Let’s be honest with ourselves. Sometimes when we travel, especially long term, there are periods that seems like NOTHING is going right and you get to that burnout stage. Sometimes you even find that you aren’t even ‘traveling’ at all but just ‘getting by’ and don’t even take interest in all the amazing and new things happening around you in your newly adopted home.
You may even be finding yourself stuck indoors working MORE than you ever did in your 9-5 office job.
That’s what happened to me over the past year as I began traveling again after taking a 7 month breather back in the States. I had this grand plan to see all of Central America in one year after setting up a home-base in Costa Rica, then later Nicaragua. Not only that, I had a goal to make 10x the amount I made last year while in the States. So I went to Costa Rica with $500 and a plan to find a job once I was on the ground while staying with an old friend from my study abroad days. I speak Spanish, I had contacts, I was determined to find work there as well as relaunch this blog and do photography. What could go wrong, right?
Tip #1: Do your research BEFORE you arrive
I get it! Planning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I definitely prefer the more spontaneous adventures. Yet, had I not just depended on my time studying in Costa Rica 7 years earlier and researched a bit more than just ‘teaching jobs in Costa Rica’, I’d have realized that $500 typically won’t last you a month in Costa Rica. Instead I should have broadened my research to ‘how to live in Costa Rica’, ‘Costs of living in Costa Rica (as a digital nomad)’, ‘best jobs for a nomad in Costa Rica’, etc. Now, I did realize that I didn’t have A LOT of money but I was also saving a lot by living with a local family for the first 3 months while I job hunted. What I hadn’t learned was that schools in Costa Rica have two hiring periods, at the end of the year and around April. I arrived at the end of July.
I’ve lived on a shoe string budget a few times but this time has definitely topped them all.
During the first 3 months I was able to preserve money but once those three months were up and I needed to find a place to live, I quickly found myself living on just a meal a day while sleeping on the floor of a new friends’ home for $40/month working 8-10 hour days for an online teaching job I started in October and wouldn’t be paid until the end of the following month. Talk about intense! I came to Central America to escape the 9-5 work mentality, work less and do more! Instead I did just the opposite. I was working 9-9pm and not able to get out and enjoy the paradise I was in. Luckily, I was living with friends so we managed to have some fun now and then.
So what can you do to ensure a much more enjoyable, stress-free time? Take the initiative to get to know the place you are moving to and what it will cost to live, what types of clothes you’ll need, basic survival language and also comforts that may not be available once you arrive so you can stock up on them.
A great place to find out this information is in travel books, facebook groups dedicated to living in different countries and of course travel blogs! Ask questions and try to pick out a few different cities/countries to choose from so that you can hit the ground running and not find yourself caught off guard when you land.
Tip #2: Make a task-based plan towards accomplishing your goals
Despite all of the free time I had and many fellow bloggers reaching out to help me get started, I wasn’t able to follow through with any of my goals because I hadn’t set a specific goal or a plan on how to achieve it. I didn’t have a plan to first, take care of myself and secondly, to get something accomplished each day. In fact, I felt more trapped than when I did while living in rural/suburban Iowa without my own mode of transportation. I had NO idea what to do with all of that free time! I had a daily TO-DO list that I’d cram with 20 things and would rarely accomplish even one of them as most weren’t specific enough.
Had I made a plan with specific goals to reach daily and a timeline on what I needed to do to successfully find a job, launch my blog and get my photography career started, I’d have had actual steps to work towards. But make sure you don’t make the all too common mistake of trying to cram your daily schedule with multiple things to do like I did, it’s really tempting! Prioritize your tasks by importance and commit to accomplishing just 1 or 2 tasks daily and give yourself blocks of 2 hours with a break in between so you don’t burn yourself out and get discouraged.
It’s best to start the most difficult tasks early in the morning when your willpower reserves are still high and then try to finish everything by the afternoon. And whatever you do, DON’T multitask. The more you try to do, the less effective you’ll be. Focus your attention and energy on that one task giving it 110% and you’ll find you get it done a lot faster and more effectively than you ever thought possible. Make sure you are not just being ‘active’ but being productive.
Now, you may say, ‘Josh, this is all easy to say but I ‘enter excuse here’’.
I too found myself ‘without any time’ and quite often doing anything BUT working towards that to-do list. It became my kryptonite and the excuses as well as the procrastination became a ticking time bomb that had me feeling miserable and unable to enjoy all the beauty that surrounded me.
Tip #3: Stop Procrastinating by cutting out all of your distractions
I’m not a betting man, but I would wager that a majority of you spend A LOT of your waking hours on facebook, twitter, pinterest, tinder, clickbate, news, etc. I have a pretty embarrassing confession to make. I have an impulsive addiction to constantly check my facebook throughout the day. From the moment I get up, while I’m working or trying to focus, to before I go to sleep (when I like to play a lot of Backgammon/tavla). This is a HUGE distraction! Not only that, it’s unhealthy! My eyes were often red, I was sitting or laying in bed for a minimum of 15 hours a day, and I was spending more time seeing what everyone else was doing than actually DOING anything myself.
How did I come to realize this? I was ‘busy’ working on the computer all the time and yet found myself never really accomplishing anything. Then, one fateful day, I woke up and found that EVERYTHING I owned had been stolen. My laptop, my ebook reader, my camera, everything that I felt I couldn’t live without. This was at the end of January 2015. I had already been struggling to write even a single blog post to my blog since I had begun traveling in July six months earlier.
Did I freak out?
At first, hell yeah.
But then I quickly came to terms with it realizing there was nothing I could do and for the first time since traveling I found myself out exercising more, meeting more people and WRITING!
I was able to get on the internet from cafés so it wasn’t like I was completely cut off, I had just been forced to prioritize the time I spent online (because I was paying for the time I spent) to do the most important things that needed to be done and I could spend the rest of my time doing what I could do without the internet, like writing or brainstorming. My time became more effective and I found myself feeling more relaxed than I had been in a very, very long time.
Now, you may not have as bad of an addiction as that (or maybe you do), but that’s not the only thing that can be a distraction.
If it isn’t helping you towards your goals, then it’s a distraction and needs to go!
So, if you are finding yourself constantly hungover, checking e-mail constantly, reading all the time(especially media), Clicking Yes on those dating sites hoping for the one who flirts back, or smoking so much that your friends just need to stand by you to get high from the fumes still clinging to you;
Well sorry to say it but these are all keeping you from achieving your dreams of being a successful, happy nomad.
“But Josh, I’m traveling because I WANT to have fun”.
I’m not saying you have to go cold turkey and become anti-social, but instead moderate and control the times you do these things.
For example, I don’t recommend even turning on your computer without first knowing what you want to accomplish that day and then limiting your time on distraction sites. The more you limit and control these distractions, the more time you have to accomplish your goals and feel happier with your day.
I challenge you to identify the things you do when you are procrastinating, making excuses, or avoiding and then either phase them out by rewarding yourself or giving yourself a punishment if you don’t follow through with the distraction detox (such as donating a set amount of money that will make you think twice or doing some exercises each time you catch yourself clicking through tinder).
There are actually apps that you can download to limit your time on certain websites and restrict your access so that you think twice before entering such as keepmeout, Rescuetime that alerts you when you are spending more time than you planned on a specific site, or if you download the firefox browser you can get Leechblock to limit your time on specific websites.
I’ve actually just begun a one month detox to focus on my goals and cut out all distractions.
You aren’t alone in this! Feel free to email me or use the comments section to find others that are doing the same thing to be your accountability partner. When you are finding your willpower failing, post a message. When you have reached a goal, post and have that support we all crave.
Tip #4: Limit your e-mail and phone time
Once you have a blog with some dedicated followers or you are running a business, you’ll find that you spend a large majority of your time doing mind-numbing tasks like trying to respond to e-mails or comments on your blog immediately to ‘being on call’ all the time. This last one will become especially time consuming if you happen to be managing anyone.
So what can you do?
First, turn off your alerts on your phone and computer for every time you receive a message so that you don’t get distracted and feel that urge to check them. This is especially true for facebook and other game apps which has a habit to suck you in without you realizing it and before you know it, your day is already over.
Second, limit the time that you check e-mails and reply to comments to just one or two times a day. According to Tim Ferriss who wrote the bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek (which was a major inspiration for me pursuing remote working opportunities a year ago and whose tips have helped me stay focused, it’s the only hardcover book I travel with because it’s that good) ‘The most effective times to check your e-mail are just before lunch and at 4pm. This is when you’ll have the most responses to previously sent e-mails.
It will really help to set up an autoresponse that explains you are busy and will check your e-mails at your designated time.
Third, Limit phone calls and keep them short.
If you can, have two different phones for urgent and non-urgent calls, one can even be an online phone like Skype or googlephone. If you get a call on your urgent phone, answer it but make sure that you have the caller get straight to the point of the call so they don’t waste your time.
Tip #5: Treat your body right and it’ll treat you right
Let’s face it, if we don’t treat our body right by feeding it the foods we need or exercising the muscles, our body responds by making us feel more tired all the time, irritable, unable to focus and more likely to get sick.
Make some time each morning to exercise. It doesn’t have to be a full one hour workout and in fact it shouldn’t be! Plan to start your day 1 hour earlier by getting up, putting on some shoes and going for a walk/run for 5-10 minutes or even doing some situps, pushups, or yoga for 15-20 minutes. Why is it so important to limit the time? If you work out too hard then you are more likely to injure yourself, especially when first starting and you will also fatigue yourself out right before you begin doing your hardest tasks of the day.
A light exercise in the morning however will pump the blood to your brain and heart faster, waking you up and making you feel more attentive and focused. It releases endorphins (those same happy chemicals that make us smile so much after having sex or accomplishing a goal) that will have you feeling positive at the start of the day.
Yes, it may suck at first and be REALLY hard to get self-motivated but what you risk losing pales in comparison to the positive gains you receive from doing this simple thing each morning.
It’s also important to eat healthy. I’ll actually admit that this is hearsay as I’m one of the most unhealthy eaters I know and in the past few months have eaten as little as a few eggs a day mixed with some greasy food. YIKES! No wonder I’m always feeling tired, irritable, depressed and unable to focus.
Our bodies need to be fed (and watered) to maintain themselves. So it’s important to drink lots of water and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables for your daily vitamins and nutrients. Meat is optionable, I personally love meat and believe it is a valuable part of the human diet and protein however you can also get your nutrients through different non-meat foods but it may take some more work.
The most important thing is that you take care of the body so that it’s ready for any challenge that traveling puts it up to and is less prone to injury, fatigue and burnout.
Tip #6: Learn a bit of the local language and culture
In my now 7 years of slow travel around the world, I’ve found that the most effective way to adapt and settle into your new ‘home’ is by being able to talk with locals in their own language. I’m not saying you have to become an expert! But even just learning some basic phrases and responses will almost ALWAYS open you up for more acceptance and open many doors to the ‘real’ country experience that is often closed to travelers and tourists who more often than not spend a large majority of the time in their hostel/hotel, drinking with other travelers and going on packaged excursions. What I’m talking about is actually making a connection with the people in your host country so that eventually, they’ll invite you over to their homes or out to different functions that you wouldn’t have even been aware of. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been invited places from a racing horse farm in Poland out in the countryside to little known pubs, to trying local homemade dishes. All because I learned some basic greetings and responses. I can also remember the times when I didn’t have a clue on how to speak the local language and how lost I felt. Like the time I was in Ukraine or when I first arrived to South Korea. I was able to learn Korean rather quickly but I never did catch on to Ukrainian or Russian which left me stressed (and often times lost). I of course still managed to have some crazy adventures there by having a ready smile and meeting a few locals through couchsurfing who introduced me to their friends that did speak English.
How can you do this? If you are planning to stay long in a country, there are often language schools that offer intensive courses. If you’re not ready to put down a lot of money, these courses are often quite expensive, then you can find language exchange groups online in forums like couchsurfing, facebook and many others. There are also some great mobile apps and courses you can take to study privately or with a tutor such as Duolingo, livemocha or multilanguagecafe.
Most importantly, if you are studying the language, do your best to immerse yourself and practice it at every opportunity. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! That is how you learn.
Tip #7: Make time to enjoy yourself!
Up until last week I had found myself working from 9 – 8pm almost daily! I had found myself doing MORE work than the 9-5 in the office but just in a hotter climate!
What’s the whole point of traveling if you are spending all of your time working?
It wasn’t until I lost my job last week and found myself sledding down the side of an active volcano for my first sponsored blog post with a tourism company, my first tourist activity since I arrived in Nicaragua, that I realized I had been doing EVERYTHING wrong. I came to travel, explore, tell amazing stories to inspire you all, but most importantly to Enjoy my life.It really all just clicked at that moment as if I had an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. I was working wrong.
I wasn’t prioritizing my time correctly. It’s important to work. We need to make money.
But it’s even more important to work intelligently. What that means is, Limit your hours you work so that it doesn’t feel like you can ‘do it later’ and then get everything done that you need to. Then be sure to schedule some hours each day for enjoyment. Pursue a new hobby, read a book, meet new people, hang out with old friends, etc.
This will be harder if you are just getting started in the travel lifestyle. So at first, have those few hours a day of enjoyment to reward yourself for the hard work but also make a plan for a BIG reward once you’ve reached certain milestones in your work goals. The whole idea of working online and living a life of travel is to enjoy life, so while making a lot of money is a great goal to have, don’t let it be the all-consuming goal but one that just enables your other big goals on your bucketlist.
Are there any Lessons that I didn’t mention which you think should be in this list?
Discuss in the comments and share if you found this was the motivation you needed today.