How to Live Like a Digital Nomad (when you’re not one at heart)

The fact that I didn’t end up wanting to live as a digital nomad full time surprised me. I like travel. I like efficiency and technology. I like work. I like coffee shops and bars. I like digital nomads; their ethic and their methods make sense to me. Yet I also like creature comforts of an office that are difficult to organize without a home base. So I learned how to make it work.


In 1995 I set off to Europe with a train pass, a backpack, and an almost 7 pound Powerbook laptop. Back then, laptops were heavy, expensive and not in common use like they are today. Everyone advised me against it, but I persisted. I was convinced that I needed a computer. I loved writing on my computer! But I FedExed the laptop home about a week and a half later, wanting to be free of its bulk and the responsibility of hauling it around. I wrote in notebooks on that trip. (Remember film photographs? Saving the rolls of film to develop when you returned home? That too.)

The lessons of that earlier trip were useful on our Cricket adventure and we’ve learned a lot in the last fifteen months about what does really work — How do you live like a digital nomad when you’re not one at heart?

Lesson #1: Go light.

This one’s obvious, right? These days, it’s possible to get everything most people could want technologically in a pretty small package.

For example, Chris just got a new external storage drive that holds a terabyte of data. It’s smaller and has fewer bulky power cords than our old one. For a small cost ($50 to $75) it really increases convenience. You might be surprised at how much small conveniences mean when you’re living on the road.

Lesson #2: Don’t go more high tech than you will enjoy.

There are so many options these days. You can get the equipment and software to be outfitted like a pro for photo and video. This also means that you’ll be spending more time learning how use the features, managing digital media files, and caring for your equipment. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll use and enjoy.

For example: Backpacking in 1995, I didn’t really need the laptop for the kinds of writing I wanted to do. Driving around the country in 2016, I never used a digial SLR and lenses. (I could have left it at home.) I used a small digital camera on the rafting trip, because it was the safest thing to bring on the river. Even though it was a nice piece of equipment in its day (2008 or so), the video quality looks terrible now and so I phased that out. I pretty much only used my iPhone and iPad and I’m super happy with the quality and convenience.

Chris, on the other hand, hardly went anywhere without his digital SLR and possibly an extra lens or tripod. That worked for him.

Lesson #3: If you’re a Mac user, the Notes app is wonderful.

Notes is good on the iPhone for an incidental list or jotting down the name of a book someone suggests you read. More importantly, it also functions quite well for word processing. I use Notes on my laptop because the application doesn’t get sluggish like Microsoft Word does, and because I can then access the file easily (without going into Dropbox), on any of my devices. The Notes app keeps on getting better, too.

Lesson #4: Get your syncing in order.

At home, Chris and I were set up with backups of our mobile devices occurring at night over wifi. If you’re the kind of person who backs your stuff up (and this is important!) you probable have a similar setup.

Living on the road introduces a lot of unknowns about when/where there will be wifi or cell coverage available, whether it will be secure, how fast it will be, and how long you’ll have access to it. We had to reorganize all our auto-sync settings and learned to manually sync everything possible when we were in a good location.

Lesson #5: Headphones help get in the zone.

Distracted by your neighbor’s conversation at a coffee shop? Learning that libraries aren’t always as silent as they are supposed to be? Want to signal to your spouse (or that cute barista) that you aren’t available for chit chat? Headphones help a lot.

The big kind are best; they make it more obvious that you’re in that zone, and they’re better at cancelling out ambient sounds. I listen to a lot of music and ocean sounds. I also use headphones without any music playing, just to muffle the noises around me. It helps.


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