Living out of a backpack isn’t easy. Sure, it always looks idyllic over social media, but the realities can be very different. Frustration, confusion, and fatigue are quite common, especially for nomads new to the lifestyle. However, you can take comfort in knowing that most digital nomads find that there are far more ups than downs.
All digital nomads over time will forge the tools they need to optimize this dynamic lifestyle. From practical skills such as time management and organization to soft skills like flexibility and an optimistic attitude. Here are the top eight skills that are vital for becoming a successful digital nomad.
Time management is by far the top practical skill that every digital nomad needs to master as a remote worker. It can be challenging to dedicate time to sitting behind a laptop, especially when landing in a new country just hours before. The new sights, smells, flavors, and textures can be too enticing to resist and before you know it, you’ve wandered around the city for a full seven days, still yet to unpack your laptop and with increasingly frustrated client emails slowly filling the inbox.
Early on in your first digital nomad trip, this temptation is much more difficult to subdue. But as you mature into the lifestyle, it becomes easier to set time aside for the important stuff and to put tourism on the back burner.
Like most things, time management as a digital nomad is very much trial and error. With a working (and living) schedule uprooted, slotting back into a new routine isn’t always a smooth process. By working on discipline, digital nomads can ensure that their time is spent wisely and they aren’t falling behind—both in their work and in their travels.
You can use online calendars and to-do lists to stay organized. Schedule time for both work and downtime, and aim to stick to a loose plan each day. Itineraries don’t have to be strict (we’d actually advise the opposite), but a basic outline of your priorities and responsibilities is a great way to plan for the day.
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Time management may be one of the most important digital nomad skills, but flexibility should have comparable authority when planning your trip. Travel can be unpredictable. Whether it’s a canceled flight, an overbooked hotel, or a case of food poisoning—the adventure doesn’t truly begin until something goes wrong. It’s in these frustrating times that we grow the most, especially when we learn to be flexible.
But it’s not just the bad stuff that makes flexibility such a highly-valued skill. A spontaneous dinner with new friends, aimless exploration of new places, and chance encounters with locals can all make for great experiences that you couldn’t possibly plan for ahead of time. These tend to be the ones you remember most.
Having room for spontaneity is a huge benefit of living as a digital nomad. An itinerary that has been planned for every last detail is the enemy of serendipity. You’ll need a plan to stay on top of your work of course, but you should also give yourself free time.
Resilience is a huge part of what makes for a successful and enjoyable travel experience. Even though we all know it is an incredible privilege, traveling full-time can be both physically and mentally taxing. Living out of a backpack can, at times, become overwhelming, even for the most experienced digital nomads.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back, to brush things off, and to ready yourself for the next challenge. It’s this mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility that is a difficult skill to master, but it’s one that’s incredibly valuable for digital nomads.
Travel is a great way to naturally build resilience, but there is also a range of ways that we can more mindfully build the skill, in preparation for whatever full-time travel throws at us. Methods include talking through situations with a strong social network, altering your outlook to a positive perspective, and daily practices of gratitude.
Not to say that resilient people don’t experience stress, frustration, and even emotional upheaval. The goal is not to block out these feelings, but to work through them efficiently and find real solutions.
READ MORE: How to Budget As a Digital Nomad
The ability to communicate effectively is a valuable skill in any workplace, but good communication is vital when living as a digital nomad and working remotely. Every remote working setup is different. Where some nomads may be required to be available from nine to five during the working week, others are given the freedom to create a work schedule that fits their travel plans. Whatever your situation, it’s vital to communicate effectively with your remote working team to avoid performance drops.
It’s not just conversations with team members that are important for digital nomads—communication with locals, travelers, and others in the remote working community is always good practice. Traveling the world can be a lonely experience, especially when going alone. It can be too easy to become a bit of a recluse, but we all need human interaction for quality mental health.
Connecting with a digital nomad community can be a great way to find like-minded travelers to enjoy activities with. Whether that’s surfing in Bali, partying in Berlin, or trekking in Peru, experiences shared are almost always better.
READ MORE: Why Digital Nomads Need a VPN
Optimism and Kindness
An optimistic attitude, and the ability to frame every experience in the best possible light, is one of the most important attributes of a digital nomad. It can be too easy to become frustrated when things don’t work out as you expect when you travel. Whether it’s a missed connection, a friendship fall-out, or a bad local experience that’s tried to ruin your day, optimism acts as an initial barrier to combat the negativity.
Kindness is another fantastic skill to pick up as a digital nomad that works hand-in-hand with optimism. Not only is a good attitude infectious, but you’ll find plenty of unexpected benefits along the way. Top-quality service, free upgrades, and positive customer experiences can all be achieved with just a little optimism and kindness.
The glass-half-full approach to travel and remote work is a truly invaluable skill for digital nomads and allows for every workation to offer a unique, enjoyable experience. But the combination of optimism and kindness is unbeaten, not only when traveling, but in everyday life, too.
The freedom to work whenever, wherever is an incredible privilege, but many digital nomads struggle to find self-motivation when working remotely. The drive to get up early, open the laptop, and get started with the day's work can prove to be a difficult task for some. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, especially for new nomads, but there are countless tips and tricks out there for digital nomads struggling to stay productive when traveling.
Creating a solid morning routine, building a to-do list, separating your working and living spaces, and utilizing coworking spaces and nomad-friendly cafes are just some of the ways to boost motivation. Personally, I’ve found that getting up early (before the sun if possible), using a dedicated coworking space, and slipping on a pair of noise-canceling headphones is the perfect recipe for getting things done.
For others, self-motivation is high—but this can lead to other issues when traveling as a digital nomad. Instead of struggling to start, these remote workers can quite easily lose track of time when building a business, interacting with clients, or focusing on a project that they’re passionate about.
It’s in these times that we must remember to take breaks to explore the new local surroundings and create strict dedicated working hours to focus in. A good work-life balance should be the goal of every digital nomad looking to see new places and explore the world.
Being readily available and performing at a high standard is fantastic in any workplace, but it’s vital for digital nomads. One of the biggest misconceptions of digital nomads traveling the world and remote working is that they are unreliable. The reality could not be more different and although travel disruption and unplanned delays may cause the occasion unavoidable mishaps, digital nomads and remote workers are typically highly reliable workers.
Following this new wave of remote work, there have been countless studies around exactly how much more efficient working away from the office really is. The results of these studies are just as you may hope—remote workers are not only more productive when working from home, but happier, too.
The same is true for digital nomads. Remote work can be picked up from anywhere in the world so bucket-list destinations and activities can be ticked off during the working week. This level of freedom not only increases happiness but also productivity and reliability, too.
Of course, reliability isn’t a given and some nomads are naturally more reliable than others. As with every other skill on our list, reliability takes work and by making small steps each week, reliability can be strengthened as a digital nomad.
READ MORE: 4 Mental Health Tips for Digital Nomads
Good organization allows remote workers to travel the world without the chaos of traditional tourism. Although somewhat of a broad term, organization can be boiled down into different subcategories, the first is being physically organized. Figuring out how to pack for long-term travel can be a real headache for remote workers.
Packing cubes, dedicated tech pouches, and feature-smart luggage digital nomad luggage solutions all offer great ways to stay physically organized when living life on the road. I personally travel where I can with a single 35L backpack that I can use as a carry-on with most airlines.
This pack has everything I need for full-time travel and is optimized not only to save as much space as possible but to make my life easier whenever I need to grab something. Need a phone charger? Top pocket, inside the dedicated tech pouch. Sudden downpour? There’s a waterproof pack cover on the first inside pocket, on the left. Everything has its place, making travel so much easier in every which way.
Organization also translates to how you plan to spend your time traveling as a digital nomad. As previously mentioned, a loose daily itinerary is a method that we recommend for getting the very most out of each workation.
Using calendar tools such as Asana is life-changing for getting plans organized and creating trip itineraries. This way, I know that tomorrow I’ll need to head out for a run at 07:00, get in a little work and breakfast from 08:00 - 11:00, check out of my Airbnb by noon, fly to Madeira at 14:10 and check in to a new hotel at 18:00.
Everything is neatly organized in a to-do list with my evening left free to explore the new neighborhood.
READ MORE: How to Stay Productive When Working Remotely
The Top Skills you Need to Become a Full-Time Digital Nomad
From time management and resilience to reliability and organization, our top skills for digital nomads are designed with experiences in mind. But not every skill listed must be mastered before becoming a full-time digital nomad. Some will be introduced along the way, and others will be strengthened as time goes on, but all are vital to a successful life on the road.