Love the feeling of waking up in a brand new city in another part of the country or even a different continent? I do– but I love my business, too. Over the month of May, 2018, I tested the waters with something new, hot and trendy in the digital world: The digital nomad lifestyle. No question, it was a fun time; and just as unsurprisingly, I learned many life lessons along the way. Here are my five favorite lessons from a digital nomad life.

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Me at the Arc de Triumph, clearly missing out on working.

1. Your Work Ethic Will Be Tested

Working for my own business requires me at times to work more than full time hours for clients in addition to working on my own business. (Hello, 80-hour work weeks!) I consider myself highly self-motivated with a great work ethic, so it never even occurred to me that this might be tested while traveling abroad. No doubt you can relate!

Take Paris, for instance. My first day there, I woke up and packed my laptop to go to a coffee shop, only to be stunned at running into the Bastille monument en route. Was I really going to sit inside for three or four hours while amazing sights like this were all within reach?

The lure to get out and enjoy was very strong, so I compromised on three or four hours per day every day of the week, and no more than two days per week with only one hour. Work time, with many notable exceptions, was usually at night. While my intention was never to work full-time, it was also to make this a working vacation, so I felt I needed at least 25 hours per week to make that true. I was able to hold to it by not missing out on daytime fun, but making sure that I made progress with work also.

2. You Must Scope Out Your Workspaces

View from a café in Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Trust me, finding a reliable workspace is important, and well before you’ve ended up in a hostel washroom on a Skype call getting knocks from people wanting a shower (true story). Some things to make sure about before you decide on a location:

  • Is it a public or common area with heavy foot traffic?
  • How loud is the place? Is there loud music or lots of talking?
  • Do you have access to reliable Wifi (preferably free for customers)?
  • How secure is the Wifi connection?
  • Are there plugs for your laptop or phone?
  • Is there an event scheduled in your chosen venue during the time you want to work?
  • What hours is your potential workspace open?
  • Is alcohol or food served at the venue? If so, is there a minimum purchase to continue using the space?
  • If it is a workspace or internet café, what is the fee structure?
  • Have you actually scoped out the venue in-person, or are you just looking online?

3. You Won’t Have Control Over Everything

If you’re wondering why I was on a Skype call in a hostel washroom, the answer wasn’t entirely bad planning. In fact, I had planned my call from a cafe across the street, where I was working already. But right before I was about to shell out the €15 minimum purchase to keep my table in a quiet location, something happened: A thunderstorm knocked out the Wifi!

Just like train delays and loud hostels, your workplace becomes less predictable and controllable while traveling. And with that, the wisdom of attitude adjustment must emerge if you intend to move forward. Keeping your cool and using creativity are key.

For instance, if the internet at my office in Portland had been knocked out by a thunderstorm before a client call, I would have backups in place and know three places nearby to go to make sure I could make the call. When it happened in Paris, at first I totally panicked, running around in the rain trying to find somewhere open with internet at a reasonable cost. Then I calmed down, took a step back, and came up with a creative solution that (knocks notwithstanding) actually worked for a 45-minute call.

4. Socially Conscious Business Is Universal

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Working trip to India, 2015

Years before, I was inspired by socially conscious businesses and social enterprises in India to officially incorporate my own Benefit LLC. Yet I will admit, besides what was happening in the India and the U.S., I was only vaguely aware of what the socially conscious health, fashion and beauty industry was doing around the world. Would I be looked at funny when I told people what I do, or would I be accepted?

The answer: Neither of those. I was embraced! Scotland, for instance, is at the forefront of social enterprise, with socially conscious tours, local sourcing prominently advertised, and eco-friendly beauty and fashion shops everywhere. Coop food stores are incredibly common as well. Who knew?

Immediately I stopped looking at my own socially conscious business as something to be explained, and started looking at what I could learn from eco-friendly, holistic, sustainable businesses around the world. And of course, how could we all get together to gain even more momentum for the movement?

5. Two Words: Time Zones

Notice the theme of adaptability here? Time zones are funny because you may have the best intentions of adapting, but your body gets to decide on its own whether that will actually happen. The result for me was a lot of insomnia at the beginning, and a lot of fatigue after my return home. In this case, physical adaptation is only part of the story though.

Often in today’s modern business, you may not be in the same time zone as your clients, networks, suppliers and partners. Working around the differences can be a small change such as going into the office early, or a larger accommodation such as a midnight Skype call. Being a digital nomad introduces a new element to this: Not being tied to any particular time zone.

And all this is how I was confused when an interested socially conscious client from Scotland was suggesting very odd times for a Skype call. It turns out, when I said I was no longer in Scotland, they were imagining I was simply back in Portland, eight hours behind. In fact, I was one hour ahead in Paris, although thanks to iPhone auto-update, I didn’t realize that until I was trying to call in an hour early. Everything ended up smoothly, but I can see also how consistent switching of time zones in a short period could get quite confusing.

Travel safely and stay conscious, friends!

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