10 Secrets of Digital Nomads Blending Work and Travel

Want to swap your cubicle for a co-living space? Learn how to combine work and wayfaring abroad.

By Liz Weiss, Staff Writer |Aug. 22, 2017, at 2:16 p.m.

10 Secrets of Digital Nomads Blending Work and Travel

Slideshow

Keep your job while traversing the globe.

Businessman drinking coffee at sidewalk cafe near Sacre Coeur Basilica, Paris, France

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If you've ever dreamed of ditching your 9-to-5 to become a digital nomad, you're not alone. According to Gallup's State of the American Workplace report published in February, 43 percent of the more than 15,000 U.S. employees surveyed reported working remotely at least sometimes in 2016. And with the rise of work-tourism startups offering the chance to trade cubicles and boardrooms for cafes and co-working spaces in far-flung locales, it's easier than ever to fulfill a work-anywhere lifestyle. But working while traveling is often a balancing act. "You can burn out pretty easily," cautions Daniel Lombardi, a digital nomad and creative director crisscrossing the globe with his family. Read on for pro pointers for achieving an unfettered lifestyle.

Consider your goals.

Consider your goals.

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Before launching off on a new adventure, assess your intent for traveling abroad and embarking on this lifestyle, advises Jonathan Kalan, co-founder of Unsettled, a startup that offers 30-day organized co-working trips across the globe for professionals. Unsettled fosters a greater sense of community and purpose while traveling, he explains. Ask yourself: "What are you looking to change? What about your current situation do you want to shake up?" he says. Evaluate whether you're searching for diverse cultures or more flexibility and independence with your time, Kalan says, and keep in mind, "you don't have to go all in." You can travel for a month rather than selling everything you own and work six hours of the day rather than 10, he explains.

Embrace shifting time zones and time in transit.

Embrace shifting time zones and time in transit.

Businesswoman with digital tablet sitting in airport

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After arriving in Europe, Lombardi admits he thought the different time zone would be an issue with clients on the East Coast for his design firm, Design Nomad. "It was actually an incredible benefit," he says. Because he was six hours ahead, he could adjust his schedule and work in the morning from 6 a.m. to noon and have the entire day free to enjoy sightseeing before taking calls after dinner or answering emails in the evening. Caroline Lupini, a freelance writer and digital nomad, relies on tools like LoungeBuddy to pinpoint airport lounges during layovers and stay productive en route. She also leverages her loyalty program membership status to enjoy access to lounges for complimentary food and Wi-Fi access.

Connect with like-minded professionals and locals.

Connect with like-minded professionals and locals.

Group of English students in London

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With the rise of the freelance economy, "more people are able to take the opportunity to work and travel," Kalan says. One of the goals is creating informative shared experiences with participants from varying backgrounds, he explains. Unsettled makes it easy to share knowledge in a comfortable, work-friendly environment with reliable Wi-Fi connections, quality accommodations and a variety of workshops, guest speakers and happy hours, Kalan explains. "We really strive for these diverse experiences," he says, emphasizing that it's not just 20-somethings joining work-tourism programs. The average age for participants is about 35, he says, and the trip is grounded in productivity and experiences that offer extended professional development, he adds.

Utilize savvy travel apps.

Utilize savvy travel apps.

A couple looks at a phone while at a train station.

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A variety of handy travel apps make working remotely – and stretching pennies overseas – a cinch. Lombardi highlights WhatsApp and Viber as especially helpful tools for saving on video chats and calls. He also utilizes travel fare aggregators such as Google Flights and Skyscanner to search for affordable flights. Other tools in his arsenal include Google Translate and Google Maps, which offers an offline map that's free and doesn’t require data to use. Lombardi says this is especially valuable when you're in a foreign city and you don't want to pay a steep price for helpful directions. With offline maps, you can also utilize search capabilities and navigational tools like turn-by-turn directions.

Find an environment that's conducive to your work style.

Find an environment that's conducive to your work style.

Attractive Asian businesswoman having coffee and reading emails on a notebook at outdoor cafe,  Shot with wide angle lens using shallow depth of field to blur out background details.

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Finding an ideal work-friendly setting depends on the person, Lombardi says. Some people love the office environment or co-working place, he says. And others, like Lombardi, feed off the energy in different countries and enjoy embracing diverse cultures in bustling cafes for added productivity. While he hasn't tried a co-sharing program such as Unsettled or Remote Year, Lombardi understands their advantages. "I think it could be a worthwhile added expense," he says, particularly if you're doing it on your own and you're looking to make connections and even boost your business. "Travel actually increased my business," he says. By meeting talented creative professionals, from photographers to developers, he delegated work and picked up more business.

Use meetups to stay connected.

Use meetups to stay connected.

Business people cheering in office

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Keeping up with work while jetting off to distant locales can be difficult with pressing meetings and calls on your agenda. That's where Surf Office comes in. While working in Prague, the company's founder, Peter Fabor, dreamed about his next surf escape, and he realized that when he went to the office, he interacted mostly with colleagues online. That's what inspired him to work remotely on the Canary Islands and ultimately create a workspace in Gran Canaria. To help facilitate interaction among remote professionals, he created organized meetups. Surf Office also orchestrates off-site company retreats, where participants can enjoy team building and take part in hackathons, brainstorming sessions, demos and strategy games, among other exercises. For success, he recommends having a concrete business goal, such as designing a strategy for the next months or creating a first product prototype.

Live like a local.

Live like a local.

Female college student relaxing on bedroom floor

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Many people spring for lavish experiences on vacation, causing them to overspend on flights, accommodations and meals. When you're leading a nomadic lifestyle, the key is living like the local residents. Stay in apartments appointed with valuable amenities, such as a kitchen and a washer-dryer unit, and avoid eating out every meal. Lombardi suggests eating out for lunch to experience the flavors of a city and its culture, which is less expensive than dining out for dinner and offers the same quality cuisine. He also reaches out to Airbnb hosts with questions about local haunts, markets and need-to-know spots.

Don't succumb to slow Wi-Fi or international roaming fees.

Don't succumb to slow Wi-Fi or international roaming fees.

Portrait of a happy business man using his phone on the street and smiling - lifestyle concepts

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To stay in touch with colleagues and loved ones abroad, you'll need a reliable internet connection and a phone plan that won't impose steep international roaming fees, Lupini says. The top challenge she's come across is finding consistently reliable Wi-Fi in remote destinations, such as Southeast Asia, which can be stress-inducing, she explains. She uses the app Workfrom, which makes it easy to look up coffee shops and peruse past patrons' sentiments about Wi-Fi speed and availability. Lupini also switched from T-Mobile to Google's Project Fi. That way, if Wi-Fi is spotty, she can use her iPhone as a hot spot, she explains. Plus, with Project Fi, you get unlimited texting for $10 per gigabyte of data in more than 135 countries, she adds.

If you're a business owner, remember flexibility can boost employee satisfaction.

If you're a business owner, remember flexibility can boost employee satisfaction.

Businesswoman with suitcase waiting in airport

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While you could devote thousands of dollars to employee training and professional development courses, another option is exposing your staff to a global marketplace for around $2,500 for a month, Kalan says. "We've had a lot of people from large companies, from Microsoft to Ford," he says. By rewarding high-performing employees with a co-working trip around the world, you can incentivize engagement, productivity and long-term loyalty, he adds. This generation's workforce is looking for added flexibility; offering employees the chance to challenge themselves, embrace new cultures and perspectives and meet other industry professionals and creative types can yield high results, he says.

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Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of experience covering the travel industry, Liz has covered a diverse set of topics to help readers make smarter travel decisions and plan better trips. In her current role, she edits a range of consumer-facing topics, including personal finance, retirement, health, wellness and education. Previously, Liz was the Travel Editor for Consumer Advice, where she wrote and edited features and slideshows and managed the En Route travel blog. She graduated with a bachelor's degree from George Washington University. You can follow Liz on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at eweiss@usnews.com.

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