We’ve been traveling full-time for eight months now. It has been nothing short of incredible, but not without hardships. Our travel-related struggles are usually self-inflicted and end up making for a good story a few weeks later. However, because we are attempting to offset all of our travel costs by working online, we have an entirely new set of problems that come up time and time again. For those of you looking into the digital nomad lifestyle, here’s a look at what you’re in for:
This struggle has so many facets, it’s not even funny. I thought finding internet would be the only issue. Turns out, finding it is easy. Making sure it’s reliable is the hard part.
You know how every conceivable type of accommodation advertises free wifi these days? Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. The only problem is, it rarely every reaches where you want to work, especially in big hotels and campgrounds. A good strong signal is hard to find.
Most times we’ve become accustomed to setting up office in the attached restaurant or the lobby, sometimes even we park out car outside the front door and work there. While all these things work, they aren’t great solutions. The best investment we made was to purchase a wifi extender. They don’t work miracles, but they can turn a 1 bar signal into something stable. (Note there are Mac and PC versions)
When the power goes out, so does the wifi. And although outages are rare in first-world countries, they are all too frequent in the rest of the world. The best solution is to always keep your computer charged and to invest in a 3g USB modem. If the router goes down, chances are the cell phone network will stay up. It’s not going to get you through an 8-hour day, but it will get you through an important conference call.
Additionally, if you are overlanding, putting in a dual battery system will get you at least one more full charge out of your laptop without needing to burn gas. It’s not ideal to have to run your car to charge your computer, but it works in a pinch.
Bandwidth is the worst. Most digital nomads don’t need super-fast internet. Blogging, facebooking and checking email doesn’t require a high-speed connection. However, if you happen to be in a multimedia field such as photography, graphic design or video, then you’ll know the pain of up- or downloading large files on a slow connection.
We try to time our uploads and downloads for big cities when we have multiple connection options. Usually, internet cafes have hardlines available, something you won’t find in a café or a busy hostel. The rest of the time just try remember that patience is a virtue.
You know that little yellow exclamation point that shows up on your computer connection status when the internet dies? And then there’s a little popup that says “limited access”? What it should say is: “start drinking now 'cause the internet ain’t coming back.” This happens all the time. Probably every other place we try to connect, one of the three of us in unable to actually load even the simplest webpages.
I’m not an expert on this matter, but I can say that we have collectively spent hundreds of hours looking for solutions to this issue. It has so many random variables, that it is practically impossible to solve on the first try. The best thing we did was to buy one of these wifi extenders that doubles as a second wireless card. If the problem is related to our computer this usually fixes the issue. For all other problems we beg the owner to reset the modem and pray for the little yellow exclamation to go away.
*Warning* Geek speak: If your computer is stuck on "Looking up: <webpage>" it might be a DNS issue. Google how to manually enter DNS addresses for your operating system. Use Google's DNS servers: 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206 or check out OpenDNS. This has helped us a number of times when the internets went kersplat. Just make sure you figure out how to do this before it stops working.
How I long for the days when I had an office door I could hide behind. Unfortunately they have yet to invent sound proof tents or hostels that have quiet hours during the day. Without fail, someone always starts up a chain saw or runs the blender right in the middle of my conference call. There is no reprieve.
Headphones or ear plugs. Problem solved. Unless you can afford a private house out in the woods, forget about things being quiet. Thankfully they invented noise canceling devices for the rest of us. Buy a good pair. Plug in. Be happy.
Unfortunately, the headphone solution doesn’t work when you need to talk to someone. I have a conference call every Tuesday at 8am. I think the world conspires around me to make as much noise as possible at 8:15. I have found two decent solutions.
I setup a short cut on my phone to the mute button. Usually I’m sitting on a call and don’t always need to be talking. When the chainsaw starts up or the kids start screaming, 15 seconds with the mute button on gives me enough time to get to a quieter place, or give the kids a dirty look so they shutup.
When there isn’t a sign of a quiet area, I take the call in our car. Windows up, doors closed. It is hot, uncomfortable and generally the most unbearable hour of the day, but, it is quiet. It is an ongoing struggle of the mobile office.
Frequently, people ask us how we remain focused on working. How do I continue to crank out brochures when there is a five kilometer stretch of white sandy beach ten steps away? This is by far the biggest struggle of working and traveling. Here’s how I stay focused.
Subconsciously I know that every hour I bill enables me to spend another 12 hours on that beach. If I procrastinate, piss off the client, miss the deadline, I’m done. Goin’ home to a one bedroom apartment and a 9-5 cubicle. Most people on the road left their lives back home in search of something better. And whether it’s conscious or not, we all have the same fear of being forced back.
When you’re hunkering down on the laptop, when you rather be frolicking with the two–week vacationers, just remember, the work you do now keeps you out of that cubicle for another day.
The best part about the work I do: I get paid by the hour. Every moment longer I have to sit in an uncomfortable camp chair is another moment I get to write an invoice for. Every crappy last minute Powerpoint I design is another wad of cash I can blow on cheap rum later. Remember that, especially when deadlines are tight and travel is stressful.
Of course, it is much more difficult to be disciplined when your work time doesn’t directly increase your bank account balance. Working towards passive income opportunities, doing business maintenance (like paying taxes) or doing projects on spec are all much more difficult to get motivated for.
How do I manage to get these things done? I put time on a schedule and commit to it. Instead of saying “when we find a good place to work, I’ll write those emails.” I say “on Tuesday, let’s find a good place to work so I can get those emails done.”
Let me be honest, this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. I’m a workaholic. I really am. Something inside me is wired to do, not to wait. It is not physically possible for me to relax until the work is done. Sometimes it’s a gift. Other times it’s a curse.
If you are a procrastinator your struggles will be amplified by traveling. If you’re a workaholic like me, there will be plenty of times when you should be enjoying a cocktail with some new travel friends, and instead you’ll be writing emails for something that can surely wait until the morning.
You have to play your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses. Anything less will end your career and turn your travels into nothing but stressful vacations.
This lifestyle isn’t all glamour, but it is incredible. While the struggles of living location independent can be annoying, this lifestyle is worth the hassle a hundred times over.