Top tips when starting out as a digital nomad

Starting out on your journey as a digital nomad/location independent worker, or just simply a freelancer, can be slightly tough as you adjust to your new routine (or non-routine, as it were).

Two months into my life as a digital nomad, I’ve recently finished my first big project putting together a conference program and speaker line-up for a client, which I’m happy to say was a big success. Whilst doing so, I’ve travelled at the same time and enjoyed a lot of what there is to experience in Nepal, Taiwan, Laos and Vietnam.

So, I thought I would share some tips and experiences I’ve had so far with life as a digital nomad. Or more simply, working whilst travelling.

– Figure out where you work best from

When you’re on the road, the most common spaces to work from are cafes, shared office spaces or your guesthouse/Airbnb/hostel. I’ve tried out all of the above and I find getting out of where I’m staying helps me focus and be in “work mode”.

Finding a quiet cafe has been the best option for me so far, and it’s a great excuse to try out some of the local food and drink. A perfect example of this was enjoying a matcha bubble latte and sweet milk buns in Taiwan to keep me going through the day! Yummm!

Not having a set office is a wonderful freedom, but it can also pose the occasional problem sometimes. It’s important to be flexible, as where you’re most productive can depend on where in the world you are.

I was recently in Vietnam and the cities and towns there can be relentless, to say the least. There’s no escape from the honking motorbike horns, no matter where you are. Cafes were often open air and right on the street, so you might want to bear this in mind when scheduling calls or if you like silence when working. Not sure constant horn honking would go down well with whoever you’re calling!

Sometimes you might be best off working from the peace of your guesthouse or Airbnb, or to find a quiet office space. I actually found a really nice shared office in Hanoi, called Moonwork, not far from the Old Quarter. It was a really lovely environment, with lots of plants around, a separate kitchen area and balcony. The staff were lovely, made me feel very welcome and I chatted with them at lunchtime. There were mostly Vietnamese people there, but a few Westerners too if you want to meet other location independent workers.

– Figure out what time of day you work best

You’re likely to be in a different time zone to your clients, so working early in the morning or late in the evening is necessary. Being in a different time zone can allow you to be more productive and focus on core tasks, as you’re free from any distractions such as new emails or incoming calls.

Experiment with blocking out certain hours in the day, or certain days of the week, to get your work done. Remember – there’s no set hours (unless dictated by your client that is!), so enjoy seeing what works best for you. Being your own boss is one of the great things about working for yourself!

As you get into your new work schedule you can often find you have regular downtime to do certain tasks.

– Utilise journeys to be productive

You can usually use travel time on bus, train or plane journeys to get certain types of work done. Before long journeys, make a list of tasks that can be done while you’re offline, or require only low internet usage. If needed you can set up your phone as a hotspot (see below tip on buying a local SIM), or if you’re lucky, there might be wifi on your bus/train, again, depending on where you are in the world.

Journeys are often a good time to get some copy written, clear your inbox (if you’re like me and enjoy the satisfaction of inbox zero unread), reply to emails, edit photos, schedule social media posts and more. Decide what’s right for you.

You might even make a friend who wants to help, like this dog I met on a train in Vietnam.

– Buy a local SIM card

Relying on wifi can be risky, so having data on your phone saves you from any mis-haps, like Skype not connecting due to bad wifi in your guesthouse. From experience the wifi in Central America can be particularly sketchy, so you definitely don’t want to count on it there.

Having data on your phone also means your can reply to (urgent) emails from your phone, wherever you are. There’s always time spent waiting around for buses etc. when you’re travelling –  having a local SIM means you can get some small tasks done from your phone.

– Touch base with your clients (or colleagues) regularly

Working solo can sometimes get lonely, but usually a quick phone call to your client or colleagues can do the trick to remedy this. Whether it’s to run past an idea, talk through an issue or give a quick update, it can be all you need to shake that feeling and get on with your day.

It’s also a good idea to establish a regular time and frequency to keep your clients up to date with your progress. Find a time that suits you both, and be sure to stick to it.

– Make sure you take a day off every now and again

Although working on the road sounds like the dream (and to me, feels like it too) there is a lot going on! It’s important not to burn out. With work, long journeys, sightseeing, hiking, writing my blog, eating, exercising, moving from place to place, planning my next steps and adventures, general day-to-day tasks, and more – life has been non-stop!

Make sure you take time to chill out to stop yourself from getting ill. I’ve recently downloaded Netflix app on my phone to enjoy an episode of my favourite series/film on long journeys too. Or spend an evening chilling out. Yes, there might be a night market to see or a bar to visit, but you’ve also got to get up for that 8am call/6am bus tomorrow, remember….

Are you new to the location independent/digital nomad/remote worker lifestyle? What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced? How have you overcome these?

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  • Sandy

    Great tips! Taking days off is so important. One so you don’t forget why you wanted the location independent life in the first place. And two so you can rest or doing something new which gives you inspiration and leaves you feeling reenergised which then leads to more productivity when you go back to work. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Claudia

    Hi Lucy. Thank you for your tips. May I ask if you are a freelancer or still employed. In case you are freelancing where do you find your clients?

  • Nina

    I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a digital nomad as I have lived abroad in one city for two years now. However I do do some freelance work. I definitely second all of this. Finding the time of day you work the best is perfect.