how to avoid bad situations as a digital nomad

How to Avoid Bad Situations as a Digital Nomad Abroad

The digital nomad lifestyle is as simple or as difficult as you make it, and maybe that’s what makes it so appealing to aspiring nomads and remote workers. Floating between English-speaking, first-world countries presents few, if any, obstacles. Transportation runs on time, prices are labeled, and everyone seems to follow a perceived social contract. To experience a bad situation, the experience almost has to be sought out. 

When your insatiable thirst for adventure and new experiences removes you from familiarity and routine, a new world opens up around you. Many will love it, others will avoid it, and some may downright hate it. But when you’re ready and willing to have an experience unlike any other, only far-off destinations will do.

As geographic locations change, so do customs, manners, and how people live their daily lives. At first, your upbringing may restrict your understanding of local culture and customs. But the more you dive in, the more you’ll learn to assimilate into a new way of life. Even when you do, you may still find occasions when you need to use common sense and creativity to avoid less-than-ideal scenarios.

If you’re planning to become a digital nomad to explore everything this wonderful planet has to offer, here are some bad situations I’ve experienced and how to overcome them.



Be Assertive: One of the Top Ways to Avoid Bad Situations

As a digital nomad, nothing is more frustrating than unreliable internet. You can’t work, plan the next leg of your trip, or keep in contact with clients, employers, friends, or family. In this industry, a work standstill or communication breakdown not only prevents you from earning a living, but it also adds unnecessary stress to your travels.

I’ve always been an advocate of purchasing a SIM card as soon as you land at the airport. In most countries, the prices are the same as you’d find at kiosks or telecom stores in the city. (That’s not a steadfast rule. Some price-gouging can occur at airports in certain countries — I’m looking at you, Vietnam.) When in doubt, ask for a pamphlet or flier that shows the prices of various data plans to suit your needs.

Every so often, you might run into a snag anyway. On a recent trip to Samoa, I found that my phone hated local SIM cards. Instead of running on 4G, it ran on “E,” which stands for EDGE (may as well mean “empty”), and is the predecessor to 3G technololgy. That also means it was agonizingly slow.

As I repeatedly tried to load pages, the connection timed out, rendering the SIM card worthless. I explained my work situation to an employee, which was promptly met with a “not my problem, we don’t do refunds.” This is where your assertiveness must kick in. Even if you’re averse to confrontation, you can’t let this lack of customer service slide.

I get that I’m a guest in the country. But a certain amount of friendliness and decency in a business setting goes a long way. I refused to leave until the situation was rectified. It took an hour or so for them to provide me a refund, but I walked out of there with my 28 Samoan tala and integrity intact. Then, I started the hunt for a new SIM card. Eventually, it all worked out, but not without a bit of assertiveness and not taking “no” for an answer.



Have a Wi-Fi Backup Plan

Building upon the absolute necessity of reliable internet for digital nomads, let’s turn to what I call the “Free Wi-Fi Conundrum.” I’m not exactly sure why this situation exists, but I assume it’s something that’s lost in translation.

Essentially, it works like this. You search for a hotel or hostel at your next destination. Excitedly, you book a room because it meets your needs and offers free in-room Wi-Fi. You arrive at your accommodation, check-in, and hop on up to your room to check emails, search for a hot dinner spot, or begin work. But to your dismay, no wireless network pops up.

You return to the front desk where you’re informed that there’s only free Wi-Fi in the lobby. As you glance at the four ancient, uncomfortable chairs in the room, you realize you need a backup plan.

Chances are you won’t come across this scenario in most Westernized countries, but developing nations are a different matter. That’s why you should expand your hotel search and always have a reliable Wi-Fi backup.

When you book a hotel, search a local map for cafés, bars, or libraries. These are the three most reliable places for free or low-cost Wi-Fi and also give you some freedom to work in an environment that suits you. (And before you write off bars, just remember that you don’t have to drink. When cafes and libraries close, a bar with five or fewer patrons that has free Wi-Fi, food, sodas, and stays open until 1 a.m. is your greatest ally.)

As mentioned before, buy a local SIM card or purchase a pocket Wi-Fi hot spot just in case. You never know when you might need it.



Communicate with Your Clients and Employers Ahead of Time

The digital nomad lifestyle is an interesting and exciting career path because it allows you to travel the world without hindering your career aspirations. However, a time may come when you’re getting off the beaten path more than your office-based colleagues. A hike into the jungle, a weekend motorcycle ride, or taking your campervan into remote areas all but prevents you from staying connected. Sometimes, you might even find yourself in a bad situation that’s out of your control.

If you’re planning any of these types of getaways, always communicate with your clients and employers ahead of time.

A foremost rule of being a digital nomad is that few things go according to plan. If your car breaks down or you get wind of a secluded beach, you might have to extend your trip for a day or two. But the only way this is feasible is if you communicate ahead of time, especially if you work on tight deadlines.

Just like paid time off requests, you should email and notify all important parties of your travel plans. This can help you avoid disappointing your clients/employers and give you some wiggle room for what the digital nomad life is all about — exploring strange new landscapes and experiencing what others around the globe only dream about.



Know Your Time Zones to Avoid Bad Situations as a Worker or Freelancer

Knowing your time zones seems like a no-brainer, but when you’re gallivanting around the globe, it’s tougher than you may think.

Traveling the South Pacific, I had the rare opportunity to visit the remote U.S. territory of American Samoa. Just a 40-minute plane ride from Apia, Samoa, this lush, tropical paradise with turquoise waters and the remains of volcanic mountains is a spectacle unlike any other. 

However, this flight between two nearby nations has one dubious distinction — crossing the International Date Line. In less than an hour, you gain an entire day. For example, when I left at 1 p.m. on Tuesday from Samoa, I landed in American Samoa at 1:40 p.m. on Monday. Without proper research, I may have never known of this time change, which is the most drastic of any international flight.

Always make sure you know about time differences that may affect your deadlines and work schedule. And if you aren’t keen on time changes or mathematics, use a time zone app to idiot-proof your travels. That way, you can avoid a bad situation that makes you appear unprofessional.



Research Your Potential Neighborhood

If you’re moving to a new city, exhilaration is natural. You’re in a new environment — one that’s full of opportunities and experiences. Yet the excitement of your new location can all be for naught if you’re lazy on neighborhood research.

Just because accommodation is cheap in an area doesn’t mean it’s in a bad neighborhood. Conversely, high rent prices don’t necessarily translate to an oasis. The key is to research different neighborhoods to see what’s available for your budget and tastes.

In some countries, you can circumnavigate a lackluster area with cheap rent based on efficient public transport. When I lived in Sydney, I was in a vibrant area known as Newtown. Full of shops, restaurants, and music venues, Newtown was an ideal fit for my tastes and interests. 

However, it wasn’t a stellar location for sporting events, public celebrations, or some of Sydney’s most famous attractions. That’s why I made sure to see how far the train station was to my accommodation. With just a 5-minute walk, I could hop on a train that took me anywhere I wanted to go, effectively saving me money on rent, food, and entertainment that was much more expensive closer to the city center.

Not every city has great public transit or ride-sharing companies. In these cases, you’ll have to be far more thorough in your research. An invaluable tool I found was to hop on Facebook, and type “expats in (your city)” into the search bar. Nearly every city and digital nomad stronghold have expat pages that provide tips on where to live, nearby attractions, and the best places for food or drink. If you can’t find the information you need, post your question and most expats are more than willing to help.



Watch What You Eat

You may have heard some horror stories about travelers suffering from food poisoning while abroad. I found this to be an exception, not the rule. That said, the last thing you want is to make acquaintances with your toilet for days or weeks at a time. To add to the frustration, meal delivery services are unavailable for busy digital nomads, meaning you’ll have to cook or go out. However, foreign food is always an exciting adventure. You just need to watch what you eat.

I’m not sure what I ate in Vietnam, but one day, my stomach began to rumble with gastrointestinal fury. For the next 11 days, including a 5-day trip to Malaysia, I couldn’t be more than a few steps from the toilet. Working became a constant struggle, and I was forced to turn down paid assignments until I recuperated.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Tips to Help Your Culinary Choices

“I got food poisoning today. But I don’t know when I’m going to use it.” – Steven Wright, comedian

Alright, so Wright’s comment is a tad facetious. But I always think of this line regardless. I’m not saying that I was lax on choosing restaurants, but I probably didn’t take all the appropriate precautions. To avoid food poisoning, follow these tips:

  • Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times, as well as some toilet paper. Trust me.
  • Only eat meat that’s being cooked on an open flame or wok in front of you.
  • Don’t drink tap water.
  • Only eat where you see a horde of locals or expats.
  • Avoid any food that’s washed in local water (at least in developing nations).
  • Take Pepto-Bismol, activated charcoal, or another preventive medicine before dining.
  • Use common sense. If you see poor food preparation and hygiene among restaurant employees, go somewhere else.

This isn’t an all-encompassing list, but a few general rules to keep you healthy. A bit of adventurousness can yield delicious results, but use your judgment to avoid the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge.

Thanks to my mistakes and errors, you’ll have all the tools and advice you need to keep your head above water. Unless of course, you’re a glutton for confrontation. In that case, you’re on your own. Best of luck no matter which way you decide to roll!

Have you had any bad situations as a digital nomad or one that you could have avoided? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and YouTube to share your advice. We’d love to hear from you! 


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