My Digital Nomad “Office” Essentials

Digital Nomad is a term associated with folks — often millennials — undertaking remote work on the road. You’ll see #digitalnomad alongside a flat-lay that includes one or more of the following:

  • something green (succulents and cut flowers are popular)
  • something electronic (bonus points for Apple products)
  • something business-y (bullet journal = #seriousgirlboss)
  • something travel-y (think: cameras and passports)
  • something edible (lattes-with-foam-art, colourful alcoholic bevvies, açai bowls, smoothies…)
  • someone’s hand
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(Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash)

Packing for my first digital nomad adventure, I envisioned myself freelancing poolside in Chiang Mai, or in a sleek café in New York, or in one of those fancy co-working spaces in Sydney. However the realities of it have so far been a touch less glamorous.

For the month of June I travelled around the Irelands, staying in hostels and working as I went. It was fun, though far from glam.

For example, one morning I looked like this: greasy haired, hoovering granola bar crumbs from its wrapper, squatting over my makeshift desk — my suitcase on the bus station floor — furiously typing up an email and praying to the free wifi gods to send it.

Not only was I new to digital nomadism, but I was also trying to start my freelancing business WHILST TRAVELLING, and get a bit of income to keep me going. I had dabbled in freelance work before I left England, but on the side of a full-time, traditional job. I had a proper desk and reliable wifi and notebooks and printers and set routines to work within.

However, I’m happy to report that my digital nomad “office” surpassed my expectations! I anticipated having to troubleshoot a lot more than I ultimately did. So if you are considering hitting the road and doing a bit of work on the way, take a look at my digital nomad set-up:

iPad 2

I ran my entire business from my old, wifi-only iPad in Ireland. Before then, its largest responsibility had been supplying me with entertainment, so I had to optimize it for things like word processing and light web dev. It worked okay, and was super portable. I especially liked that I could work from tiny café tables or bus seats, and it wasn’t heavy enough to eat up my luggage allowance.

Cons: it was super slow, it crashed frequently, and switching between apps took a hot minute.

I do have a (slightly middle aged) MacBook Pro that is a lot more powerful and user-friendly. However it and its charger weigh about 3 kilos — a third of my carry-on only allowance — so it stayed home.

Wireless keyboard

Before I left, I bought a Tecknet X373 Ultra-thin Bluetooth iPad 2 Keyboard Case off of Amazon. I was looking specifically for something to:

  1. Work with my dinosaur iPad
  2. Be super light but sturdy enough to work at all sorts of “desks” (like my knees)
  3. Have all of the keys needed to perform my most-used functions (shortcut keys, command key, and directional arrows)
  4. Not break the bank

And I’m happy to say it was a good purchase. It was easy to connect and now I use it as a wireless keyboard for working with my laptop at home. There are better quality ones out there, but I’d recommend it for the price.

Cons: I wish that the little flippy stand where you rest your tablet as you type was more substantial or had magnets for a more secure attachment. It came with little feet and 2/4 popped off immediately, so now I have to jam a piece of folded paper under it so it doesn’t wobble while I type. Also, be sure to get another case for when it’s in your luggage or backpack; the Tecknet protects your tablet’s screen from scratches, but might not survive a drop or other trauma.

External battery

Working from the road means you’re not always within charging-cord’s reach of a free outlet, especially on buses, in busy hostels, or cafés. Having a quality external battery that can defibrillate my devices back to life means I can work more efficiently from anywhere and am not confined to sitting on the floor attached to the wall.

I had two external batteries while travelling, but lost one and broke the other, so I’m in the market if you have any recommendations!

iPhone

I used my iPhone 5c (blue) to do all of the peripheral tasks that come with running a business, such as answering emails, organizing tasks, and researching while preserving my iPad for work like writing or editing.

Earphones

While not a business essential for everyone, a good pair of earphones are vital for digital nomads. Not only did they allow me to tune out distractions, they also let me have semi-private work chats with clients (just make sure they have a decent built-in mic), listen to informative podcasts and audiobooks, and avoid the awkward “what are you writing” chats with nosy neighbours.

I used the normal Apple earbuds, but would have loved a pair of fancy over-the-ear noise cancelling ones.

Apps

As a business owner on the go, finding the right apps was integral to making sure the work got done:

  • Work-Doing Apps — Pages, Google Chrome, Google Docs, Google Drive, Dropbox, camera, Wave Invoicing
  • Marketing Apps — Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Buffer
  • Productivity Apps — Focus Keeper, Google Calendar, Trello
  • Communication Apps — Gmail, Skype, WhatsApp, Slack, Upwork*
  • Learning/Resources — iBooks, Podcasts, YouTube

Stationery

Even us “digital” nomads need some analog tools once in a while. My favourites were:

  • Diary
  • Pen
  • Notebook (I prefer unlined so I can draw, write, design, or map as I need to

As we can see, I am not immune to staging some #digitalnomad aesthetics.

Being able to work from anywhere is one of the main reasons I went freelance. Even with the right packing list, it still takes a lot of work and determination to make it a success. Thankfully, you don’t need to invest in expensive machines and the latest software to do it. Though that being said, I am so glad I have my laptop back!

*in the early days of my business I found a lot of my work using freelance bidding sites like Upwork, but haven’t been on one in months. A review/guide is coming soon.

None of these links are affiliate links. I am not compensated by any of these companies in any way for including links in this post. Links are included for information only, and are not necessarily endorsements of the product or service.

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