Arriving in an entirely new city where you don’t know anyone or anything is part of the appeal of the digital nomad lifestyle, but it can be also daunting and time consuming.
Personally, I’m a bit of a planning freak (OK, more than just a bit), and I welcome this side of the remote lifestyle. But if it’s not your strong suit, I’ll be happy to share some knowledge that could help you make your trip more pleasant.
The good news is that the more often you go through the process, the easier it gets. Practice indeed does make perfect.
If you’re only at the beginning of your digital nomad journey, or if this is the first time you’ve set out to explore an unfamiliar destination, think of this post as a suggested workflow to make the process easy and fun.
A word of advice before we dig into it.
Well researched is half done.
Obvious websites and communities to scour are those geared toward nomads such as Nomadlist (don’t skip the forum) and #nomads on Slack. But don’t leave out general travel forums and sites like Tripadvisor (for local sightsteeing), Yelp (excellent for restaurants in cities like New York or London) or Wikitravel (general travel info) even if they might look more tourist-oriented at first. Source is source!
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Dwelling, Den, Temporary Abode… Your Accommodations
Accommodations can be easily the element that make the whole trip awesome or awful. Even if the city you’re in doesn’t appeal to you or if you have a bad run-in with locals, a nice pad to return to does a perfect job cheering one up. It doesn’t matter whether you have a whole apartment for yourself that you’ve rented via Airbnb, a hotel room in town, or if you’re sharing crashing at a friend’s place – well chosen accommodations will help you settle in quicker and let you enjoy your stay.
Questions to think about:
- What do you expect from your accommodations? What level of comfort do you expect, and what are the non-negotiables?
- Which type of accommodations will give you the most for your buck? Ho(s)tels, Airbnb rentals, coliving spaces?
- What is the average price per day/week/month?
- Which neighborhoods are safe and friendly, and which are better to stay away from?
On a side note, even if you go for an Airbnb rental or a friend’s couch, it’s handy to have a Plan B in case things go wrong, so keep local hotel prices in mind.
If you’re traveling on your own, you might appreciate staying in a coliving space. If you haven’t heard about the latest craze in the nomad universe, coliving spaces combine accommodations, workspace, and socializing so you can focus on the important things. You’re meeting new people in everyday situations (having breakfast, working at the communal office, grabbing drinks after work…), so it doesn’t feel awkward. On top of that, you’re usually around like-minded folks. They make finding a new business partner or pals to go on a weekend trip with much easier, and they can end up being cheaper than booking accommodations and a coworking space separately.
The main difference between coliving spaces and hostels is that while hostels attract a younger crowd that prioritizes partying until late, people staying in coliving spaces are typically interested in getting work done (and maybe partying afterwards outside the premises). This distinction can be quite important if you’re expected to work 100% during the day.
The Daily Grind (a.k.a Work) And Everything Associated
If you work remotely, chances are your work space will be pretty high on your list of things to figure out. If you’re the sort who is happy working from your accommodations, you’ll need to take work into consideration prior to booking the place. Arriving at your destination full of hope only to find out that the internet is slow and patchy is an annoying but avoidable situation (and one that’s rather common, so learn a lesson from those who have gone before you).
Questions to think about
- Which coworking spaces are good? What’s the daily/weekly/monthly cost ?
- Are there any coliving spaces that include space for coworking?
- Will you be okay relying on free or public wifi? If so, where are the free hotspots and what are their limitations?
- Would you be better off buying a local sim card or a portable modem?
If you’re renting from an individual, ask about the data speed and limits beforehand so you know what to expect. Hotels and coliving spaces should have this kind of information on their websites. If not, contact them before traveling or making reservations. This is also where Speedtest gets handy. Ask your host to send you a screenshot of the results before booking.
If you’re going with the local sim card option, scour Google and Quora to find folks who have been in your shoes. Odds are they’ve asked the same questions as you.
One counterintuitive piece of advice – sometimes you can get a better deal by going through a telecom operator in your home country.
Case in point: When I traveled to NYC recently, I was looking for a US sim card with data. After a couple of hours online, it turned out the UK operator Three with their Feel At Home plan was a much better choice for my needs than any of the US carriers. Thanks to my research, I got the best option, and I was able to sort out my sim card situation before boarding my plane. Pretty sweet!
The moral of the story is to keep an open mind when searching for the best internet deal, and make sure to consider mobile operators in your home country.
Other technical things to consider include details like electrical outlets and voltage. Save yourself the trouble of foraging for a new hair dryer: find out the local specifications in advance and pack accordingly.
You’ve got a place to wind down, the work situation is sorted and you’re online. Time to eat something!
Questions to think about
- Where are the local supermarkets?
- Which chains are good, and which ones should you pass on?
- The same queries apply to restaurants, pubs and fast food chains – where can you find the good ones, and what are their price ranges?
In cities like London, Hong Kong, or Paris, eating out can be amazingly expensive. Having a fully stocked kitchen could be a more feasible option.
Pay special attention to booze, if it’s your thing – some countries restrict where and when you can buy alcohol (think government liquor stores in Sweden), so you might want to make a mental note about that and prepare.
Thankfully, in the age of Uber, BlaBlaCar, city bikes, and ever-evolving transport systems, navigation around unfamiliar cities is becoming a breeze. However, if you’re headed to a country where English isn’t widely spoken or the local language uses a writing system you have no chance of decoding without classes, research is even more essential.
Questions to think about
- What are the best means of transport in your destination?
- Would you be okay relying on the public transport, or would Uber/a taxi/renting a car be more convenient and economic?
- How much is a weekly/monthly ticket?
If none of these sound promising, you can always find accommodations right in the city centre (budget permitting) and get around on foot or rent a bike.
Having Fun & Meeting people
At last, the most pleasant part of planning – after-work activities. Abundant day trip possibilities make for a memorable stay, and while you can get a load of great advice from locals, researching them in advance won’t do any harm. Sometimes it’s curious travelers who uncover interesting places that locals wouldn’t think of mentioning.
Questions to think about
- What is the culture scene like in your destination?
- What are the local networking opportunities?
To get in touch with like-minded locals, sign up for online communities like #nomads or the Buffer Community on Slack, Facebook and Google+ groups, have a look at Meetup.com, Eventbrite, look for office hours… the opportunities are abundant. A quick coffee with someone you met on Slack can give you tips you wouldn’t have found online.
The rise in popularity of remote work programs like Remote Year or Hacker Paradise means also further possibilities for networking. You can join their participants for local events or activities if you’re headed to the same destination.
No destination is boring or not worth exploring. It’s just a matter of preparation, research, local connections, and yeah, a little bit of luck, too.
How do you feel about the digital nomad lifestyle? Does it sound frightening, exciting, or a bit of both? Do you have a great story to tell about working while traveling the world? Let us know down in the comments!