How To Be A Digital Nomad


digital nomad

Note: Updated 2/20/15

I’ve been working remotely for over 15 years. In this post I’ll show you how to be a completely self-contained digital nomad so you can work from anywhere. This comes in handy if you want to avoid working at a client’s site, the library, internet cafes, or on your mom’s ancient desktop. This basic setup will help you fulfill your dream of working freely at the beach, poolside, or anywhere you can get online.

Assuming you have a web-based email account such as Gmail or iCloud, here’s the kit:

1. Laptop

A laptop is an absolute must for all digital nomads. I do everything on a souped-up MacBook Pro. It’s small enough to fit in a backpack and does whatever I need, including Adobe Creative Suite. When I’m in the office it’s connected to a large 20″ monitor. Your application needs will vary depending on what you do, but try to strike a balance between power, portability and cost.

2. Reliable Mobile Internet Connection

There’s lots of options for mobile internet connectivity, from cell phone tethering to dedicated peripherals such as USB modems and internal PC cards. Whatever you choose, make sure it is reliable, rugged, and compatible with your operating system. I’m currently using the Personal Hotspot feature on my iPhone, which works in a pinch.

3. Cell Phone

This one is obvious so just make sure you have a decent plan and a charger handy. To work effectively with your clients and partners you’ll need to be able to make and receive calls from anywhere. Lots of small business how-to books stress the importance of having a separate business line. My iPhone IS my separate business line and has been for years. My service provider is rock solid and clients know if they leave a voicemail I’ll get back to them in a reasonable amount of time.

4. Cell Phone Headset

A quality bluetooth headset will enhance your mobility, help you focus on the person calling and keep you safe while driving. Hopefully it will also remind you that not everyone on the train or in that cafe wants to hear about your fantastic win of the XYZ Widget job. It’s best to respect yourself and others and make phonecalls in private.

5. A Fast Backup Solution

USB keys have been commoditized to the point where they really are a dime a dozen, so you get what you pay for. If you go this route, make sure yours is high quality and speedy. You’ll want to make quick data back-ups on the go. The PNY Turbo 128GB provides plenty of speed and storage for a reasonable cost. An alternative is to use an online storage solution such as Box or Dropbox. For total system backup, Mozy is an excellent online service offering unlimited storage at $4.95 a month. I used to make monthly backups on a cumbersome 500 GB drive, but now Mozy quietly makes daily backups in the background and I feel much better knowing my data is safe and secure off site.

6. Notebook and Pens

Paper is where all ideas begin for me, and I love that it is low-tech. My choice is a Moleskine Large Sketchbook. I’ve used all sizes and types of Moleskines. This one feels the best and holds up well to constant wear and tear. While any notebook will do, I purposely avoid spiral notebooks since they tend to get torn up in transit.

7. Post-It Notes

If you do any type of creative, project management or user experience design work, a small packet of square Post-It notes is like having a portable whiteboard anywhere you go. They are great for arranging and re-arranging ideas or notes on a tabletop, wall or any flat surface. They can be assembled, dis-assembled, and re-assembled anywhere. When I’m working on a project with Post-its, I’ll number each one and take a photograph of the resulting arrangement and import it to Evernote later for easy searching.

8. Laptop Lock

While I believe most people are honest and good, I know better than to leave my laptop alone and vulnerable at a coffee shop. If I need to step away I lock it up with a Kensington laptop lock. It’s extremely portable and fits in a tiny drawstring bag.

9. Digital Camera (optional)

If your cell phone doesn’t have a decent camera, a good digital camera is very useful to capture Post-It notes, business cards, or any printed material you find on the go that you want to reference later. It’s almost like carrying a mini-scanner with you, and the images can be ported over to your computer later for easy reference.

10. High Quality Backpack or Messenger Bag

Finally, ya gotta gave a place to keep all this stuff that doesn’t weigh you down. Rickshaw Bags offers a fine selection of laptop messenger bags and accessories for digital nomads. I’m also a big fan of the North Face Surge backpack.

Check out all the items listed above and you’ll be unstoppable. Now go out there and get busy!

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