on the other end of the spectrum, you can’t be so deep in your work that you miss out on all the adventures right outside your window. I hope my tips can help you to reach that happy medium for your digital nomad life.
More wander, more lust.