A year ago, I was living in Lima, Peru. A month later, I moved to Colombia. Two months later, to Mexico. Then Jamaica. And four months later, I spent six weeks exploring South Africa.
As a journalist, I am always on the hunt for new stories and ideas and traveling offers up opportunities to explore daily. For eighteen months, I hopped on the trend of the digital nomad lifestyle — a new one of redefining success and structuring work. But as I was jet-setting between time zones in 10 countries and collecting those lusty passport stamps… I was also, well, working.
From the Instagram perspective, the digital nomad life looks breezy and beautiful: gorgeous beaches, cheap eats, modern workspaces and plenty of tours and events. But in reality, it is a deep dive into productivity. After all, to pay for those flights and those experiences, a regular income is mandatory.
To say it can be stressful at times is an understatement — but it taught me how to prioritize, how to focus and, most importantly, how to handle any issue or complication on the fly. Knowing I had a temple tour to attend in Chiang Mai, a ceviche cooking class in Lima or a hike in Colombia made me more productive during the morning. I am based in Boston now — but I still use this technique to keep me focused by giving myself something to look forward to.
Without a traditional 9 to 5, it can be easy to put off work — and end up scrambling to meet a deadline. Instead, I book a workout class that starts at 6 p.m., or I buy evening concert tickets. Sometimes, I create a reward for finishing my work in a timely manner (like a facial or a wine night out with friends).
But I am not the only digital nomad who discovered ways to access zen while on the road. Looking to jet off on your own adventure? Consider these ideas from wanderlusters who discovered the best ways to calm down, no matter where you roam.
Do not let FOMO get the best of you
Founder of Out Of Office Designs, Elle Hickey
On the road: Nine months, and now frequently when the opportunity arises
Where: Europe, Asia and South America, with a trip to Greece in the works
Though it is tempting to say ‘yes’ to every dinner, tour, dance party and cheap plane ticket — Hickey quickly realized resisting FOMO preserved her mental clarity. “I realized after the first few months that I had an uneasy feeling with dropping my bags in the new apartment and going out right away,” she says. “I learned that to be my best self, I needed to pause and take time to settle and adjust. This meant staying in the first night, unpacking and feeling organized, reading up on the new city and identifying a few places I wanted to check out the following day.”
Using this strategy, she woke up for the first morning in each new city feeling energized and ready to tackle both work and adventures. “Traveling really allows you the opportunity to know yourself — better than I thought possible. Sometimes my FOMO turned into JOMO (joy of missing out) as I treasured my introvert alone time,” she adds. Combined with journaling — she aims to get 500 words in a day — Hickey’s routine became her safe space. “Journaling every morning allows me a time to have a conversation with myself and get those thoughts out of my head and to properly process them. This stream of consciousness often paves the way for some of my deepest lessons about myself,” she says.
Designer Veronica Silva
On the road: A full year and now at least once every few months
Where: All over: Portugal, Peru, Thailand, Spain — you name it
Many studies have found the soothing, healing properties of music — but the key is to find the blends that work for you. From classical and jazz to top hits and oldies, the beat must match your speed. For when the deadlines pile on and the stress hits an all-time high, Silva turns to music. “I listen to music while working, while exercising, when I’m waiting at the airport — basically any situation can be improved with the right music,” she explains. “It’s 100 percent worth it to invest in a good app or subscription to have enough music while offline, since you won’t always have service when traveling.”
Slow down — and invest in massages
Travel journalist and founder of We Said Go Travel, Lisa Niver
On the road: Three years and seven years
Where: Southeast Asia, and cruise ships that took her across the planet, respectively
In addition to sometimes moving every three days, Niver also embarks on long-haul travel days on buses, trains or planes, all of which can take a toll on the mind and body. After plenty or trial and error, Niver discovered slowing down made a huge difference in how she felt, how she approached situations and how she performed in her work. “If I am overtired, everything seems more dramatic,” she says. And in certain parts of the world, especially in Asia, massages are an affordable, near-daily practice — they also have proven stress-management benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic. At least that was the case for Niver, who swears by massages as a way to de-stress from the daily grind. No matter where her adventures took her, she scheduled the time and budget for this wellness practice.
Prioritize a routine
Products and data professional, Gabrielle Rousseau
On the road: One year
Where: 10 countries and 12 cities, all around the world
To say travel can be challenging is an understatement, especially if you are someone who savors a routine like Rousseau. But she found a way to stick to some sort of a routine, no matter where she found herself living.
Though everyone will thrive through different activities, Rousseau decided two daily duties were non-negotiable: yoga and reading. “Spending 15 to 20 minutes before bedtime being in the moment and stretching did wonders for my mental health,” she says. “My other thing is reading in coffee shops. It doesn’t seem that spectacular, but to me, finding a local go-to coffee place where I could go over and over again, gave me a sense of familiarity, even across the world.”
When you are feeling pushed to the limit, figure out your top two sources of joy. Whatever these are, schedule the time — even on your calendar — to invest the time in them. This will keep your mind and your spirit focused, productive and happy.
Go for a walk and practice your passion
Chief English Officer at Excelsior English, Anne Delaney
On the road: since April of last year
Where: toured through Southeast Asia — including Hanoi and Chiang Mai — as well as parts of Africa, including Marrakesh and Cape Town
Delaney’s company offers a personalized corporate language solution, so becoming a digital nomad was a no-brainer — it allows her to connect to different cultures first-hand.
It is also what she holds onto when stress gets the best of her. Delaney takes advantage of having a new world outside of her doorstep — literally. “Going on a wander in a new town is also such an incredible way to shift thinking, stay calm and get creativity and productivity moving,” she says. “As a linguist, these walks are a dream, as I try to actively practice and learn new language each day; even a small interaction with a local when buying my 1001st croissant of the year is helpful in this way.”
Taking a breath, going for a walk and having a different conversation (even for ten minutes) can transform your attitude. A change of scenery — no matter how small — will help you get rid of your funk, Delaney adds.
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