Finding a balance between work and travel as a digital nomad
Guest post by Travis Bennett, founder of Nomad Stack
When you work online you’ve got the freedom to live and work wherever you want. It’s an incredible experience, as you bounce from feeling blessed to feeling cursed.
Armed with your laptop, and if you’re anything like me a giant latte, you can park yourself anywhere in the world and start making money online. Whether it’s in the corner of a cafe, tucked in the back of a library, or sitting at the bus stop waiting for my next adventure. Growing your career through travel has never been easier.
But the freedom to work anywhere requires a balance.
It’s far too easy to swing to the extremes when you follow a digital nomad lifestyle. Working far too much chasing money, while neglecting the delights of local life around you. Or enjoying your trip a little too much and neglecting your income streams so the money coming in actually slows.
Because, unless you’re one of the lucky few who have a full-time remote job, the majority of digital nomads are freelancers or self-employed entrepreneurs. Which means you need to properly manage your two different focuses. Making money. Enjoying life.
I like to think I’ve found a healthy balance, and here’s how I do it.
Set time aside to actually work
The life of a digital nomad isn’t always pretty. Instagram makes it seem like it’s all poolside cocktails and fancy cafe’s, but the reality is you’re going to spend a large part of your time abroad working.
In a traditional job, you may be able to fly under the radar. Joining meetings, taking calls, and if you’re dedicated enough you can probably hide from doing any real “work” for weeks on end.
As a digital nomad, this isn’t going to fly.
If you’re not working to the best of your ability, you’re going to miss deadlines, upset clients, and find you start falling behind on some of your larger goals and plans. Much like any entrepreneur, you’re responsible for your success and your failures, and you need to set time aside to actually get your work done.
For me, I spend a couple of hours on my laptop every morning (except Sundays), putting in a minimum of 2 to 3 hours each day. So my day is usually grabbing my coffee and a laptop, and heading somewhere comfortable to work before I let myself do anything fun.
I find I work faster when I know what’s waiting for me when I’m done. Perhaps there’s a new restaurant I want to try, or I’m dying for a workout, I’ve still got a list of tasks that need to be done first. Of course, I usually re-connect again in the afternoon and spend far longer than a couple of hours a day working, but when I’m making progress almost every day, I don’t feel guilty if I take an afternoon off to go sightseeing or explore a new town.
Take advantage of your down time
This is probably the biggest piece of advice I can give to aspiring digital nomads. When you’ve got the chance to work, take it. Seriously.
If you’re waiting for a flight or stuck in a random bus station in the middle of nowhere, fire up your laptop and get a little work done. Even if it’s just a half hour, it’s a half hour you won’t need to spend working tomorrow.
So turn off Facebook. Stop browsing Reddit. Put down your book. When you start working when everyone around you is bored out of their mind, dosing off, or watching brain-numbing television, you’re making money. Oh and getting ahead of schedule, which for me is super-important.
Because when you’re ahead of schedule that’s when you can relax. Perhaps it enables you to take an entire day off, so you can spend it at the beach or trekking around a jungle. To me, that’s far more exciting than catching up with the Kardashians and wasting a few hours of my day.
It also gives you a buffer. I’ve found that while this lifestyle is definitely the one for me, there are always problems. Perhaps the internet in your next destination is spotty, and it’s difficult to even get online. Or the power goes out and you’re on a race to finish work before your laptop dies. Or any of a hundred other things that could go wrong, actually do. This creates stress, and you’re no longer enjoying your day, you’re racing around trying to find somewhere to work. When you’ve got the chance to work, you need to take it.
Act like a local
Just because you’re not travelling a hundred percent of the time, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a real experience in the country you’re visiting.
AirBnB is one of my favorite pieces of tech when I’m travelling as a digital nomad, as it makes it easy to get a “real” experience wherever you go. Forget international hotels that load you up with the same buffet breakfast every morning. It’s delicious, yes, but after 40 countries and a countless amount of time travelling, it’s all the same.
When you’re staying locally you are confronted with a real experience everywhere you go. Perhaps that alley you duck down as a shortcut to the coworking space makes a delicious iced coffee, or you get a chance to kick a football around with the local neighborhood kids.
These experiences are the ones I’m after when I travel abroad, and I’ve found that by booking and staying like the locals do, you get this no matter what, without even trying.
Give yourself a break
My final piece of advice is to ensure you disconnect. This is one of the best ways to finding a balance between work and travel as a digital nomad.
It’s a tough call, especially when you know exactly how much money is left in your bank account and every minute you’re not working you’re not earning. But it’s got to be done.
There’s power in taking a break and recharging your spirits. It leaves you motivated and energized to work even harder when you are back at your desk, and you may even come up with a new product idea, or a new approach to that coding issue that’s had you stumped for the last week.
I make sure I’ve got one day a week that I’m not working, as this also ensures I can properly enjoy wherever it is I find myself. Perhaps there’s a full-day tour I’ve been dying to see, or a snorkelling excursion that everyone in my coworking space has been raving about.
It’s also nice to not feel guilty if I have a big night on Saturday, and you can unwind and relax so you’re ready for another week’s work. We became digital nomads so we could have a life filled with greater experiences and adventures, and you need to give yourself time to actually enjoy.
The digital nomad lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and I do see the advantages of having a stable income and a little predictability in your life. Even I’ve felt the pangs of homesickness from time to time, but the call of a life filled with wonder and excitement was just too strong. Just make sure you hit a healthy balance between work and travel, and you’ll be just fine.