The Work Vanlife Balance, Volume 4
Congratulations! You’re going to do what you’ve been dreaming about for years – traveling the world and taking your career with you. Say goodbye to florescent lighting, office politics, and smelly lunches in the microwave (oh, wait that last one was my bad). Also, say goodbye to your company computer, software, and internet (not to mention donuts).
That’s right! It’s now on you to get online and work from your own equipment (and supply your own donuts). Some digital nomads may have bigger rigs than others, and some may just have a backpack. When deciding on your technology you need to think about reliability, size, durability, security, and cost. While different jobs have different requirements, here are 5 technology needs every digital nomad should assess.
It goes without saying that being connected is the cornerstone of being a digital nomad, otherwise we’d just be nomads, right? When working from the road, finding reliable internet can be a challenge. We’ve struggled many times during our travels to find reliable service. That’s right, we’re the creepy people in a van parked outside local businesses pirating WiFi (you can judge, we don’t mind). Our time on the road has given us the opportunity to test out a few options:
Free WiFi. If you’re near civilization, public libraries, coffee shops, and restaurants are all great options to connect on the road. McDonald’s has the largest free WiFi network in the US (just don’t supersize). We’ve also found that most national park and regional visitor centers provide free WiFi. Since we visited 21 national parks and 29 states last year that was a big help. Personally, we like public libraries. They’re quieter, you don’t have to purchase food or drinks to hang out, and the bandwidth can support many users.
Free WiFi has its benefits. The number 1 benefit: it’s free! We love free! But it does have some drawbacks. All free WiFi is not created equal. Slow bandwidth and tons of people trying to watch cat videos (you know you love them) can make some free WiFi unbearable. For example, the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park is one the most remote areas we visited. There was no cell service and while the visitor center provided WiFi, everyone was trying to connect, and nobody could get on (dang cats!) so we were stuck with zero internet or phone.
Hotspot. If you need more frequent access when on the road a mobile hotspot, while not free, is a popular way to go. We were able to survive on free WiFi and a minimal data plan on the first leg of our travels to maintain the blog. After I started my remote job, I needed an internet solution for extended periods when camped in remote areas.
A benefit of mobile hotspots is that they allow you to connect to a private network using your own cellular data. A hotspot can be its own device, or you can turn your phone into a mobile hotspot. Also, if you have a good signal, it’s a fast and reliable option.
The downside of a mobile hotspot is that if you don’t have a good cell signal, you can’t connect. When your travels bring you to remote areas, don’t expect to always have internet. Plan your route accordingly! When we’re looking for our next campsite we always check to see if there is service.
Combo. We use a combination of free WiFi and a mobile hotspot. This allows us to utilize the hotspot when we’re on the road. Stopping in at local libraries helps us save on data. While this gives us the best of both worlds connection-wise, we still need to know our route to ensure we’ll have internet access.
When you live nomadically everything must fit into a backpack or your tiny rolling home. Work equipment is no exception. Cameras, tripods, computers, chargers, and microphones are things we need to find room for. When purchasing equipment, think about storing and securing your technology. Everything needs to fit easily in its allotted space.
Also, you need to think about weight. If you’re traveling with a llama pack train you probably don’t have to worry, but if you’re carrying your own equipment, consider light-weight solutions. Wait, is a llama pack train an option?
Bumpy roads, dusty deserts, and torrential downpours are all things you may run into during your travels. Can your equipment handle it? It would suck to break your laptop before a deadline or crack your camera lens on the way to Denali National Park.
We know what it’s like to break a computer. Not fun! Keep your equipment protected! When we got caught in a storm hiking at Arches National Park we really could’ve used a few Ziploc bags for our phones and camera (soggy lesson learned). Don’t cheap out on protective cases, and make sure you’re prepared for any type of weather.
Software VS Freeware
You may have noticed, we love free! Software is no exception. We’ve frequently used freeware for photo editing, video, audio, and writing when we started this blog. Once I started working from the road, I had to break-down and purchase some software. However, I still utilize freeware when I can.
Before buying software and equipment I assessed my existing technology, what I needed, and how long it would take to recoup my costs. Our suggestion is to not buy everything right away. Don’t drag around equipment that isn’t going to be used for a while. Evaluate both the freeware and software options. If the freeware option delivers quality results, why pay for something else?
When on public WiFi you may be susceptible to a number of security risks. We use a VPN any time we connect to free WiFi. It is an additional cost, but helps protect private information on an open network. Here’s a super helpful article about data security for travelers.
While you are out and about, you want to make sure your equipment is safe and secure. When parked you want to make sure equipment can’t be seen, and if it’s expensive equipment you may want to store it under lock and key.
There are many things to consider when working on the road. Assessing technology is just one. As you can probably tell it isn’t a “one size fit’s all” solution. Finding your combination is how you will create a sustainable remote work environment. Tell us about your travel-technology. What device or software do you need to survive?