How to Balance Work And Adventure as a Digital Nomad

 A successful digital nomad lifestyle is a constant balancing act.

Sitting in your Airbnb in Cartagena, Colombia, you’ll have the following thoughts:

I need to finish this work assignment, but my local friends are planning a fishing trip on a remote Caribbean island.

When you’re traveling full-time, new adventures beckon everywhere, and there are always “once in a lifetime opportunities.”

Nevertheless, as remote workers, we are not on holiday. We cannot spend the entirety of our days exploring rainforests or climbing mountains. We’ll end up broke if we do.

That’s why balancing work and adventure is critical.

To succeed as a remote worker, you need to find ways to combine work and play on the road. As such, you need to avoid swinging too far in either direction.

On the one hand, you cannot work 24/7 without experiencing the local culture and enjoying your travel lifestyle. What would be the point of becoming a digital nomad in the first place?

However, the same applies to adventure.

If you want to build a career while traveling, you cannot spend all of your days collecting memories. It will be a backpacking adventure, not a sustainable remote working lifestyle.

Consequently, to ensure the longevity of your lifestyle, you need consistent output through productivity.

At the outset of my digital nomad journey, I was guilty of not having enough travel adventures.

In my first year, I spent two months traveling around eight different Asian cities. I was there, but I barely experienced them. Most of my income came from freelance writing at the time, and I gravely underestimated the challenges of full-time travel.

Two years and a lot of travel hiccups later, I found my formula.

I managed to combine work and play on the road, and I now make decent money without sacrificing too many travel opportunities.

On this basis, here are seven ways to balance work and adventure as a digital nomad.

1. Plan work and adventure days in advance

Planning is crucial for digital nomads and especially in terms of balancing work and play.

As such, I follow the method of clearly separating workdays and “adventure days.” That way, I know in advance which days will consist of work and which ones will provide exhilarating travel opportunities.

To illustrate my planning technique, here is how I structured the month of October. I spent the entire month in Greece: two weeks in Athens with some excursions and two weeks hopping around the Cyclades.

I organized the days as follows:

  • October 1–2: two workdays in Athens;
  • October 3: tourism day in Athens;
  • October 4: administration and chill day in Athens;
  • October 5–6: two workdays in Athens;
  • October 7: tourism day in Athens;
  • October 8: workday in Athens;
  • October 9–11: weekend road trip to Meteora;
  • October 12–14: three workdays in Athens; and
  • October 15: day trip to Delphi.

Those were my two weeks in Athens. The island-hopping trip went as follows:

  • October 16: ferry to Tinos with light work in transit;
  • October 17: workday in Tinos;
  • October 18: tourism day in Tinos;
  • October 19: workday in Tinos;
  • October 20: ferry to Syros with light work in transit;
  • October 21–21: two workdays in Syros;
  • October 22: tourism day in Syros;
  • October 23: workday in Syros;
  • October 24: ferry to Mykonos with light work in transit;
  • October 25: Sunday rest day;
  • October 26–28: three workdays in Mykonos;
  • October 29–30: two tourism days in Mykonos; and
  • October 31: departure with long transit.

This planning might seem rigid, but it secures my productivity and also helps me organize deadlines.

The schedule naturally needs some flexibility. That’s why I sometimes spontaneously interchange tourism days and workdays. This flexibility comes to fruition in case of bad weather, for example.

2. Learn how to say no, both in work and play situations

Saying no is an underrated skill in today’s society and invaluable for full-time globetrotters.

In the words of Greg McKeown, the bestselling author of Essentialism,

“the reality is, saying yes to any opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others.”

In the context of remote work, saying yes to a work assignment will result in refusing a travel opportunity and vice versa.

Both, however, are indispensable.

To succeed as a digital nomad, you need to learn when to say no to travel opportunities and when to say no to work.

It takes a lot of practice, but some effective strategies can help you decide.

When there is a travel opportunity, ask yourself whether it’s truly unique.

As an example, if you saw five Thai temples last week and now risk missing a deadline to see a sixth, the travel opportunity might not be worth the risk.

Another way to decide is to Pareto your clients and work assignments.

Find out which clients and work assignments have the most substantial impact. When these are at stake, saying no to a travel opportunity might be more justified.

3. Have sacred rituals

Certain routines can help you balance work and play on the road.

As an example, I always go to the nearest coffee shop upon arriving in a new city. I order an espresso and do some people-watching for half an hour.

In my two-plus years as a digital nomad, I never missed this personal ceremony. The ritual helps me feel the vibe of new places and reminds me that I am traveling, not just working.

There are many other ways to remind yourself of both work and adventure during your travels.

The essential point is to adopt habits that will reflect the importance of the balancing act.

4. Go “home” from time to time

Another effective balancing method is to go “home” from time to time. The word is between quotation marks because it doesn’t have to be your actual home.

The idea is to take some time off traveling, either by returning to your hometown or by revisiting a familiar nomad base.

This travel break will help you catch up on work and also design your future schedules. During my journeys, I found that returning to a city that I know well between two adventures is an excellent way to balance work and play.

Last year, for example, I spent a month in Bangkok, a city I already knew, between visiting the Philippines and Japan. Those four weeks felt like a travel break and secured my productivity for the upcoming stretches.

5. Take some real holidays

Many people assume that digital nomads are always on holiday.

In reality, it’s the opposite. Because we work and travel at the same, we are never on holiday.

We complete a work assignment, visit a few museums, taste local food, make friends, work some more, relax on the beach, get back to work, and leave the city. This cycle repeats every time we arrive in a new location.

It’s an incredible lifestyle, but it doesn’t allow holidays in the traditional sense. Taking two weeks off and disconnecting is a near-impossible prospect.

Nevertheless, taking some actual holidays from time to time is paramount.

My strategy is the following: instead of taking two conventional weeks of vacation — something my business doesn’t allow at the moment — I schedule mini-holidays every three or four weeks. For two days, I disconnect fully, put an automatic email responder in place, and don’t worry about anything.

In addition to those mini-holidays, I go on an annual digital detox. I travel to a remote location for five days without technology. I only take a few books and my journals.

I got the idea from Bill Gates. His “think weeks” — weeks during which he isolates himself in a cabin to think — have become legendary.

Both my mini-holidays and my digital detoxes play a critical part in finding a balance between work and adventure. They allow my mind to unplug and also still my thirst for exploration.

6. Start your lifestyle slowly

Excess is the opposite of balance.

Many first-time digital nomads start their lifestyle with non-stop partying or unhealthy work rhythms.

That’s why, especially in your first year as a nomad, taking it slow is essential.

Spend enough time in every location. Don’t try to visit as many countries as possible. And most importantly, build a productive routine before committing to a digital nomad lifestyle.

7. Remain in control of your journey

Finally, retaining control over your journey is a decisive step toward balancing work and play.

In this regard, the more decisions you can make, the more balancing acts you can perform.

As an example, if you let newly-made nomad friends dictate your schedule, you’ll struggle to find your best routine.

There are always unforeseeable circumstances like travel hiccups that will hinder your balancing powers. If you wanted to visit an intriguing place on the day following a tiresome workday, but the transport network fails, you won’t be able to complete your travel day as a balancing act.

Consequently, to counter unavoidable uncertainty, you need to make as many decisions as possible without external interference.

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