Programmers, web designers, editors or photographers: the professional spectrum on which location-independent working extends is multi-faceted. My guide gives you valuable first-hand tips in this article if you also want to become a digital nomad.
It’s eight o’clock in the morning on a sunny Monday on a small island in southern Thailand. The leaves of the palm trees on the beach of Koh Phangan blow peacefully in the wind, the hum of scooters roars from the rough streets into the cool co-working space with sea view. Where many Germans go on holiday, 30 digital nomads sit together in the glass office space and start their working week.
New Work Digital Nomads
New Work for me means first and foremost flexibility in terms of where I work. All I need for my job is good internet and my laptop. This is also the basic equipment of the majority of the digital nomads in Koh Phangan: MacBooks at every workstation, optionally with a portable second screen for the programmers, or iPads for drawing for the illustrators.
Challenge No. 1: Always on the hunt for the fastest internet
What sounds crazy to some is essential for digital nomads: the personal travel destination is chosen according to the quality of the internet. Internet sites like Nomadlist.com offer an excellent overview of the places with the fastest WiFi. In almost every destination, it is also advisable to get a local SIM card. In Thailand, I usually work with the mobile internet of my smartphone as a hotspot for the laptop. This allows me to travel much faster than with the local WLAN, especially on islands.
Co-working spaces often offer the fastest internet. Those who have many Skype calls a day should make sure in advance that there are separate meeting or Skype rooms. I usually contact the operator of the co-working space and reserve a separate room for my appointments.
How many digital nomads are there?
Worldwide, the field of neo-nomadism or location-independent working has not yet been deeply researched. The terms for this lifestyle, such as digital nomad, remote worker, online worker or new work as a collective term for the various trends of location-independent working, basically define a multi-local work and lifestyle. According to the Handelsblatt, there are about half a million digital nomads worldwide – and the trend is rising. According to a study by the consulting firm PwC, Generation Y (people between 25 and 35) in particular is open to the location-independent lifestyle: one in five could imagine working on the road in different places.
Many remote workers like to spend the winter time in the sun and return to Germany in the summer. Meetups are held in many major cities at this time. Since 2014, for example, there has been a Digital Nomads Event in Berlin in May, which now attracts over 1,500 visitors. DNX combines business talks on personal stories from location-independent online entrepreneurs with workshops on health topics and networking events for their target group.
Challenge No. 2: Finding the right place and space to work
While friends and family in Germany have to deal with the cold and wet weather, remote working travel enthusiasts can escape winter to warmer climes. In any case, there is no need to complain about a lack of vitamin D in most hotspots for digital nomads. According to Nomadlist.com, the most popular places are currently Lisbon, Canggu in Bali and Koh Phangan in southern Thailand, where I have currently pitched my digital tents. The advantage of Southeast Asian countries is obvious: the cost of living is less than 400 to 600 euros per month and you can enjoy dream beaches and good food.
Laissez-faire atmosphere on the beach? Not a chance!
Almost everywhere in the world, the meeting points and workplaces of the WiFi-hungry internet nomads are the numerous co-working spaces that make surfing at top speed possible. The working atmosphere there, however, does not at all correspond to the cliché of the digital nomad with a laptop in a hammock and a coconut next to it. Even if the global workers have escaped the dull neon light of the offices in Germany, the atmosphere in the co-working spaces is as focused as in a university library. Everyone is engrossed in their projects, there are separate Skype and meeting rooms and an adjoining restaurant for lunch breaks.
But it’s not just fast internet that drives many remote workers to the shared offices. The co-working spaces around the world also serve as a place for networking, encourage exchanges about one’s professional profiles and often host skill-sharing events. I was very inspired by the contacts I made there. Whether affiliate marketers, dating brokers or nutrition coaches: it’s exciting how differently people earn money online.
Brain research confirms: Travelling promotes creativity
What used to be part of the work routine for writers like Goethe and Schiller, many remote workers now take advantage of. The change of scenery through travelling has been proven to provide more creative input as well as inspiration, which also influences one’s own job. Brain researcher Professor Adam Galinsky of Columbia Business School used several studies to prove the positive influence of international travel on creativity. Stays abroad increase both our cognitive flexibility and the ability to produce an understanding of different ways of life, says Galinsky. According to Galinsky, the key to greater creativity lies in immersion in the local cultural environment. Someone who is not involved in the local community gets less creative promotion than people with local integration.
Challenge No. 3: Living and working in different time zones at the same time
When planning meetings, it is important to consider the time difference in many places. On the one hand, many digital nomads find the time difference in Asian countries pleasant. They usually start their working day without distractions, as their colleagues in Europe are still asleep. On the other hand, travelling to another time zone also means that you have to coordinate your appointments according to European times. So that the conversion to German time does not become too complicated, apps such as Time Buddy can provide support. The desktop version of Google Calendar also offers the option of setting two different time zones. This way, you can see at a glance where the time is at any given moment.
Boarding soon … or only at the weekend
What is no problem for holidaymakers or long-term travellers without work commitments is only possible with restrictions for full-time remote workers: although most online workers have flexible working hours, working from anywhere also means that no major leisure activities or excursions are possible on weekdays. Travelling on or back to the home country is also particularly challenging, which for many is often only possible at weekends as there is no time during the week. The associated jet lag can then only be cured with a few extra days of holiday.
Challenge No. 4: Securing data and equipment
Whether you are a tourist or a digital nomad, security plays a major role almost everywhere. Online workers protect their laptops and technical equipment like the apple of their eye. After all, nothing worse could happen than losing your laptop or other important work utensils. I bought a PacSafe a few years ago. It’s a kind of portable pocket safe with a combination lock for my valuables. When it comes to securing one’s tools of the trade, there are no limits to personal security needs. From back-ups for data protection to waterproof bags for rocking water taxi rides to dust and liquid protection for laptop keyboards, everyone ensures a secure workflow differently.
Challenge No. 5: “Slow Traveling” – Being able to balance work and private life
Like many digital nomads, I have also travelled far away for work to get to know other countries and customs while working. I see the environment here as inspiration for my own work, which gives me creativity. However, even at the self-chosen “desired place of work” – similar to home – there is the challenge of having to reconcile professional and private life, so that neither one nor the other is neglected. “Slow travelling” is a good option for digital nomads:
While employees who are tied to company locations only enjoy a long-distance trip for two to three weeks a year and often complete a veritable sightseeing marathon, remote workers can often take as much time as they like. Staying in certain places for a long time is called slow travelling and not only serves to maintain one’s work routine, but also allows for immersion in the respective culture. I try to get in touch with the locals during my travels. The best way to do that is to stay in a “homestay” with a local family.
5 lifehacks for working as a digital nomad
- For stays abroad, health insurance is indispensable. There are now special packages for digital nomads, such as Nomad Insurance from SafetyWing. If you are travelling outside of Germany for a longer period of time, you can put your German health insurance on standby or pause it.
- Who will take care of your mail while you are away? Digitising services for letter post are the solution to still being able to keep an eye on your mailbox digitally. Dropscan, for example, is one such scanning service that sends you your mail via the cloud.
- You should also save all important documents such as your passport or international driving licence as a digital copy in your Dropbox so that you can access them in the event of loss.
- Other countries, other sockets: It is also advisable to buy a socket adapter that is suitable for all types of international plugs.
- Work fast, travel slow: The more efficiently you use your working time, the more time you have to explore your destination. Therefore, maintain your routines and make sure you get enough sleep and exercise to ensure the quality of your work.
The 7 most important books for digital Zen nomads
- The 4-Hour Week by Tim Ferriss
- The Art of Living Differently by Chris Guillebeau
- Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
- 10% Happier by Dan Harris
- The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek
My favourite tools for digital nomads
Evernote: I use it to plan my life, document my thousands of ideas and manage all my projects.
Hootsuite: My social media management tool of choice. It allows me to easily manage multiple accounts and always have everything in view.
Adobe Photoshop: Simply THE image editing programme, it doesn’t get any better than this. However, most people don’t need most of the functions, so the Elements version is also sufficient.
Scrivener: The perfect and, in my opinion, best tool for all things writing. Blogposts, books, film scripts or bachelor theses – it rocks. I can no longer live without it.
Hosting Provider: HostEurope: I use it myself for all my websites and am very satisfied. Great service, great prices.
WordPress.org: The best platform for bloggers – Planet Backpack and all my other websites run on it.
Mindmeister: I use it for brainstorming sessions – be it for a blog post, general idea collection, organising my thoughts. It’s fun and great exercise.
Gmail: The best email client. I have all my email address integrated into it, don’t need an email client and have the best usability.
Dropbox: Here I collect all my important digital files in the cloud and can share files and folders with others (friends, clients).
Self-Control App: I often struggle with time management and productivity. This small, simple tool helps me. It blocks all distractions for a selected period of time. It’s simply better to work without Facebook, email and Twitter.
Adobe Lightroom: I use it to organise and edit my photos. Cool handling. A must if you often have to deal with a lot of photos.
WriteRoom: Undisturbed writing in the simplest text editor ever. That’s simply the best way. I also use it Copy & Paste to easily remove any formatting.
Skype: Must have – business calls and meetings, interviews, mum…
Google Docs & Google Drive: Super cloud tool and perfect for collaborating on projects.
ConvertKit: I use this to send out my newsletters and autoresponder for my email series. In my opinion the best email marketing service for professional bloggers. A great German alternative is Klick Tipp.
Google Calendar: Synchronises with smartphones, is clear and simply the best for my needs.
Feedly: Since Google Reader is about to be discontinued, Feedly is the second best choice. I use it every day to read all the blogs that interest me. Highly recommended for staying up to date.
Spotify: Probably the coolest music tool ever. Has pretty much every artist I love. For 9.99 euros, all tracks are also available offline. I also have the app on my iPhone, which syncs with the tool on my laptop. Perfect.
Freedom: Sometimes Pomodoro doesn’t help any more. Then the whole internet has to go in order to be able to concentrate. Freedom gives me offline freedom to be really productive.
Rescue Time: Tracking my internet and laptop usage.
Slack: A sensational tool for team communication.
Fastbill: Writing invoices and bookkeeping online.
Spotify Premium: Nothing works without good music and cool playlists, even on the iPhone.
Awesome Screenshot Addon for Chrome: Take screenshots of websites easily.
Canva: Cool graphics on photos
Final Cut: I use it to edit and cut videos.
Screenflow: For recording and editing tutorials on the laptop.
Sendowl: I use it to sell my e-books (and other information products).
Trello: For my to-dos and organising my business.
IPVanish & Hide My Ass: Access to blocked sites and for private, anonymous web surfing. A must.
Blog Camp: Become a successful blogger with our online course!
Search Engine Cockpit: Probably the best keyword research tool on the market.
Elance: Outsourcing jobs and assignments to freelancers worldwide (alternative: My Virtual Assistant)
Themeforest: The ultimate search engine for awesome WordPress themes.
Udemy and Lynda: Learn all the skills you need as a digital nomad.
Recommended smartphone apps
Google Maps: how can I still do without it!
TripAdvisor: I use it to get recommendations for restaurants and cafes on the road
xeCurrency: convert currencies
Happy Cow: worldwide guide to vegetarian and vegan restaurants
Forever Map: Offline maps when I don’t have mobile internet
Trail Wallet: document expenses while travelling
Instagram: My favourite social media app
Snapseed: Quick photo editing
VCSOcam: Great filters for photos
Instaplace – Cool app to put text and graphics on photos for instagram
Scanbot: scanning receipts, goes straight to my dropbox.
Squarespace Note: send quick reminders or notes to my email inbox.
Analytiks: visitor stats of my websites and blogs.
Speedtest: testing wifi connections in hostels and cafes to see if it’s worth staying for work.
Dare the Remote Work Adventure
So life as a digital nomad requires not only a lot of organisational skills, but also maximum flexibility and the will to leave your comfort zone. Things don’t always go smoothly, but those who rise to the challenges gain a surprise package of unique and unforgettable moments for life. Those who have now acquired a taste for embarking on the adventure of digital nomadism can rejoice. Anyone can become a digital nomad if they have the appropriate skillset needed to work in the online world.