Two days ago, I got home from a digital nomad experiment where I road tripped up the west coast, particularly the PNW, with a travel buddy.
It was fun.
There was a lot of nature.
And a ton of beautiful views.
But not so much reliable wifi, phone network service, or showers. (We could literally smell ourselves at some points.)
But I know that this #digitalnomad and #laptoplifestyle is a BIG goal of so many of us who don’t want to work a traditional 9-5… and for me anyway, it was the ENTIRE reason I made the decision to go into business for myself.
I’ve added reasons in throughout the last three years of Copy Power that now feel bigger and more important than “I just don’t like sitting at desks with a boss looking at me for 8 hours.” But the whole time & space freedom thing was the original reason. And it’s the reason A LOT of people site when they make the decision to go freelance or start their own biz, too.
So here are the big lessons I learned about what it’s like to be a REAL digital nomad & not one of those internet douchebags who takes obnoxious pictures working on a beach.
(Because NO ONE can work on a beach. First, the sun is WAY to bright to see the screen to be productive. Second, sand?!?! Everywhere?!?!)
Also, I’m not an internet douchebag, and am a normal person like you, so I think my “work from anywhere and make a living online” advice will be actually useful. Because while it’s fun to work with each other, it’s also fun to just do nothing or go out and see places together, too.
1. Take Time to Plan Ahead
Planning sounds boring, especially when you’re purposefully setting out to more or less live by the seat of your pants.
But when it’s late, cold, and you haven’t had dinner yet, need a shower, and still have no idea where you’re going to sleep that night, it’s no longer “fun adventure.” It’s frustrating AF.
Planning doesn’t have to take a long time. It can be 10 minutes a day to figure out what’s where on Google Maps, deciding things, booking a place to sleep if you’re not camping, and going on your way… living by the seat of your pants for everything else in between.
And if you’re traveling with a partner, plan some “doing nothing” time… or at the very least, some meals where your laptops are left behind.
2. Physical Energy = Mental Energy
The thing with being a digital nomad is that A LOT of us try it while we’re traveling to places we’ve never been before. Which is exciting. And makes you want to see all the things… just like you normally would if you were on vacation there.
And for a few days, you might fool yourself and think you can “see the things” during the day, and then get your work done in the morning and at night, but that’s not the case.
When you expend your physical energy, you take away your brain power. It’s just how it goes. The calories you eat and the sleep you get to fuel your muscles also fuel your brain, so you’ve got to make sure you allocate a fair amount of them to your brain BEFORE you go all-in on the physical activity that is sightseeing around cities or hiking through beautiful mountain passes.
You CAN do that stuff as you travel, of course, but usually not on the same days you spend getting any productive work done.
Plan to travel slowly.
3. Learn How to Feed Yourself
If you know me in person, you know I’m SUPER healthy and a total snob about only feeding myself the best and healthiest food.
Fortunately for me, I had a travel buddy who was the same way… but we still struggled a little bit.
We ate meals inside Whole Foods just about every chance we got, but there were also LOTS of times when Whole Foods wasn’t available, so we had to rely on the road snacks we bought for meals, or just eat at roadside cafes. Some of which may or may not have given us stomach aches.
So, if you’re like me and really into feeding your brain and your body for great performance, think ahead on how you’ll feed yourself. I probably would have done better the first few days of the trip if I’d given it some thought. (But I didn’t.)
Or, alternatively, give your body time to adjust to a “road diet” and don’t expect too much of yourself during the first few days of travel.
4. If You Think You’re Obsessed with WiFi & Outlets in Coffee Shops Now…. Just Wait.
So, I LOVE my internet connection. Literally cannot live without it, because it IS the thing I rely on to access the work I do that pays my bills.
So, if the internet goes down in my neighborhood and I’m working at home… I’m booking it to my coworking space.
If the internet is down there…. I’ll either wait it out for a little bit, or go back home.
If it goes out both places, I relent to the situation and just take a nap… but being fully confident that when my nap is over, the internet will be back.
But when you’re on the road… you never really know how good the wifi is going to be, if there will be power outlets… or if said power outlets will even work.
Thus, you become more obsessed than you ever thought you would be about wifi and power outlets. Yes, you become that person.
5. Have Work You Can Do Offline
Which brings me to making sure you empower yourself to work offline every time you leave a space with wifi.
If you want to get work done between City A and City B, but have no idea what the landscape of civilization is like between here and there, you’ll probably just be driving through a bunch of tiny towns with no cafes and shoddy cell phone service. So make sure you’ve got enough battery life on your laptop, and some things you can do without wifi. If this means downloading something before you leave Starbucks, download something before you leave Starbucks.
6. You’ll Wish You Were Outsourcing More. Maybe Everything.
About a week in, I had zero patience left for brainless administrative work.
The kind of stuff I always procrastinated… like reconciling my business expenses in Freshbooks. Or doing manual setup of my marketing & CRM funnels in Ontraport.
So I outsourced it. I found an Ontraport expert to hire for $15/hour who knocks things out of the park for me, and am currently looking for another basic VA for less than $10/hour to do some other basic marketing and administrative tasks.
Because if you go back to the concept of physical energy is mental energy… then OF COURSE mental energy is mental energy.
And even if you “only” spend it on mindless, meaningless tasks…. you’re still spending it. It’s still taking your brain power. Which means there’s less of it left for you to make the “big moves” needed for a growing business. Which is not good. Especially when you’re not living a lifestyle that offers you 24/7 internet connectivity and the ability to do anything at any time because the internet is always there.
And I feel like this is a bigger philosophical lesson about business in general rather than just in the scope of being a digital nomad for two weeks.
I mean, I had to put myself in the digital nomad situation to learn it, but I can’t even imagine how much this lesson is going to serve me in the future. To not do things just because I “can” do them and I don’t “need” to pay someone else to…. but to just freaking go ahead and pay someone else to, even though I CAN do it myself… to free up ALL THAT MENTAL SPACE to have the kind of great ideas that will help me take over the world.
7. Be Relentless in Finding Time & Quiet Spaces for Calls
If your business relies AT ALL on revenue from clients, you’re going to be on an important phone call at some point.
Probably multiple times per week.
And if you take your business seriously, you need to take your client calls seriously too.
This means making sure you have good enough wifi for video to work over Zoom & to not cut out your voice every other second. And so that you aren’t stuck in a coffee shop with a bunch of loud teenagers giggling and Instagramming photos of their mocha mint lattes together.
And to be honest, I didn’t do a very good job of it.
I guess I just honestly didn’t realize how often I was on calls throughout the week.
I spend way more time just writing, so I assumed that’s what I’d be doing & focused on while traveling too. But calls require a whole new caliber of internet connection and the “niceness” of your space that it adds a whole new level of planning into the game.
If you can book a quiet AirBNB for your call days, you’re pretty much golden. But if you can’t swing that, it’s a lot harder.
I did lots of client calls just sitting on the sidewalk outside the building fo the cafe I was at, just for the sake of less noise. Not exactly “professional,” but it was the best I could do at the time.
Just some food for thought.
8. Have Money for Decent Accommodation
Ideally, you’ll have enough money to afford decent accommodation.
Especially if you’re an introvert… or you want to be online at night.
(Or if you want regular, clean showers.)
We did a lot of free & low-cost camping on this trip because we were both making massive financial, time & resource investments in our businesses while on the trip. It worked because we both actually like camping… but I could see it getting old fast, especially if you’re not a particular fan of being out in nature.
If you stay in small-town AirBNBs, you can pretty much pay what you’d pay per month for in-city rent, so that’s no big deal.
Or you could save up a bit… or just travel somewhere where cost of living is lower than the United States.
9. You’re basically homeless.
(Well, you ARE homeless.)
And you have to have the mental energy to deal with it.
In a typical day-to-day life, SO MANY things are already set in place for you: Where you’ll sleep, where to park your car, where you’ll get food to nourish yourself, how you’ll spend your free time enjoying yourself, etc.
When you’re a digital nomad and have no set home, none of the day-to-day essentials of life is automatic: food, accommodation, cooking, social life… none of it.
So as much as you might want to be “all business all the time” at certain points in your travel, you just can’t be. You can’t. You have to put things together for yourself every single day, or you’re kind of screwed.
I’d suggest AT LEAST having your business on a high mode of automation so it continues to be productive, even when you can’t be because you’re desperately searching for a place to take a shower.
10. When Your Energy & Time is Limited, You Come up With Creative Solutions
With everything else going on in the digital nomad lifestyle, you’ll really only have the time, energy, and patience to do the things you’re 110% excited about.
For a few days, you can get away with doing ONLY the things you have the time and the patience for… but eventually, push comes to shove & you’ve just gotta get shit done. So you come up with creative solutions.
Sometimes, you see a way to do an effective shortcut.
Other times (most of the time, in my experience), you just bite the bullet and outsource, because you can’t stand to stay stagnant.
Ohhhhhh, was that just a big philosophical lesson there?!?
I WAS feeling a bit stagnant and unable to move forward in my business… so maybe physically moving myself great distances helped me metaphorically move great distances in business too?!? I am so zen right now.
And then, some other times, you just grit through it and make a mental note to yourself about outsourcing that type of stuff in the future. This is the less fun option, but still necessary sometimes.
11. Eat Brain-Healthy Food
So, not to get in a diet fight, because I know people on the internet LOVE to tell you what you’re doing wrong with your diet.
(Tell someone you eat a certain way, or avoid a certain thing in your diet, and it’s AMAZING how quickly they turn into a fully-certified nutritionist, even though they have no qualifications whatsoever. Like, when I used to tell people I was vegan. Holy shit. You’d think I was murdering babies instead of just deciding not to kill cow babies with my diet. But whatever.)
But before I set out on this trip, I experimented with the Keto diet for a month.
And it was AMAZING for my overall brain health, focus, and productivity. And I’d 100% recommend it.
Basically, you don’t eat carbs (or VERY few carbs), so your body doesn’t burn carbs & sugar as a fuel source and burns fat instead. So it’s a high-fat, low-carb diet. (Watch The Magic Pill documentary on Netflix if you’re curious.) And because you’re giving your body so much fat, it does good things for your brain, which thrives on healthy fats.
And as soon as I started eating carbs again because it’s just more convenient while on the road, holy hell I noticed a difference in my ability to focus for long periods of time.
But even if you’re not as hard-core about diet planning as I am, try to eat as much brain-healthy food as you can while you’re digital nomading. Avoid carbs as often as you can, even though they’re pretty much the only thing that’s easily available while traveling. Plan ahead to get around it. Keep brain-healthy snacks in your car. Buy your food at grocery stores.
In general in life, the healthier you eat, the more your brain & your body thank you and don’t get sick… but this is especially true on the road. And I think even more important because there will probably be some instances where you just can’t avoid an unhealthy meal.
12. Travel With a Fellow Workaholic
I have no shame admitting that I’m a bit of a workaholic, but it’s only because I freaking LOVE the work I do so much.
But if you’re going to go on a digital nomad trip with a partner, choose one that’s AT LEAST as much of a workaholic about their work as you are.
Traveling with someone while they’re trying to be on vacation & you’re trying to live the laptop lifestyle would just be a disaster. While you’re trying to hack away at your laptop for 5 hours per day… sometimes in places where there’s literally NOTHING else to do, they’ll be bored out of their minds and hate you.
Or, if they’re the one in charge of driving, they may sabotage your work intentions by not thinking about just HOW MUCH you need to work and how important it is to you… because their priorities are completely different.
So make things easier on yourself and just find a fellow workaholic travel buddy. It’ll be so much better.
13. You Learn to Say “Fuck It”
You learn, very quickly (within a week, in my case) exactly what you DON’T want to do in your business anymore.
You lose patience for it.
And because you don’t have the patience for the bullshit that it represents, you just say “fuck it.”
For me, it meant putting an inexpensive VA on the credit card to outsource, because I was 100% confident it would pay off in boatloads later. And that it’d actually be more expensive to not go into that tiny bit of debt for the moment… I’d be holding myself back & forcing myself to do things I hate… which means that I procrastinate them… which means I hold back my own company’s growth. Which is not a good thing.
Also, you get the confidence to say “fuck it” because you’re an awesome person living an awesome lifestyle most people only dream of. It kind of unleashes this 100% unabashed confidence in yourself that everything you touch WILL turn into gold. That your business WILL grow like crazy and it WILL be amazing, so a tiny bit of credit card debt right now ain’t no thang.
14. Throw Your “Ideal Schedule” Out the Window
So, when I announced this digital nomad experiment, we thought we’d be waking up to work from 5 am to 10 am, driving for approximately 5 hours to wherever we were going next, (so until about 3 pm), and then having the rest of the day to do what we want.
We did manage to avoid driving at night for most of the trip, but screw that schedule. It’s almost laughable in comparison to our ACTUAL schedule. We threw the idea of that schedule out the window within the first 12 hours of the trip.
Some days we drove for only an hour. Some days we stayed in the same location, and so only drove for the purpose of getting to coffee shops & accommodation.
Some days we only worked for 2 hours. Some days, we worked for 8 or more.
Some nights, we stayed at AirBNBs. A lot of nights, we camped in National Parks. And some nights we just moved all our stuff to the front seats and slept in the back of the car on a makeshift bed.
We became pros at setting up and taking down a tent.
15. Travel is WAY Cheaper Than You Think
Okay, I already knew this because I have been an avid traveler for the last decade of my life.
But I thought it was worth putting it out there for people who think they need to save up thousands of dollars before they take off on a trip.
You don’t need to. You can do it now. Promise.
I paid $5.60 for my flights, split gas with my travel buddy, bought food from grocery stores (as I normally would), and invested in a $38 tent to have free places to stay when we weren’t doing cheap AirBNBs in middle-of-nowhere towns. The most expensive accommodation I paid for was a $60 bed in a hostel that I had to book last-minute, since I was running away from a hurricane and bumped my trip up to 26 hours earlier so I didn’t get stuck in North Carolina for three days while the storm dissipated. After that, everything was significantly cheaper.
16. We All Need a Little More Fresh Air
Even if it’s not setting out on a coastal road trip on the other side of the country, we could all use it.
It calms you down, gives you better ideas, and puts perspective on what’s really important in life.
And our bodies crave it, even if we don’t realize it. Nature is amazing.
17. It Takes Ages to Upload Video on Public Wifi
But by ages, I mean AGES.
A video that would take one hour to upload on a private wifi connection takes at least 3 hours to upload from a cafe.
So if video is a part of your business, just know that there will be no such thing as “let me just upload a video from this coffee shop real quick.”
If you’re uploading a video, you’re spending half a day somewhere.
18. Boxed Wine is the Best
It’s so delicious and so cheap. And way more economical from a space-saving perspective.
I don’t know why it isn’t more popular than it is.
Plus, it seals really well & you don’t have to worry about storing it upright. And it gave me a new t-shirt idea. (Also, if I move to Portland, I’m totally starting a t-shirt company. I have the best t-shirt ideas there.)
Boxed wine forever.
Conclusion: Digital Nomading is NOT What it Looks Like on Instagram
In short: Being a digital nomad is NOTHING like what the people on Instagram will tell you.
There’s a lot of down time, and there’s still a LOT fo screen time. Often in places where it’s not “acceptable” to have screen time.
For example, we took time to work in Yosemite National Park, even while we were surrounded by the beautiful nature. Onlookers may have judged us for being so work-obsessed in such a beautiful place, without realizing it was all about the lifestyle for us rather than being all about the sightseeing.
As I’m writing this post, we’re both hacking away at our laptops in a cool Irish pub in Seattle, instead of “enjoying” dinner like everyone else around us.
And far fewer moments of the digital nomad life are as Instagram-worthy as people will claim them to be.
But, it is pretty amazing.
I’ll admit, I feel like such a badass being on this trip & knowing that I’m doing things that so many people don’t even let themselves daydream about.
If you want to do it for yourself… try an experiment like the one I did. Or use the things I’ve learned about digital nomading to plan ahead and do a longer-term trip, or even one with no end date!
Anyway, it was fun and totally worth it.
And I think the things I’ve learned about business structuring on this trip will make many, many more trips like this one possible in the future. ✌️