“Success is when reality catches up to your imagination. That’s why you must dream big – your dreams are never too big or unattainable. Your only limitation is your mind.”
The digital nomad movement is sweeping the world, and has quickly become a household name, though the definition of digital nomad is evolving. From what used to be known as whimsical nomadic backpackers on a budget, has now turned into full-time working professionals who love to travel and are tired of the high cost of living sitting at home working in an overpriced city. According to this Bloomberg article, 82% of urban centers saw more people moving out than moving in, over the last year. Every time someone asks us where we’re from and we respond with “Hawaii and Russia, but we live in Seattle, but actually we don’t really live there, we live and work remotely abroad”, they nod their head and say, “ahh, yes, you’re digital nomads.” I swear, just 8 months ago when we said the same thing, people’s heads spun. “You’re doing whaaaaat?!”
In my wildest dreams, I pictured myself in my early 30’s living in a local Italian village, opening up GoogleMaps on my phone, turning to my international husband, and saying, “honey, where in the world would you like to live next?” After six years of manifesting this dream, this lifestyle is now our reality. I have to pinch myself sometimes because being able to live like this is the ultimate privilege. Though it hasn’t been without its hard work and sleepless nights, business failures and compromises, we are finally living our dream lifestyle, and it feels divine.
We have learned a lot over the past one year of living the full-time digital nomad lifestyle, and I’d like to share with you all the lessons and hacks we’ve learned along the way. We began our digital nomad adventure in January in the beautiful country of Mexico, where we lived in the Puerto Vallarta area for three months and traveled on the weekends to other cities in the country. We had a short stop back in Seattle to get vaccinated, then we set out to Europe. Our first destination was the Azores Islands, followed by Mainland Portugal, Spain, Italy, Turkey, and we are currently in Montenegro. Our next destination is Croatia, and that’s about as far out as we usually plan.
In this blog post, I’ll be sharing with you our top 25 tips and tricks for traveling digital nomads, including life changing books to read (especially as an entrepreneur or business owner), helpful apps to download for your journey, AND a bonus digital nomad packing list! Did you know that it is possible to live in Europe (legally) as a non EU citizen for an entire year and beyond? I’ll divulge that in this post as well; let’s dive in!
25 TIPS FOR TRAVELING DIGITAL NOMADS ABROAD
- Always book a one-way ticket (when possible)
I put (when possible) in parenthesis because some countries will require you to present a return ticket upon arrival, so be sure to look up the country’s requirements prior to booking your ticket. Unless you have a set schedule and need to be back on a specific date, it’s best to keep your travel plans open-ended as a digital nomad. This way you have the flexibility to leave if you don’t like your new city, or extend your stay if you fall in love with a place (or a person). 😉 Especially with Airbnb and hotel’s strict cancellation policies these days, you’ll be out a lot of money if you leave before your stay is over. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve arrived to a country, having a rough plan, and completely deviated from the plan because we met people who recommended a different place, or we decided to stay longer. Having the flexibility to be able to book a ticket at any time for any date to go anywhere, is a very freeing feeling and will relieve a lot of your planning stress.
- Book your accommodation for only one or two weeks out, and then negotiate a better rate with your host directly
We experienced this the most in Mexico when Covid was still keeping tourists away (prior to vaccinations). We found that hosts were more than happy to have us book directly with them and offer us a discount so that they didn’t have to pay all the fees to the booking sites. Our rule of thumb when visiting a place we’ve never been to before, is to book no longer than 9 days in a new place. The reason for this, is because you don’t know what it’s really going to be like until you get there. Are there yowling cats at night right outside your window? Are your upstairs neighbors throwing nightly parties? Does your place smell of mold? Did the area look nice on GoogleMaps but when you arrived, you felt the heebie jeebies? Our thinking is that it’s better to lose out on extending a booking because someone else booked it, than to lock ourselves into the unknown and then be stuck there if it’s bad. There are so many options for accommodation these days through sites like Airbnb and Booking.com, so you’ll never be short of options unless you’re staying in a very rural country town, in which case, you’ll want to plan ahead.
- Spend at least two weeks – one month in each location
While it can be tempting to bolt off the airplane and immediately begin checking off your travel bucket list, remember that you’re still working. I find it easiest to get into a good flow and stay focused on our business when we stay in one place for a long time. This way we can develop a routine, get to know our local baker, find our favorite cafe, and not have to plan details of our every day. Even an action as small as looking up where to eat on GoogleMaps, can zap your thinking energy, and we need to save that for important decisions in work.
- Whenever you arrive to a new country, always do the following:
* Look up the country code (the number you have to enter before dialing a local phone number within that country)
* Look up the emergency phone number (the equivalent of U.S. 911)
* Look up the closest police station and emergency room
* Tell your family the address of your accommodation and / or provide the WhatsApp phone number of your host in case of an emergency
- Sign up on your local embassy: https://step.state.gov/step/
Once you’re signed up, you can add where you are and when. You’ll receive various alerts of political problems, environmental disasters, warnings, etc. for the countries you’re in at the time. Also, once you’re on the list at your embassy, you’re already registered in case you ever need their services (i.e. lost passport, crime, evacuation, etc.)
- Join expat and digital nomad groups on Facebook
This is a great way to connect with locals, expats and digital nomads, and is a good forum to get your questions answered by people who are actually living in that particular country or city right now. You can look this up in the search bar of Facebook by entering “Digital Nomads (Country / City Name)”
- Look for co-working spaces and visit one within your first week
Ask if they have any meetup events. This is the best way to meet new friends and fellow digital nomads, quickly!
- Give a new place time (at least one or two weeks) and withhold judgement
Arriving to a new city or country is not always love at first sight; sometimes it takes a while for a new place to grow on you, especially if you were in love with the last place you left and even more so if you stayed in one place for a long time. Try not to compare or formulate any judgements; each place is unique and has its own wonderful gems; some may just take a bit longer to discover.
- Before you move to a new place, do your due diligence on the area
I always like to look up the area on GoogleMaps in Earth view so I can see what’s around; is it in the middle of nowhere with the nearest restaurant or cafe, a 20-minute walk? Is Uber Eats available in that area? How’s the WiFi?
I’ll share with you my biggest blunder of not following this advice, and it happened just recently when I booked a flat on the Amalfi Coast without doing any research on the area. I had seen the coast in photos and had dreamed of visiting this part of Italy for years, so I just booked it. When we arrived, we didn’t realize that there is virtually no parking anywhere along the coast (we had a rental car), Uber Eats is very much non-existent in the village we stayed in, and the closest restaurant was a literal workout going up and down hundreds of stairs (the plus side – we got into great shape during those two weeks!)
- Before you book accommodation, ask your host for a screenshot of the internet speed test
Hosts are starting to understand that as digital nomads, we rely on fast, reliable internet and cannot do our work without it. If you ever have a host refuse to share the internet speed with you, then DO NOT BOOK! We have actually had hosts increase speeds for us to meet our minimum requirements of 50 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload (for one person, 20 MBPS should be enough). We are on simultaneous video calls throughout the day, and we have found this minimum to be acceptable around the world. Keep in mind that Airbnb does not allow hosts to send photos until you’ve booked a place. This is what I message to my host before booking: “My husband and I work remotely and require fast, reliable high-speed internet. Could you please run an internet speed test and tell me what the upload and download speeds are in MBPS?”
- Join local rental groups on Facebook
Some Facebook groups will post their rental listings, and they’re usually about half the price of what you’ll find on an American platform such as Airbnb. We mostly saw this in Mexico, where people regularly post that they’re looking for a flatmate, or renting out their entire apartment.
- Have grace and patience with yourself – planning travel and working is exhausting
Traveling whilst working, especially if you’re a business owner or gig / contract worker, can be exhausting, both physically, mentally and spiritually. We ended up extending our stay in Istanbul for three weeks, and I wanted so badly to visit Pamukkale and Cappadocia, but we were so tired of packing and unpacking and moving around every few weeks, that we decided to just stay put, and that was a great decision even though I still feel a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out). Also, because I’m a travel blogger and write detailed guides about every single city, village and country we visit, when we move around every two weeks, I don’t have time to catch up on my blogging, let alone truly enjoy the place I’m in. Allow yourself to rest; if that means basing yourself in one place for one month to catch up and relax, that’s completely fine. The world isn’t going anywhere. Additionally, if you have the means or your family is still in your home country, make a trip back home every quarter or every six months for a reset.
- Set boundaries between work and travel
Depending on where you’re working in the world and how different it is from the time zone you’re working in, it’s important to ensure you set boundaries for play and travel and a clear time for working so that you maintain your focus. When we lived in Mexico, we had an extra two hours in the morning, which we used for our meditation and wellness routine (swimming in the sea, working out, doing yoga, etc.) Now living in Europe, we’re anywhere between 7 to 10 hours ahead of Seattle, so we dedicate the entire day to our travel adventures, and we’re always home in the afternoon to begin working.
- Get a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A VPN allows you to work securely via data encryption so that your information is invisible to hackers. We use NordVPN IKE. This is especially important if you’re working in public spaces, such as a co-working space, airport lounge or cafe.
- Purchase a WiFi extender
A WiFi extender is relatively inexpensive (around $15 USD) and is the size of a power adapter. It catches the signal and amplifies it to wherever you are working. For example, if you’re in a co-working space and the internet speed is on the lower side or there are lots of people simultaneously using the network, it essentially builds a bubble around you and strengthens the speed just for you.
- Set your computer and a clock on your phone to the local time zone for where your work is located
This way there’s no confusion with time zone differences. We conduct everything in Pacific Standard Time, so our calendars, phones and computers are all set to PST.
- Invest in a good laptop stand
If you’re working on a tiny laptop on a table or couch, STOP IT. Doesn’t your neck hurt? If it doesn’t now, it will if you keep working with your neck bent down all the time! Every time I walk into a cafe and see an entire table of people on their laptops, backs hunched over, I cringe. If you’re not familiar with proper ergonomics, it’s time you educate yourself immediately. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s how-to guide for proper working ergonomics. Now I get it, you can’t just up and haul your adjustable sit/stand desk from home with you all around the world (though I did just recently see a girl carrying a full on computer monitor on the last flight I was on 😂), you can buy an adjustable laptop stand. These have been a life saver for us. We recently purchased these ones from Amazon and love them. Though they’re a bit on the heavier side, they collapse compactly and are easy to travel with.
It’s funny, the image that people often think of when they hear “digital nomad”, is a laptop on a lounge chair on a beach or pool with a drink in hand. While we have worked like this (we’ve also worked from hammocks, swinging chairs, rooftop terraces and trains – it’s healthy to switch up your work environment from time to time), the bulk of your day should be at an ergonomic station where you can sit or stand straight and be alert.
- Travel with TRX bands to stay fit
I don’t know about you, but it can be tough to keep a good workout routine when you’re changing countries and time zones every few weeks – few months. It’s always good to find a local gym, pilates, yoga studio, etc. whenever you land in a new place, but for us we’d rather use that valuable time during the day to explore since we work at night (in Europe), so we travel with TRX bands (which fold up into a 4″x4″ bag) – just hook it to a pole or attach it to a doorframe, and BOOM you’ve got a home gym.
- Get the T-Mobile International cell phone plan
We’ve had this plan for years now and love it. The only place we’ve had an issue, is here in Europe where our speed is too slow, but we just pay $50 extra per month and we have super fast service. Having an international plan avoids the hassle of having to buy a new SIM card each time you enter a new country. At this point in our lives we’re all about convenience and saving time over saving a few dollars.
- Arrange for mail scanning services back home
If you have a family member who is willing to receive your mail whilst you’re away (thanks Mamma and Daddio!), that’s the most ideal option, but if you’re on the road for a long time and are still receiving mail, it’s helpful to purchase a mail scanning service such as Anytime Mailbox. You are assigned an actual physical address that you select, and they scan and send your mail to you electronically.
- Keep environmental sustainability at the top of your mind
The biggest thing I miss about living in Seattle and Hawaii, is how environmentally sustainable the two states are. In Seattle, 80% of our waste at home, comes from food, which is compostable and renewable. The ugly truth about traveling is that unfortunately our carbon footprint is much larger. Flying is one of the greatest contributors to global warming, and the plastic bags that often come with food delivery, makes me cringe. Therefore it’s important that we take action to offset our negative impact. Here are a few ways you can do this:
* Bring reusable cloth bags for grocery shopping – they also double up as great beach bags and ways to wrap fragile items
* Bring reusable bottles (we travel with two small and two large Hydroflask bottles, which are heavy as hell, but so worth it because they keep drinks cold or hot. We use the small ones for coffee and the large ones for water)
* Bring your own metal straw, wooden or bamboo fork, and plastic Tupperware (yes, we actually travel with Tupperware because our accommodation doesn’t always have it. We keep it in our backpack and use it for leftovers when we dine out
* Always tell your server “please no straw” whenever you order a drink. It breaks my heart that in Mexico and Turkey, ALL drinks come with a plastic straw, all the time. Even when I tell them, they forget because they’re on autopilot. So I saved a photo of a plastic straw with an X through it, and I show it on my phone to my server when I order a drink if there is a language barrier. That seems to help. I know these are small steps compared to just not flying at all, but as a traveler, that’s unrealistic. I understand that it’s a bit of a hypocritical notion, but every little bit helps.
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS:
- Always reject the conversion rate when taking cash out of an ATM
You’ll still get the cash, but the default conversion rate will almost always be better than what the bank is trying to swindle you for.
- Keep half your local cash currency and credit cards at home when you go out
This way, in case you lose your wallet or it gets stolen, you’ll have backup money.
- Save receipts to write them off as business expenses
If you have a CPA, they can help you with this. If you discuss business over a dinner, for example, you just need to write the topic of discussion and the people present during the discussion on the back of the receipt, and you can write this off as a business expense. This is great for us because about 90% of our discussions are about our business. 🤓
- Always travel with melatonin, activated charcoal, electrolyte tablets and probiotics
Because food poisoning never seems to strike in the middle of the day when everything is open. 🤦♀️
9 APPS TO DOWNLOAD FOR YOUR DIGITAL NOMAD LIFESTYLE
- Reopen EU
If you’ll be living in Europe, this app is to check Covid restrictions for entering countries within the European Union
Honestly I don’t know how the U.S. isn’t on this bandwagon yet. The whole world uses WhatsApp! What I love about it is the ability to send voice messages and you can listen to them on 1.5 or 2x speed! Also, there’s no limit to how long the voice message is.
Be sure to download offline maps if you’ll be in a place with spotty reception
Shows your elevation
An app for foodies that enables you to connect with like-minded people where you can join them for dinner, cooking classes or food tours
The ultimate app for digital nomads!
- Happy Cow
Find vegan and vegetarian restaurants all around the world (a great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to limit your consumption of red meat, or to purchase it from vendors or restaurants where you know the source from which it comes)
- Manawa by Adrenaline Hunter
The Airbnb for adrenaline junkies – allows you to search and book adventure activities all around the world
- Schengen Calculator
Did you know that you can (legally) stay in Europe for more than one year without being an EU citizen? There are several countries that are part of Europe but not part of the Schengen area, so you can bounce in and out of the Schengen zone without overstaying your 90-day visa. On this trip we spent 90 days in Portugal, Spain and Italy, and then once our time was up, we came to Turkey, then the Balkans, which are part of Europe but not in the Schengen zone. The rule is 90 days in, 90 days out (cumulative time, not consecutive.) This time calculator enables you to figure out how long you can stay in a Schengen country before your visa is up, if you’re not an EU citizen.
LIFE CHANGING BOOKS I HIGHLY RECOMMEND READING
The following 10 books had a profound impact on our lives, or were highly memorable. Especially if you are an aspiring entrepreneur, or already an entrepreneur or business owner, these books will help you succeed mentally, financially and spiritually.
- Secrets of a Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker
If I can recommend ONE book in the history of books, to anyone in the world, this is it. Pretty big statement, yes? This book changed my life; it changed the way I understand money values and where in my childhood they came from, how they were limiting me, and practical ways to get smarter about how I spend, save and invest money. Just like you must study to become an engineer before building a plane, you must study your financial blueprint before becoming a successful entrepreneur so you know how to make money and grow it. If you’re ready to be woken up about your financial habits with a hard look in the mirror, this book is the best slap in the face you’ll ever receive in your life.
- Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
If I can attribute one book to our travel lifestyle of location independence and the path to financial freedom, this is it. Sasha and I read this book about a year apart and it woke us up to the fact that we were never going to be happy working for someone else’s dream, ever again, and that there is so much more to life than working every day until you die. Weeks after finishing this book in 2015, Sasha purchased his first fourplex and attended his first real estate investment meetup, which is where he met his business partner. After I read this book, I left my corporate career in Seattle (along with Sasha, who left his career in management at Boeing) to travel abroad for half a year. That was the time when Sasha (positively) “burned the boats” with his aerospace engineering career and went full time into the business that now supports our lifestyle. We’ve never looked back. I’ll be reading this book out loud to our future embryo whilst they’re in the womb. 😂
- Profit First by Mike Michalowicz
The author’s goal in this book is to end entrepreneurial poverty; this book single handedly changed my husband and his business partner’s mindset when it came to paying themselves. They both come from immigrant families (Russia and Ukraine) and have a phenomenal work ethic, though their humbleness was their thorn. During the early stages of the business’ success, it was difficult for them to get over the psychological hump of paying themselves well. For five years they paid themselves practically nothing from the business until one day their coach was like, “guys, what in the heck are you keeping all this money in the business for?! I want you to read Profit First, and then start paying yourselves relative to the success of your business.” To this day, they have a “Profit First” meeting once per month to allocate funds to their appropriate “envelopes”, and we still live and breathe the concept taught in this book.
- The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley
This book compares the behaviors of UAWs (Under Accumulators of Wealth) and PAWs (Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth).
- Shoe Dog – A Memoir By The Creator of Nike by Phil Knight, founder of Nike
Sasha and I listened to this on Audible whilst traveling on a road trip through Italy in 2017 and I can still hear the narrator’s voice in my head. A fascinating read about the endless devotion and drive from founder, Phil Knight, running a business in the 60’s, this is an inspiring listen or read for any entrepreneur.
- On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Just a great (and highly entertaining) travel-related novel.
- The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
An inspiring read that proves that anybody with any amount of money (or no money at all), can start a business.
- The Untethered Soul by Michael Alan Singer
“When the disciple is ready, the master will appear”. If you are ready for this book in your life, you’ll know it within the first few pages. If not, it may not be for you and that’s completely fine. Sasha and I recently listened to this book whilst on (yet another) road trip through Italy (this time Puglia in the South), and it came at the perfect time as we are seeking more fulfillment through meditation and mindful practice in our lives.
- The Surrender Experiment by Michael Alan Singer
The autobiography of Michael Alan Singer. The book explains how going with the flow of the Universe can get you far in life. Understanding how to accept thoughts and judgements as they filter through your brain, acknowledging, and allowing them to pass, will free your mind and spirit, and allow you to be at peace with yourself.
- Traction – Get a Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman
This book guides leaders of entrepreneurial organizations, to get a better handle of their business through the Entrepreneurial Operating System.
DIGITAL NOMAD PACKING LIST
We are still learning to master the art of packing as a digital nomad, but we get better with each trip! Our first trip to Mexico was ridiculous; we had way too much stuff and didn’t pack it well. Now we can Tetris our way into oblivion just hours before a flight.
So, what do we travel with? Well, I need to start by saying that my husband is two meters (6’7″) tall, so his shoes literally….literally take up half a suitcase (I’m not joking, he’s a size 14.) We travel with one soft shell Samsonite 28″ suitcase each (these are checked bags) + one small carryon backpack each. One suitcase is dedicated to our shoes and our digital nomad equipment, and the other is for toiletries and clothes. We also travel with Sasha’s virtual reality drone, which we have never had issues with going through security.
|Cell phone/charger/back-up charger|
|International Adapters (2)|
|Power strip (2)|
|Lap top/lap top charger|
|Rechargeable batteries & charger|
|Cell phone cable for car trips|
|Passport/ID/Copy of documents|
|Emergency contact information|
|Bialetti coffee maker & coffee (yes, we travel with our own espresso maker – saves a lot of money!)|
|Hydroflasks / Reusable bottles|
|TRX bands (for working out)|
|Activated charcoal (for food poisoning and diarrhea)|
|Electrolyte tablets (such as NUUN)|
|Dried / candied ginger (for upset stomach)|
|Anti-itch cream / Calendula|
|Work Notebook & pens|
|Airpods / noise-cancelling headphones|
|Adjustable laptop stands|
|Back lumbar support pillow|
|Mini foam roller (for back pain)|
|Foldable yoga mat (doubles up as a pad under your feet if you stand and work at a counter)|
|Ergonomic wireless mouse & mousepad|
|Ergonomic wireless keyboard|
Whether you’re thinking about leaving your home to embark on your own digital nomad journey, or you’ve been doing this for years even long before the pandemic and are a seasoned digital nomad pro, this blog post should provide you with a few new tools to add to your belt. Happy traveling and happy working to my fellow digital nomads!
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