A case study of my digital nomad lifestyle Rules
This article is personal, since it relates to specific rules I follow while living my digital nomad life. In a way, those rules are the pillars of my own nomadic “religion” and allow me to put some order in what at first glance seems like an uncertain and unbalanced lifestyle. Most of the rules here will not be relevant to you, since sadly or fortunately, you and I are different. This is simply a digital nomad case study based on the years I spent on the road. I publish this article for the following reasons:
1) As my own ongoing resource which allows me to check my compliance with an ever changing list of rules that have proved to keep me happy and balanced over time. 2) As a digital nomad case study, some of those rules and personal insights might be relevant and helpful to you 3) The article demonstrates that every nomad should customize her/his nomadic life. By publishing my own digital nomad case study, I hope to push you into writing your own version. If you ever write one, I would love to read it.
The nomadic lifestyle is all about constantly changing locations and the people around you. You press a Reset button every time you move to a new place, you lose all your anchors.That’s why setting up your own rules and routines is especially critical for this lifestyle, as you want some certainty in your life. You need to have a structure of a day and general travel style to avoid doubts and emotional fatigue. Those, combined with loss of efficiency will all take their toll and break you.
The following list is constantly evolving. I learn about myself from each place where I spend time in, the road is my teacher. This article is an organized summary of the rules I follow. If you are interested to see where exactly did I learn each of those lessons, I have an article about the biggest insights I had in each location I lived in, sorted by chronological order since 2010
Top factor in picking the next destination– I always prefer to go to a new Country. However, if I go back to a country I have lived in before, I pick a new city.
Other factors for picking the next base– The two additional critical things for me are : 1)Existence of a Coworking space 2) City size- Anything in between a population of 100,000 and 1,000,000 is good. The smaller it is, the more special, but also on the same time less social. I avoid cities with more than 1 Million residents, especially if they are also super touristic (Athens and Prague come to mind), since those make me feel out of sync.
I also take into account the Cost of living, friends I might already have in a location, the weather, strength of the startup ecosystem, Language and many additional factors influencing my decision of picking my next travel destination.
Home base– My parents are in Israel and since I want to spend time with them, I try to visit my home base every 6 months (Maximum 9 if I am really far away). If my parents and close family arrive to visit me while I am abroad, the count resets, but this hardly happens. I opt to stay between 30-45 days in my home base before leaving since it allows me to establish routines, spend time with the family and save the money I spent on the trip home by living with my family. In total, I will not stay more than 90 days a a year in my home-base. When my finances will get better, I will try to visit home more frequently, but stay for less time.
Nomadic Wave– A nomadic wave is defined as the travel period between my departure and return to my home base and usually consists of of 2-3 countries I live in, and few countries I go through. I prefer not to take flights during a nomadic wave and usually switch locations by land.
Travel Style- Slow Travel is a key concept for me since frequent change gravely affects my work efficiency and doesn’t allow me to establish a social circle and emotional stability. Nomads need even more stability than average, especially when trying to create a sustained source of income.
Length and Types of stay– Tourists usually can’t stay more than 3 months in a country, and I see it as a blessing in disguise since it pushes me to keep on moving. While staying in a country, I have two types of bases, Fixed and Temporal. I ideally cover 1-2 fixed bases and 2 temporal bases before I leave a country. My sequence is usually staying in a fixed base for a month, then spending one week in a temporal base, and then either getting back to the same fixed base for another month, or moving on to a new fixed base. I try not to decide if a place is fixed or temporal even if it has a coworking space before I spend a week there and see if I like it. Life is short and the world is big, I only declare a place to be a fixed one if I truly enjoy it.
Going back– I decided I can only stay a maximum of a week in a base where I have stayed more than one month in the past. This keeps me from getting stuck in a comfortable place that I already know. There is too much to see, and usually a place I liked would disappoint me when I get back to it. I allow one exception a year for that, which means that if I love a base and really feel like going back, I can do that for a maximum of a month. Needless to say that those rules are meant to be broken, and if in one day I will find happiness in one place, i will definitely stay longer or until I die.
Weekends– My weekend starts on Friday at Noon and ends on Saturday night. I avoid working on weekends all together. Fridays are laid back days for me, with some light work and focus on meeting people and doing tasks I don’t have time for during the week. I will then travel in the second part of Friday to spend the night somewhere new. I will always make sure to be in a place far from my fixed base on the weekend (preferably with two night stay), since it gives me positive energies for the week to come and makes me happy. Saturday is my holy day where I connect to myself and my nomadic life by exploring a new place. In order to push myself out of my base on the weekend, I will try booking an accommodation a few days in advance and make sure to check out on Friday. When I rent an apartment, I will go back to it on Saturday night to avoid spending double on accommodation.
Before going, I will try to leave my suitcase at the coworking place, or in the hostel for the weekend, so I can travel light. The ideal option for me would be to get hosted in Couchsurfing, which supplies interaction and a new local friend. If I can’t find a host, I will opt to book a dorm bed in hostels and will be more social than in weekdays, since I have a mindset of exploration and meeting new people rather than working. I don’t enjoy a room alone on the weekend, unless it is a hostel with a lot of social life. I will always try to make a walk of 3 hours minimum on weekends, so picking a location close to a national park is best. On my weekend trips I care less about time, so I try to get lost intentionally. I go for that awkward camping site or hostel in the middle of nowhere that might not even be open. I also use the weekend to make the transition to a new temporal base (on Friday) or Fixed base (On Saturday) so I can settle down without the pressure of losing a work day.
Workdays- Sunday is a work day for me, and as such, I will keep away from uncertainty and push for effective use of time. I will try to work in a coffee shop in my weekend base before coming back to my regular base, and always travel by train so I can get some work done on the road. I spend Monday to Friday in my regular base, mostly in my coworking space, and will avoid changing accommodation during the week as this takes valuable time.
Temporal bases- I stay in those for one week. Every Quarter (3 months), I will stay a week in a Temporal work base that will have a coworking space that I book in advance in addition to buying a good data package before traveling to it. In this week I will still work and attend to emails, but might cancel some non critical meetings so I explore the base. My other week on a temporal base is for a “Disconnection period” from work, in which I will dedicate my week to a specific activity or spending time with friends/family without emails and calls. Generally, I prefer my temporal bases to have a lot of nature while also not being shabby touristic spots. I limit my stay in temporary bases for a week before I return to a fixed base since they can destabilize me due to the lack of a known office, social life and routines. For a work temporal base, I have found accommodation via Airbnb to be the best since it allows both comfort and interaction that will be needed considering I will not have time to make friends. Other accommodation option would be a family owned hostel with amazing garden to work in with an affordable private room during the week.
Routines and tasks in bases– I have compiled a check list for my bases with tasks that I try to complete until I leave. It includes around 30 items, of which the most critical ones are finding a great office/co working, a swimming pool, a local sim card with data package, and other tasks which proved to make me happy. I “kill” the list during my stay, and outsource some of the items to virtual assistants. As for the swimming pool, I try to find one that is easily accessible from my coworking place (short walk, or easy public transport) and go there 3 times a week.
Off season and weather– I avoid touristic locations in season since they get expensive and are more challenging to connect with locals. If I can, I spend July/August either at home where I can swim or in a non touristic location. I avoid extreme temperatures, and will avoid hot locations (more than 30 degrees celcius) if they don’t have a beach nearby. I also avoid staying in a place that is projected to have below 0 degrees.
Prefered Booking sites– For hostels (mainly dorms),I currently use Hostelworld and as backup Hostelbookers. For single rooms and double rooms, I found Booking.com to offer great value. For longer stays in apartments I use AirBnb.
Hostel Dorm beds and camping– Dorms are without a doubt the best economical option for a solo traveler, especially if you stay for only a few days. However, as time passes, I try to limit my stay in dorms for weekends, since they also offer low quality of sleep which affects my work. When staying in a dorm, I aim to get a room with 4 beds or less. It is important for me that my dorm bed is far from the other beds to create isolation and privacy (Hanging a sheet or big towel to block visibility to my bed is also good), and I prefer to be close to the window. In small villages dorms are better, and the people who stay there are more balanced and relaxed. One more option that comes to mind in Summer is camping, which I try to do for a week close to the beach.
Picking a private room in Hostels/Guesthouses– There are basically two types of locations: family hostels and factory hostels/hotels. The family ones which are the ones I am trying to get have only a few rooms, a bit run down, and offer good vibes, accountability and some social interaction with the owners and people staying there (This is critical for me). I always go for the family ones since they offer accountability and social element, but identifying which is which when booking online can be tricky. The family hostels usually have less reviews which usually discuss the vibes and special atmosphere/interaction with the staff, are rated a bit lower than average, and are sometimes out of the city center.If I find one I like, I will probably spend my Sundays to Fridays there during my entire stay in a base. The factory ones which I try to skip or not prolong my stay in are 1) The Shiny, artificial factory hostels which cater for a mass of younger crowd which makes me feel out of place (I am too old for those!). The worse of this category are the “Party hostels” which are easy to spot when booking 2)Functional cold and no interaction “sleep places” for workers with low budget where you are likely not to speak to anyone from the minute you enter the main door until you get to your room.
Picking the right shared apartment- Regardless of being expensive, I prefer to avoid having an entire apartment for myself, and have flat mates since it offers the accountability and social interaction I need. The only exception that will make me rent an apartment is in a situation I have a visitor coming for a long time, or if I am in a relationship with someone living with me. I use AirBnb to locate my room/apartment, although it is sometimes hard to find a place there that is within my budget. A shared apartment is usually much cheaper when staying in relatively developed countries where private room in a hostel will be quite expensive. I try to find an apartment with constant interaction and good vibes with the other flat mates, which is the reason I will only book for maximum 5 days on the platform itself and opt to meet the owner before making a decision on an extended period. It is also important for me to discuss all potential friction points with the owners. Those usually include bringing visitors, working in the common space, kitchen use, laundry, and assurance about the internet quality. In general, if I stay more for an extended period, I try to make sure I will be treated me as a regular flat mate, and less as a guest.
Preferred Location of accommodation– I always check if I can find accommodation in a village or in the outskirts of the city (where the city ends and becomes green) from which I can travel daily to my coworking space. Not only nature makes me happy, but those places are also more authentic and generally cheaper. Traveling with public transport every day is good for me since this time allows me to read and reflect. If I can’t find such location, picking a hostel or a airbnb room with good atmosphere away from the city center is also a good option, living in the city center is something I try to avoid in general
Personal rules in any Accommodation – The first rule which I already discussed is not spending my Friday nights where I stayed during the week (and Saturdays if possible). Other than that, I have two general life rules that keep me balanced and connected. The first is turning off all screens at 11PM, and the second is to never turn on screens at home in the morning before I leave it (this one I really struggle with).
Made it so far? Now, get to the road.