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What to Expect When You First Become a Digital Nomad

Travel Jobs
by Emma Bryant Jun 23, 2017

WHILE EVERY remote worker’s journey is unique, the beginning can be filled with similar discoveries, obstacles, and triumphs. I’m nearing the end of my first month as a digital nomad, and every day is still a learning process, but it’s getting easier.

Here’s what to expect when you first become a digital nomad:

1. Culture shock

Culture shock can happen to all travelers, but there’s a specific kind of culture shock that afflicts many digital nomads. We’re not tourists, and we’re not locals — so if you feel a little displaced in your new surroundings, it’s perfectly normal. Take the first day or two to explore your new city to get your bearings, and maybe even scope out some working cafes.

Even the cafe customs will be different than what you’re used to. For example, in France I would order a coffee and then pull out my wallet to pay, only to be told to go sit down and pay when I leave. To my relief, it was still okay to ask for the Wi-Fi password before I paid.

2. Your drinks are your rent

Most conscientious people know that café tables are reserved for customers. But ordering one drink for a four-hour work session is simply rude. Some popular working cafes may even have a required minimum per hour, which will generally be about five dollars.

If there are signs posted around you in a foreign language, take the time to enter them into Google translate. Several times I came across signs that asked that no laptops be open during peak lunch hours.

3. The importance of creating a routine

Being a remote worker comes with a great amount of flexibility, but while you might daydream about waking up in the late-morning and taking long lunches, it’s important to establish a structured routine. You still need to get work done to pay for all the Airbnbs, delicious food, and weekend excursions you’ll be taking. The easiest way to guarantee your productivity is to abide by set working hours.

After my first few days working remotely, I realized I wasn’t doing anything productive until 1 PM, so I set work hours starting at 10 AM until 4 PM. That way, clients know when they can call or expect a quick email response.

Another important part of your routine is where you work. If you find a few cafes you like, make them your go-to spots. Familiarity strikes balance with your shifting location.

4. Loneliness

Leaving the place you call home may mean leaving behind friends and family — and making connections in a new place can be difficult. Digital nomads can spend most of their days around people who are absorbed in their own laptops. Don’t miss the opportunity to strike up small conversations, even if they aren’t in your native language. This can help make you feel more connected and you may even end up making plans with a new friend, and get to dive deeper into a new culture.

Talking to people I don’t know doesn’t always feel easy, but I’m always happy when I do. I’ve been able to meet interesting locals and even learn about hidden spots in the city.

5. Using your resources

Speaking of meeting new people, being a digital nomad comes with its own community of people and resources. Use them. Meetups can help you find other remote workers near you, while Nomad List breaks down the cost of living and working in popular cities.

One of my favorite resources I’ve found is the Work Hard Anywhere app, which shows the best working cafes in your area.

I’m still learning how to navigate this new lifestyle, and while I hope this list is helpful, there’s no way to perfectly prepare for your journey. It will take some time before traveling to different cities and working remotely feels normal, but it will never feel any less exhilarating.

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