10 tips for becoming a digital nomad and working abroad

Eden Marish Roehr
March 31, 2022

10 tips for becoming a digital nomad and working abroad

Before the pandemic rocked the world, my post-college plan involved traveling the globe. Prior to starting a career, I wanted to explore different cultures, adventure across borders, and get to know myself better along the way — but once COVID hit, that dream evaporated. Switching gears, I dusted off my resume, applied to jobs, and landed alongside an amazing team at thinkPARALLAX

Valparaíso, Chile

One year later, spurred by the development of vaccines, the relaxing of travel restrictions, and our team’s shift to remote work, traveling abroad became a tangible possibility. While our team still convenes in person each quarter for company retreats, we can spend the rest of the year working where we choose: at our San Diego office, at home, or abroad. This flexibility allows our team to do their best work on their own terms, contributing to a culture where work-life balance, shared values, and the ability to produce great work is prioritized above all else.

From snow-capped mountains in Patagonia to sun-soaked beaches in Costa Rica, I’ve spent the past months traveling through South and Central America, laptop in hand, putting the digital nomad lifestyle to the test. Here are ten pieces of advice I’ve learned along the way.

1. Look before you leap

Before booking your trip, take some time to lock down logistics. To avoid frozen screens and dropped calls, your WiFi connection should have a download speed of at least 50 to 100 Mbps; Nomad List is helpful for gauging WiFi connectivity across the world. Understanding visa requirements is also essential — research this early enough to apply for and receive one if necessary! Most digital nomads apply for tourist visas, as you are technically still employed in your home country. Last but not least, double check COVID-19 regulations: they vary widely by country, but at minimum, getting vaccinated and boosted reduces both your risk of contracting the virus and of spreading it to others while you’re traveling. 

2. Safety first

While it might not be the most glamorous part of working abroad, ensuring that both you and your work are safe will give you the peace of mind to enjoy the present moment during your travels. Many travel insurance packages average $40 per month and ensure that any surprise hospital bills, thefts, and other emergencies don’t break the bank. Safety Wing is a favorite among digital nomads, and can be purchased before or during your trip. Downloading a Virtual Private Network (VPN) — a program that keeps sensitive information safe while you browse the Internet — is also a nomadic best practice, especially when connecting to WiFi signals in airports, cafés, and other public spaces. At $10 to $15 per month, the VPN — NordVPN is a popular choice — establishes a secure connection on each device where it’s installed.

3. Travel slow

Working during the week means that sight-seeing will have to wait for the weekends. To give yourself enough time to explore, plan to spend at least one month in each place you visit. This will give you the opportunity to settle into a routine, focus on your work, and form genuine friendships. Long-term accommodations are also likely to give you a discounted rate if your stay lasts a month or longer.

4. Pack the essentials

Next to your passport, sunscreen, and swimsuit, make room for your own digital nomad toolkit. This could include phone and laptop chargers, electric adapters, a laptop stand, earbuds, a notepad and pens — work accessories that are both useful and portable. Noise-canceling headphones are especially handy for crowded cafés and shared working spaces. Download any software necessities before takeoff. For our team, that includes Zoom, Slack, and Google Suite — all of which have handy functions for adjusting to a new time zone. 

5. Take advantage of a new time zone

Scheduling meetings requires more mental math abroad, but working in a different time zone also has its perks. Once I adapted to working five hours ahead of PST in Chile — from 12pm to 8pm local time — I grew to love the space it created in my day. With my work spread over more daylight hours, my time became more flexible: I could spend an unhurried morning exploring the city, sipping coffee, swimming in the ocean — or working peacefully through tasks without distractions. Although my workload remained the same, my week felt less frantic. And for those working behind home schedules, the opposite is true: afternoons become free to relax, enjoy, and explore.

6. Plug in to local co-working spaces

Cowork spaces are a digital nomad's paradise: they provide reliable WiFi, quiet meeting spaces, and access to a network of fellow travelers. Coworker is a handy tool for discovering, booking, and accessing cowork spaces. Coliving offers shared living and working spaces around the world, for both short-term or long-term stays. And hostels like Selina often have co-live packages where the cost of working and living are bundled together at a cheaper rate — but this is often a secret menu item that you may have to inquire about directly. 

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

7. Minimize your footprint

In many ways, travel is a privilege. To respect the places we visit, we should always leave them better than we found them — and while there are infinite possibilities for socially and environmentally conscious travel, here are a few universal tips. Investing in a reusable water bottle with a built-in filtration system both reduces your single-use plastic consumption and protects you from bacteria, parasites, and microplastics. Other best practices include purchasing carbon credits to offset transport emissions, Googling and booking Eco-Certified hotels, and engaging in local volunteer opportunities.

8. Capture your creativity

If creativity is intelligence having fun, then travel is a jungle gym. Research suggests that travel increases creativity and positive thoughts and boosts levels of joy and inspiration. “Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind,” writes Brent Crane of The Atlantic. Throughout my travels, I captured a steady flow of ideas — blog content, culture change programs, webinar topics — in my Notes app so that when I logged online, I could transform those ideas into action.

9. Expand your perspective

Here’s the catch: the creativity research only stands when you get outside of your comfort zone, engage with different cultures, and test the unfamiliar. To that end, online platforms like MeetUp and CouchSurfing connect travelers to local communities, groups, and events — including language exchanges, music festivals, and book clubs — and Facebook groups like Nomadbase and Digital Nomads Around the World convene digital nomads to share travel questions, advice, and perspectives.

10. Enjoy yourself (it’s later than you think)

As Canadian rapper Drake once sang, "Y.O.L.O.": you only live once. Or, as American poet Mary Oliver famously asked: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The option to travel and work has opened doors I never thought possible: to collaborate with an incredible team working to amplify impact, while at the same time exploring this wild and precious world. Travel has infinite potential to energize us, inspire us, and connect us to something bigger than ourselves; engaging in purposeful work gives our lives meaning. I am grateful to belong to a community where I can do both. 

Post-sunrise hike selfie in Patagonia (final tip: make sure to take some PTO!)
10 tips for becoming a digital nomad and working abroad
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