I have always traveled, it’s in my DNA. In 1985, my parents were crazy enough to take me with them to India when I was just 2, then I lived in Thailand for a month at age 7 (homeschooled on the beach). Since then, I travel every year. This year, I did not want to leave for just three weeks. I wanted more. I wanted to live in cities, at their own pace, and take the time to discover, learn and understand them…
My plan: take off for 4 months. Alone. My computer as my office. Free to design for Arcbees wherever I wanted to.
I am lucky. I would not have been able to do that in any other company. With Arcbees, I could. I asked Christian, my very sympathetic boss, in the simplest way possible: “I want to travel, this is the right time. I’m single, no children, no obligations. I want to go for 4 months and work while I’m away. Are you okay with that?” And the answer was as simple as “Yes, you can but I’m jealous though”.
Christian had only two terms:
- have maximum access to the Internet for him to be able to communicate with me
- attend all our Hangout meetings
These were two easily achievable conditions, and not difficult to organize into my plans. So I left on March 16th 2015, with one plane ticket. Quebec city > Reykjavik.
Here is my itinerary.
A Basic Digital Nomad Survival Guide
This experience taught me a lot about what it takes to successfully organize this kind of digital nomad remote work/travel experience. It is a great perk for people in digital companies where work is electronic and done online. It could build great employee loyalty, and it makes everybody’s quality of life better – those who travel and those who get to learn about the technology scene in different countries through the travelling worker’s eyes. So long as you take care of a few key things, the experience can be very smooth.
Here are the things I learned about how to be a successful digital nomad:
1 / Choose a country where the Internet is easily accessible.
Of course, I want to travel the whole world, but staying connected to my workplace was to play a big role during this special trip of mine. It may seem like a basic point, but there are many destinations where internet access can be problematic. It is important to choose a country where the internet is easily accessible in cafes, with reasonable speed and above all, free . There are still many places in the world where free internet access is not available, and paid connections are poor quality too.
2 / Ok Google, Internet + Coffee + Helsinki ?
Before storming into a new city, it is always important to check beforehand where the internet-cafes are. You will be surprised at how many blogs and websites list and grade them! You will end up finding gems that you would have never found by yourself.
The essentials :
My top 3 of cafes I found during my trip :
- Pois Cafe, Lisbon
This is a small, well hidden cafe with incredible food! The mozzarella, Pesto and iced tea are to die for.
- Filter Coffee
This was another incredible place in a neighborhood that is really worth discovering! The mac’n’cheese was delicious. All customers here work at their tables, and the cafe provides many conveniences to make it easy for you to be productive!
- AntiCafé Beaubourg
If you are in the mood for a bold mobile working concept, try out this place where you pay by the hour to hang out there, and not for the stuff you consume. All consumables are “free”, and self-serve: drinks, snacks (Healthy ones!) printer, projector…
3 / Out of sight but not out of mind
Once you figure out where you can go to get online, you need to figure out how to best collaborate with your team back home. The fact that you are currently working remotely does not necessarily change your role on the team, so it is very important to collaborate well with your co-workers throughout the digital nomad experience.
Here are some tools that I really enjoyed :
Figure it out: This is a beautifully designed chrome extension, which shows you the time in as many time zones as you like every time you open a new tab. You can convert time across time zones easily with this too.
Update google calendar with accurate location information at each destination:
This may seem like a VERY silly little thing, but when you often change time zones, you get lost and you can be late for meetings! Search online for info about how to keep your calendar appointments accurate when you cross time zones.
Slack: Like so many other companies, Slack has become the nerve center for our team communications. I still wonder how we ever managed without it before! Even when I was far away, Slack always kept me deeply integrated in the team, aware of everything that everyone was doing.
This Slack-integrated visual communication tools was a useful way for me to get feedback on visual interfaces I was designing.
For each city I visited, I sent a postcard to the team. I took up this habit on my first business trip to Albany (yep, not exotic, but it’s the thought that counts). This simple gesture allows the entire team to participate in the trip and lets you say: I’m thinking of you all! (For the record, it is now Arcbees policy that everyone MUST send a postcard when traveling).
If you have digital nomad tools or ideas that I do not know, and you think they might come in handy for my next trip … please leave a comment!
4 / You will never be as productive as in an airplane
I usually sleep in planes … but I discovered that working in aircraft could be so productive that I became addicted. I even suggested to Christian that he should purchase a private plane, so that my productivity would be 2000% better, but he strangely wasn’t keen on the idea. However, if you have a design job like mine and you need to surf the internet for inspiration as part of your work, make sure you have everything you need before you lift off. Leave the tabs showing pages you will need open in your browser. Some airlines offer wifi nowadays, such as United, but I have never tried it out, although I was definitely tempted .
5 / Being consistent while in flux.
As a digital nomad, you aren’t wedded to the daily grind of office hours, especially if your time zone differs significantly from your home team. Finding a consistent working rhythm takes time, when everything in your environment changes and you are confronting the unknown every single day.
Everyone must find their own rhythm. I’m so not the type of girl who can stay in front of her computer for 7 hours non-stop. I segmented my days with “inspirational outings” as I called them, which kept me fresh and productive, while letting me enjoy the benefits of exploring the new cities I visited. My general pattern of work was as follows:
- Work 1-2h in the morning, reply to emails, make list of what I had to do, execute urgent tasks.
- Take the subway, bus or walk to the city core and visit the internet cafe I had previously selected.
- Work 3h at the cafe: design, design, design…
- Visit a museum, do an activity…
- Go back to my Airbnb
- Work 2 to 3 more hours
This rhythm let me enjoy both working and travelling, and helped me, to stay focused. Most importantly, I remained a productive contributor to our work at Arcbees. I changed cities so often that without this regular rhythm, I could have easily lost myself. I wanted to find a good balance between travel and work.
I worked in some pretty unlikely places, but the icing on the cake was to work on a cruise ship between Helsinki and Tallinn.
6 / In my nomadic worker backpack, you will find:
- Multi plug AC adaptor: I paid $ 30 for mine, it is more than practical, with two USB ports included
- Always go exploring with your computer and phones charged. Some cafes do not have any electrical outlets for customers, or sometimes they do but they are all being used. (I have two phones that were in airplane mode all along my journey. An Android, and an Iphone for photos.)
- A Mac Charger, USB Cable for Phones. Take your cables with you in your backpack
- Professional Moleskine Notebook: The best notebook according to me. With its 3 sections, it is easy to take notes on all projects. When traveling, no leaflets, no post it. Everything must be centralized!
- “Cartoville”: probably the best invention for the disconnected traveler: including a booklet, maps by areas, all the info you need and all the places to visit and the must-see.
- LaCie rugged external hard drive for Time Machine. I chose it because he is resistant to bumps and knocks. https://www.lacie.com/ca/products/product.htm?id=10564
- Essentials: tissues, water bottle, mini sunscreen tube, hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes.
Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry …
I still can not believe how lucky I am to have lived this incredible adventure, but to be honest, nomadic life is not always simple. Here are, according to me, the ups and downs of this uncommon life.
- What’s routine again? The nomad’s brain is constantly fed new experiences, and becomes completely addicted to novelty and discovery.
- Spirit opens up! Every new place makes you discover a new culture, a new way of living. I am a dedicated observer of human life. Some of this occurred because I lived with locals via Airbnb. I would also spend hours just watching people, seeing how they behaved, lived, ate… Experiencing another culture opens your mind to new ways of doing things!
- Me, shy? I’m still shy, but I overcame my fear and I am no longer afraid to approach people and ask for help. I met so many wonderful people with whom I shared moments that were often great, and sometimes… unusual. I had a small problem with cockroaches in Hawaii. Frightened, I asked my neighbor to help me out. I never thought that one day I would see a naked stranger jumping around my room to kill a cockroach for me. Etched forever in my memory.
- Traveling is enriching. Traveling is like drawing moments in your heart that you will never forget. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I see that black sand beach in Iceland in the heart of the storm; my springtime walks on the Helsinki waterfront; that place in Munich where I tasted a beer and ate a sausage surrounded by Germans in traditional shorts; the piece of chocolate cake in a 4 star hotel in Salzburg; the view over Rome from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica; the boat trip to the Taj in Lisbon; walking along the remains of The Berlin Wall; visiting the Square offices in San Francisco; the Voodon Donught’s donught in Portland; waves crashing on lava in Hilo; the singing dolphins in Kona; the inspiring architecture of Chicago …
- Living with loneliness: Sometimes you feel very alone. As I said, I’m very shy and it took me a while to get out of my bubble and connect with others. In the first month and a half of my trip, I would sometimes feel very lonesome. I might go 2-3 days without really talking to anyone. Then something shifted, and I was no longer afraid to approach people. I’m still shy, but I made a huge step forward in this regard, and I’m very proud of myself.
- Living out of a suitcase. Like any normal girl, I can’t help but feel a bit bored wearing the same clothes four months!
- And if I died now… what would happen? I had this thought in Rome. A car nearly ran me over and the first thing I thought was, “If I died, who would know?” Both my parents have passed away, and sometimes I had not told anybody exactly where I was. Maybe I was a little reckless, but I wanted to feel free. Everyone would have worried about me after not hearing from me on Facebook or by email … From that moment, I became a little more cautious.
- Rushing through cities too quickly. 7 days is too short to really get the feel of a city. I tested several lengths of stay and found that spending 3 to 4 weeks per city is a minimum.
- Back to the daily grind. Routine is hard. Really hard. Routine beats you down, and your brain begs you to run away. I really resented returning to my routine life. I felt caged. So I took some decisions to live better and perhaps leave better (wink wink), but not run away!
- Work at least two days a week outside of the office
- Take one trip a month, even a small one
- Explore my own hometown like I did the other cities I visited.
Why I did it and why I would do it again
Why did I do it? I lost my parents at over a two-year intervals at age 28. I thus became an orphan. That is a massive kick in the chest. I ended up asking myself who I was and who I wanted to be. I looked for the answers, but deep inside, wanderlust always came up as a way of finding myself.
What I found during this trip is not what I had imagined whatsoever. I grew up at unbelievable speed, I accepted who I was, and I learned that I did not have to apologize for that. In addition, I am out of my bubble and I opened my eyes on the beautiful world I live in. My greatest reward is the happiness I feel inside every morning and know that the world belongs to me.
To see more photos of my trip : manongruaz.exposure.co