I’ve been on the road since February 2017, changing the city I live in on a regular basis. I escaped the severe winter in Bulgaria by seeking refuge in the warm climate of South East Asia. Over the last eight months, I’ve been through Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai in Thailand, then on to Podgorica and Bar in Montenegro, Belgrade and Nis in Serbia and Varna in Bulgaria.
These are all popular destinations for the new generation of digital nomads – the people who’ve realised that the freelance economy and the ability to work from anywhere with an internet connection means that there’s no reason to be tied to a single place.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. One of the big problems is that just as you start to get to know a place and to establish relationships, you move to a different place and have to start over.
Meanwhile, you need to work all the time to keep up the lifestyle, which is what led me to developing some rules for myself that help me to travel and to get things done at the same time. It’s those tips that I’ll be sharing here, but don’t worry. They’re not the usual clichés like “get up early” or “plan your day”. They’re my own tried and tested life hacks based on the personal experience I’ve picked up throughout my travels.
1. Settle in place for at least two weeks
A lot of the people that I’ve met will spend only a couple of days in a single location, exploring it as quickly as possible and then heading back out on the road again to the next place. I secretly envy them because they’re able to see so many places, but I also know that that’s a sure-fire way to burn out if you’re a digital nomad.
The people who move from place to place so quickly aren’t true digital nomads because they don’t need to work while travelling. They’ve usually saved up some money in advance and are now just enjoying the world and travelling while doing the odd piece of work along the way. But that only works for a limited amount of time and when their savings end, so does the journey.
If you want to get things done then you can’t afford to travel to a new place twice per week. Packing, traveling and settling all take time and energy, and when you’re in a new place every couple of days, you’re constantly tempted to go out and explore them when you’re supposed to be getting things done.
2. Use co-working spaces
Co-working spaces are your best friend if you want to be productive. They typically offer rapid internet speeds and easy access to snacks and refreshments (coffee, anyone?) while providing a friendly and atmospheric temporary office. It’s also a great way to meet other digital nomads and to make connections while picking up tips about the local area and other potential destinations.
In fact, according to research by Deskmag and Deskwanted, 74% of coworkers are more productive, 86% have a larger business network and a third reported an increase in income. So if there’s a co-working space at a walkable distance from where you’re staying, it’s a no-brainer.
3. Stay active
Physical activity reduces stress and fatigue while improving alertness, concentration and overall cognitive function. In South East Asia, it’s not expensive to visit a gym and their facilities are often better than you’ll find back home. Yoga classes and swimming pools are everywhere. When I was in Chiang Mai, I had training sessions with a personal trainer in the back yard of our villa for just 300 baht ($9).
Believe me, it’s worth the investment – especially because you’re not going to order more than two sessions a week unless you’re a pro athlete. Most of us need time to recover, and I noticed that a healthy combination of rest and exercise helped me to be more focused and to get things done without any drama.
4. Beware heat and other distractions
Heat makes you sluggish, lazy and unproductive. Try to avoid overheating at all costs by making sure that your place has an air conditioner. You’ve probably seen photos of people drinking cocktails on the beach with a laptop on their belly. That’s BS, as anyone who’s ever tried it will know. The machine overheats, the sunlight shines off the screen and you get sand inside the USB ports.
When you work, work. When you’re on the beach, you’re on the beach. If you have to work on the beach then your work/life balance is off-kilter and you’ll want to reevaluate. The best places to work are those with air conditioning so you can stay cool and collected, but try to avoid distractions. Co-working spaces are ideal because it gets you out and about without putting you in a situation where everyone else is having fun. And most of them have air conditioning, too.
5. Avoid hostels
Don’t get me wrong, hostels are great for meeting people. In fact, I love staying at hostels because it’s the fastest way to find people to hang out with. But the problem is that most hostels cater more to tourists and travelers instead of to digital nomads. You’ll meet some wonderful people that you want to go out and have fun with, but that will stop you from working.
If your heart’s set on staying at one then spend your first couple of days in a new city at a hostel before settling in at an Airbnb place. Trust me, it’s worth it – if only for the fact that you can get a good night’s sleep. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been staying at a hostel and I’ve been woken up by someone coming home from a party at four o’clock in the morning when I had to work the next day.
6. Assign low priority to emails
One tip that I learned from Guy Kawasaki is that we’re not meant to be email answering machines. Answering emails is low priority, especially for digital nomads, which is why you should consider leaving your inbox alone. I tried it and was immediately surprised by how much more focused it made me feel. It also helps you to get more done in the same number of hours.
So my final tip is to give it a try. Keep your inbox closed for a day or two and see what happens. Nothing fatal will happen, and you can always catch up with them later. It turns out that life goes on if you don’t check your emails – and the people who really need to speak to you will find another way to get in touch.
Being a digital nomad isn’t always easy, but it’s infinitely rewarding and well worth doing if you’re able to. After all, travel broadens the mind and teaches us life lessons from the exciting new experiences we enjoy along the way.
It’s like Saint Augustine said: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” I’ll see you on the road.
Author bio: Georgi Todorov is a digital marketer. He recently started his NGO DigitalNovas. His passion is to help startups grow and thrive in a competitive environment. Georgi is also a partner at FortuneLords and PR expert for AdaptRM.