Living off the grid, traveling often and working from coffee shops, all of these are – theoretically – enjoyable things, but, as any activity, they have various degrees of efficiency. For instance, you may travel often, but you may not alway get the best travel or accommodation deals, because, well, reasons. Or you may try to work from coffee shops, but you’re too dependent on their WiFi (which, more often than not, is shaky).
In short, all these activities are improvable. And, during human history, the best way to improve an activity was to create some tools for it.
What follows is a short list of tools I use, as a digital nomad, to get my job done faster and with less friction. This list – or, how I like to call it, a digital nomad toolkit – is by no means finished, or claiming that it’s the best you can find. It is, by itself, improvable, so feel free to leave a comment with your suggestions or observations.
1. Digital Tools
In this category I put tools that help me doing my job, or, in more general terms, generate revenue. These are also tools that are helping me in various ways when I just arrive in a country / city.
Mac Book Pro
I’m a huge fan of Macs, for more than 10 years now, and I highly recommend them. They are notoriously reliable and, although on the expensive side, they tend to last longer (and become obsolete slower) than PCs. Word of advice, don’t go for the most recent version, it’s usually more expensive and you’re buying into hype. Settle for the one before the most recent update, and you’ll be fine.
I’m using my Mac to generate revenue, through a few activities, ranging from writing code to writing articles or providing one to one consulting sessions.
iPhone + Backup Phone
Having a smartphone is fundamental, as a digital nomad. Lately, I discovered that it’s very useful to have a phone with a second SIM slot (or a dual-SIM, as they’re called). Having a stable phone number, used usually for emergency calls with family and friends, is guaranteeing that I’m not losing contact with them, while having a second, backup phone number, with a local SIM, guarantees that I’m not paying astronomical sums for internet access and calls.
I’m using my phone half of the time for calls, and half of the time for finding information on the spot, like the route to a certain place, or stuff about the plane, train or bus schedule. I also use it quite often to tether my Mac to a better internet than I get in a coffee shop.
This may not be your cup of tea, but I’m a runner, and I work hard to keep this habit even when I’m traveling. I now use a Suunto Ambit Run, which has around 10 hours of battery in GPS time and it can be paired with a lot of other accessories, like heart rate belts, footpods and so on.
I’m using it when running, obviously, but every once in a while I’m comparing the GPS data from the watch with what I’m getting from the phone to see which is the most reliable.
Portable SSD + Very Small Computing Devices
The amount of data that we’re using is increasing every day, and having a good backup of all your important items is crucial. Hence, I’m carrying around a small SSD harddisk, on which I store information that I need in my work. I could use cloud storage for that, but sometimes the internet access is very slow, so a part of the data must stay on something readily available.
Another relatively new item that I added to my toolkit is a Raspi (Raspberry Pi) or a few of them. They are really, really small, can be carried away very easily and the amount of computing power in them is incredible, compared with their size. I use them either to test various apps I’m writing or projects that I want to be part of.
2. Software Tools
These are the tools that I use in my daily activity, either for productivity (working more efficiently) or for actually getting things done (editors, coding tools).
The most important one is a journaling app. I’ve been using dozens of to do lists, back when I was a productivity junkie, but I just got rid of almost all of them. I group all my projects as journals in Mac Journal, and then write my progress / tasks in individual entry files. I find that this works way better than using a fancy to do list, specifically because I end up spending more time using the fancy thing than getting things done.
Coda – The Coding Editor
This is my choice of editor for coding stuff. It’s Mac only, but it does a very goo job. Not only syntax highlighting, which is very supportive, so I can write code in a variety of languages, but also its memory management (I often have dozens of files opened) and indexing (I can search across all the files in a project, or just the opened files) are best of their kind.
Apart from this all-inclusive tool, I obviously use XCode or Android Studio to write mobile apps.
This is something that I use for only one feature: namely the shared lists. Sometimes I go shopping with a list made by my partner, Raluca, and she can add new items as she remembers them, and I can cross them off as I buy them, and then she sees that in real time. I could use a specific shopping list app, but I think I’m just lazy.
3. Information Tools
Once I have the basic stuff for working covered, I can focus on how I get and filter the relevant information for my work.
Believe it or not, I use Google for pretty much everything related to my activity: from finding cheap flights, to learning new words in a different language. If you really know how to use it, you rarely need a more specialized tool.
And that’s exactly the specialized tool that I’m referring to in the above paragraph. StackOverflow is an invaluable resource for anyone into coding – and lately, for other areas as well – because it offers battle-tested, real time answers related to specific problems. I am very grateful for this project, it saved me dozens of hours of endlessly searching the web.
Facebook / Meetup For Socializing
I find Facebook extremely noisy as a social media network, but still very useful for finding relevant people in new places. The Groups feature is what I’m using the most, with good results.
Also, for work related social gatherings, I find Meetup irreplaceable. I can very fast identify relevant events for my activity and decide which and when I will attend.
Twitter For Relevant Niche Information
If I want to find signals related to a certain type of information, I usually go with very specific searches on Twitter. It still has a big noise to signal ratio, but you can filter that noise and what remains after that is usually very good.
4. Money Related Tools
These are usually debit cards or other tools that are helping me stay afloat. I would love to write more about them, but I just recently wrote a full article comparing a few of them, so feel free to read this: 3 Digital Nomad Friendly Debit Cards.
So, that’s my digital nomad toolkit. Do you use something else? Why? What are the reasons? Do you use less than that? I would love to know your experiences.