How To Plan Travel as a Digital Nomad: 3 Quick Tips
Planning travel as a digital nomad?
Traveling as a location-independent employee or entrepreneur isn't too difficult, but it is very different than traveling for a vacation and taking an entire break from work.
Why? Well, because while you travel, you'll need to be able to have internet access and structure your days wisely so you can get your work done.
Here are three quick tips for planning travel as a digital nomad.
Especially if you're new to working online, these may be helpful for you!
1. Stay at a place where you can get work done
When you're traveling as a digital nomad, you know that you will need to find time during your day to get work done on your laptop or phone.
Airbnb is one of my favorite booking sites to utilize when I am working + traveling as staying in a home versus a hotel can come with many benefits.
For one, WiFi is often included at Airbnbs (versus some hotels that charge daily fees), and two, you can often find homes that will have an area for you to work on your laptop - be it a desk and chair, or dining table.
What if you don't want to stay at an Airbnb?
Staying at hostels as a digital nomad
If I'm traveling solo, I sometimes book a hostel (always using Booking.com and Hostelworld to check ratings first) as I find hostels as easier way to meet people. For me, I get antsy if I go too long without socializing, so when traveling solo I like to surround myself with as many people as possible. Doing this, I've made friends from all over the world and always have people to adventure with when I'm not working!
On my last big trip through seven countries (Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Australia), my favorite hostel was The Moment in Ao Nang, Thailand. This place was only $10/night, included WiFi, and had plenty of "common areas" to work or hang out with other people.
There was one area with cushions that I'd sit on with my laptop at night and jam out some work tasks. Other people were working or doing travel planning, and I was able to meet even more people that way!
I also really liked The Pod Sydney which was located in Downtown Sydney, Australia. The beds in shared rooms were very "private" with curtains, extremely comfortable, and had fresh sheets, towels, and an amenity kit with shampoo, body wash, etc. They provided tall lockers that were big enough to fit a regular sized suitcase so you didn't have to leave anything out. They had WiFi, a full kitchen, and plenty of seating that I utilized when I worked from my laptop in the morning.
Staying at hotels as a digital nomad
Hotels are also great places to stay for working online as a digital nomad, too - I wouldn't discount them at all!
Hotels can be more expensive and oftentimes charge a fee to use the internet. If you're traveling solo, I feel like you can get lonely if you stay in hotels for too long (maybe that's just me though).
During my recent trip I stayed at The Sheraton in Hong Kong. They had Wifi, the room and bathroom were super clean/nice, and it had a desk. While I did utilize having a desk, I'll admit I liked sitting in the big, comfy bed with YouTube shows on the smart TV in the background while I worked on my laptop, too.
Oh, and having access to a gym for the first time in a month was awesome.
Okay, hotels are pretty nice when you're traveling as a digital nomad. :)
2. Be sure to have good WiFi access
As much as you try, you may not always have access to decent WiFi abroad.
However, if you plan ahead of time and book places to stay that have WiFi (or at the very minimum, note the locations of a nearby Starbucks or other cafe with reliable internet access), then you should be good to go.
To many people, being "available" on their phone while on vacation sounds like torture. Though if you're working while traveling and need to stay up-to-date on emails and other notifications, having data on your phone is essential.
How to access WiFi from your phone during the day:
- Use T-Mobile plan if you're from the US, which includes international roaming for no extra fees (this worked great in many countries I've traveled to, such as Mexico, though there were also many times it did not work in Europe and Asia - read my T-Mobile international review here)
- Use a mobile hotspot
- Naturally go about your day and if you end up in a location with free wifi, connect and check in
- When in doubt...Starbucks, Wendy's, McDonalds, or another restaurant that has a "free wifi" sign.
Best free apps for mobile communication
- Zoom for video conferencing
- Skype for video conferencing and/or mobile calling on wifi
- FaceTime Audio for calling - you can call "regular" (non-iPhone) numbers over WiFi on FaceTime Audio - when I was in Bali, I used FaceTime Audio on WiFi to call my bank back home for free!
- Facebook Calling or Video Calling over WiFi
- Slack - team communication messaging app you can use on your phone or computer
What if the country you're visiting blocks certain websites or apps you need for work?
If you're traveling in a location (such as China) that has heavy internet censorship, do a quick Google search before you travel to see if any websites or apps you regularly use will be blocked in that country.
Note that I said do a quick Google search BEFORE you travel...yeah, China blocks Google. (You may have never thought you'd have to use Bing until now!)
If that is the case, I recommend downloading at least two VPNs on all your devices so you can access those sites. Make sure to communicate this with your boss or teammates before you travel as well.
Here is a post I wrote after working in China in 2015. #5 goes over VPNs. It's geared toward traveling in China, but you can generally apply the VPN tip to traveling anywhere.
3. Plan out chunks of your day for work
When planning your trip, factor in work time and adventure time.
Be realistic and stay disciplined because you want - and need - to get paid!
If you know yourself and don't think you'll be able to travel on a working vacation (and want to take a complete break from work), then ensure all your bases are covered before your trip:
- Make sure all your clients are aware of how long you'll be away and that your work is completed beforehand.
- Have your employees or virtual assistant be trained and ready to go before you leave.
- Have as many systems and automations in place that can help you run your business without you always needing to be physically present.
How to balance work with travel
Plan out full-day work periods to balance full days of exploration
Last year when I was working online while traveling seven countries, I knew which weeks would require focused work presence and which were more flexible.
While I still got work in daily, I knew that in New Zealand I'd have to spend at least 2-3 days of the five I was there to hunker down and get work done.
The Airbnb I stayed in had WiFi and a desk, so I spent a lot of time "at home" working. When the WiFi went out (#travelprobs), I went down the street to a Starbucks and then a Wendy's to use their internet and attend a meeting.
Set aside the first few hours of your day for work before exploring
In Australia, I made a group of friends that I hung out with every day. There were days they would get up and explore right away, but I was working on a big project. So I would get up early, eat breakfast at the hostel and work for a few hours, and then go meet up with them after.
It was a nice balance of work and travel and I didn't feel stressed during the day knowing I had gotten my tasks done.
Know that sometimes you'll have to make sacrifices
During my recent trip to Mexico City, I had two meetings during the week. I'm so glad my T-Mobile phone plan allowed my phone to work the same as it did in the US, because I attended one of them from a Starbucks and one from a boat on the Xochilmico canals!
I definitely had to set aside some mornings, evenings, or random parts of the day to get more time-focused tasks done, but to be honest, it felt pretty incredible that I was working and getting paid while traveling.
Sometimes you'll have to make sacrifices or take "working days" where your trip doesn't feel like a vacation.
However, when you look at it, living a work + travel lifestyle where you can live wherever and work whenever is entirely worth it.
You are able to have the freedom and flexibility to travel without the tight constraints of limited vacation days from a typical corporate job.
Be responsible, cover your bases, but also make sure to have FUN and enjoy yourself while traveling!