One of the most frequent questions I receive is about how to work and travel from anywhere, be it as digital nomads, location independent entrepreneurs, or finding a job on a work-travel visa.
You’ll never see a post on Legal Nomads telling you that you should quit your job and travel the world as I did, because the process of arriving at that decision is a deeply personal one. The ways that any one person wants to leverage their skills and their value system also differs vastly depending on who is leveraging them.
I wanted to provide a resource page for those who want to know what’s out there. Not just for travel bloggers or food writers, but for anyone seeking to build a flexible life in their own way. This includes not just digital nomads — the term du jour – but also work and travel visas, volunteer work, and much more.
As with my larger World Travel Resources, this page is meant as a starting point for ideas and planning for anyone seeking to travel and find work at the same time. It highlights some of the ways people make a living while traveling, and some tools to make that easier. I also wanted to highlight some of the downsides to living with no home base.
During COVID-19, the landscape and future of digital nomading is uncertain, though has the potential to explode since many more people have been transitioning to at-home work. And if you can work from home, perhaps home can be everywhere?
As with the rest of the world, the digital nomad community hopes that the pandemic will eventually ebb once vaccines help achieve herd immunity. Some articles on digital nomads and the coronavirus here, here, and this absurd NYT piece that I wish was parody, here. Already, countries are starting to welcome back tourists who have been vaccinated, and others like The Maldives are offering vaccinations to people who want to visit.
But what of those who want to roam and work along the way?
As of April 2021, the US is vaccinating at a strong pace and articles have started to emerge about what post-pandemic life looks like for digital nomads and those who want to live that lifestyle. A NYT piece called ‘Welcome to the YOLO Economy‘ talks of “burned out Millennials” who are flush with savings and quitting stable jobs in search of postpandemic adventure.
An April 2021 Globe and Mail piece in Canada noted that,
As the needs of workers change, most prominently with Millennials and Gen Z, the aspirational jobs of these generations are also changing. It’s not just doctors and lawyers, but a new crop of professions and work situations that are changing the definition of a “dream job.”
The piece, called ‘Dream job 2.0: As offices and expensive housing lose their lustre, digital nomads take to the road‘ features the case studies of those who are looking to work from anywhere. For those in that category – one that is likely to grow as our economy and accessibility to work shifts post-pandemic – I hope this page helps you find your way to the life you want. For those with rarer skill sets that are in high demand, the post-COVID era is an excellent time to think about a worldwide office.
What digital nomads aren’t…
And this is the thing about digital nomadism or location independent entrepreneurship: it IS NOT about ‘getting paid to travel the world’.
What it is is deeply personal but relating to one of the following:
- Remote work with your existing job, if they agree to it.
- Work on the side till you can build it sufficiently to quit and be location independent
- Start a new biz from scratch, one that isn’t tied to a particular location.
Though opinions vary, I think what matters is the flexibility to live where you want, not that you are forced to because you aren’t earning enough in your digital work. While many people start out in Southeast Asia the goal ought to be to scale income toward something, be it a solo business or a freelancing career or a product you built, so that you can flexibly move around and live where you want.
LAST UPDATED: APRIL 21, 2021
Table of Contents for the Digital Nomads Resources Page
What are Digital Nomads?
Option 1: Entrepreneurship
Option 2: Freelance Writing/Blogging & Location Independent Work
Option 3: Living on a ‘Work and Travel’ Visa
Productivity and Procrastination
Coworking and Cafes
Technology Tools for Working on the Road
Further Reading for Long Term Travelers
What are Digital Nomads?
The term ‘digital nomad’ is a popular one these days, referring to people who work online where their chosen work allows them to do so from anywhere. I am not a huge fan of how ubiquitous it has become, and as with anything, it has its dark sides. Barring a new term that emerges from changes to the job market, it remains the most apt label for people who want to live flexibly as self-starters while exploring the world.
I use the term digital nomad here loosely, as in someone who wants to work and travel at the same time.
For many seeking this kind of existence, the key is to free up time and location dependency to lead the life they want. Occasionally this means building out a business (see “Entrepreneurship” below), only to find it scaling faster than expected. In that case, a return to a fixed location may be necessary. Or it may not.
The point is: the options below are quite different in spirit, energy, and end game.
In my case, I do not travel in the classic sense. What happened is that my job became what most people think of as “vacation” and to sustain that and the business I am building, I rent places for longer periods at a time. What started as a backpacking trip with no laptop morphed into mini-expat stints with routines for writing and places to eat.
Some Background about Digital Nomads:
- For a brief history of the term ‘digital nomad’, see Almost Fearless’ post here.
- In current usage, the term often refers to a job that is created with the help of technology, often one that eventually generates passive income. Serial entrepreneur Tim Ferriss wrote the obsessively popular 4-Hour Workweek, seen as many in this lifestyle as a bible for their rearranged priorities.
- Of course, the likelihood that your new business takes only four hours a week is slim! For a counterpoint about that 4-Hour Workweek, see Clayton’s post on Spartan Traveler here. Generally, I advocate active income before passive income, though it’s far less sexy than the alternative.
Resources for Digital Nomads:
- Forums like the Dynamite Circle, Location Rebel, and Nomad Forum provide growing support in the form of feedback, masterminds, and case studies.
- For women, the Women Digital Nomads site and Digital Nomad Girls (from Jennifer Lachs) are both gender-specific and helps women meet others with the same mentality, offering info on coworking, living, insurance, and more.
- The Digital Nomad subreddit also houses a place to ask questions and seek a sounding board.
- Conferences like DNX Global and the Dynamite Circle conferences offer a space to meet others in the same space, and hear keynotes about different aspects of digital nomadism.
- Atnomads is a curation site that posts links to diverse articles relating to anything digital nomad-y
- For where to go in this wide, wide world:
- the popular Nomad List, a cost breakdown for digital nomads (and their associated remote job board)
- Numbeo, a user-contributed database of cost info and data for cities worldwide
- Expatistan, a global living cost index. Compare living costs easily between cities.
- City Ranking, a database of 2,000 cities and hundreds of national and city-level data variables where you can compare and contrast to help figure out where it is you want to go. (And yes, it includes wifi speed.)
- For more resources, see James Clark’s Digital Nomad Resource page.
- Spartan Traveler’s Clayton has a long post about lessons learning during his foray into digital nomadism.
- This article from The Next Web interviews 7 digital nomads about the path they took and advice for those considering the leap (including my own two cents), and this one interviews another 15 worldwide digital nomads on the same topics, also with advice on those looking to become location independent.
- Medium post by Ross Simmonds, who quit his job and built a large and lucrative consulting business.
- List of the best bank accounts for digital nomads rounded up on Medium.
- Companies that facilitate the digital nomad experience by providing a mechanism for support, lodging, new friends (just add water! sometimes literally!) see:
- Remote Year: Remote Year puts groups of professionals together to live, work, and travel in different cities around the world. This can be for a year, or for four months. From their site: “If I went into Remote Year knowing what I would get out of it…I would sign up for it 5 times over, 10 times over… I would just do it for the rest of my life!”
- Hacker Paradise: From their site: “We take care of all the boring logistics so that you can focus on having the most productive (and fun) travel experience possible.”
- Co Work Paradise: more of a mastermind plus remote work programme. In their words: “Enjoy guided interactive workshops, listen to inspiring stories, dive into adventurous trips and embrace local context.”
- Roam: co-living and co-working. In their words: “Roam is a network of global coliving spaces that provide everything you need to feel at home and be productive the moment you arrive. Strong, battle-tested wifi, a coworking space, chef’s kitchen and a diverse community.”
- Wifi Tribe: From their site: “Every month, we choose a different city to call home. We are inviting a mix of passionate, wild and free, remote professionals from all corners of the world to join our journey.”
- Outsite: Flexible co-living membership for a set fee per year, around the world.
Different approaches to living and working on the road:
There are many different avenues for supporting yourself as you travel. Building a business around a travel and food blog as I did is just one of them.
1. Build your Own Business / Entrepreneurship
There are many ways to start your own business, fix a system you think is inefficient, or build a product you think is missing from the marketplace. Entrepreneurship is something that is written about and discussed with more and more frequency, from smaller startups that scale, to those seeking funding, to businesses that aim at a very small but valuable niche.
Whatever your poison, building your own business is not the easiest of options on this page, but it can be incredibly satisfying.
I mention this first because it is usually the best way to build something that not only presents a big challenge, but also one that can be — if it’s successful — sustainable in the long run. It also does not need to be done from the road, but bootstrapping a new startup can be cheaper in far-flung countries. I’ve seen many friends start a company and begin running it from afar, only to eventually move back to the States, Canada, or Europe once it takes off. Others have kept up their businesses via the web, moving around for coordination and meetings.
Resources for Entrepreneurs:
- Books to read:
- The Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufman, who recommends that readers skip an expensive MBA and read his book instead. Covering both the business and strategic side and the psychology behind purchasing and decision-making, it’s one of the first books I recommend to people seeking to start and build their own business.
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Some may argue that this book belongs elsewhere but I firmly believe that entrepreneurs need to have a strong and brave creative streak, and this book speaks directly to creative pursuits in a linear world.
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport, who maintains that the newest wisdom about following your passion to career success is not the right path for most of us. Instead, we end up pressured to find that passion (and ourselves), and the result is a very restless state of mind. Newport instead advocates mastering skills to then leverage them and build the life you want.
- Taylor Pearson’s The End of Jobs, about how entrepreneurship is less risky than it has ever been.
- Zero to One, by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel deep-dives into the motivation behind entrepreneurship and his own personal take on what the future business mindset ought to look like in a modern world.
- The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, who recommends testing business ideas with a minimum viable product as early as possible instead crafting the absolutely perfect product that you envisioned from the outset.
- Seth Godin’s Linchpin, about making yourself indispensable in creating new businesses and products, and Purple Cow, about transforming your business to make it remarkable, are both highly recommended.
- Friends have also recommended Street Smarts, an “all-purpose toolkit” for aspiring entrepreneurs, but I have not read it yet.
- The Fail-Safe Solopreneur by Darren C. Joe is about weathering the emotional roller coaster of running your own business so you can make the most of your new, flexible work-life. After being virtually self-employed for 10 years, Joe shares 6 practices to manage the inevitable failure, anxiety, instability and loneliness that comes with being a digital nomad. Full disclosure: Darren is a friend and we have eaten together many times during my years in Vietnam. He’s got a great business mind, and I’m excited for him that he’s put his lessons down on paper.
- A Quora post that lists out some resources for entrepreneurs and startups.
- Entrepreneur magazine’s picks for best blogs and books.
- Derek Sivers’ book summaries. Not all relating to entrepreneurship but many involve startups, business, and innovation. Each book has detailed summaries.
- Dan and Ian from the Tropical MBA podcast series share a lot of useful experiences on how to start a location-independent business like they did, including interviews with many others who have done the same and build out successful businesses in the process.
- Amazon’s list of bestselling books for entrepreneurship and success.
- Nine books from the summer of 2019 that will “help to elevate your finances, success and overall happiness in life (you’ll also end the summer feeling more motivated and resilient)” – at least according to Amazon.
2. Freelancing Writing/Blogging and Location Independent Work
This generally requires you, a laptop and a decent internet connection. A digital nomad works remotely online; either in their own business, freelancing for others or in a regular contract with an employer. I personally don’t love the term “digital nomad” but ultimately working from anywhere could be called this, or location independent living, or simply “working from the road.” Again, for many who undertake this lifestyle change, the impetus is not necessarily travel but the flexibility to travel or not travel, as the case may be.
Location Independent or Remote Work
Are you currently employed in a business where remote working could be a possibility (for example, if much of your work is computer based)?
It might be an idea to approach HR or your boss about your options. This may not be a viable option for most people, but many businesses are starting to be more flexible and are embracing the idea of remote employees. Of course, be prepared to argue well as to how this would benefit the business.
Resources for Aspiring Location Independent and Remote Workers:
- From Lucid Meetings, a post about how to make the case to your boss (additional links at the bottom of the post).
- NoDesk, a resource site for remote work and digital nomads. Great, comprehensive site.
- RemoteOK, another resource site for finding location independent work.
- Trello, a task app, has a free PDF download on tried and tested strategies from companies that embrace remote work. Zapier (mentioned below) also has their own PDF download about remote work here.
- The Muse on how to pitch working from home. Not the identical case, but useful regardless.
- Fast Company on successfully navigating remote work.
- A Q&A from Remote.co with its most frequently asked questions.
- Managing remote teams, on the Hubstaff blog.
- Quartz on managing remote teams/work here.
- Are you a programmer or developer? There are plenty of job boards for remote work out there for you. try WeWorkRemotely, Stacks Careers and Toptal.
- A popular place to search for jobs is Escape the City. These are more ‘serious’ jobs that come with stability and equally serious salaries, and are workable from anywhere in the world.
- Remote: Office Not Required, by 37signals founders Jason Fried and David Hansson, who point to the surging trend of employees working from home and explain the challenges and unexpected benefits.
- The Remote Worker’s Guide to Excellence by Eryck Dzotsi is the opposite of the prior book. Instead of building a convincing case for offices to adopt a remote workforce, it offers systems for remote workers to manage their time when not in an office location.
- The Year Without Pants, Scott Berkun’s entertaining story of Automattic and WordPress, and what other companies can learn about the future of work.
Here are some jobs where remote work or location independent work could be a possibility:
- Textual jobs (writers, editors, proofreaders, translators).
- Media related jobs (journalists, photographers, videographers, podcasters, bloggers, digital marketeers)
- Financial positions (accountants, online trades people and ecommerce shops, product promoters and affiliate sellers, consultants, insurance agents etc)
- Organizational roles (Online personal assistant, customer support, travel agent, researchers)
- Teaching (online professors, online coaches, consultants)
- Computer and IT based jobs (programmers, database managers, software developers, web designers, graphic designers).
- Fizzle.co has also posted a list of ways people make money without a fixed location based on the results of their Digital Nomad survey, and more recently posted about what minimal viable income looks like when building a remote business.
- Chris Dunphy & Cherie Ve Ard have a list of freelance jobs (as well as professions that can be done on the road, without a computer) about halfway down this post.
- Wifi Tribe on the best jobs for remote workers in 2018 here.
Freelance Writers and Tips for Writing from Anywhere
If words are your strong suit, working as a freelance writer is a way to build income and work from anywhere. If you have prior skills in a specific technical niche, that would be a place to begin and position yourself as a writer. Writing is not easy, nor is freelancing (in my experience) a comfortable way to create a new career. Working hand-to-mouth is stressful whether you do it at home or elsewhere, and writers are paid far less nowadays with a glut of websites who offer exposure instead of cash money.
If you are a talented writer, however, freelance writing is an option to get yourself started on a more flexible path.
You can start with freelancing sites like Upwork, which will give you an idea of the types of projects out there, thereby aiding you in refining the skills you can offer.
Other job listings include Freelancer, Guru, PeoplePerHour, ProBlogger’s job board, and Freelance Writing Gigs’ job listings. Frankie also has a post about her tips for submitting job applications on these boards.
General Resources for Writing and Freelancing:
- For those wanting to get started before making a big commitment and quitting their jobs, see the February 2016 piece in Inc., called How to Become a Highly Paid Freelancer While Keeping Your Full-Time Job.
- The Globe Trotter Girls list more useful freelancing sites and resources here.
- The Freelancer’s Union has a list of articles for freelancers about what to charge, important contract clauses, and much more here.
- For a summary of a 2-year freelancing run as a copywriter, with $230,000 and many many words, Joel Klettke summaries his 9 lessons learned from those years of work.
- For freelance writers, if you want to know which publications will pay you what, check out this freelance rates database compiled anonymously by other writers.
- For how to present yourself on freelancing sites, read this short guide by Ben Wroe.
- For proofing posts, I am obsessed with Hemingway App, which is free and easy to use.
- The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing, by Zachary Petit
- You Write, They Pay, by Susan Anderson
- Freelance Writing on the Side, by Joshua Slone
- How to Make a Living with your Writing, by Joanna Penn
- Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron
- Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide, by The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger
- The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
How to Pitch Freelance Writing:
Pitching is a continuous question, and one that merits a resource section of its own. Outside the churn and burn of sites like Upwork, pitching to editors or site managers is an important skill, and one you will need if you want to get your writing published in a variety of places.
- The Open Notebook’s excellent pitching database, which includes the pitch itself and the resulting piece, as well as its “how not to pitch” series. A great resource and series with the full pre-writing and post-writing analysis.
- Estelle Tang’s Pitch Bitch tumblr, which includes advice, real pitches, interviews and other practical resources.
- How to pitch food writing to Serious Eats and other publications.
- General pitching advice from The Toast.
- Find writer’s guidelines based on topic of your pitch over at the Freelance Writing site.
- Susan Shain’s Where to Pitch database is a great idea generator for where to submit your pitches around the web.
- Jane Beresford, a BBC journalist, on how to effectively pitch via email.
If travel blogging interests you, please check out two of my talks from the TBEX conference: (1) my Costa Brava talk about building sustainable business and how readers must come before a quick buck for a thriving community to take form, and (2) my keynote from Bangkok about how travel blogging needs more storytelling.
At this point in time, I don’t think going into travel blogging for the purposes of building out a new career is necessarily sustainable. I am thrilled to read people’s accounts of their travels, and there is always room for good writing that offers a new perspective. That said, the travel blogging industry is increasingly saturated both as an industry and with advertorial, and it has less traffic than the food, lifestyle, or self-help categories of blogging.
Kerry Polk has a harsh but not completely unfounded piece on some aspects of travel blogging and the trend of selling products online that help people quit their jobs to also sell products that — well, look, you get the idea. The posts below are from people who have built a following and a platform and then leveraged it in their own (different) ways, separate from the kind of behaviour she discusses.
In my case, I got into this industry by accident — I started a blog for my family and it bloomed into a new business I love. When I get emails asking about how to be a travel blogger, I respond that building a business that showcases unique ways that your voice and background can contribute something of value is a good start. But that there might be other options on this page that make more sense monetarily.
The Cal Newport “get good at something, then leverage it to build the life you want” isn’t too terrible a proposition, while writing a hobby blog on the side.
Resources for aspiring travel bloggers:
- Brenna from This Battered Suitcase has a post about everything she learned while travel blogging. She does not take advertising or sponsorship on her site, and it is more of an overview post about the industry than a “how I made it work” post.
- Matthew Karsten explains how he gets paid and travels the world here.
- Dave and Deb explain how they started out and how they are continuing to make a living from travel blogging.
- The Broke Backpacker on how to start and build a travel blog.
- Lauren from Never Ending Footsteps talks money and funding her travels.
- Laurence from Finding the Universe on professional travel blogging and how to make it work for you.
- Alex in Wanderland on how she affords her lifestyle.
- Liz from Young Adventuress on how she funds her work and photography and travel. (She doesn’t mince words!)
- Jetset Citizen’s John Bardos summarizes 14 people who make money via travel blogging, and breaks down how they do it.
- Mark Manson on Quora, with advice he would give to young bloggers if they are starting out today. Great notes, and focus on quality and creativity versus short-term build.
- For photographers:
- Brendan Van Son on how he makes money as a travel photographer in 2015.
- A piece on working with brands and tourism boards to make visual content.
- A thorough piece by Hillary Fox on what it takes to be a professional photographer in a digital world.
- Elia Locardi on how he became a location independent photographer.
How to start a travel blog
Still want to start a travel blog? Here are the main steps to set up your new site:
Set up. Start with a WordPress.org website if you plan to expand. This list assume you’ll go with them, as they remain the best choice for self-hosting (using your own domain name). Alternative options include WordPress.com, SquareSpace, Medium, or blogging via Facebook.
Hosting. WPX Hosting is what I use. THEY ARE AMAZING. I seriously went through a lot of research before I settled upon them, and I have no complaints. They are fast, responsive, AND they support homeless dogs around their headquarters.
Themes. Oh the stress of choosing a theme for your site! So many different ones out there. For free themes, I’ve used Organic Themes in the past, and they’ve been great. Woo Themes is also popular. This site is built on the WP-Prosperity theme.
Photography. The photos on this site are hosted not on WordPress / not uploaded, but via SmugMug (20% discount for you), where I keep albums from each of my travel destinations. Photos are an increasingly important aspect of travel writing, even if you don’t think of yourself as primarily a photographer.
Newsletter. The social web is changing, and blogs are evolving. This has been the case since the web took form, and will continue to be the case as we morph into a newer set of media, social norms, and digital information. A good way to keep up to date with the people who want to get your news is to start a newsletter. I use Aweber for mine, which focuses on the best links from around the web.
3. Work, Entrepreneur/Freelancer, and Travel Visas
An alternative to working remotely is to exchange your time and skills for the local currency: living in the places you visit and temporarily getting a ‘regular job’. These are often restricted in age, but for those who qualify they provide unparalleled immersion to local culture, a legitimacy visa-wise that other options on this list do not have, and lifelong friends.
- Teaching languages, be it in schools, as a private tutor or in dedicated language centres. For this, you will often require an official teaching qualification. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a popular option, as are TESOL and CELTA. These qualifications can be obtained from almost anywhere in the world. Language teaching, as many things nowadays, can also be done entirely online. Sites like BuddySchool are a good place for finding students.
- Au-Pair and childminding work. Read Shannon’s tips for aspiring au-pairs and do your research about the Au Pair sites out there. It’s always useful to see what sites families are using to hire their au-pairs, and then contact those sites to enroll. Forums like this one on MumsNet are very insightful.
- Hospitality jobs (think restaurants, bars, cafes, clubs) and tourism jobs (tour reps, hotel staff, hostel staff). For excellent advice and job resources per country, browse Prospects (A UK site that isn’t limited to UK residents which provides information on everything from a country’s largest economic markets to visa requirements to links for volunteer, intern and working options). There are specialized work-abroad sites such as WorkAway , SeasonWorkers and OverseasJobs, but it’s recommended to search larger job boards (Indeed.com, Monster.com etc) for a wider choice within country.
- Youth camp or wilderness camp leader (great if you are an outdoor or sports junkie, as you can usually do lots of great outdoor activities). Leading sites are Bunac and CampLeader.
- Fruit picking. Find listings at PickYourOwn, Fruitfuljobs and the like. Fruit Picking Jobs Australia has Oz-specific options here, and PickNZ has the same for New Zealand here.
To get ideas of more unconventional jobs, this entertaining and inspiring list by Nunomad covers the conventional as well as the truly unusual (balloon artist, biofuel educator or camel trainer anyone?), and this book by Susan Griffith deep dives into the ways one can work and travel around the world, and the types of visas to obtain in the process.
And this list by Broke Backpacker covers the basics of jobs to take on while traveling.
For Canadian nationals, the government has information for working holidays abroad for 18-30 year olds via their International Experience Canada programme. Just fill in the country you wish to work in to find out details of when and how to apply for the visas. See also Nora Dunn’s guide to working holidays for Canadians.
For young people coming into Canada from abroad, click their government page here to find out about obtaining your working holiday visa. Another useful source of information are companies like BUNAC, specialized in guiding you through the visa process. Bonus: these companies have the ability to guarantee jobs for you in your desired destination.
For information on working holiday visas in Australia the Australian government has information here.
If you intend to work in the USA temporarily and you are not an American national, you need to arrange work beforehand and obtain a temporary work visa. More information here. For camp work, teaching and au-pair jobs read about your visa requirements here. If you are a student outside of the US, it may be possible for you to join the Summer Work Travel programme.
For those who want to legally live in a place as a freelancer or entrepreneur, instead of getting a more “normal” job, there are several countries that allow for it Where Can I Live has a hub page on visas for freelancers and entrepreneur digital nomads here,
The Nitty Gritty of Working on the Road
Productivity and Procrastination
Regardless of the approach you take to working from afar, you may struggle with being productive on the road. Hell, we struggle with it when we are not on the road, but in my experience it’s even more salient a concern when you are trying to set your own schedule in a new place. The discipline required for self-employment has been discussed all over the web, but I wanted to provide a specific list of tactics and reads for remaining productive.
Earlier this year, I was having trouble feeling like I was accomplishing what I wanted to do during any given day. I spoke with a friend who had struggled with a similar issue, and he pointed out that it was primarily an optics issue. I was getting things done, I just didn’t feel like I was. In my case, the fix was taking email off my phone and starting the day with a creative activity relating to the site or to writing. While there was no difference in the way my day netted out, the fact that I felt like I had won the day by noon made a huge difference to my perceived productivity.
I mention this anecdote to illustrate simply that sometimes it is a small fix to an existing schedule that helps move you back into a feeling of building vs. stagnating. At other times, it might be rethinking the work flow you have, the way you work (standing, sitting, breaks that you can take, etc), or using apps to limit your browsing time on the net. No matter, the articles and books below might help you feel like you’re taking control back from a day that feels like you simply sat and typed, like a hamster on a wheel.
And while you’re at it, it might be worth thinking about time blocking to improve your focus and get more work done:
Do you have a list of priorities or goals that you want to achieve this year? And do you struggle with allocating time to them? I’m no different. Life can be messy. Most of us juggle a lot of different things at the same time. Even though the simple solution is to stop juggling, it’s not always realistic. Or even needed.
What if you could do more things without losing your time? It’s possible. But you must work in an organized way.
Enter: Time Blocking a simple productivity exercise that many people use. It’s not fancy or revolutionary. The only thing you need is a calendar, which is something everyone with a smartphone and computer has.
Resources for Improving Productivity:
- Book recommendations:
- Cal Newport’s new book, Deep Work , about his rules to stay focused in an increasingly chaotic digital world. Highly recommended for anyone who is losing themselves within the maelstrom of multitasking.
- Adam Grant’s new book on nonconformity is in this section because I find his writing sufficiently inspiring that it makes me more productive. His take on what makes people successful is interesting because he strikes that balance between good enough to take off but not alienating to the majority of society. I really enjoyed his prior book, Give and Take, on altruism and self-interest — and how helping others actually drives people more than we realize.
- The Productivity Project, by Chris Bailey, is a good resource for overall time management and a more streamlined approach to your productivity during your set hours for work, and outside of it.
- Radical Focus, by Christina Wodtke, about staying motivated as you build a business and a team.
- Hack the Entrepreneur, by John Nastor. How to stop procrastinating, build a business, and figure out how to do work that matters.
- Marc Andreessen’s personal guide to productivity. “Generally,” he says, “in the course of a day, there is something you have to do that you are not doing because you are procrastinating.” He’s not wrong.
- Tim Urban’s long and illustrated guide to why procrastinators procrastinate, on his site Wait But Why. “Even for the procrastinator who does manage to eventually get things done and remain a competent member of society, something has to change.” He talks about how that happens on his second post in the series, How to Beat Procrastination.
- Mark Manson addresses procrastination in his post about identity and productivity. A quote: “define yourself in the simplest and most mundane ways possible. Because the narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will begin to threaten you. And with those threats will come the avoidance, the fear, and the procrastination of all of the things that really matter.”
- Linda Graham on how negative self-talk and self-blame worsens procrastination. Practicing self compassion (even if it doesn’t come naturally) is key to breaking the vicious cycle.
- Taylor Pearson on the importance of focus, a piece that he wrote after reading 188 different books on entrepreneurship, as well as his 70% rule for productivity.
- Buffer on productivity tips specifically for digital nomads.
- The New York Times on what it calls “the busy trap,” our obsession with staying occupied and blotting out just about everything itself. They note that the present hysteria “is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.” I don’t disagree.
- A really great post about technology and happiness, touching on productivity, relationships, and restlessness in an online world.
- There are apps like Freedom that block ‘distracting’ websites, but I’m not a real fan. If you can’t discipline yourself to NOT check Facebook, that’s where your problem lies! I’d recommend something like Momentum instead, an app that helps you with creating new habits and achieving your goals. More longtail benefits than a simple blocker.
CoWorking and Cafés
Working as a digital nomad or freelance writer or any of the other jobs on this page frees you from the office and enables you to work from anywhere. This flexibility is a primary reason for building an unconventional career, but then begs the question: where will you work from today?I tend to write at home because I write in total silence, but many colleagues and friends prefer coworking spaces or cafes, which come at additional cost in food or monthly fees. There is always a local library for a quiet and cheap alternative.
Resources for Coworking and Cafes:
- The most thorough resource of all for coworking is the sprawling Coworking Wiki, which contains information on just about anything you’d ever want, including directories of spaces around the world, blogs, media, and more.
- Coworker is a fantastic, slick new site which lists coworking locations (and their cost) by city, all around the world.
- Workfrom lists both public working spaces (mostly cafes) as well as available coworking locations in that city and includes wifi speeds.
- James from Nomadic Notes has a great compilation of Cafés to work in around Asia, and a list of café–finder websites worldwide. Remember that a café is not your personal office, and general good etiquette applies. A few words of important wisdom on that here from Luiz Centenaro.
- The Global Coworking map does exactly what it sounds like it does, covering coworking spaces in 116 countries at the time of writing.
- Coworking Coffee, a crowdsourced database of places that you can work and caffeinate in.
- WeWork is expanding globally, with shared office space and coworking activities around the world. They’re branching into housing next.
- And for those who want to mimic sounds of the cafe even when at home, there’s Coffitivity to do that for you.
- A 2018 list of best spots for digital nomads here (based primarily on wifi, coworking, and other such necessities).
Tech Tools for Working When you Travel
A successful remotely-run business often relies on working together through disparate time zones, travel days, and in far away places. Thankfully there are plenty of new apps and technology that make navigating these kinds of obstacles a lot easier.
The Roost Laptop Stand + Logitech Keyboard
The first day I got a Roost Stand was the day I stopped having searing pain in my back as I worked. I know it’s become a bit of a cliché with digital nomads to have laptop stands, but there’s no question they fundamentally change your ability to work without pain. Personally, I don’t bring the Roost to cafes as I think it’s a bit much when I’m already taking up space for longer-than-necessary, but I do use it when working in my apartment or a library.
I have problems with chronic pain, so this was essential – and an amazing change in my work routine. I use it every day and it’s so small it adds almost no weight or bulk to my bag.
My favorite of all is Time Zones for Humans. Really easy to use, and really satisfying user interface.
Suffering from jetlag? Who doesn’t. I have a long post about why we get jetag and how to make it better on the road. This includes preemptive time zone changes and apps you can use to make it easier.
I use Canva for all of my Pinteresting and other graphics needs, which include laying out PDFs and making the gluten-free translation cards that I offer to celiacs.
Of all the graphics options out there, it’s easily my fave. Easy to use, and so much fun.
Communicate with your team or just keep on top of your project management through task management programs or apps.
Solo, as the name suggests, is for independent freelancers. The software lets you prioritize your workload, create timesheets, generate slick invoices and track your income.
Slack is free to use, with limits on how many integrations you can use. Plans start at $5/month which include unlimited integrations and full archive search. One of the handiest integration is you can type/hangout in a channel and you’ll get a Google Hangout of everyone in the team in seconds. As you’re building a business, the search function will be extremely useful. For smaller businesses (teams of 2 or 3) it may not be worth the additional effort, and Trello is a good substitute minus the chat function. For what to use it for, see this new Ultimate Guide for Slack book.
Trello is simple and completely free, and its innovative movable ‘work cards’ work especially great with iPads. You create a stack for the cards and then assign individual tasks for people to work on in chunks. Cards are automatically synced to the web or your smartphone. I use Trello on my phone, and on my laptop, combined with the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. (If you want to implement them both, read this.) I have personal boards and work boards, the latter of which are shared with team members. Trello Gold is $5/month and allows deeper customization.
Skitch is the ideal tool for quickly adding arrows, text and other information to screenshots and images; perfect for when your point would be made better with a bit of annotation.
Tracking Time is what I use for my assistant and her time tracking, and is now in iOS and Android. Their desktop version is also quite intuitive and easy.
Asana is the most extensive (and therefore somewhat intricate to navigate), and recommended for larger businesses or teams doing ‘serious’ business! It’s organization capacities can cover an entire workforce.
If you need an easy and collaborative document to work in real-time, Hackpad, Draft, and Google Drive are both free. For product-based companies, ProdPad allows your team to work together on ideas and put together a cohesive strategy in one place.
Additional tools for keeping track of team progress/accountability are 15Five and iDoneThis. 15Five relies on team questions that can be answered to keep track of goals and mindset, and iDoneThis emails the team nightly to ask about daily accomplishments.
For scheduling, many friends use Calendly, which hooks up to Google Calendar, Outlook, and other mail services even on their free (basic) plan.
Online or Cloud Storage
Dropbox is what I use for sharing basic project documents and plans, as well as using a folder for press photos and other items that I need to give download access to on a frequent basis. Free unless you plan on using a large amount of storage space.
SmugMug (20% discount for you) is my preferred method of storing my photos in the cloud. Also a great option for those considering selling prints. Get a discounted subscription using the Legal Nomads discount code here.
Google Photos has upped their storage and capacity for facial and item recognition, so much so that it’s a bit creepy.
Note-taking and Curating on the Road
I use the Pocket app more than just about everything else in the curation list. When reading on mobile or on my browser I simply add to my “pocket” and can then read these pieces offline. Their tagging system allows me to keep articles for later use, as well as search by topic. Highly recommended.
Microsoft’s OneNote can be used individually or as a team, creating notebooks to share thoughts and notes and plans for specific projects.
For those with Apple devices, the Notes app is a great way to take quick stock of ideas or observations on the road using an iPhone that then sync up quickly with an Apple laptop.
Related but not in the same way: Jumpcut, which gives you access to text that you’ve cut or copied in the past. It’s a notepad of your clipboard history, and it definitely comes in handy.
Backing up your computer is possible with a variety of services, such as Mozy, CrashPlan, or Carbonite. I use Mozy and started using it after my laptop was stolen with my backup hard drives — so I lost everything.
ScannerPro is useful to take photos of important receipts, documents, or insurance papers and upload them directly to the cloud. It syncs with Dropbox and other cloud storage services as your needs may be.
Online Password Vaults
Meldium offers single sign-on so team members can log in to apps and accounts with one click without ever seeing the actual password. Pricing starts at $24/month for up to 20 users.
If This Then That (IFTTT) allows you to create internet ‘recipes’ (i.e. instructing it that “if I do this, then do that”) to automate basic tasks. For example, you can programme it to save a photo to Dropbox whenever you upload something new on Instagram. For an overview, see wtf is ifTTT. I use this tool to automatically send tweets to a spreadsheet, which makes curating my newsletter easier, and to send links to the Pocket app if I favourite them via Twitter. From 2016, a series of IFTTT recipes to increase productivity with their “Do” apps.
Zapier is an alternative, useful for those who use Slack, auto-tweeting or updating a CRM when something happens, so you don’t have to. Zapier’s basic plan is free for five “zaps” (tasks), after that it starts at $15/month. The Zapier blog has a handy 101 ways to use Zapier post to give you ideas.
The Best Portable Office Setup – Lights, Cam, and More
Matt Stauffer sets out his recommendations for a remote office in a long post that is so well-done that I don’t have to do anything but link to it. He’s devoted quite a lot of energy to obsessing over lights, mics, and camera views, and has his suggestions here. These recos will come in handy whether you are doing video work, podcasting, or just a digital nomad thinking long term.
Further Reading for Long Term Travelers
Start with my World Travel Resources page, with over 10,000 words on the details of long term travel planning, including keeping a positive mindset, packing, planning, and what to do about vaccinations.
If you’re going to travel, food is one of the most important ways to learn about a place. If you’re scared of eating street food, take a look at my post about how to eat street food without getting sick.
And if you have any questions for me, please reach out via the contact page.
I hope this page has been helpful!