So you want to be a Digital Nomad

I’m on the train heading back to London for Jamie Oliver’s hackathon Foodhack after a day in Brighton at #BrightonSummit where I was invited as a speaker on a panel around how to succeed as a Digital Nomad (DN).

In preparation for the panel I was forced to think about what have I learnt after visiting +30 cities in 20 months on the road. By no means do I intend this to be a comprehensive list, just the most important things that sprang to mind:

  • Start with why (as always): in my case I was chasing happiness. I was unsatisfied with my current circumstances and fled. I have since learnt that true joy and contentment are found within. Ironically I have never felt more fulfilled and happy than I am right now with a commitment leasing a room in East-London, working on my own projects from 9.30 am till 11 pm (but I do it by choice!).
  • Have a (flexible) plan: create a strong vision of what you want this adventure to look like but be flexible on your strategy (as in business). As you travel and meet people opportunities will increasingly present themselves and it can become hard to say no (#fomo). I personally experienced the anxiety described in the TedTalk: The Paradox of Choice, that ultimately led to paralysis through analysis.
  • But make sure to make space for grace: be adaptable, some of the most memorable and incredible experiences were unplanned, spur of the moment adventures. Ensure there is enough flexibility in your plan to allow for improvised detours.
  • Plan breaks: as energising and motivating as it can be to expand your horizons, in contradiction it can also be extremely exhausting. After many months on the road, operating on other peoples schedules around work/play/rest I found myself feeling completely depleted and spent most of the first 2 weeks of my stay in London resting in bed.
  • Self-awareness: Make sure to regularly “check in” with yourself. How are you feeling? What are you missing? Make sure you are proactive (not reactive) around planning. It’s very easy to get caught up in other peoples plans and needs. In order to maintain a sustainable DN lifestyle you MUST ensure your own needs to survive and thrive are taken care of. I frequently mismanaged my own state and found myself feeling sad and anxious only to realise I had been allowing external influences to dictate my choices.
  • Maximise income, minimise spending: “Getting money is like digging with a needle, spending it is like water soaking into sand” — Japanese proverb.
  • Make sure you have a $ buffer: this is something I failed miserably on and was a constant source of anxiety and stress that ultimately lead to an inability to be fully present in my experience I worked so hard to create for myself. I have found myself in both London & NYC with under $10 to my name and it is NOT FUN!!
  • Have a plan B: make sure you obtain certification or training in some skill that will allow you to fall back on in the event you decide (or need) to return to a full time job. When times get tough and you hit some obstacles and you start questioning your decision to be on the road I found it incredibly empowering from an emotional perspective to know that I had my Agile Consulting skills as a safety net.
  • Pack less: You probably need 30–40% of what you think you need. There are an infinite amount of posts dedicated to this. It can be incredibly frustrating to repeatedly unpack/pack your bag and realise that you have not worn/used a large number of the items you’ve been lugging around.
  • Facetime (the original): you know, face to face interaction. Don’t rely on creating and maintaining new connections required to sustain your DN lifestyle through the internet only. It’s much easier to build trust, explore opportunities and ultimately sell in person than it is through an online profile. It’s likely you’ll be able to charge much higher hourly rates for your services or close a deal with someone that you’ve met in person.
  • Be disciplined (know when to delay gratification): it can be REALLY hard to carve out time to focus. Many people (understandably) assume that because you’re travelling you’re on holiday (and it can be easy to not start thinking like this yourself). Avoid this trap. Prioritise whatever it is you need to do to ensure continuity of your DN life. Hang out with other DN, work from co-working spaces, get into a routine/habit/schedule.
  • Be a good house guest : this should go without saying. Airbnb bungalows, tents, hostels and hotels can be fun but there’s nothing like a home cooked meal and a comfy bed in the guestroom of a good friend. In order to make sure you continue to be welcome try and make as small a footprint as possible. Keep your bag packed/tidy. Interrupt their schedule as little as possible. Cook a meal. Wash the dishes. Offer to run errands. This way, if you ever need a place to crash in an emergency you’ll ensure you have options.

My personal travel notes for all:

  • Say YES more: get outside your comfort zone, this is where the magic happens. I was invited to join a new friend for a weekend trip in “El Valle” in Panama. I ultimately changed my flights and jumped on a local bus. It was one of the most magical experiences of my entire trip.
  • Get scared: do what makes you uncomfortable, makes your heart beat faster and gives you butterflies in your stomach.

My travel plans generally revolve around people and experiences, not necessarily locations or cultures. I’m not the only one that thinks that way, one of my new friends Yasmine El Baggari has launched a startup around this concept: Voyaj — Travel for a more peaceful world.

Operate from LOVE not FEAR

This was taught to me by another good friend Matt over dinner in Barcelona. When you meet someone ask yourself:

How can I help this person? Instead of the default: How can this person help me?

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