Digital Nomads: Outdoor Health & Safety

Working outdoors has big health implications, but it also brings a few things to the surface that aren’t dealt with indoors. In this post, I talk about what I’ve learned about cold & flu, and dealing with insects and wildlife to stay healthy.

Cold & Flu

Perhaps the most obvious thing about being out in the cold is getting a cold. This is no joke — being in low temperatures for long periods of time is a great way to get ill (and I don’t mean that in the Beastie Boys sense of the word).

But it might not be why you think — being cold doesn’t make you sick. Alaskans don’t get colds any more often than Australians… but even mild hypothermia can weaken your immune system, which can lead to a cold. However, bundle up! because studies are finding that acute cold exposure (like going outside in a nice cozy jacket) can actually activate the immune system.

I’m one of those people who rarely gets sick, but sitting in 15°F weather for 4 hours did it once. I learned that, in the winter, I need to keep my blood flowing well, and more often. When it’s under 30°F I get up and walk around for 5 minutes every hour. That seems to help keep my immune system working at 100%… but just to be sure, I try to eat more food that are rich in immune-boosting vitamins, like citrus fruits and kiwis.

Bugs

Yes, bugs. Not software bugs, or flu bugs or virus bugs, but actual bugs. The first bug that comes to mind is the mosquito. These little buggers (ahem) can be a serious problem if you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time, or just under-prepared. Not only that, but they can carry diseases as well.

Here in Colorado we have our fair share of them, and it was a new thing for me to learn. I’ve tried sprays, citronella bracelets, more sprays, long clothing and even just moving around a lot. Suffice it to say that the only thing that seems to work is to be strategic when you’re battling mosquitos. Think ahead. Before you rush out the door, grab that can of spray and a couple extra bracelets. Splurge on that citronella candle. But whatever you do, don’t do nothing.

I’ve had problems with other bugs, too, but it really comes down to the region of the world in which you live. Each place has its own set of critters. I’ve had giant spiders crawl up the back of my laptop and greet me by peeking over the top of the screen (resulting in me screaming like a little girl). I’ve sat in lines of fire ants on a park bench because some kid left a lollipop at the other end.

It’s no fun being bitten, stung or scared by thirty-five sets of eyes or a stinger the length of your little finger. Be aware of your surroundings. Take the extra moment to glance under that park bench, or around that tree stump before getting cozy. And of course, experiment with the various ways of mitigating the bugs in your particular area.

How I Deal with Bugs

Here in Colorado, bugs are only really a problem in the summer, and the problem is mostly represented by mosquitos, ants and spiders — with mosquitos really taking the cake.

After a lot of trial and error, I bought a box of 50 Evergreen Research Insect Repelling Bracelets, which I wear when I remember. In the summer, I usually keep a stash of them in the car.

In addition, I’ve found that the most effective way to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos is to simply cover up; wear long shirts and pants, socks & shoes instead of sandals, and even something around my neck. The tricky thing is that, in the summer, it’s hot. Wearing long clothing is not often comfortable. This was a tricky one.

Needless to say, wearing lightweight, breathable (and even inset-repelling) clothing is the ticket. But beware of the chemicals in insect-repelling clothing… make sure they’re safe. A collar really helps too, especially if you can get high, secure coverage.

Wildlife

While many nomadic workers are the outdoor-sy types who love animals, sometimes their presence can be surprising or even dangerous. For example, when I work out in the woods, I don’t leave an open pack of thick-cut bacon next to me. I’d inevitably get all kinds of predators coming to say hello.

Safety

In The Rockies we have bears, mountain lions, wolves, coyotes and all sorts of (adorable, but) dangerous animals, and to avoid an encounter, I have to know the basics of

  1. Not attracting them, and
  2. what to do when I do have an encounter.

Know the wildlife in your area — especially in remote regions where you’re in their home.

Critter Diseases

Many cute, cuddly critters carry diseases. In Colorado, the squirrels are everywhere in all seasons. While it can be tempting to try and feed them some of my Cliff bar, or cozy up to them when it’s cold, it’s not advisable.

It’s important to wash your hands after you’ve been anywhere near a place that these types of scavengers get into; like garbage cans, benches and BBQs. Creatures like this include badgers, squirrels, rats, mice, raccoons and even birds — especially scavengers like crows and vultures.