Last year, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people were 'forced' out of their cubicles - and a lot of people would love for it to stay that way. Not only have they (and their companies) discovered that remote work is, in fact, a viable option that grants them an improved work-life balance, but they can finally entertain that secret dream of traveling while working remotely.
And many have started doing just that. According to data from Project Untethered, there were 7.3 million Americans who identified as digital nomads in 2019. Boosted by Covid-19, this figure rose by 49 percent in 2020. Today, there are over 10.9 million digital nomads from the US alone. And NomadList founder Pieter Levels predicts a billion digital nomads around the world by 2035.
So whether you're a freelancer, self-employed, a start-up founder, entrepreneur, or remote working full-time employee, let’s have a look at the different ways to work and travel. What exactly does it entail, and what could the digital nomad lifestyle look like for you?
The Different Ways to Travel and Work Remotely
There’s no one way to work remotely or to travel - or, consequently, to be a digital nomad. Which is part of the temptation and the biggest perk of this lifestyle in the first place: the freedom and independence to shape your days and life in a way that works best for you.
Nomad vs. Slo-mad
If the list of countries you want to visit is loooong and you can’t decide which one to prioritize because they all look amazing, you might be tempted to switch from place to place every couple of weeks. Which is completely normal, especially in the beginning. Trust us, we’ve all been there. We’ve all let the FOMO (fear of missing out) seize and guide us.
And many seasoned digital nomads have also ended up slowing it down - hence the term "slo-mad". Because we realize that we actually still need to earn money; and whether we do it from an office, a coworking space, or a cute coffee shop, we have to put in those hours to get our work done. ‘Remote work’ doesn’t mean ‘less work’. Hopping from place to place, as exciting as it is, takes up a good chunk of time and energy, and can become exhausting after a while.
The key lies in figuring out your personal work-life-travel balance, your best routine, your periods of highest productivity. Can you truly work from anywhere – even on a plane or bus while journeying to your next destination? Can you push through and be productive on five hours of sleep? Do you start your day the same way every morning, or do you thrive on a more spontaneous schedule?
Then there’s the question of how deeply you want to immerse yourself in the culture, people, foods, and sights of a place. Seeing the sights and eating your way through the local venues is easy and fun; getting to know the culture and making friends with locals will take more time and effort.
Like the rest of us, you’ll end up testing, analyzing, and adjusting until you find your perfect remote worker routine and travel speed. Whether that’s two weeks, two months, or even half a year between switching locations – there’s no right or wrong way to go about it.
Home Base versus Location-Independence
Do you envision yourself giving up everything – your apartment, car, most of your possessions – to travel around the world as free and unfettered as possible? Or would you prefer having a home base to strike out from and return to in order to take a breather and recuperate in between bouts of travel? Or do you, in fact, want to relocate completely, by switching residency, to set up a home base in a new city or country as an expat?
Answer the following questions to determine what might be right for you:
- Can you afford it? Traveling while continuing to pay rent or a mortgage in your home country will put an extra strain on your bank account. If you can’t afford to pay for your apartment at home and the AirBnB you're renting for the month in different cities, you’ll have to give up either your dream to travel or the need for a home to return to. Of course, you may have a few alternative options: While you're away from home, why not sublet your place, or turn it into an AirBnB?
- How dauntless are you? If you’re someone who has no problem taking risks, then selling all your possessions and moving to a different country might be a fun challenge. If you’re more risk-averse, you might prefer the comfort of knowing you can always return home.
- What’s your definition of ‘home’? Home is where the heart is – but what does that mean for you? For many people, home is where they grew up, in an environment they know and understand. For others, home has less to do with location and more with community and family. Of course, your definition of ‘home’ can change over time – and often does as you continue to travel.
In the same vein, nothing you decide now is set in stone. You can give everything up now and semi-settle back down in a couple of years. Or you might hold on to your apartment for now, and realize in half a year that you never actually come back. You just need to figure out the starting point you’re most comfortable with and let things develop from there.
Solo vs. Group Travel
Striking out alone across the world is one of the most exhilarating experiences you’ll ever have. You’ll get to know yourself on a whole new level. Few other things will give you such a confidence boost. And we whole-heartedly concur with Henry David Thoreau, who said: “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”
Traveling solo means you don’t have to wait for anybody. It means you don’t just get to explore new places, but also yourself. If self-discovery is your main objective, traveling by yourself is the best path to take.
But it can also be a lonely one. Even the greatest advocate of solo traveling occasionally feels the need for companionship, camaraderie, community. We humans are social creatures, after all. So it’s a good thing you don’t have to travel alone.
There are plenty of digital nomad 'hubs' all over the world these days. These are places where digital nomads congregate because they offer everything we need and love. Go to any of these places, join the Facebook groups or sign up at a coworking space, and you’ll make like-minded digital nomad friends in a jiffy.
Here, you might also find a digital nomad or two – or more – who you end up pairing up with on future travels. Traveling with a few friends can be beneficial in many aspects: sharing accommodation costs and planning responsibilities, companionship, having someone who’ll notice if you don’t come home and will send out a search party.
How to Plan for Working Remotely and Traveling
Once you've figured out the travel style you want to start with, it's time to look at the practical prep and planning that goes into any trip. As a digital nomad, you'll be on the road or staying in places for longer than you would on an average vacation, so there are a few more things to consider and plan for.
- Visas: No matter where you're from or where you're going, always always always check your next country's entry and visa requirements in advance. Or you might end up at your destination airport and not be let into the country because you don't have the necessary paperwork. Sometimes you don't need a visa, other times you'll need only a visa waiver - it all depends on your nationality, how long you're planning to stay, and sometimes which country you're traveling from.
- Passport: Many countries require your passport to be valid for at least six more months at your time of entry, so make sure your passport is always up to date.
- Insurance: We highly recommend getting international health insurance that will cover your costs should you get sick or have an accident overseas, as well as travel insurance to cover stolen or broken equipment, missed flights, and lost luggage. Read our comprehensive article on all things insurance-related.
- Tax implications: Where, when, and how you end up paying taxes depends on a ton of different factors: where you're from, where your company is based, where your clients are located, how long you stay in one place, whether you're earning money there or taking jobs away from locals... Sorry we can't be more help, but this is something you'll have to research based on your own situation. We can only urge you to do this research and consult your tax advisor before you head out, lest you end up with an unexpected tax payment or even fines.
- Vaccinations: We're not even talking specifically about a Covid-19 vaccine, although having your full inoculation definitely makes travel a lot easier at the moment. But there are other vaccinations like Yellow Fever that some countries require in order to let you enter. Again, do your research ahead of time and consult with your doctor so you don't end up being turned away.
How to Find Long- and Short-Term Housing Abroad
The housing you choose will most likely depend first on your budget and second on the availability of speedy wifi. But don't worry - there's something for everyone in almost every location.
Having internet access is almost a given these days unless you're pitching a tent in the mountains; it's the internet speed that may vary. Most housing platforms let you search for places that offer wifi and some even disclose internet speeds - though if you absolutely need fast wifi, do your own research and ask potential landlords to send you screenshots of speed tests, just to be on the safe side.
- Hostels are generally your cheapest option (besides maybe camping) and ideal for the shorter term or in locations with a high cost of living. Private rooms can be tempting, but compare them to hotel prices before committing; in a surprising amount of cities, private hostel rooms cost as much if not more as a hotel room. Check out Hostelworld for lots of options.
- Booking.com usually offers good deals on all kinds of housing, from hostels to hotels and entire holiday homes.
- AirBnB tends to be (though it doesn't have to be) a slightly cheaper option than Booking, as you find private rooms, apartments, and vacation homes listed by private owners here - and you can rent a place for monthly prices if you choose to stay for four weeks or more.
- Renting directly from locals is cheaper, too, but it can be tough to get a foot in and overcome the language barriers. If you're planning to stay put in one place for six months or more, it's definitely an option to consider.
- Digital nomad organizations like Remote Year and WiFi Tribe offer a myriad of options in different locations at different times of the year. Sure, they tend to be a bit pricier than the previously mentioned options, but all you have to do is book your spot and everything else is taken care of for you. Plus, you have an in-built community of digital nomad friends, which is, you know - priceless.
The Best Locations for Remote Workers
If you ask seasoned digital nomads about the best locations for travelers with remote jobs to make a temporary home in, you might be surprised at how often a handful of specific places come up.
Of course, there's the pandemic caveat: Due to lockdowns and restrictions, some of these places are currently tough or even impossible to travel to and/or from. Nevertheless, they remain high on most digital nomads' lists because they fit the main criteria of remote working travelers:
- Fast and (mostly) stable internet connection
- Fantastic value for money
- A thriving digital nomad community
- Fun coworking spaces and/or easy-to-work-from coffee shops
- Lots of sights to see and adventures to be had
- (Fairly) high level of safety
Outside of lockdowns and restrictions, the following places check all these boxes and are therefore favorite digital nomad hubs and destinations:
- Canggu, Bali
- Playa del Carmen, Mexico
- Mexico City, Mexico
- Medellin, Colombia
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Bansko, Bulgaria
- Gran Canaria, Spain
- Barcelona, Spain
- Lisbon, Portugal
But there are many more places that fit all of the above-mentioned criteria and are further favorites among remote workers. Check out our worldwide list of Best Places to Work Remotely. Or maybe you’re looking for a starting point specifically in Europe.
10 Productivity Tips for Working Remotely While Traveling
If you've never worked remotely while traveling before, you might be a bit apprehensive as to whether you'll actually manage to be productive at all. You might be asking yourself: What are 'good' internet speeds, what software tools are essential for working remotely, where can I work from, how do I make myself put my butt in the chair and actually work even when that's the last thing I want to do in this world of wonders?
Let's try to put your mind at ease with these 10 productivity tips that will help you actually get work done while On-the-Road-ing it like Jack Kerouac.
- Internet. Next to laptop and phone, access to the internet (preferably wifi) is the third factor in the trifecta of basics any digital nomad needs to get work done. For two or more connected devices and moderate to heavy internet use, you should have at least 12 megabits per second (Mbps) of download speed; for four or more devices, 25 Mbps is recommended. You can check the speed of whatever provider you're connected to via Speedtest.
- Online tools. The best online tools can vary depending both on your travel style and what you need for work. For work- and team-related collaboration software, check out our post here. For travel, some of the favorite tools and apps in our WiFi Tribe community are Slack to communicate with each other and Splitwise to split bills and costs between us.
- Sim cards. Having wifi and good internet at your accommodation is all well and good - but what about when you're out exploring or want to work from somewhere outside? From finding our way with Google Maps, over choosing the best restaurant in the vicinity, to making phone or video calls or generally staying connected for work via hotspot, we rely on our phones to keep us safe, un-lost, and productive. For that, we need Sim cards. In some cases, it's easiest to use the one you already use, but be aware that can come with added costs. It's always a good idea to compare the costs of using your usual to the options available in the country you're traveling to. If you opt for buying a pre-paid Sim card on location, you'll be able to buy them at most airports. Though they might be a tad more expensive there than if you find a provider in the city.
- Time zones. If you have to be available for work at certain times of the day, having a handle on time zones can be a lifesaver. Check your phone for or download an app that converts time zones; on your laptop, you can use sites like Time And Date to make sure you're operating at the proper work hours.
- Workspace. Finding the right workspace for yourself can sometimes be a bit tricky. It helps to answer the following question: Do you work best in the peace and quiet of home or in the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop? There's also the in-between option of coworking spaces, which are springing up like weeds in cities across the globe - and offer the added value of easily getting to know other remote workers in your location.
- Community. Setting out as a digital nomad for the first time can also be daunting on a social level: Will you be able to meet people and make friends? Feeling lonely can affect your productivity in a big way, so if you're worried about connecting with people, that's another reason to join a coworking space. You'll be surrounded by like-minded people who are all there to work, too.
- Work-life-balance. Not just loneliness can influence your productivity, but finding the right balance between working and exploring can be a big factor, too. We're not here to sugarcoat things, so we're going to drop a truth bomb here: Becoming a digital nomad is a wonderful experience that we absolutely recommend to anyone with even a hint of wanderlust in their veins. Just know that, especially in the beginning, most of us struggle to not let that work-life-balance tip too far in favor of the 'life' side. The following three tips can help you combat this danger.
- Routine. Establish a work routine that supports you sitting down in front of your laptop during the time of day you tend to be most productive. For some, that's early in the morning, for others it's the afternoon, while others again are night owls. Organize everything else you plan to do that day around those most productive hours and don't let anything side-track you. Establish that routine. Of course, if you have to stick to a specific time zone, that can help you define your routine.
- Priorities and boundaries. It's a given: You will experience FOMO and you'll want to indulge your little adventurous heart and never be left behind when your new friends go on exciting trips or even just to the coffee shop around the corner. But sometimes, you just have to say no or you'll never get your sh*t together and hit those deadlines. It helps to know your priorities and set clear boundaries for yourself. Examples for boundaries could be "no adventures before 3pm" or limiting eating out at restaurants to five times a week. You will likely still experience FOMO but it won't dictate your life.
- Less is more. As a digital nomad, you're not on vacation, no matter how exotic your destination. And the days there have the same amount of hours as a day anywhere else. Earning a living will (have to!) remain a priority. Trying to cram too much sightseeing and too many adventures into too little time in a single location can be incredibly stressful, which will hurt your productivity, especially in the long run. So plan less. Or spend more time in one location. Better yet, do both. To fully immerse yourself in the culture, the people, the food, the sights of the city you're in, you have to give yourself enough time. In this case, it's our experience that less truly is more.
Start Your Digital Nomad Journey With Our WiFi Tribe Community
Especially if you haven’t traveled much before, not having to figure everything out alone can be a huge comfort. So why not take it one step further and join travel programs or coliving communities for digital nomads like our very own WiFi Tribe? It's one step in the right direction of making friends in a community of like-minded digital nomads, who might very well turn into travel besties for life.