Lessons I've Learned as a Digital Nomad, So You Don't Have To

All my life, I've had to learn lessons the hard way. My mom can attest to this.

The same goes for me for traveling the world as a digital nomad.

My travels so far have included two places that I've driven to (Toronto and Philadelphia) and two places that I have flown to (Cancun and Tucson). Each of these locations has taught me something new, and not just about the culture of the region, but about how to make my life better as a full-time traveler.  

Here are some of the lessons I've learned since becoming a digital nomad:

Lessons about travel in general

If flying, leave room in your suitcase or bring an extra bag

I'm not the kind of girl who can pack lightly. If there's room in a bag or suitcase, I will typically fill it. But that has put me in a predicament in both of the destinations that I flew to:

  • With Cancun, I had to leave some non-essential items behind because I didn't have room on the way back. My bags were pretty much filled on the way there, and I bought souvenirs and other things while there that needed to make it into my suitcase.
  • With Tucson, I mailed a box home with items that were not able to be brought on the plane (think 3+ oz bottles of shampoo) and other things that weren't important but weren't items I was willing to leave behind. The cost of mailing the box home was more expensive than it would have been for me to check a bag roundtrip, and had I done that, I would have been able to bring more stuff.

If driving, pack a tote of household essentials

This seems to be a recurring lesson for me. As I continue to stay in short-term rentals, I can clearly see why they are short-term.

I keep having to buy some basic household essentials pretty much at every Airbnb I've stayed at so far. One I've stayed at claimed it was equipped for longer stays, yet didn't have any silverware in its kitchen supplies. I've actually had to buy silverware multiple times.

For some places I've stayed at, I needed to buy a knife to be able to cut and prepare food. For others, I've had to buy a can opener to open food. These are things you would think even a short-term rental would have but surprisingly don't.

The most frustrating part about it is that I have all these things packed up in storage that I could have just brought with me had I known I would need them. Instead, those items are boxed up, and I have to keep buying new items.

So my lesson learned here is to create a tote of household items I can take with me when I drive to destinations. Anything I don't need can be stored in the tote and left in my car's trunk.

Lessons about destinations

Stick to your budget for housing

Before becoming a digital nomad, I had the idea that I want to travel the world and only pay to stay in places that cost no more than my last monthly rent in Alexandria, Virginia. Now because that's such a high cost-of-living area, my budget is kinda high, but that leaves me a lot of options to stay--or so you would think.

But don't be so strict about budget that it keeps you from going somewhere you really want to. If you do decide to go over budget just a little, you can offset it with one of your next locations by booking a little further under budget. It's about balance, right?!

Choose destinations based on your budget

This ties into the last lesson, but it's worth calling it out on its own. Choose where you want to travel to by places that fit within your budget. When I ultimately decided on Tucson, I had looked all over the US and really couldn't decide where to go, but I knew of places I'd like to go, looked at what rentals cost, and quickly marked those off the list--Sedona, for example. 

Book as early as you can to save money

I'm a planner by nature so for me, I'm planning out destinations pretty far in advance. But a couple of times, my indecision on location has cost me. Literally.

  • For Tucson: I couldn't decide where to go after Cancun, so I spent way more time figuring out the destination than I would have liked. That left me booking a place to stay in Tucson, once I finally decided that's where I wanted to go, and few options left to book that spanned the entire time I was going to be there. The solution--I ended up splitting my time between two different Airbnbs.
  • For Philadelphia: Basically the same thing as with Tucson. I took so long to decide that I wanted to come to Philly that all the places I initially looked at for great prices were booked, and I was left with more expensive options. I also ended up booking two different Airbnbs for my time here.

Lessons about the unit you stay in

Figure out your priorities, and don't book something that doesn't have them

For me, I have a couple must-haves when it comes to picking what unit I book.

  •  The ability to cook — ideally, the place will have a full kitchen, but as long as there is space for cooking and everything you need to cook with, I'm okay with it. I continually see places that are very short-term rental based which only have microwaves and a mini-fridge, and that just doesn't cut it for me.
  • A space for remote work — since I work from home 100% of the time, I need some sort of dedicated space to work from, so either a desk or a table large enough that I don't have to move my work things to be able to eat.
  • Walkable to things to do or public transportation — one downfall of booking through sites like Airbnb and VRBO is you don't get the exact location, but you do get a relative location. Typically I'll look at Google maps, find the relative location, and see what's around.

Book as early as you can so you can spend the entire time in one unit

Personal preference here, but I have not really enjoyed having to pack up everything mid-destination to move to a different Airbnb. I would much rather spend the entire time in one unit. It was especially difficult when I was in Tucson because I didn't have my car to transfer everything. Luckily I didn't have too much stuff since I flew there, but my Uber driver was very confused on why I was taking so much stuff with my for my ride.

 

I'm out here learning lessons about being a digital nomad so you don't have to! I hope you found this helpful!

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