It’s been a year now since I’ve been living this lifestyle (digital nomad, location independent, nomadic lifestyle, whatever you want to call it) — moving to a new country every few months and making an earning from my laptop.
Here are 14 practical tips that have been tremendously helpful for me on my nomadic journey so far:
1) Have 3–6 months worth of savings if possible
I learned this from a book called Profit First by Mike Michalowicz for businesses where if you have 3 months worth of expenses saved up, you have a 75% chance of surviving in case something goes terribly wrong in your business. If you have 6 months worth of expenses saved up then you have a 100% chance of surviving any catastrophe that may occur in business.
I feel this principle can also be applied to people who live a location independent lifestyle where in a worse case scenario that your online business goes belly up, you lose a freelancing contract or lose your remote job, you still have 3–6 months of savings to keep you afloat and that’s an adequate amount of time to find a solution or find new work.
If you’re unable to save up 3–6 months worth of expenses then at the very least, have enough money saved up and set aside for a return ticket home.
2) Get a long expiring sim card from home
While you’re abroad you’re going to need your sim card from home to receive SMS codes from your bank and to verify yourself for a variety of online services (PayPal, Stripe, Google, setting up new accounts that require your country of residence, etc).
Before I left Australia I looked for carriers that had long expiry dates for credit (in my case it was a company called Vodafone which had a 365 day pre-paid plan) which meant I just needed to top up $5 once year to keep my number active.
Receiving SMS messages while overseas is free for most carriers around the world as far as I’m aware but be sure to double check with your carrier.
This one tip alone has saved me countless headaches compared to friends who have had to ask family and friends back home, waiting for them to be awake, etc to read out SMS codes to verify some sort of an online account.
3) Have a spare smartphone
Having a spare, cheap smartphone allows you to have your home sim card in one phone for receiving SMS codes while your other phone is used to insert local sim cards wherever you travel to for local internet.
It’s also handy as a backup in case you lose or damage your main phone.
4) Have at least one backup credit/debit card
Before you travel, make sure you’ve notified your bank that you’ll be abroad for an extended period of time (many banks that have internet banking allow you to do it online).
Several times while using my card overseas my bank has still flagged a transaction as suspicious and in situations where you urgently need to make a payment then it’s handy to have a spare card.
It’s a good idea to choose a bank that has 24/7 customer support — one time I was stuck needing to pay for a last minute intercity train ticket in Poland and both of my cards got blocked while trying to make the payment and it was 3am in Australia! Thankfully one of my banks had 24/7 customer support and they unblocked it for me right away after verifying me.
Try to get a card that has zero foreign transaction fees or one that refunds you the transaction fees.
5) Get Skype credit
You never know when you need to make an international call (like my Poland example above). Over the course of the last year, I’ve had to make international calls (mainly to my bank, PayPal or an international company) about 5–6 times.
Making calls to anywhere in the world is incredibly cheap with Skype. Just load some credit onto your account and you’ll be able to make international calls whenever you need as long as you have an internet connection
6) Flight “Hacking”
My favourite site to check for flights is Skyscanner. You can save A LOT of money if you have a play around with the flights, dates and sometimes stop overs.
Hack #1: Sometimes buying a return ticket is cheaper than buying a one way ticket (even if you don’t use the return trip). I was in Turkey and wanted to go to Poland and a one way ticket would’ve cost $260 AUD ($189 USD) while a return ticket costs only $150 AUD ($108 USD).
Hack #2: Be flexible with your dates and check on Skyscanner the different prices for different days, there can be huge fluctuations in prices depending on what day and time you fly.
Hack #3: Sometimes flights can work out much cheaper if you book separate tickets to each stop over point. Also look at flights leaving from different or nearby airports.
In Poland I was living in a northern city called Gdansk and I wanted to go to Chiang Mai, Thailand next. The cheapest flight would’ve costed $726 AUD ($527 USD). Instead I found it was much cheaper if I took a train to Warsaw for $20 AUD ($14 USD), spend a night at an airbnb next to the airport to get plenty of rest for $30 AUD ($22 USD) and then book a ticket that goes from Warsaw to Bangkok the next day for $285 AUD ($207 USD) then finally a separate ticket from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for $30 AUD ($22 USD).
Sounds like a lot of moving around but the flights were exactly the same! The only difference was I paid for the flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai separately instead of in one ticket.
It worked out to be a total of $365 AUD ($265 USD), inclusive of my train to Warsaw and airbnb for the night — a very nice saving of $361 AUD ($262 USD) which I put towards some investments. This amount saved is also about the cost of eating out everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Chiang Mai for 3–4 weeks!
During my research I also check for individual tickets to alternative stop overs, for example Warsaw-Moscow-Bangkok-Chiang Mai or Warsaw-Istanbul-Bangkok-Chiang Mai or Warsaw-Finland-Bangkok-Chiang Mai, etc since sometimes flights can work out much cheaper this way. I regularly save anywhere from $100 — $500 on flights by spending the time to do some research like this.
If you don’t have the time to do all the above then there’s a company that actually does all this research for you to find the cheapest deals: https://www.koryane.com
I’ve used Koryane a couple of times and they’ve been great although for some weird reason I find it oddly satisfying to find these deals myself so I only use them when I’m short on time.
7) Having an onward ticket
Most of the times I don’t plan out my destinations in advance and choose where to go one country at a time. This generally means buying a one way ticket.
The problem with having just a one way ticket is that some countries, some airlines and some staff won’t give you your tickets or allow you to board unless you have an onward ticket.
Rather than buying an onward ticket or forking out extra money to buy a refundable ticket, I use these guys: https://bestonwardticket.com
For $12 (at the time of writing this), you can get a real onward ticket to show at the airport. Make sure you check their working hours and take into account how long it’ll take for them to deliver your onward ticket.
These tickets are real and valid for 48 hours from the time of issue — after those 48 hours, the ticket automatically gets cancelled.
Also make sure that you enter a date for the onward ticket that is some time in the future, not the same day that you’re flying which was a silly mistake a friend of mine made!
8) Gather intel and get help from expats, nomads, and locals before and during your visit
Before I travel somewhere, I look for Facebook groups of the destination I’m going to in addition to the regular Google searches.
You can type into Facebook something like:
“City name” + expats/nomads/digital nomads/english speakers/travellers/couchsurfing
Expats/nomads/digital nomads/english speakers/travellers/couchsurfing + “City name”
Here are two active groups that I use:
You should be able to find several different Facebook groups to join and see related groups to join as well. These groups offer valuable information and you can ask for help, receive feedback, learn new things and stay up to date with events, etc.
Make sure you at least do some research and use the search function in the groups to find your answers before you post a question though (and make sure to read the rules too!) — sometimes the same questions get asked repeatedly and can get irritating to other group members.
Some of the common things I use these groups for are to research and understand about visa questions, accommodation, areas to stay in, interesting events and recommendations for services such as internet, transport, important local apps etc.
9) Food, Accommodation, Transport
Your three biggest expenses will be Food, Accommodation, Transport (F.A.T — I only realised this acronym after sharing this tip with fellow travellers) — optional, but if you can reduce all 3 (reduce the F.A.T!) then you’ll drastically reduce your expenses.
I usually spend 1–4 months in each place and cook my own meals, rent an apartment (so I’d be paying around the same price as locals that rent) take public transport/rent a bike/walk (depending on which makes more sense in the city I’m in).
This allows me to eat healthy, live like a local (it’s what I prefer but you may have a different travel style) and get around just like locals do while saving a ton of money which can then be put towards savings, investments or other luxuries.
10) Important Apps
The apps I always use while travelling are:
1. Google Translate — this has helped me so many times when I needed to communicate in a foreign language. I use a mixture of body language and translate simple one or two words to get my point across
2. Google Maps and Maps.me — you can download the entire map of a location when you have internet so you can search and navigate your way around even if you don’t have any internet
3. Couchsurfing — a great app to connect with locals and other travellers. You don’t need to actually stay with people if that’s not your thing, I mainly use the hangouts feature to meetup and make friends with locals who are interested in meeting travellers to show you their city and make a new friend. You can also find interesting events to attend as well
4. Facebook Local & Meetup — finding events to attend for socialising and making new friends
5. Local apps — when you make friends, ask them if there are any must have apps you should know about such as ones for public transport times, buying public transport tickets, etc.
6. XE — I use this to understand the currency conversion so I have an idea of how much something costs in AUD or USD which I’m most familiar with.
11) Buy an elastic washing line
These are perfect for when you need to hang your clothes to dry and there’s nowhere else to put it. You either use the suction cups, use the clips or tie a little knot around something so you can hang your clothes on the line.
I use ExpressVPN to set my location to back home in Australia when I need to log into banking services, Stripe and PayPal so they don’t flag my account or block it due to seeing it being logged in from different countries all the time.
I also use it when I want to watch Netflix and need to bypass restrictions or unlock content in certain countries.
13) Pack light
My entire belongings weigh about 7–8kg so I only travel with a carry on. I understand that this isn’t feasible or even desirable for everybody, so do what feels best for you.
The more I’ve travelled, the less items I realised that I needed and I’ve now consolidated down to only the essentials that I definitely use.
Choosing the right materials for clothes (merino wool is my favourite) that dry quickly, are anti-bacterial along with versatile colours can greatly reduce the amount of clothes you need which reduces weight and luggage size. Utilising the layering method for keeping warm with thermals, and a light down puffer jacket allows me to stay perfectly warm even in most cold places while remaining super light compared to having large bulky clothes.
I rate my belongings on a scale of 1–10. 10 being I’ll definitely use it, and 1 being I will rarely use it if ever. Anything below a score of 7 or 8 then I don’t keep.
If I need anything while on the road (for example if I travel to a very cold country during winter and need a thick jacket) then I’ll buy what I need and just think of it as if I’m renting it and at the end of my trip I’ll sell it, give it to a friend or donate it.
Travelling this way has helped me to not be attached to material things and saves me a ton of time packing and moving to each new destination.
It’s such a liberating feeling knowing that you have your entire life’s possessions with you in a small carry on. I’d also imagine that it would save me a ton of money each year on not having to pay for extra check in luggage.
14) Slow down
Loneliness, feeling burnt out and exhausted are common problems I hear from others who’ve been travelling for an extended period of time and I’ve also experienced these feelings myself.
A lot of effort goes into moving to a new destination and moving around too often can wear you down — finding accommodation, figuring out how to get around, figuring out where to go if you’re interested in sight seeing or looking for grocery stores and gyms if you’re staying for longer periods, figuring out how to communicate with people if English isn’t widely spoken, sorting out internet, exchanging cash or withdrawing, etc.
By moving to a new destination too quickly, you also don’t often have enough time to get to know people and build meaningful relationships, leaving yourself feeling lonely.
Learning this very early on in my travels, I decided to opt for slower paced travels so that I could spend more time in each place making genuine friendships, learning about their lives and stories, making memories with these people, participating in local community events, etc and now it feels like I have families and loving friends in various different parts of the world who look forward to me coming back to visit as if it were my home, rather than being a wandering soul that quickly passes through a country to tick it off a list, constantly feeling lonely and rapidly meeting different faces all the time but never truly getting to know one.
That’s it! I hope you’ve found these tips helpful and I wish you all the best with your own journey :)
If you’ve got your own tips that you want to share, leave it in the comments section!