Ever dreamed of ditching the 9-5 grind for a life of endless adventure?
There’s no need to dream. Armed with our digital nomad hacks, a reasonable remote work income and the right attitude, you can break free from the cubical prison and make a living while sipping Mai Tais on the beach.
Disclaimer: we don’t recommend working intoxicated on a sun-drenched sandy stretch. Those ubiquitous laptop-on-the-beach Instagram pictures aren’t at all realistic.
Nonetheless, location independence and a low cost of living can see you get up to all sorts of meaningful adventures.
10 digital nomad hacks
While most of our tips are aimed at the novice remote worker, the seasoned digital nomad will also find a few nuggets of wisdom.
Here’s our list of digital nomad hacks at a glance. We’ll explain each tip in more detail below.
- Plug into the community
- Find the perfect carry-on
- Back it up with a digital nomad backpack
- Take it slow
- Fine-tune your banking
- Sign-up for co-working
- Invest in a VPN
- Get travel insurance
- Make a rough plan
- Perfect your packing
Plug into the community
No matter how beautiful your new beach paradise might be, it won’t feel right until you find your tribe.
Facebook groups and subreddits help you connect with like-minded nomads, while apps like Couchsurfing and Meet Up let you see what’s happening around town. And don’t neglect the native set. A smile, generosity and rudimentary language skills can help you foster local friendships.
For some nomads, establishing a home base to see familiar faces at least once per year is a great way to recharge.
Find the perfect carry-on
Which team should a digital nomad (DN) choose in the checked versus carry-on baggage debate?
We’d be inclined to side with the latter. A carry-on compliant 40L suitcase gives you enough space for your clothes, digital nomad gadgets and miniature versions of those everyday essentials (tiny toiletries, medicines and so on).
Yes. You’ll need to wash more often and forgo fancy jackets and extra shoes. But you’ll save a lot on check-in luggage fees, skip the baggage carousel and never stress about the airline misplacing your bag again.
Not sure what to buy? Check out The Carry-on Pro. It’s got easy-to-access exterior pockets, silent 360-degree spinner wheels, space-saving compression pads and an in-built laptop sleeve — perfect for nomads on the go.
What’s more, the sturdy hard-shell polycarbonate suitcase comes with slick premium Italian leather detailing for a sophisticated finish.
Back it up with a digital nomad backpack
Trust us. You won’t want to lug even the most petite carry-on suitcase between your Airbnb and the co-working space every day.
That’s where an ultra-portable, laptop-friendly daypack comes in. Not only can you use one to store your digital nomad tech and gear, but it also comes in handy for day trips and sightseeing stints.
We’ve got another brilliant baggage suggestion for you. One of the best digital nomad backpacks is the 17L Bowen, which can squeeze under the airline seat as a personal item and has plenty of padding and a dedicated laptop pocket. Boasting a suave all-leather design, it’s ideal for stylish nomads after an elegant look.
Take it slow
The biggest mistake a budding nomad can make is to try and do it all at once. While ticking off your bucket list in rapid succession is tempting, it’s going to result in burnout.
Don’t pay too much attention to social media. Being a digital nomad isn’t an endless vacation. Not only will you have to squeeze work hours in between travel obligations, but you’ll need to save enough energy to actually get stuff done.
Aim to stay a week at least (preferably a month or more) in most locations to strike a sustainable work-travel balance. Full-time employees need to heed this advice more seriously than part-timers or freelancers.
Fine-tune your banking
You need to get your finances in order before moving around the globe. We’re not talking about an income or retirement savings plan. Rather, we mean finding the best bank for your new international nomadic lifestyle.
Most banks charge exorbitant international withdrawal fees — Charles Schwab (US), Starling Bank (UK), and Citibank (AU) are three rare exceptions. Digital banks like Wise, Revolut and N26 offer similar fee-free transactions, plus hyper-competitive international transfers.
Whichever you choose, ensure you’ve got at least three debit/credit cards, each stowed separately. You don’t want to lose access to your account when your wallet is pickpocketed outside the Coliseum.
Sign-up for co-working
You could try working in your Airbnb. Though more often than not, it’ll have a posture-wrecking ‘workspace’ and lacklustre Wi-Fi. Cafés can sometimes be okay, but you should expect intermittent distractions throughout the day.
One way to maximise your productivity (and enjoy more free time) is to sign-up for a local co-working space. Although it does require a commute, turning up to an office each day helps you separate your work and travel life.
Best of all, comfortable work-orientated furniture, high-speed Wi-Fi and a quiet climate-controlled environment will see you smash through your deliverables.
Invest in a VPN
Wi-Fi is the lifeblood of the remote-working world traveller. Although you can (and should) grab a local SIM the moment you hit the tarmac, you’ll inevitably rely on unsecured public Wi-Fi for its fast, unlimited downloads.
But how can you be sure no unscrupulous third parties are snooping on you?
By signing up for a VPN. These powerful, privacy-protecting programmes safeguard your sensitive data from harm. As a nifty little bonus, you’ll get to browse region-locked streaming services and hide your real location from HR (we didn’t tell you that).
Perfect your packing
Mastering the art of packing a suitcase can save you stress at the airport and hotel. Joshua Skaja from Fretboard Anatomy explains that it’s all about mise en place, a French culinary term for chefs keeping their kitchens in order.
“I have a checklist of everything I carry, and every single item has its own home. I know where it all is at all times”.
And when you’re trying to pack a carry-on with all your worldly possessions, the concept becomes even more essential. Keep everything organised with packing cubes, which divide your items into neat little bundles for fast storage and retrieval.
Make a rough plan
While ad-hoc globetrotting is a care-free way to explore, it’s financially savvy to have a digital nomad travel plan. Working out a rough 12-month itinerary will reduce backtracking, saving you money and airport transit time.
You’ll also snag a better deal on your airfare (be flexible for the best rates) and have more luck finding a month-long discount on the perfect Airbnb.
Get travel insurance
From a mosquito-borne fever to a SCUBA mishap, bad things can happen while gallivanting abroad. If you don’t have insurance, how will you afford those astronomical medical fees?
Health cover is non-negotiable. Cover for things like missed connections and stolen luggage, however, might be worth it, depending on the price tag of your digital nomad gear and overall risk tolerance.
The best value insurers vary between countries, so research the top options at home (Safety Wings and World Nomads are reputable global providers). If you’re from a country without universal healthcare (AKA, the USA), you need an international healthcare plan.
In any case, make sure you’re covered for your favourite high-risk activities, such as diving and high-altitude trekking. And be warned: unlicensed scooter accidents aren’t covered anywhere. Ever.
Digital nomad packing list
Now you’re up to speed on the top digital nomad hacks, it’s time to take a look at our digital nomad pack list.
As you know, we’re big fans of the carry-on luggage approach. As Eytan Levy from Snarky Nomad puts it, “I have no idea why so few people even consider it a possibility, particularly those who complain about not receiving their bags quickly at the baggage claim, or those who lose their bags completely”.
We’ve put the following packing list together for the minimalist nomad (excluding clothes, we’ll leave that up to you).
- Electronics organiser
- Power bank
- USB stick
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Charging cables
- Universal travel adapter
- External hard drive
- Laptop stand
- Reusable face mask
- Body lotion
- Razor (disposable or small electric)
- Three or more debit/credit cards, stored separately
- Money belt
- Lightweight travel towel
- Playing cards
- Digital nomad packing cubes
- And stylish Carl Friedrik luggage to carry it all in
We’ve taught you the tips of the digital nomad trade and shown you what to pack in your carry-on suitcase. So now it’s time to step out into the world and start adventuring.
But remember: everyone has unique tastes and interests; there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to perpetual travel. While some nomads promote the virtues of slow-mading and bulging big check-in bags, others are happy to bounce between destinations quickly with a minimalist carry-on.
Don’t get too caught up on what other nomads think you should do. And feel free to skip the nomad scene entirely and mingle with locals instead.