Lessons From Six Months Travelling and Freelancing
Being a digital nomad is the dream, as long as you stay grounded.
Six months ago, I finally stopped groaning about Paris, packed a 60L backpack, and left. As a freelance writer, I had realised over a year before that nothing was tying me down to the city of love, which had irrefutably lost its romance in my eyes. It still took a while to work up the nerve to leave though. Six months on, I am loving my digital nomad lifestyle. I first went back to India, a country I lived in for two years and missed deeply, before heading to Mongolia, Poland, Estonia, back to Mongolia, and from Sunday, onwards towards China. It is an amazing lifestyle, and one I feel incredibly lucky to enjoy, but balancing work and travel does take some skill. Here are the lessons I’ve picked up over the past six months, and several that I am still learning to apply in my own life.
1° Being a digital nomad is all it’s cracked up to be
There is something liberating answering the question “where do you live?” with a confused “well, everywhere and nowhere.” Not knowing exactly where I will be in a month’s time is exciting, but what is even more exciting is that, because I am working while travelling, a lot of opportunities are open to me. Like paying for food and accomodation. Not worrying about when I will have to stop travelling and do some work.
Over the past six months, I’ve worked from hamacs, from hobbit homes, from trains, airports, coffee shops, mountains, beaches… I am so lucky, I think to myself, at least thrice a week.
That being said, although you are living the dream, you will still find yourself being asked by friends and relatives when you’re gonna « get a real job, » and well-meaning loved ones will send offers for desk jobs your way. Read them over-looking the Himalaya, remember how glad you are to not have that job, and swiftly delete.
2° Striking a balance
As freelancers well know, it is tough not getting distracted. Even if the only external stimulation is a big pile of washing up, it can still be more tempting at times than that article you need to write. So when you have an entire country to explore, needless to say, the temptation of saying “eff it” to your work is high. That’s why you need to strike a balance to be both a traveller and a freelancer. This generally means creating boundaries. Either have a specific time of the day when you are working, before taking time off, or work alternate weeks.
A good way to make sure you hit all the boxes is to set yourself intentions, both travel aims and work aims. Do this monthly or weekly as you prefer, so that you know how much time you have to set out for work and play. Then get out your calendar, and plan ahead which time will be for working and which will be for exploring.
3° Create the right conditions to work
I already wrote about how to create the ultimate pop-up desk, so that wherever you go, you can create a workspace to put yourself in the zone. There are other techniques, when you are on the road, to make sure you have the best possible working conditions:
Maximise your travel time
Long train rides and bus rides are a great time to get stuff done, without having to sacrifice any of your free time. You just need to plan ahead to make sure you have everything you need to work with you and that your devices are fully charged. It might also be useful to bring a pair of earplugs to block out the noise around.
Hotel or hostel?
Hostels can be great, because you meet a lot of people with different experiences, from all over the world, which can create a load of story ideas. Then again, it can be noisy and not the best place to get work done. When I need to work hard for a week I’ll often spend a little bit more to get a private room at a hotel, or better yet an Airbnb where I can self-cater.
Get a sim card
It’s worth it. In a lot of countries today, in Asia and Europe at least, 4G is a helluva lot quicker than Wifi, and you’ll have an internet connexion in most places you go. Plus, pay as you go sim cards are generally affordable and easy to acquire. Carry a second headset with you for your home country mobile number, in case clients need to reach you, or for OTPs for online payments.
Do your research
Nowadays, most towns will have coworking spaces or cafés that are ideal for working. Look it up before you go. See if you can meet up with any local freelancers to get some motivation (and peer pressure).
4° Know your bottom line
How much money do you have to make to afford to keep travelling? How do you want to travel, and what budget is needed to do so? You need to work out how much money you need to be making, and how much work is needed to do so. You may want to work more so that you can stay in more luxury accommodation, or you might prefer to rough it to free up more time. The important things is to stay on top of your budget, and be aware of how much work is needed to keep yourself sustainable.
5° Lean into the chaos
Plan ahead, create a calendar, mark off time for working. But still, be flexible to opportunities that come along, and let inspiration come on its own. Travel will bring along its own surprises, and a lot of opportunities both personal and professional if you let it. I’ve changed my plans for the next year because I had an idea for a book, and realised that there is no time like the present to write it. Sure, it’s risky, I don’t know whether it will work out. But I believe in the project, and so I’m gonna give it a shot. Because that is what freedom is for, right?