It’s been my most digital nomad trip yet – 10 days, 7 UK cities giving Crowdfunding/£0 Talks and teaching in person. Also did 8 Skype tutorials, not to mention phone calls, email and paperwork to keep up with whilst constantly moving. Did it all on public transport, carrying one backpack and a guitar, washing clothes in the sink and travelling as light as possible, staying with friends where I could and sleeping somewhere different almost every night.
Although I’ve had digital nomad status for a while now, it’s been in the form of long house-sits supported by my online teaching. This trip is much more packed and transient – classic digital nomad-ing like I’ve only ever heard about. Ok, so you could say it’s a bit like being ‘on business’ or ‘on tour’, but this particular cocktail of travel, offline work, online work, non-work life and normal day-to-day is pretty new. It’s a 20-teens phenomenon that feels like hippy backpacking/couchsurfing, but with full digital kit and the need to turn up smartly dressed and well rested. At times these factors seem at complete odds with each other! So, what did I think of the experience and what are my top tips for surviving it?
Never let your ‘nomad’ get in the way of your ‘digital’. In other words, create your schedule around work – put it first. After all, it’s your digital work that makes it possible for you to travel. Say you’re in Paris, about to enter the Notre-Dame and a work call comes in. Do you take it? Yes. Sounds crazy at first, but without your digital work you wouldn’t even be in Paris. Today, you might not getting inside, but you’ll get be ‘at work’ with a view of the Notre-Dame! See you work something which allows you to travel rather than something that gets in the way of your sightseeing. It’s that way around.
Prioritise your bodies needs – sustenance, sleep, exercise. You’re not on a hedonistic weekend, you’re living normal life. Put your body first and you’ll be able to enjoy this and keep it sustainable (easier said than done!)
Do stuff when you can. Don’t wait till you ‘get there’, cause you never know when you might be delayed. In a queue? Answer an email on you phone. Nap on the bus, even if it’s just 15mins. Do some yoga on the train platform. Take little snippets of time and do what you need to, and you’ll find yourself much more resilient to the unpredictable nature of travelling, both in terms of getting work done, and meeting your bodies needs. You’re at home wherever you are, so don’t wait to relax when you get to your destination. Take your time. Other people may be commuting, rushing around you but you are effectively in your living room/office/bedroom whether you are waiting for a bus, strolling through a city. I try to never spend time “waiting” for the next thing.
Create habits around your stuff, so that when your disorientated, rushed or tired you’re less likely to leave things behind or be unable to locate them in your bag. My habits include, putting my wallet and keys in my shoes when I take them off, making it impossible to miss them on the way out, keeping my bag packed whenever possible and always putting things back in the same place within that bag (same for jacket/trouser pockets). I back up any digital documents I work on every time I use my laptop, just in case.
Create focused work and play time. Your day will require you to switch in and out of work mode frequently. For me, the key to doing this is using alarms and what I call ‘blackouts’. If I’ve got 45mins with a friend, or 30mins for an online tutorial, I’ll set myself an alarm so I can totally focus on where I am without having to worry about the next thing. If I have to switch from one mode to the other, sometimes I’ll use a ‘blackout’ – a timed 5mins of no stimulation – eyemask, noise cancelling headphones, lying down if possible. I might do this just before a work Skype, or when I’ve finished my laptop time on a train and am moving onto reading for pleasure. It’s amazing how refreshed I feel after just that short but total break from the world!
Be ready to run! I’ve had several sprints for public transport this week. Being prepared for that really makes a difference. By default this means travelling light, and getting everything in the bag securely. Backpacks are the easiest type of luggage to run with, and I find 10kg and under manageable. This trip I travelled with 12kg (plus guitar) and really felt the difference. For me it was almost unworkable. Instead of being able to make decisions on the fly and carry my pack all day, I was strategising where/when I could dump my stuff. The main problem is that I use everything I carry, so without upgrading to lightweight kit it’s hard to get the weight down any further without leaving things behind that I need.
How successful was I on this trip? I’d say 80%. I aimed to keep up with all my work, and stay rested and presentable. Today is my last day and I’m pretty tired despite my efforts to prioritise rest. I’m up to date on all my digital work, which is fantastic. My habits are getting better – I didn’t lose anything. I’ll be seriously considering lightening my luggage even further for my next trip. But all in all, I’m thrilled – really enjoyed work, play, friends and adventures. This feels like the future!