First-Time Digital Nomads: 10 Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

You’ve followed your favorite globetrotting indie workers on Instagram for years now, and, finally, it’s time for you to take the plunge. Every destination presents different challenges (and rewards), but here are ten universal mistakes that could bring an abrupt end to your digital nomad bliss.

1. Not doing your research

Location independent workers relish the fact that there are seemingly infinite options when it comes to choosing the next location to work from. However, this diversity comes with a price: a dream destination can quickly turn into a nightmare if you fail to thoroughly research its viability in terms of a work-life balance. You may have found the perfect Airbnb treehouse in the Rocky Mountains, but that amounts to nothing if you fail to confirm Wi-Fi access. That being said, Wi-Fi and download/upload speeds can vary widely from place to place—a variable that can make-or-break you trip.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Work from a local coworking space. Coworking spaces already make the assumption that a reliable Internet connection is essential to the experience, so you can be sure that you will have access to the best Wi-Fi in the area. Coworking spaces generally supply other useful amenities like printing and bottomless coffee, too. You may have to limit your accommodation choices to those within walking distance, but finding where you’ll work before choosing room and board can make for a dramatically more reliable, seamless experience. And many spaces encourage visitors as a matter of overall culture—temporary packages can be negotiated quite easily.

Work for free when you travel by joining a LExC space →

2. Not working from pre-vetted coworking spaces

Photos and promises made online can be incredibly misleading, so don’t leave your professional success to chance. Your first time coworking abroad can quickly become the stuff of nightmares when you arrive and realize that the space is not all it’s cracked up to be—or isn’t even currently in operation.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Choose only pre-vetted coworking spaces through trusted sources in the coworking industry. Incredible advances in workspace research and productivity have been made within the last ten years, and there are hundreds of seasoned, well-informed experts who have joined forces to promote and vouch for quality spaces. This revolution has also given birth to the rise of coworking networks that offer reciprocal membership options, recognized by all network partners.

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Learn more about what makes a coworking space great →


3. Traveling too much

Travel is exhausting, no matter how experienced you are. Every time you switch your “home base,” you lose precious time to packing, transportation, and re-adjustments. This is time that could be spent getting work done to accumulate free time. Tight turnarounds also leave no room for uncontrollable delays nor spontaneity.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Stay put for at least two weeks. The longer you stay in one location, the more likely you are to pick up on the nuances of the local culture and get even more out of your experience. Staying a month in Paris is a wildly different experience than passing through for only a week. A week is barely long enough to see the Louvre, but a month can give you a glimpse into what it’s like to be Parisian.

Live and work in Paris →

4. Failing to plan time to work beforehand

If you think you’re easily distracted now, imagine how easy it will be to become distracted or overwhelmed in a brand new place.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Know what project(s) you’ll be working on ahead of time, if possible, and then set aside the requisite amount of time each day to deliver the work and respond to emails. And then add an hour. The last thing you want is to miss out on a planned excursion or social event because you’re waiting for a file to upload. And remember, a time zone difference may work in your favor—or it may be your worst enemy. Be flexible and work longer on days where going out isn’t ideal (like if it’s raining) so that you can maximize your free time for opportune days or spontaneous invitations.

5. Not accounting for jet lag and/or travel fatigue

I’m here to tell you that, yes, it is possible to fall asleep on a 6,000-miles-away Facetime call with a client.

DO THIS INSTEAD: The good news is that jetlag and travel fatigue can be anticipated, so leave an extra day (or two) at the beginning and end of your trips to rest and refresh. If your destination is only a few hours’ plane ride and one time zone away, then you may not have any symptoms. But if you’re taking a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, you had better be ready for a major crash at some point!

Where to work in Sydney →


6. Not enabling an auto-reply email response

Even when you are committed to checking your email often while abroad, you can never fully prepare for the unknown. If your laptop and/or devices fail, it could take 12–24 hours (or more) to get back online. In the meantime, your clients, potential clients, or colleagues may become frustrated with your lack of response or a missed deadline, especially if you didn’t inform them of your nomad status.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Be straightforward. You’re committed to making a nomad lifestyle work, so own it: enable an autoresponder on your work email that informs any sender that they can expect a reply as soon as possible, but that it may be delayed due to travel/time differences/whatever—you can be as vague or specific as you like. Apologize for any inconvenience ahead of time. If everything goes as planned, you can respond promptly for an “under promise, over deliver” effect.

While we’re at it, make sure you have a back-up device, access to a back-up device, or a local SIM card handy so that you can still communicate with clients in the event of a laptop disaster!

Auto-respond from NYC →

7. Storing work files on your laptop’s hard drive

The entire point of becoming a digital nomad is to experience new places and work, so, if all goes well, you’ll be producing a lot of work on-the-go. But, the more you move, the greater the risk that something could happen to your laptop’s hard drive (or your whole laptop). And it’s easy to get lazy when you have, in essence, a global playground right outside your door. You could end up hastily saving files to your Desktop to make it to one of London’s famous Happy Hours on time. Worse yet, you could leave your workspace without saving your files at all!

DO THIS INSTEAD: Work off of a cloud-based file storage application, and have a routine at the end of every work session to save and sync your files. There are many options out there, both paid and unpaid, and its easy to find the right one for your work habits by doing a little online research. Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud are all flexible options.

Find other digital nomads in London →

8. Neglecting your health

If you’re constantly stuffing your face with nasi goreng (extremely delicious fried rice) in Bali, you might notice your energy and productivity lagging when it counts. Neglecting your health is also one way to deplete your immune system and suffer through a local case of Bali belly which can cost you days of work and sightseeing.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Balance indulgences with healthy choices like yoga, trekking the rice paddies, or experimenting with healthy smoothie options—made from local flora like dragon fruit.

Where to work in Bali →

9. Disconnecting your work from your current location

You may think you have your process down to a science. Maybe you’ve been comfortable with your work routine for decades. Either way, if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings as your location changes, you’re sorely missing out on unique professional possibilities.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Use your destination as a source of inspiration. No matter your occupation, learning about the local culture and applying it to your work is a sure-fire way to ensure that you have a truly enriching experience. You’re already looking for a more holistic work-life balance by pursuing a nomadic lifestyle, so take the next step by integrating new experiences with stale work habits. This is more than working while on vacation—it’s a way of life.

Find inspiration in your workspace →

10. Not taking the leap in the first place

There are many, many independent workers (and non-independent workers) who dream about a nomadic lifestyle in far-off places. But few actually try it for real.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Get out of your comfort zone and start daily habits that support a nomadic lifestyle. You can start small by saving spare change in a jar or, in more concrete terms, research interesting destinations that would also allow you to work. Even decluttering your closet is a step toward location independence. Regardless of how you begin, the old adage still applies: no risk, no reward.

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