Wait, what exactly is “location independence” and why would you even want it? It’s a growing trend embraced by a group of people often referred to as “digital nomads”—a group to which I myself belong.
Seven years ago, I sold or gave away everything I owned except for three suitcases of clothing and a few personal items. I moved to Thailand and have only been back to the United States twice, for short visits. I spent 2014 traveling to six different countries, the last of which was Japan, where my husband and I spent New Year’s Eve.
No, I am not independently wealthy. My independence is that of location—I can work from just about anywhere with a WiFi connection. But it’s not just about travel.
As Mike Elgan explained in an article in Computerworld:
“A digital nomad is simply someone who can use digital technology to work from alternative locations. It's not about traveling. It's about choice. So if you can work from another town or another country but choose not to, you're as much of a digital nomad as someone who does make that choice.”
As Elgan points out, this lifestyle isn't just for young travel bloggers. The location independent workforce spans a variety of fields such as writing, photography, website design and development, graphic design, programming, marketing, and even some English teachers.
This means that if you have the ability to work remotely, you can probably succeed with a location-independent lifestyle. You can even try it out without leaving your hometown. Grab these supplies, follow the tips below, and see what you think.
Work from anywhere tools
I've written before on tips to help you work from home. But if you're going to venture outside the comfort of your living room, I recommend taking these supplies:
- Outlet extender and surge protector: Protect your hardware and charge everything at once with a nifty travel surge protector and outlet extender with USB ports. I’m personally a fan of this one from Belkin but there are many on the market.
- Extra batteries and power banks: For places without outlets (or if all the outlets are taken by fellow nomads at your coffee shop), be sure to pack extra batteries and power banks for your laptop, tablet, and smartphone.
- Headphones: According to Lifehacker, "the right kind of sound can relax your mind, hone your focus, drown out distractions, or get you pumped to kill your to-do list." I keep my music and headphones with me pretty much everywhere I go, especially when working on the go.
- Paper notebook and pen: I can type around 85 words a minute but no keyboard will or dictation app will ever replace good ol' pen and paper for me.
Work from anywhere tips
If you're going to pull off the digital nomad lifestyle successfully, you have to make sure that you can still get your work done and be productive, no matter where you are.
1. Batch WiFi jobs to save battery power. Staying connected to WiFi constantly can be a major drain on your laptop's battery. Whenever possible, turn off the WiFi while working. Then, when you have batches of files to upload to Dropbox or emails to send, turn your WiFi back on and send everything at once. This is also a good technique to limit online distractions.
2. Think outside the coffee shop. Rather than sitting in the same coffee shop all day, every day, mix things up with other WiFi hotspots at libraries, hotel lobbies, train stations, and elsewhere.
Libraries are generally quieter and have much larger tables than coffee shops. You also don’t need to feel guilty about sitting there for five hours at a time, (unless you’re at a university library and you’re hogging a table during finals week).
A good resource I've found is Workfrom. It provides more than just a list of co-working spaces. Become a member and you'll get access to all sorts of non-conventional workspaces that are reliable and work-friendly (think WiFi and power outlets).
3. Never leave your technology unattended. Yes, this means taking your laptop, tablet, and smartphone with you when you head to the restroom. Sure, you could leave it at your table, or ask someone else to watch it for you, but it’s not worth the risk. Not only would I hate to lose my expensive hardware, I would hate to lose all my hard work.
4. Keep track of time. Set your watch, phone, or laptop timer to notify you once an hour (or every 25 minutes if you work using the Pomodoro Technique). It helps you keep better track of time and can also be a great reminder to eat something. Forgetting to eat while on an 8-hour coding tear isn’t just bad for your body, it’s ultimately bad for your concentration. Just remember to wear headphones or put your alarms on vibrate so you don’t disturb others.
5. Make communication a priority. With coworkers and clients all around the world, communication can quickly become a whole lot harder. Gone are the days of stopping by someone’s desk when you have a question. It’s important to have a plan in place to stay connected with your coworkers on a regular basis.
Schedule a daily or weekly time to voice or video chat with everyone as a group. Being able to hear and see your coworkers, even if it’s just once a week, can make a huge difference. The folks at Startups.co and I also use Slack for daily communication and check-ins with our individual teams. Slack stores messages for individuals and groups so it’s a great way to keep everyone on the same page, even if you’re not online at the same time.
Bonus Tip: My friend Joel Murr recently had this advice from a beach somewhere in Mexico:
"Bring a tablet with a keyboard instead of a bulky laptop; use a wireless mouse; a bar coaster doubles as a great surface for using that mouse."
Taking your work on the road
If you plan to take your newfound location independence out on the road, far beyond local coffee shops and libraries, I recommend the following:
Local sim or pocket WiFi
During my recent trip to Japan, my husband as I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to travel the country nearly from end to end. As technologically advanced as Japan is, I assumed there would be WiFi available on all Shinkansen lines. Sadly, that was not the case.
Rather than assuming there will be WiFi available when and where you need it when traveling abroad, get a local SIM card or pocket WiFi device like these available in Japan. You can pick either up at most international airports and some locations will even deliver a pocket WiFi device to your hotel, free of charge.
Planes, trains, and hotel rooms are notorious germ hotspots. Don’t let a sudden sickness interrupt your independence. Keep a pack of basic medical supplies with you out on the road. While traveling, I take Emergen-C or Airborne at least once a day. I also bring a Neti Pot, Ibuprofen, Imodium, antacids, antihistamines, and a laxative with me, just in case. I also pack an assortment of adhesive bandages and antibacterial ointment.
Cheap and interesting accomodations
For cheap hotels while out and about, try Booking.com and Agoda. Booking.com is great because it shows you the total price for your entire stay, including all fees and taxes. While in Asia, I mostly use Agoda as each stay booked through them earns points, which are redeemable later for any stay booked through their site. After spending New Year’s in Japan, I have enough points for three free nights in Bangkok later this month.
Airbnb and Couchsurfing.com are great for alternative accomodation options like staying on someone’s couch in Amsterdam for a week or renting someone’s bamboo hut in Malaysia for a month.
Closing thoughts: leaving the desk behind
The writer Malcolm Gladwell shared his experience of writing from different locations with The Guardian. He noted:
"It seems like a fun activity now. Kind of casual. It's been more seamlessly integrated into my life and that's made it much more pleasurable. I never want to be at a desk again."
Like Malcolm Gladwell, I never want to work from a desk day in and day out again. Be warned: once you go digital nomad, you may never go back.
Managing Editor at KillerStartups
Dawn is an American artist and journalist currently living in SE Asia. She is the Managing Editor at KillerStartups, an online publication which focuses on tech startups, website development, and entrepreneurship. Dawn is passionate about travel and committed to the location independent lifestyle. Follow her on Twitter @DawnEBowman.