Digital nomad, blogger without a home, location independent, homeless – I don’t really care what you call me as long as you don’t call me a hippie or lazy. I’m quickly approaching 8 years of being a nomadic entrepreneur – which means I work as I move around the globe. This constant state of motion and changing environment can make working and running a brand/business very challenging. However the upside is that I’ve worked in some pretty amazing places… and some pretty strange places. Even though my job doesn’t require an office with walls or a boss looking over my shoulder, working on the road still has many challenges – especially when it comes to doing business with others. For those who are considering being location independent or simply going on a long-term trip, I wanted to share some of my favorite nomadic items I use in order to survive this simple life.
I suppose I should mention that my most essential tools are of course email, Skype, and Google Hangouts as a way of communicating and conducting meetings on the road – however I think (hope!) most people know about these services. I wanted to highlight some of the more obscure things I use to create an ‘office environment’. I don’t carry a file cabinet, printer, or fax machine – so how can you do business without these things while traveling? You go digital.
CamScanner – Turn your smart phone into a scanner
“Please send me a copy of your expenses/boarding pass, and we’ll get reimbursement to you. “ A request I get often that used to make me cringe. This used to mean that I had to somehow find a scanner or fax a document when on the road. Have you ever found a fax machine in the Sahara Desert? This is never a fun process. However the CamScanner app allows you to easily scan physical paper documents by simply taking a picture with your smart phone. From there it allows you to crop it to the right dimensions and create a black and white scanned image to be saved as a pdf document. I can easily take the pdf document save it in Dropbox or on my phone and email it. No more need for faxing!
Hello Sign – Sign contracts electronically
Another frequent request I get while working with companies around the globe – “I’ve attached the contract, please print, fill in the necessary information, sign, and return to me by the end of the week.” I physically cringe when I see the word “print” in an email. Finding places to print is a pain in the ass when you are on the road. In the past this meant I had to find a printer, print a copy, then sign it and somehow return a digital copy of that signed document back to them. However, now I use Hello Sign an online website that is free to use which allows me to store my signature securely. To use it you simply upload a pdf document/contract/application that you were sent via email, fill it out online, stamp your signature on file, and then resave it as a pdf document. You can then download it to your computer to send or simply email it from the application. It takes a few minutes instead of half a day to find a printer and scanner.
Expensify – Expense management via your phone and online application
Even though I don’t have a home, the IRS still expects to hear from me. Running a business on the road where you don’t have a desk, file cabinet or even a drawer can be daunting. Before you know it you are toting around a whole bag of paper and receipts. However, Expensify has helped me keep all of my expense reporting organized digitally, which makes my life much easier come April 15th. I mainly use the free phone app for tracking my work expenses through the year that I need to report on for tax purposes. However this app also comes in handy when I need to send an expense report or invoice to a client I’m working with.
Basically I set up an expense report for each trip I take and then when I get a receipt for dinner, parking, or hotel expenses I simply take a picture, add the amount of the expense (in whatever currency it’s in) and then upload that picture to my appropriate expense report. At the end of the tax year I can easily download all of my reports to an excel spreadsheet, clean up a few things and then send off to my accountant. This means that I don’t have to carry around my paper receipts with me for a year as they are all digital and saved by Expensify. You can easily edit the categories of expenses, as well as the tags you use to organize things.
You can also link your credit card directly to the application and it will pull the expenses directly from there and populate expense reports. Or you can also forward emails with your flight receipts, or paypal receipts directly to expensify and it will apply them to your expense report.
I still hate gathering info for taxes, however I hate it less with Expensify!
Telecom Square Mifi – Staying Connected
I can’t even tell you how many times my mifi device from Telecom Square has saved my ass while on the road. It’s probably one of the most important things I carry, next to my pocket knife and duct tape. Instead of constantly changing out sim cards in each country I travel to or incurring international fees, I use a mifi device to get online while traveling. The first thing I do when the plane wheels touch down is turn on my Telecom Square mifi device and by the time I get to the terminal I’m online with my smartphone checking email and updating social media.
The mifi device simply works with the cellular providers in a country and allows you to connect to the internet via the cell connections. It emits a wireless signal that you connect through wifi with a name and password. Once connected you can have access to unlimited data. When I head out to explore I simply place the mifi device in my camera bag and stay connected to email, access maps, and even make skype phone calls without a problem. You can connect up to 5 devices (phones, laptops, and notepads) to the mifi signal which means it’s great for traveling with others. I use it when I travel with my nieces, as we all know that teenage girls can’t go without their internet connectivity! You can rent them by day for a certain country or region. If connectivity is important to you then you’ll want to check this connectivity solution out I can’t imagine trying to do business or travel internationally without it.
Luggage Free – Business Dress Code
Many Days living out of a bag sucks. I never seem to have the gear I need when I need it. And even though this solution isn’t an ‘office tool’, it does help me show up to the ‘office’ in the right professional attire. I get a ton of questions from people about packing for long-term travel. It’s not easy to fit everything you need into one backpack in which you may need nice business type clothes as well as outdoor hiking clothes. And do you really want to take your klunky hiking boots along with you if you are only planning on hiking for one month out of the 12 that you are gone?
In my travels I often attend professional conferences or give presentations and my normal ‘roughing it’ travel clothes don’t really cut it. However, I recently found the Luggage Free solution when I was searching for info on mailing one of my bags instead of checking two bags and lugging them around at the airport. I had a business trip in Chicago that I needed professional looking clothes for, but I was next heading onward to Minneapolis and Peru to do hiking, camping, and building houses for the next 3 weeks. Instead of taking all of my outdoor hiking stuff to Chicago with me, I simply used Luggage Free to ship my backpack with my camping/hiking gear to my next destination (Minneapolis) so I could get it there to take to Peru.
Truth be told – shipping dirty backpacks for nomads isn’t normally what this service is used for. Luggage Free started as a high end – luxury solution to checking bags. Busy people could just ship their bags from their home and have them delivered directly to the hotel – or to the golf course or boat. However the plain fact is that they ship bags – so it doesn’t matter if it’s a set of golf clubs for executives or a grimy backpack for a nomadic traveler. The main thing is that it cuts down on what I have to carry.
They have a few different options and pricing dependent on if you have them pick up your bag from your home/hotel (which I did for $50 fee) or you simply fill out their form and drop it at Fedex and they take care of the rest. The perks of using Luggage Free is the fact that they deliver it directly to your hotel/accommodations/yacht, and they provide you regular updates along the way on the bag shipment. It’s insured and it’s secure. You pay a fee base on the weight of your bag and the distance – but the rates are comparable to regular shipping and normally less than checking a 2nd bag with the airlines.
Imagine you are packing for a year long trip, why not have your hiking boots mailed to you when you need them instead of taking up all of that room in your pack. It’s really simple to place an order online or via phone and soon someone will be picking up the package and sending it on it’s way within 24 hours. They deliver door-to-door anywhere in the United States as well as to over 120 countries worldwide. My experience with them so far has been fantastic and it has solved my luggage woes.
Those are my most used tools to exist as a nomad and run a business on the road.
Do you have any you use that I should add to the list?