This comes up quite a lot online and the good news is that it’s not all that hard to succeed as a digital nomad and while every nomad is, of course, different – the successful ones tend to have quite a lot in common.
So, we offer up our 14 habits for digital nomad success: self-discipline, scheduling, life management, environmental management, distraction management, flexibility, money smart, open-minded, leadership, purpose, slow travel, learn to get offline, be aware of the world around you and research.
The 14 Habits Of Digital Nomad Success
Why 14? Well, people seem to like lists with 12 numbers on them, but we found 2 more things that we felt were truly important. These are the habits that we’ve found critical to our own success and that our peers deem critical to theirs too:
Habit 1: Self-Discipline: Work Is Work
The number one habit for a happy digital nomad existence is self-discipline.
If you haven’t got it and can’t develop it – you’re either going to be going home to mom and dad before you’ve even got moving because you ran out of money or you’re going to be working for $300 a month in a bar in Cambodia.
This is not a joke. Working like that can be fun for 2 weeks but for a lifetime? It is hell (and yes, we know people stuck in this kind of life too).
You have to get the work done. You have to pay your bills. You have to ensure your passports, visas, vaccinations, etc. are kept up to date.
In short, you have to knuckle down and do stuff that isn’t much fun but which needs doing.
Habit 2: Scheduling: Life is Easier With A Plan
I am not one of life’s big planners and this often leaves me working 24-hour shifts and doing other really stupid things. When I do start to plan, things become much more manageable.
If you run your own business, you need time for sales and marketing, time for admin and time to do the “real work” (the stuff you get paid for).
If you work for someone else, you need to hit deadlines and ensure you’re at meetings.
And so on… a public calendar schedule gives you a simple way to organize your time and, as importantly, to communicate it to other relevant parties. If you combine this with Habit 1… you’re well on your way to success.
Habit 3: Life Management: Work is Work, But Play Is Play
It’s a bit pointless to become a digital nomad, travel the world and then never do anything but sit in your apartment working. You could have stayed at home to do that.
Nomads need to get out and about and do stuff. Partying can be very important when you’re younger but don’t forget to make some space to see things that are of significance in the areas you visit too.
You’re not a groundbreaking visionary, for example, if you go to Siem Reap and don’t see Angkor Wat. You’re an idiot.
Habit 4: A Place To Work: Environment Matters
You need to keep work and rest separately. I don’t recommend studio apartments for long periods of time because they leave you working in your bedroom. It feels like you are never away from your desk.
I like to rent a 1-bed apartment and keep the bedroom free from all electronic nonsense. No phones, no computers, etc. though we have an exception for the Kindle because it’s a book in disguise.
It’s easier to stay focused on work in a work environment and it’s easier to relax outside of a work environment. A simple rule to preserve your sanity.
Habit 5: Eliminating Distractions: Focus Counts
There’s a reason we don’t do co-working and it’s because we find it distracting. You are at your most productive when you are in a state of flow (that is you have work that you like and it is challenging) which is uninterrupted.
Turn off phones, ask your partner to leave you alone (except in emergencies) when you’re working, mute notifications from your e-mail, etc. in short, give yourself room to work and then work.
The more productive you are during work hours, the more time you have to explore your temporary hometown. It’s a trade-off that makes digital nomad life so worthwhile.
Habit 6: Be Unafraid To Break A Routine: A Change Is Often As Good As A Rest
While scheduling is good, sometimes it’s better just to change everything up. Some mornings, I get up and grab my stuff and head to a coffee shop and work from there. Digital nomad life means I am free to be flexible.
If I get my work done, it doesn’t matter how I do it. If you start feeling a little “oppressed” by your environment, walk away from it and go somewhere else for a bit.
Flexibility is a positive virtue as long as you are flexing to improve your circumstances and not to make them worse.
Habit 7: Income Over Lifestyle: Money Matters
It is truly incredible how many digital nomads we’ve met who are broke because they couldn’t be bothered to do their work. They’ve lost jobs and/or clients because they forgot they weren’t on vacation.
You have to secure your cash before you have fun. This is, of course, a facet of self-discipline but it’s so important that it’s worth bringing up twice. Being a digital nomad isn’t a job but to be a digital nomad you need work and income. You forget this at your peril.
Habit 8: Open-Minded: No Really, Open-Minded
The world is a big place and while everywhere on earth comes with its own joys, it also comes with its own frustrations.
Racism is a global tradition and not something that’s only practiced by white people in America, no matter what your teacher told you. Sexism is incredibly harsh in some parts of the world. There are dozens of countries where being gay is illegal. And so on…
You need to pick where you go carefully and then when you get there – you need to be prepared for the fact that the locals don’t think like you, don’t share your priorities and may not even have similar values.
If you understand this, you can enjoy the positives and shrug off the negatives. If you don’t – you risk becoming very unhappy, fast. Digital nomads have to keep an open mind.
Habit 9: Be A Community Creator: A Leader Not A Follower
You’ll see a lot of advice about “finding your tribe” and other nonsense like this but long-term digital nomads don’t go running out to seek the few digital nomad hubs around the world. They know that there are good people everywhere and when they get somewhere, they know how to create a community around them.
This is a lot more fun and it prepares you to manage remote teams for work too. Leadership is an essential component of creating an independent life. Digital nomads blaze trails rather than stand around waiting for somebody else to show the way.
Habit 10: Clarity Of Purpose: There Be Monsters
Research shows that the best way to succeed in life is to have a clearly defined purpose. That shouldn’t be expressed in dollars and cents but rather in what you want to achieve as a human being.
It’s a road map for your efforts but one without a fixed destination. If you wake up, as I did in my early 30s, and realized you’ve got where you wanted to go but you don’t like it much – you can always change direction.
However, without a purpose – it’s very hard to motivate yourself to even get out of bed in the morning.
Habit 11: Slow Pace: This Is NOT A Vacation And It’s NOT A Race
One of the top killers of the digital nomad dream is burnout. One of the easiest ways to burnout? To travel like you don’t have work to do and you’re a backpacker with 2 weeks to see all of South East Asia (or wherever).
If this is a life choice (and that’s what it really means to be a “digital nomad”) then you have plenty of time to see and experience places. There is no rush to the next destination and while you won’t see “everywhere”. You will see places in a way that people on vacation rarely do.
You can make friends. You can go beyond the tourist destinations. You can learn some of the language. You can get into a local music or art scene. Whatever floats your boat.
There’s nothing sadder than a digital nomad trying to race from place to place to try and be “interesting on Instagram” – it’s not interesting, it’s dull.
Habit 12: Research Matters: You Can See Some Of The Future
It leaves me amazed that so many nomads know nothing about the places they visit. They sit there in amazement when they get punched for being rude, or end up the victim of some incredibly well-known local con trick, etc.
Every nomad ought to read up on the places they’re going to visit. That doesn’t mean an in-depth ethnographic study but at least a few wiki pages on the history and culture plus any warnings that might be out there.
Nomad life is much richer when you truly try to connect with the places you visit. Long-term digital nomads get this. If all you’re doing is drifting from one cheap beer to another, this is going to be a disappointing life for you in the end.
Habit 13: Get Offline: There’s A Real World Out There
We make no secret of our lack of love for social media and being online. It’s useful to be able to work online and to be able to scout out the ground for the future.
It’s awful when people try to remain connected to the Internet all the time. It stops you from forming relationships and friendships. It prevents you from concentrating for long periods of time. It ruins the experience of living in the moment.
Dearest digital nomad, switch the devices off and go out and experience the world that you came to see. You won’t regret it.
Habit 14: Keep An Eye On The Ground: Things Can Go Wrong Fast, Be Prepared
It’s easy to forget that the rest of the world isn’t as stable as your own country might be. Revolutions can and do happen overnight. Regime changes may make an easy-going place into a straight-up hellhole.
Register with your embassy for alerts (if they do them), keep an eye on your country’s overseas warning systems (the UK has the Foreign Office, the US has the State Department, if your country has no equivalent – follow one of these).
But… take these warnings with a pinch of salt too. Ask around on the ground as to whether the “don’t travel warning” should be taken seriously or just ignored. They tend to err far too far on the side of “safety” at times.
If things do turn sour, then get out. Don’t be afraid to leave possessions behind if necessary. It is better to leave a place unscathed and alive (if a little poorer) than to discover you are now a prisoner of a new Khmer-Rouge-style regime.
If you want to succeed in digital nomad life, you really just need to be a responsible adult. That means taking care of business before pleasure and ensuring you keep a work-life balance. The rest is mainly fine-tuning.
You can have a lot of fun out there in the world as a digital nomad AND build for a better future.