So you want to be a digital nomad? Or maybe you’re already there but you need a checklist of digital nomad essentials.
It’s not about running to the airport for some random escape to another country. It’s about creating a lifestyle that offers you both work and travel at the same time. It takes planning, especially if you have a job. Take your planning seriously or you could end up wasting a lot of time and money.
Here’s a checklist for digital nomads to make sure 2021 is a productive, safe, and most of all, fulfilling year. While 2021 might not be the best year for travel thanks to the pandemic, use this checklist to prepare for when we can all travel again and digital nomads are able to move freely.
Government (Red Tape) Stuff
The rules for digital nomads are mostly the same as for other travellers.
What nomads have to watch out for are questions of visas when returning to countries they’ve exited recently. Unless you have some kind of permanent visa or a special arrangement with a state, multiple tourist visas on your passport will raise suspicions at immigration.
The visa runs that long-term ex-pats bemoan (or love, depending on your point of view and your outlook) are a necessary part of living in other countries without doing the tedious paperwork.
Keep an eye on forums and websites for information about visa run changes but most of all, check the embassy website of your target country.
Get your visas, vaccinations, driving licenses, health insurance, and travel insurance before you go.
One thing you’ll need for almost everywhere you go (unless you’re flying internally or around Europe) is proof on an onward flight. Use a service like Onward Ticket to book proof of onward travel. This can save you a major headache at the airport or immigration.
Finances & Banking
At the risk of sounding obvious, you should have a credit card in 2021. Some people like to live without plastic and others come from places where credit cards are hard to get. I didn’t have a credit card for the first few years of my travels. And it made travel harder (but not in a sexy, exotic way).
Yep, the government and banks can track you when you pay electronically. But I believe it’s a price worth paying.
I don’t promote regular credit cards on NomadFlag.com. So if you need advice on which card is best for travel, check with one of the (many) travel sites that discuss credit cards.
I use debit cards from banks in different countries and I use the TransferWise Multi-currency account card. This card has been a great addition to my nomad toolkit.
Here are the best app-based banking services for travellers
- Wise.com (formerly Transferwise) – My top Choice for multi-currency and money transfers.
- N26 – An excellent Europe-based mobile bank serving USA, EU, and Brazil (no longer available in the UK)
- Monzo –
I didn’t include Revolut in this list. It works for some people but the only way to communicate with their support is through the app. The bad press they’ve received and awful service they provide leaves me cold.
Notify your bank about your travels if you only have one card. Banks tell us it’s unnecessary to call them but if your only card
Check out these 20+ Smart Travel Tips for Everyone (including digital nomads)
My personal was Wave Accounting until they decided to stop supporting European customers. It’s free. Free isn’t always a good thing, but in the case of Wave, it is (if you’re in North America). There’s no paid version. However, it’s only an option for US & Canadian businesses now. Use Freshbooks if you need fast customer support and some premium features. It’s got a great interface and lots of integrations with other products.
Budgeting & Expenses App
Toshl is the tool I’ve been using for as many years as I can remember. You don’t hear a lot about it, possibly because they don’t offer an affiliate deal for bloggers to promote. But it’s a great piece of software. I use it on my MacBook and phone (iPhone and Android) to record every transaction (personal and business) using multiple bank accounts and PayPal accounts.
Toshl also helps me create budgets and has some nice spending summary pie charts and displays.
The free version of Toshl is good enough for most people.
If you’re a “light user” of software (purely excel, email, web, etc) then the MacBook Air is
For heavier users (like me) that need more processing power (for video, audio, web design, and development) a MacBook Pro is a better option, albeit a more expensive one. The Pro is heavier and bulkier than the Air. But it comes with a better screen (good for keeping eye strain to a minimum) and a lot more power. MacBook Pro models also come with 15’’ screens. If you need more screen real estate, this is a great option.
I also use an iPad for artistic endeavors like drawing, note-taking, creating graphics, and writing. It’s great for short trips and for separating “heavy” work from “lighter” work.
Save Your Eyes
One of the biggest threats to our health is sleep disturbances and deprivation caused by changes in time zones and spending long periods of time in front of our computers. If that statement sounds dramatic and if you don’t believe me, read Why We Sleep.
The solution is to use Screen-glare reducing glasses. Spending the late night hours bathed in the blue light of an electronic device will harm your chances of getting restful sleep. If you’re trying to adjust to a new timezone, this effect is even worse.
The glasses are light, inexpensive and can make a huge difference.
You’ll need at least one of these. Buy one before you leave as multi-adaptor power sockets can be expensive in airports and many countries.
The Kikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter costs less than $10 and weighs less than 1.6 oz (45g). Perfect for digital nomads and minimalist travellers
Secure The Perimeter
Get a VPN one of these before you go anywhere. Here’s the low down on VPN for travel.
TL;DR – Use VPN Unlimited
LastPass used to the gold standard for password management software until they decided to charge everyone to use the app on multiple devices. While it’s still an excellent product (and worth the price), many people feel let down by the change in policy and will move to Bitwarden (open source) or 1Password (paid).
If you only have one device, the free LastPass account is great.
Don’t leave home without a password manager.
Whatever your concerns about online privacy and the evils of companies like Dropbox, cloud storage is the best way of protecting your important documents while travelling. Losing your computer to thieves is bad enough, but what about the work you left on the computer?
All those important documents should live in a safe place, protected by a password, that you can access from everywhere. Anything worth keeping should live in the cloud. If something disastrous happens, you can get back to work right away. Keep your travel & personal documents online in case of emergencies.
I like pCloud and OneDrive for the easy-to-use interface. Google Drive not so much but I have a Gsuite account with unlimited storage so it’s definitely the main storage area. Most of these tools work seamlessly with desktop and mobile devices but be aware that they can also eat up space on your hard drive. Read the manual to find out how to avoid this.
If you’re already using Google Docs, Google Drive’s storage solutions are a natural choice. Drive works well with your spreadsheets, documents, and other applications in the cloud.
Unless living dangerously (and foolishly) is part of your travel manifesto, travel insurance should be an essential item on your list. If you haven’t already heard, helicopter airlifts, repatriation, and overnight stays in hospitals are expensive. Your digital nomad ventures will need to be a spectacular success if you plan on paying for medical bills overseas yourself.
And make this doubly important if you travel to the USA, where travelling without medical insurance could turn out to be the most expensive thing you ever did.
I use World Nomads.
Before you skip this part (I probably would as I know enough about finding accommodation to skip other people’s recommendations), hear me out.
This isn’t an accommodation recommendation sales pitch. What new digital nomads often forget is that their choice of accommodation should be in line with their digital nomad goals.
- Don’t stay near nightclubs.
- Try to find a hotel or Airbnb with a desk, tabletop, perch, or standing desk to work from. This makes things easier for getting the job done when cafes/coworking space are closed, or when it’s raining, or when you can’t be bothered to go outside. Sometimes your apartment is the best places to work from.
- Choose accommodation near cafes and coworking spaces (or wherever you prefer to work). There’s no point grabbing a cheap deal in the middle of nowhere and then having to endure a long commute every day.
- Make sure the apartment or hotel room has wifi. Some don’t, and even in 2021, some hotels offer terrible internet connections. Ask ahead of time to find out if the internet speed is (digital nomad) adequate and what the restrictions are.
- Stick with one or two online portals for booking. The more you use a portal, the more loyalty points you get. You’ll also learn to get the most out of the service. Stick with a couple of websites and don’t waste too much time checking everything on the internet.
In recent years, Skype’s service has degraded to where I barely use it anymore. It lives on because most people have an account and are unwilling (or unable) to change to something else. Instead of Skype, I recommend the following online communication tools.
- Zoom (free + paid) – A video conferencing tool that offers webinars, collaboration, chat, and voice calling
- Viber (free) – Voice, chat, video.
- FaceTime (iOS only) – Voice and video
- Signal – secure, encrypted, non-tracking. 100% free
- Telegram – like Signal, but better known, Telegram is free and offers voice communication for people worried about privacy.
- A local SIM card. Easier if you have two phones or if you are travelling in Europe where you can use the same SIM card in multiple countries.
Google Translate has saved me from some tricky situations and broken the ice in meetings that would otherwise never have thawed. I try not to rely on it and make it my first choice, especially if I’m trying to practise but it can be a big timesaver (and educational tool).
For more advanced language hacking read my comprehensive article on the best language learning tools. Short on time? Grab these apps:
This digital nomad packing list is the one I’ve been using for the past 4 years. I’ve been travelling for over 20 years and have picked up a few tips (which I recommend you read). These tips, combined with the packing list, and my essential digital nomad tools list should get you started.