The term ‘digital nomad’ is bandied about more and more these days – unsurprising really, as the proportion of people working remotely increases at an exponential rate. It is partly for this reason that the term itself has begun to be misused more and more often. A stay-at-home mom who makes money writing for a website, isn’t a digital nomad. Nor is a web developer who emigrates to Costa Rica. The former might better be described as a ‘digital stay-at-homer’ (or perhaps more kindly, a ‘home-based freelancer’), while the latter could accurately be termed a ‘digital expat’. To be a digital nomad, one firstly has to be a nomad – a wanderer, who rarely stays long in one place. If you happen to work digitally while living a nomadic lifestyle, well, you are a digital nomad.
As you might expect, the life of a digital nomad can produce a good many more obstacles for you to overcome, than simply staying at home, or even just going to live in another country.
By far the most important thing a digital nomad needs, is personal documentation – preferably genuine. You are going to need a passport or an ID card to cross frontiers, make reservations, book tickets and so on – perhaps not all of the time, but most of it. Money is a close second – there is always a way to get money, but that’s not true about your ID.
As a digital worker, you should know better what tools you need to take with you in order to do your job. Quite often this might just be a notebook computer and an unlocked smartphone. Wherever possible, choose small and light tools. You might not have any issue moving your widescreen laptop from your bed to your desk, but it might be a different story carrying it along with your other belongings as you cycle up the mountain, trying to get to the Vietnam-Laos border crossing before it closes for the night, or as you try to keep your things safe on the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa.
Most clothing can be bought locally, so there is no need to laden yourself down with bearskin hats and heavy coats, unless you are heading to the arctic and you’re planning to wear them right away. Useful clothes to wear as you travel, are ones with plenty of hidden pockets and compartments. Pants that zip off into shorts and jerseys with hoods are suitable in a variety of climates. Ensure that your footwear is sturdy, comfortable and appropriate for the places you intend to travel to. Don’t set off in flip-flops, and try to look as smart as possible – you’ll be making a lot of first impressions, and while you may be living a nomadic lifestyle, most people in Tokyo, New Plymouth and Manaus are not.
The bag you choose should be secure, weatherproof and comfortable to handle. This is one of the most important purchases you can make. Backpacks are usually the way to go, as suitcases can be very awkward to lug around strange cities, mountains and jungles.
As a nomad, you cannot be sure you will always know where you are going to be sleeping. Apps such as Airbnb, Couchsurfing, Hostelworld and Booking can help you find accommodation in many situations, and simply asking around is often a good way to find a cheap place to sleep. Camping is trickier – you will need to carry your camping gear and be sure that the site you choose will be safe from wild animals, snakes and bugs, as well as bandits, other vagabonds and landowners. Working your keep is a popular way to find somewhere to sleep, although your bed may be a bale of hay.
Going without a good night’s sleep for weeks on end can make you wish you had stayed at home. Many nomads get around this by carrying an inflatable airbed wrapped up in their backpack. That way, whether you’ll be sleeping in someone’s spare room in Brooklyn or in a barn in Burgundy, you’re guaranteed to wake up feeling refreshed. Check out this undeniable winner at Sleep On Air.
Lastly, be aware that as a nomad, your surroundings, and the people around you will constantly be changing. You will need to adapt to new hazards and risks. Most people have good intentions the world over, and will help you. There are also those who have the opposite intentions and you will need to keep up your guard against such people. In unfamiliar territory, keep a low profile and don’t take unnecessary risks.