15 Digital Nomads Share Their Best Advice on Unplugging from Work and other Lifestyle Challenges.

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When people search “Digital Nomad” on Google, they are immediately sold a dream: laptops on the beach, smiling faces, and palm tree hammocks portray a lifestyle ultimate fulfillment and relaxation.

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But experienced nomads know that those pictures are derailing 😉 The privilege to work from amazing locations or with flexible schedules comes with its own set of challenges that rarely gets discussed — such as the difficulty of self-discipline or the inability to unplug from work.

As organizers of retreats for remote workers, we strive to identify the most common challenges of the lifestyle and how to make it sustainable over the long term. That’s why we decided to ask 15 of our nomad friends the 3 following questions:

  1. What has been your biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle? Did you overcome it? If yes, then how?
  2. Do you struggle to unplug from work? What is your advice to avoid burn-out?
  3. What tools/activities have helped you to achieve a better work-life balance?

There is a lot of wisdom in their answers. We hope you will find them as useful as we did. Let us know in the comments! 😊😎

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

It’s surely a cliche, but my main struggle as a nomad was how to properly combine work and travel. Having a travel blog as my own business meant that I could work from anywhere and not have any strict work hours, which is definitely amazing! But it also meant that all my travel activities were (in a certain sense) work and that there were no clear boundaries. I found it difficult at times to get into the work “bubble” when I was really in the travel “bubble.” I quickly understood that I could only be effective if I compartmentalized things more. I had to tell myself: “OK, this is work now”. Or: “I can have fun now, it’s fine, I’m off the clock.”

I should mention I was nomading full-time a bunch of years ago when nomad retreats or nomad co-working spaces weren’t yet so common. I think it’s easier nowadays to find likeminded people, which I think is very helpful in overcoming the challenges (and enjoying the benefits) of the lifestyle.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

I think the big difficulty with having your own business is that there is always more work. There is always something you could improve or expand and no boss to tell you that you’ve done enough and can go home now. Basically, the work is potentially infinite.

I would sometimes work insane hours on my blog and continue deep into the night, especially when I was single and no one would question it. Honestly, I think it was sometimes valuable to keep working long hours as I’d be in a flow or just excited about creating something. But if I did it too often it would really mess up my energy and schedule. I think a good way to unplug from work every day is to have a ‘pretend commute’. At a certain hour just close the laptop and then go walk for half an hour. It clears your head and lets you switch into non-work mode a lot more easily.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

There are Chrome extensions such as StayFocused, that let you limit your time on social media or other distracting sites while you’re working, which I’ve found very useful. I prefer to do a certain number of hours of focused work in a day and then chill, instead of the typical office job behavior of stretching the work out into 8 hours by faffing around. I like to switch off any work-related notifications so I don’t get tempted back into work after I’ve done my things for the day.

👉 Connect with Marek

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

Self-discipline and focusing on the right tasks at the right time. But I believe I became much better after all these years.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

Balance out with hobbies and activities which help to unplug (different for everyone).

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Reflecting and good time management to increase productivity and to learn from previous mistakes.

👉 Connect with Oli

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

Not feeling at home. For the first few years, I loved it, but after a while, I started feeling like needing a base. So I decided to settle in Lisbon. As I still have itchy feet, it’s a good compromise because it’s a vibrant city full of expats and nomads where I was able to settle down, but I can still keep traveling.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

I actually experienced 2 burn-outs in 2 years. My advice is to always keep your health (mental and physical) in focus.

I also swear by routines. I like experimenting to find the routine that suits me best at a certain time of my life. Then I allow myself to play around or drift away from it, but I always know I have a system that works that I can come back to.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Routines and having a dedicated workspace. Not working from my bedroom, for example. And making sure I unplug in the evening and get some quiet, alone time in the morning.

👉 Connect with Nour

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

Initially, it was feeling like I was different from my family and friends who had regular lives. I felt that it was nomad life vs regular life and that caused me the stress of dealing with this feeling of separation, but then I realize that we are still “the same tribe”, just with adjusted values.

I also doubted that I could keep up relationships with friends and family while traveling, but I discovered that you can if you make the effort to stay in touch online and meet offline whenever possible. Most of my friends with regular jobs are spread all over the place anyway.

Many times I felt the need to return to a familiar place, like a home base, because being in constant exploration (of places and people) can be exhausting, also considering we go through our own internal journey of emotions. We have a very ancient brain that can only process so much information. I believe it’s the key to take time off to make sense of what we experience and reassess our plans looking forward. So far the home base has been my parents’ place but I intend to find or create another one in the next years. Having a partner also helps to have that sense of “security”.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

My best advice to avoid burnout is to realize that inner peace and contentment only exists in the now: there is no ultimate goal to reach, nothing to prove. We can strive to make things happen without being attached to the outcome. Sometimes I forget that.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

- 30-minute morning routine before breakfast/work. 10 minutes of exercises and 20 of anapana meditation (training the focus on the breath)

- taking walk outside every now and then to process thoughts and move the body

- frequently exchanging audio messages with close friends throughout the week

- Leechblock extension to block websites like Facebook from 9 to 18

- not having the Facebook app on my phone and being mindful with the other apps

- from time to time doing something creative without goals (like a DJ mix)

👉 Connect with Dario

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

In the beginning, it was loneliness and the difficulties to connect on deeper levels.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

To really focus on your life/work balance and to really give yourself periods of time to switch off from work and being online.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Borderless retreats :) I use Toogl app to track my time and it helps me to know exactly how long I have been in front of the computer.

👉 Connect with Michelle

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

Being grounded somewhere. So starting my life in a place, and making new friends, and then having to get up and start over again. I love to travel and the nomad lifestyle, and internet web chats allow us to work around this, but that feeling of being grounded somewhere for 3–6 months is growing more on me as I get older.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

My advice is not to judge yourself. Was just speaking to a friend about this actually. As humans, we ALL burn out. We ALL want to cheat on our diet, we ALL want to spend more money than we should once in a while. So I say instead of working against yourself, schedule it. Schedule your cheat days, schedule your days to relax. When you’re feeling burnt out, understand how many days in between your next burnout, then schedule it. It’s better to be prepared so you know what to expect and can work around it. Judging yourself will only make you dig a deeper hole.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Tons. Chrome extensions, social media managers, blogs, youtube. There are plenty of resources online on how to cut down time spent.

👉 Connect with Omar

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

Loneliness. Especially with COVID I felt extra isolated. It’s part of the reason I joined a startup to build a community for digital nomads.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

Yes. I really struggle with this. It’s hard when there’s never-ending work and it feels like everything needs to be done yesterday to let yourself stop and relax. My advice is to remember why you work remotely and do more of that — f.e. go hiking, surfing — whatever it is.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Yoga and meditation 🙌 I have a daily morning practice that is the most important part of my day.

👉 Connect with Martha

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

I would say my biggest struggle has been dealing with the unforeseeable future, such as lack of stability in all aspects. I wouldn’t say that I have completely overcome it but I find that daily practices such as meditation and gratitude allow me to focus on the beauty of the present moment and understand that if I stay within my passions I will always be in the right place. It has been about breaking free from the mundanity of daily routine and allowing for the experience of new places and people to become a normality. Another big struggle for me has been dealing with frequent alienation — not being able to fully feel ‘at home’ wherever I am because ‘home’ is always changing. The most important tool to combat this overwhelming feeling has been to seek home and refuge within myself and embrace the constant change. Everything else seems to fall into place.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

I have a fixed daily teaching schedule so it is easy for me to unplug from work. In my experience, avoiding burnout involves prioritizing self-care over anything else, which for me includes spending time with people, dancing, enjoying nature, reading, writing, or anything that brings me into alignment with my core.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

I spent years building up an online teaching career, which involved rearranging my schedule, working super long hours to super short hours, going astronomically broke, then eventually balancing out. Now my work schedule is ideal for my lifestyle. It required a lot of patience but I had a vision for how I wanted my work schedule to look like and I didn’t give up on it. Sometimes it just takes a while. I also write blogs from time to time, but I always set aside a few hours a week for this and I make a rule for myself that I cannot engage in any other activities during this time (especially social media) and I always get it done.

👉 Connect with Ashlyn

Hey, if you’re interested in getting inspired by different ways of building healthy habits — download our Extensive Wellbeing Guide for Nomads and Remote Workers for free from HERE.

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

The biggest struggle has been finding a community and making friends. This isn’t easy with moving around, and it’s even harder since COVID! Still working on overcoming it.

The thing that helps the most is just being willing to be uncomfortable and to put yourself out there. There are amazing people everywhere it’s fun to meet them! :)

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

I struggle at times. It helps to have fun hobbies you look forward to. For me, having a book I’m enjoying reading really helps because I want to get my work done so that I can read!

I also think the best way to avoid burnout is to find work you love and meets your purpose.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Going to a co-working space and working there for the day helps to keep the separation at a good balance.

I can also send you guys a digital copy of my book on work-life balance and you can feel free to share it anywhere and with anyone for free.

👉 Connect with Jordan

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

I noticed my pattern of seeing traveling as a form of escaping from the reality back at home. Every time I come back home I feel drained from my energy cause my reality and reality of my parents and other members of the family clashes. It is hard to communicate and often I do not feel being heard. I am teaching myself to take it as lessons in my spiritual journey to practice understanding, love, and compassion, instead of judgment, fear, and resistance. It is a never-ending practice.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

I do have a hard time with deadlines. Setting up the timeframe for projects always causes fear of not having enough time. I noticed this pattern repeating since my time at the university. I thought that with my current work I will not suffer from the same thing, but our patterns are so deeply rooted that even if my work is way more enjoyable and organized I still feed the fear of time running out. If I don’t catch myself early enough I can reach the state of exhaustion. To avoid that I am teaching myself to create a better structure for each project — break it down into small pieces and maneuver tasks on a timeframe which limits me to a reasonable amount of work every day. Piece by piece, bit by bit. It needs way more time beforehand spent on managing and structuring but gives more peace of mind while executing the task.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Scheduling time for myself every morning. It prepares me for the day and taps me into a positive mindset. I wake up at 7 am and start a day with movement practice (usually flow vinyasa yoga or dance practice) which I finish up with breathwork and meditation. I journal every morning (found “5 minutes journal” very helpful in my gratitude practice. After that, I am having breakfast and start my work. I always have my “to-do list” for that day prepared the day before.

At the end of the day, it is more difficult for me to schedule “me time” cause often times I cannot fully plan how the day will look like. Because of that, to avoid breaking promises to myself, I take mornings as me time no matter what, leaving space in the afternoons and evenings for social life, leisure, running errands, and sometimes for more work if necessary.

👉 Connect with Marta

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

Managing my health issues. I take a life-long treatment for my liver transplant. Long story short, it’s more convenient for me to live in France (as for now).

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

Being disciplined and productive in the morning and taking it easier at noon :)

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Meditation, CrossFit, going to events and cooking (because it forces me to slow down).

👉 Connect with Wesley

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

I would say my initial biggest struggle was getting involved and making intentional connections with people in a new place. I feel like I’ve found what works for me to overcome this which is by having places I regularly frequent — whether that’s going to the same coworking, cafes, local baker, etc. so that I see the same people frequently and start making relationships.

That, as well as any type of group event or Meetup, is awesome for meeting people with similar interests — whether that’s craft beer, cooking or coding.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

Yeah, I definitely struggle to unplug.

Avoiding burnout… hmmm I don’t know if I have good advice here. I’ve been burnt-out and I’ve stepped away from positions because of it. Nowadays I’ve set up my work contracts with the goal of having more personal time — as well as I now better manage expectations and when in-doubt — give myself extra wiggle-room on deadlines vs having the extra stress/intensity of barely making it.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

When I do achieve balance it’s because I’m keeping life and workspaces (physical and mental) separate — i.e. coworking or sticking to a schedule of blocks of focused work with set cutoff times that I make myself follow.

I’ve found that having some type of physical activity to delineate between work and leisure time helps a lot. So I enjoy going to the gym or some other kind of exercise after I finish work.

I’ve also realized that just by jotting down a rough guideline of how I want to spend my day has made drastic improvements. Making space for my schedule and planning out my day — even if/when I have to change it on the fly — helps me stay more or less on track for the priorities of the day and leaves me feeling accomplished.

👉 Connect with John

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

Finding places with the perfect balance of city/nature, things to do, places to relax, places to work, people to connect with, and sunshine! Lisbon definitely ticks all those boxes I have never found anywhere else quite like it :)

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

I love what I do so it’s easy to let it consume me! I plan my week on a Sunday and before planning my work I plan in time with friends/family and also exercise/time in nature. When these things are in my calendar I’m much less likely to skip them this really helps me keep balance.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

I use Google Calendar to plan my time and Notion to organize all of my life admin, business task, goals, and projects. I try to think about how I want to FEEL at the end of each day and at the end of each week and then ask ”Is what I’ve planned going to result in me feeling content, productive, energized, connected, etc or do I need to plan in some more activities that will help me feel this way?” Also turning notifications off on my phone and using Voxer for client communications instead of Whatsapp really helps to make the distinction between work and non-work time.

👉 Connect with Erin

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

Finding people to connect with — like-minded, purpose-driven, growth-oriented.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

I am still overcoming burnout, so the only advice I could offer is to have a detailed schedule that works for you, and prioritize your mental and emotional health. Learn that it’s ok to say no. Learn to not feel bad when you take the weekends off to do things that are non-work related. Learn to communicate boundaries and switch off time with your clients clearly.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Planoly as a management tool for work and life. Switching off the laptop and getting out of the house during weekends — far away from the laptop! Lol!

👉 Connect with Bhaggawent

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1.The biggest struggle while having a nomadic lifestyle:

I know it sounds very mundane and trivial, but my biggest struggle has always been related to my stuff. Because I have been traveling now for 11 years almost non-stop, I didn’t build an attachment to houses but to my belongings. Now I have stuff in South Africa, in Portugal, and in France. I would love to be able to access them all but I struggle to have a place that makes it financially viable to have and access to while still being able to travel.

2. Advice to avoid burn-out:

For me, everything is work, but nothing is work. Work/life balance doesn’t mean anything because my life is the story that I am writing every day and there is no separation between what is “work” and what is not.

3. Tools/activities to achieve a better work-life balance:

Cf question above, there is no separation for me in what I consider as work and what I don’t consider as work.

👉 Connect with Romain

In conclusion, the biggest struggles are loneliness, finding a healthy work-life balance, and feeling like not really belonging to any place in the world.

From the stories above you can also find invaluable advice from personal experiences — to better deal with those challenges: like connecting with nomad communities, having a fixed schedule and prioritizing self-care.

Written by

💻 We run retreats for Nomads and Remote Workers that focus on ✌️ Wellbeing and building a strong sense of ✊ ✊🏾✊🏻 Community 🇵🇹 www.borderlessretreat.com

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