Inside Nomadic

Becoming Nomadic: What I Learned from Working Abroad

Here at Nomadic, we enjoy the benefits of remote work: more flexible schedules, more time with our families, and in many cases, more productivity. But one of the biggest perks is often overlooked: Remote work doesn’t have to mean working from home.

This summer I had the opportunity to spend 12 weeks working from my homeland in the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal, really putting my title of Nomad to the test. With almost three years of remote work under my belt, I felt it was time to venture outside of the confines of my home office and try something I’ve spent over a decade hoping for, but never had the opportunity to do.

Spending time in a new setting, albeit doing the same day-to-day tasks, was helpful in many ways… and in others not so much. So in an effort to help any potential remote workers thinking of taking the plunge, here are some of the top tips that I recommend based on my first experience working abroad.

DO: Be over-prepared ahead of time
One of the most helpful things I did was take my time leading up to the trip to anticipate any possible pitfalls of working from a space that wasn’t my own. Will the internet connection be good enough? Can I adjust to working on a small laptop screen? Do I need power adapters? What equipment do I need to take? Asking myself these questions allowed me to order, prep, and pack everything I’d need to be just as efficient as I am at home. In some ways, I was over-prepared, but it allowed for such a seamless transition into a new work setting that I didn’t feel like it was a waste of my time; from day one, I was able to jump right back into work.

BONUS TIP: If internet speed and reliability play a big part in your role—and let’s be honest, it’s 2022, so it does for everyone—consider investing in a mesh router network. It’s portable and easy to install with any existing internet setup, and it can more than double the speed coming from a basic service provider router. This was a game changer for me, and I will definitely lug one around every time.

DON’T: Underestimate the value of a dedicated work space
Whether you’re staying with family or friends, renting a home, or going cross-country in an RV, having a dedicated work space that you can unplug from and return to as needed is invaluable (bonus points if it has a door). If you’re with other people, distractions can become frequent, so find a space that you can close yourself in for as much time as you need without interruptions. And when it’s time to close shop for the day, walk away and enjoy your time.

Remote work can quickly become a 24-hour thing: constantly checking messages, reading emails, completing tasks… This becomes even more apparent when working somewhere that would otherwise feel like a vacation. Imposter syndrome kicks in, and the need to prove your ability to balance work and pleasure intensifies. But your coworkers don’t expect you to work around the clock, and you shouldn’t try to.

Let work be work, and let time off be time off. A proper work space can help set that boundary.

DO: Plan to take plenty of time off
Remote work pairs well with vacationing. Why choose one or the other?

Let’s say you go on a two-week vacation. You explore the culture, visit new places, enjoy the amazing food… but you leave feeling rushed—like you saw everything, but in bite-sized pieces, balancing your time between the things you could enjoy close to your hotel and those you had to spend time traveling to. But now imagine you took a trip for six weeks: You could still enjoy a two-week vacation, covering a lot of ground and venturing further afield, but then you’d still have a month to stay put and work, reserving the closer experiences for mornings, evenings, breaks, and weekends.

This is just one example; there are a lot of ways to do this, but the bottom line is don’t just work the whole time you are away from home. Plan to take vacation time, so you can leave feeling fulfilled. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling privileged enough to work anywhere, so why should you get time off on top of it? Work is work, no matter where you are. So take advantage of every second you can get, and always remember to leave plenty of time off between trips to adjust, especially if there’s a time difference.

DON’T: Try to work on a different time zone
On that note, time zones play a big part in the experience of working away from home. If you’re taking a step over to a neighboring city or state, then this tip may not be for you. But if you’re looking at spending an extended period of time in a different time zone, even if it’s just a couple of hours difference, consider your work schedule carefully.

Working from the Azores, my regular 9-to-5 would be more like 4-to-12. Not wanting to work until midnight, I requested to work on Eastern Time. I figured it would allow me to get mornings off to enjoy my time abroad, start right after lunch to get some work done, and then spend the rest of my day in meetings before wrapping up around 9 p.m. Seemed perfect! But I quickly realized that the days began to move faster than I anticipated. 

During busier days (or weeks), I ended up working well into the night, creating a snowball effect of exhaustion and lack of motivation to take advantage of my mornings. Dinners and Friday nights became non-existent, and I lost precious time to spend with family and friends. The mornings I did take advantage of felt rushed, spending most of my time looking at the clock to make sure I got home in time to work. Overall, what looked like a great solution ended up being detrimental.

This may not be the case for everyone, but I now think a flexible work schedule would’ve been a better approach—getting work done 9-to-5 Azores time to meet any necessary deadlines, and then making myself available after hours for meetings as needed, freeing up some of those more crucial time periods that I wanted to enjoy. It’s important to remain flexible when negotiating an alternative schedule. Keep an open mind and reassure your team that you will continue to carry out your responsibilities with minimal disruptions. Anticipate that there will still be some late nights or days that don’t go as planned, and be okay with it.

DO: Create a new routine
It’s easy to think that all you’re doing is changing your work setting and that everything else will be business as usual. But the small changes add up quickly, and it’s crucial to adapt your daily routine to a new environment.

At home, you might snooze until it’s time to log on, eat lunch at your desk and take a break for coffee later in the afternoon. But when you’re away, it might make sense to wake up early and go for a walk before work so you can explore the neighborhood. Maybe you take a full lunch break and go try a new restaurant. Carve out new daily habits that allow you to make the most of your setting.

Finding a predictable routine will ultimately make the entire experience more fulfilling because it will allow you to make time for all the little things you’d otherwise easily miss out on.

DON’T: Be surprised if you feel homesick
As someone who lived in Portugal for so many years, I was surprised to find out that coming back 12 years later for a long period of time gave me major culture shock. Everything—from the interactions I had with people to taking a trip to the grocery store—felt completely different, and that pressure added to the already multiple changes affecting my daily routine.

Over time, I started to miss little things, like the comfort of my living room, how easily accessible things were in the U.S., and being able to drink an iced coffee on a hot day (who knew that wasn’t a thing in Europe?). Essentially, I took for granted how different my day-to-day would be and found myself counting down the days ‘til going home. 

Try your best to anticipate how comfortable you are being away from what you’ve grown accustomed to and for how long. It may seem like a good idea to be gone for two or three months at first, but for me, after about six weeks, it started to feel less like an adventure and more like a burden I needed to power through.

Overall, working abroad was a truly unique and gratifying experience that I don’t regret doing. It answered that long lasting “what if” that had been looming in my career and gave my family the chance to make wonderful new memories with minimal disruptions to our daily lives.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I change things up a bit? Without a doubt. My hope is that by sharing my experience with others that it will not only encourage you to try it for yourself, but give you the tools to feel prepared and take full advantage of your time away. Nobody knows what lies ahead for remote workers, but it sure is a great time to enjoy all the perks that come with it.