7 Travel Mistakes I've Made As A Digital Nomad
There are few things as stressful, frustrating, and infuriating as travel. But as a digital nomad — someone who travels continuously while working remotely — I'm forced to confront this stress, frustration, and infuriation constantly. The only thing I can do to comfort myself after I've spent two hours on the phone with an airline or spent hundreds of dollars booking the crappiest accommodations is that at least I've learned something from it. And because of what I've learned, I can be a savvier traveler in the future.
"Every time you switch locations, you create a laundry list of logistical problems to tackle," Kelly Chase, one half of Workationing, tells Bustle. "You need to find housing, figure out the exchange rate, find the grocery store, figure out public transportation, etc. All of that takes up a lot of time and head space, which can be an issue when you're also trying to get work done."
Being nomadic doesn't have to be a series of headaches, though. When you can figure out how to make things go smoothly, there's nothing more rewarding. So that something good can come of my travel horror stories, here are some mistakes I've made as a nomad that I hopefully won't repeat again.
1. Booking Flights On Other Countries' Sites
I once booked an Aeromexico flight I had to cancel, but when I called the U.S. hotline, they told me I needed to cancel it via the Mexican line. Apparently, Google Flights had directed me toward the Mexican site. I spent two hours trying to understand the people on the other line to no avail. Once I finally found an English speaker, I canceled it and went to book a new flight. When I realized Google Flights had sent me to Expedia's Mexican site, I navigated to their American site instead. Lesson learned.
2. Cutting It Close With Flights
You might think that as long as you arrive with enough time to get through security, you'll make your flight. But you would be wrong. The people at checkin will turn you away if you come at the last minute, and often, they won't even let you try. I learned this the hard way when I arrived at Cancún International Airport 45 minutes before my flight. Now, I always give myself at least an hour and a half. And I turn my alarm up as loud as it can go.
3. Skimping On Sleeping Arrangements
There's nothing I put before my sleep. My sleep, after all, determines my ability to do everything else. That's why hotels are my guilty pleasure. But it took me a while to get there. Since hotels seemed too indulgent, I started off using hostels (where I slept very little knowing there were complete strangers around me, one of whom had some boundary issues), Couchsurfing (where I couldn't even fit on the couch, had to get up early, and received texts the next day about how the host wanted to kiss me), and Airbnb (sometimes great, but sometimes unpredictable). After those experiences, I've decided it's usually worth the money for a hotel room — or a nice Airbnb with good reviews.
4. Relying On One Flight Search Engine
Google Flights does not have all the answers. Just recently, it told me the cheapest flight on the day I wanted was $160, when Orbitz and Expedia both had one listed for $109. I usually check at least those three and Skyscanner, and if there's not a non-stop flight, I'll brainstorm my own combinations. Especially if you're willing to have a longer layover, flight search engines may not tell you all your options.
5. Glossing Over Details In Airbnb Listings
Since booking travel arrangements is so damn annoying, it can be tempting just to pick the first Airbnb listing that looks good without reading it thoroughly. It's thanks to this impulse that I ended up thinking I'd have an apartment to myself only to find the host sleeping on the couch right outside my room, which was attached to the kitchen that she used. The five minutes I saved by barely reading the listing weren't worth all the sleep I lost.
6. Running Out Of Data
When you go to a new country, you may need to get a SIM card to get data on your phone. (If you're traveling throughout Europe, I recommend a plan that includes the whole EU.) These tend to run out every month or two, so don't wait until it runs out to get a new card. If I'll be traveling and am not sure where I'd get a new one, I'll buy one before I leave. You don't want to end up lost, unable to use your Maps app, and unable to even look up where to get a SIM card because you have no data.
7. Depending On Decent WiFi
In the U.S. and parts of Europe, you tend to assume that no matter where you are, you can reliably find WiFi. But this isn't the case everywhere. A surprising number of big airports lack free WiFi, and even some hotels I've stayed in have had such shoddy WiFi, I've had to use my personal hotspot instead. If you know you'll need to be working, research the WiFi situation at the places you're considering in advance. And don't assume you'll just find somewhere with WiFi as you wander throughout the city. It may not be that easy.
I'll probably end up with many more travel-induced headaches in the future, but at least my travel-savviness will improve with every one of them.