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
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:
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.
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:
- Work with my dinosaur iPad
- Be super light but sturdy enough to work at all sorts of “desks” (like my knees)
- Have all of the keys needed to perform my most-used functions (shortcut keys, command key, and directional arrows)
- 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.
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!
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.
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.
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
Even us “digital” nomads need some analog tools once in a while. My favourites were:
- 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.