How to Stay Healthy and Productive While Living as a Digital Nomad
A peek inside the life and habits of Tynan, an author, founder, coach, and die-hard self-experimenter
I can’t remember how I first heard about Tynan. It was probably when he got in the news for buying a private island with some of his friends. But then again, it might have been his articles on polyphasic sleep, finding the best cruise ship deals, or living the digital nomad lifestyle.
Regardless, he’s an interesting guy, as you’ll see here. He’s written seven books, created a blogging platform and a cruise-booking site, and coaches people on building better habits — all while living as a digital nomad.
Tynan has also, at various times, been a vegan, followed the grueling Uberman polyphasic sleep schedule, and lived—healthily—out of a van. Finally, he’s a classic hardgainer (a perpetual skinny guy) who managed to overcome that and put on a pretty impressive amount of muscle.
In this interview, Tynan explains how he eats, sleeps, and exercises in order to stay in perpetually good shape while he travels. He also shares his method for preventing jet lag, some thoughts on why he never gets sick, and the foundational components of his world-class system for building bulletproof habits.
What originally prompted you to start your blog? How has the blog, and its purpose, evolved over time?
I started it only because I was doing polyphasic sleeping and I wanted to remember what happened. As I had tried to switch to polyphasic sleeping in the past, I was so sleep deprived that I couldn’t remember much about it.
After rambling about polyphasic for a while, I had a small reader base, so I decided to start telling some of my old crazy stories, because I did a lot of pretty wild things in my early twenties. At that point I had a thousand or so readers, so I felt like I could never stop writing.
How much time do you think you spend in different locations these days?
It varies a ton, but a rough estimate might be 150 days in Vegas, 45 on a cruise ship, 40 in Hawaii, 30 in Budapest, 30 in Japan, 15 in China, 15 in Halifax, and the remaining 40 in other random places. I don’t have much confidence that that’s accurate, but it’s probably not too far off.
Overall, how much do your weight, energy levels, and overall health fluctuate? Are they very steady, or do you find you fall a bit out of shape and then get back into shape depending on what’s happening in your life?
They are extremely steady unless I do something drastic to intentionally alter them. For example, I weighed around 140–145 for as long as I could remember — until about five years ago when I ate a ton of food and didn’t miss a gym day for three months on a bulking program. I got up to about 170, and then when I went back to a normal diet I got back down to 160. Now I generally fluctuate between 155–163, probably based on how much I’m traveling.
John’s note: For reference, Tynan is 5'10" and 38 years old.
What do you do to avoid getting sick when you’re constantly on the move?
I never get sick — to the point of never having taken Tylenol or anything like that, and I don’t actually know why that is. I suspect that it’s a combination of good genes, eating generally good food, never using drugs or alcohol, drinking tea all the time, and having no stress.
What method do you use to deal with jet lag?
I feel like jet lag is such an easy problem to solve and people overcomplicate it constantly. If on the day you arrive, you have woken up at a reasonably appropriate time in your destination’s time zone, having had approximately eight hours of sleep in the preceding 24 hours, you will be totally fine.
For example, I recently flew from Paris to San Francisco. The flight left Paris at 9:15 a.m. and arrived in SFO at 11:45 a.m. The flight was about 12 hours long, and my goal was to wake up a few hours before landing, so it was important that I fall asleep very shortly after getting on the plane. So I slept 1–2 hours the night before, arrived at the airport totally exhausted, but slept easily on the plane and was adjusted to the new time zone when I landed. I probably cross an average of 20–40 time zones per month, and I never have jet lag.
I love your method of dealing with jet lag, but the big hangup there seems to be that, in many cases, you need to be able to sleep on a plane. Do you do anything in particular to help you sleep on planes, or has that never been an issue for you?
That’s the whole point of sleep-depriving yourself the night before. If you are tired enough, you will sleep.
Back when you started your blog, you were experimenting with polyphasic sleep. What was your experience with that? Do you still think it’s worthwhile?
I did it for a while and can confirm that it does “work”, which I wasn’t sure was true before doing it. I totally underestimated the inconvenience of the schedule and the inconvenience it would bring to friends, so I’m happy to not be doing it now. The adjustment phase is absolutely brutal, but it gets easier after day 5 or 6. If you absolutely needed that much time, it might be worthwhile, but I think it’s probably better for most people to just optimize the time they spend awake now.
John’s note: I have to think there are other downsides to polyphasic sleep. Otherwise, it would be much easier, and maybe even be the default human sleep schedule. At least one study has found that people who sleep less than eight hours per night, but on a regular schedule, feel subjectively okay even while objectively-measured mental performance suffers. This hasn’t been tested on polyphasic sleepers specifically, but it’s possible that the same thing happens: that polyphasic sleep impairs mental functioning and people just don’t feel it.
How do you exercise when you’re traveling?
I generally don’t, except on cruise ships where it’s very easy. I don’t really care about getting from “healthy and in shape” to “totally ripped”, so working out is not a top priority for me. Being very strict with my diet and workout routine when I’m home (and strict with my workout routine when I’m cruising) is enough to keep me in a good place.
What’s your current exercise regimen and schedule?
I work out every other day because it feels the same as MWF but gets me ~20% more workouts. I rotate through leg press day, bench day, and deadlift day, with two other smaller lifts per day. This used to take me about 40 minutes per workout, but I built a gym in my house, and now it only takes about 30 minutes. My friend Dick Talens made a workout routine for me in 2013 and I have just been doing the same thing ever since, increasing weights when I can.
For a workout, I only do weights and I alternate between these three:
- Barbell deadlift (2 warmup sets, 2 real sets)
- Chinup (3 sets)
- Rows (2 sets)
- Benchpress (2 warmup sets, 3 real sets)
- Incline press (2 sets)
- Barbell curl (2 sets)
- Leg press (2 warmups sets, 3 real sets)
- Stiff leg deadlift (2 sets)
- Cable crunch (1 set)
When I did this workout and ate a ton of food, I put on a lot of muscle. Now I eat less and think of it as just keeping me healthy.
John’s Note: This is as minimalistic of an exercise routine as it can get, but performed consistently, it’s still enough to get someone into above-average physical condition.
From a biological standpoint, training every day is superior to a MWF schedule, since it’s more volume and the seven-day week means nothing to your body. I generally favor this sort of schedule for people who are self-employed or otherwise have very flexible schedules, and the more common MWF (or something like that) for people who have a busy work schedule that their workouts have to be planned around.
What do you do for exercise when you’re traveling?
Cruise ships have gyms, so I do the closest analog to my regular workout that I can, and I don’t stress too much if it’s not as good. Outside of that, nothing, other than walking around and hiking.
Last I heard, you take a tea set with you. How much tea do you consume, and on what schedule? How does this seem to affect your sleep and energy levels?
Yes, I always travel with tea stuff and am pretty obsessed with tea. It’s very rare that I go a day without drinking it.
I make tea once per day, usually in the morning. If I’m making it just for myself, I usually use 4g of tea, but if I’m making it for more than one person I’ll use 5g. I then just keep re-steeping the tea all day, so that it’s essentially hot water by the afternoon. On days I don’t make tea, I do feel a little bit sluggish or tired, but I’ve found that if I just drink a ton of water that isn’t always the case.
Because I drink the same amount every day, I assume that my body has just become used to it and it doesn’t really affect my sleep or energy levels.
How do you find healthy food while you travel? And for that matter, what are your criteria for healthy food while you’re traveling?
I’m not all that strict on my diet when I travel, which makes it easy to find acceptable places. These days I tend to mostly go back to the same cities over and over again, so I tend to go to my favorite places where I can get good healthy food. In general, I try to make sure that I get a good amount of protein and vegetables and if I eat something that’s not good for me, it better be something that’s special to that place and “worth it”.
What made you decide to go vegan initially? Why did you reverse that decision a few years ago?
I went vegan because I read a book called “The China Study”, which I found very compelling. I like vegan food a lot, but I found it very inconvenient to eat while traveling. I thought that it was important for my health, though, so I was willing to do it. A woman named Denise Minger wrote some really excellent rebuttals to the China Study that made me question its conclusions, and ultimately led to me going back to eating meat.
While there are studies that show veganism can extend lifespan, there are also plenty of studies that show that it doesn’t. That lack of consensus leads me to believe that it is not an important factor.
John’s note: Getting into this topic requires taking a pretty deep look at research methods and how study results are statistically analyzed. My own take on the matter, however, is that a) the healthiest diet is primarily (not entirely) plant-based, and b) the observed benefits of veganism stem from a combination of adding fruits and vegetables and controlling caloric intake, not from removing meat.
You’ve recently begun eating only one meal a day. What made you want to try that? How difficult has that been, and what effects have you noticed from it? What do you eat to get enough calories from one meal a day?
I quit eating breakfast many years ago and really loved the extra time and lack of interruptions in my morning. A few years after that, a friend that I respect a lot starting talking about the benefits of doing a 24-hour fast once a week. I thought it was an interesting idea, so I tried it one day and when I realized how easy it was I decided to just do a ~23 hour fast every day.
The only real effect I’ve noticed is that my day is extremely convenient. I wake up, drink tea, and work or do whatever I want to do until dinner. I don’t have to prepare food, shop, decide what to eat, or anything like that.
When I’m home, I eat a giant Chipotle salad and usually a vegetable soup I make in bulk and freeze. When I travel, I never eat breakfast, but I usually eat lunch. I suspect that I’m at a slight caloric deficit at home, but that I end up compensating for it when I travel. Sometimes when I come back from a trip where I was eating two meals a day, I will get hungry around 4 p.m. or so. If I find that I’m too hungry to work, I will sometimes eat my soup an hour or two early.
Other than freeing up time, how has fasting impacted your productivity?
I think it’s possible that I have more energy when I have fasted, but I’m not sure if that translates into more productivity or if it’s just how I feel.
How does your fasting schedule interact with your workout schedule?
I tend to work out in the afternoon sometime between 2 and 4 p.m. I was surprised to find that fasting didn’t radically change my ability to lift or my experience lifting. I think there have been about 4–5 times where I felt like I needed energy, and I ate some fruit or a Kind bar.
I generally schedule my workout based on when I’m at a good stopping point for work and when the noise will bother my wife the least, because she works in the room next to the gym.
A lot of what you write about both health and productivity ties into habit formation. Is there a specific system you use to build or change your habits, or a resource that has helped you?
I’ve built my own system by experimenting on myself and wrote all about it in a book called Superhuman By Habit. I was previously very bad at building habits, so I did a lot of work and research to change that, and now I can essentially create any habit just by deciding to start doing it.
What system have you found most effective at holding yourself accountable for following through on your goals?
I think that the most important factor in building habits, and one that is often overlooked, is building absolute 100% self-trust. Most people don’t trust themselves at all, and if they tell themselves they’re going to do something, it’s basically a coin toss as to whether or not it will happen. I spent years building self-trust and now I know with certainty that if I tell myself I am going to do something, it will absolutely get done. I never break my word to myself under any circumstances.
The flip side to that is that I’m very careful about what I promise myself I will do — because I know that I will be completely obligated to do it no matter what.
The enemy of good habits is having a gray area where you have to evaluate whether or not to do something. Most habit systems are focused around making sure you always decide to do it. My method is to eliminate that decision and make it a foregone conclusion that it will happen. It takes time to build that self-trust, but it also means that building and sticking to habits is very easy afterward.
John’s note: This reminds me of a quote from Naval Ravikant “Tribe of Mentors” by Tim Ferriss: “Self-esteem is just the reputation that you have with yourself. You’ll always know.” I mentioned to Tynan and he said he agreed.
So this one is still a mystery to me — you seem to have a lot of projects going, but how do you make most of your money?
CruiseSheet is my biggest focus for my time and makes me the most money, but I also earn money from one-on-one coaching, live events, and the books I’ve written.
What is your daily work schedule? What do you usually work on at what times?
It really varies a lot. Sometimes I don’t work at all; other times I work like a maniac from when I wake up until when I sleep. A common day is that I tinker around with little tasks in the morning while I drink tea, then focus on my most important big stuff until dinner, and then either don’t work or do other lower-priority stuff in the evening.
Tynan is the founder of CruiseSheet.com and the author of seven books. He has been blogging for 15 years. He’s known for buying an island, being one of the main characters in the book The Game, gambling professionally for many years, and being a pioneer of digital nomadism and “van life.” Stan Lee once gave him the superhero name Quintessential Man.