Since becoming a digital nomad over a year ago many people ask me “How do you do this nomad thing?” Recently, Tracey posted on Solo Trips and Tips Facebook page. “Susan, I’d really love to hear about where you stay, how you get around, how you go about researching your living situations when traveling. That sort of thing.”
First of all, let me tell you I do enjoy the basic research and planning stage of travel. Because I am working while I am traveling I want my accommodation sorted out before I arrive at my destination. Since I need decent internet for my work I do have some location limitations. Remote areas with weak internet signal are not an option for me now.
What is your nomad mode of transportation?
Everything I own fits into my 2009 Toyota Yaris sedan, also known as Yar-Yar. It’s a small car so I wouldn’t want to sleep in it but I could, in the unlikely situation of being stranded along the highway. Transitioning to new locations I choose to drive only 6 to 8 hours, and I travel during the daytime. If I do have an automotive breakdown I want to increase my chances of getting help. Having AAA membership (American Automobile Association) gives me peace of mind, knowing I can get help if needed.
Other options for road tripping in the USA and Canada include:
- Haul a trailer
- Truck or minivan – fitted with bed
What is your budget for nomad accommodation?
So far I have used Airbnb (what? you haven’t used it? click here for $35 towards yours first stay!) and I will soon have my first booking with VRBO – Vacation Rental By Owner, in January. While sometimes I find an ideal place on Airbnb in a few minutes, at other times it takes me hours. For instance, I spent several hours searching for an affordable place around San Francisco, requested a booking, host rejected, had to start all over again. Ultimately I stayed in Oakland and the place was still expensive at $2,350 per month. Way over my budget of $1,500 per month.
One of the easiest ways to save money on nomad accommodation is to book a private room within a home. Airbnb gives you three search options for the room type: Entire home, Private room, or Shared room. I could probably do a whole post on How to Airbnb.
After reviewing my expenses for the first year of nomad life I decided I should reduce my accommodation spending. Really, I decided to stick to my original budget of $1,500 per month, which I abandoned in month 3 for my stay in Carpinteria California, as well as in Oakland, and Vancouver BC.
Usually I spend a month at each location on my road trip, with occasional short stays because I like to keep my driving at around 6 to 8 hours maximum. While relocating from Calgary to Austin I booked shorter stays of 8 to 10 days at each location. Since I wanted to avoid any chance of winter weather I drove the 2,000 miles from Calgary to Austin in 30 days. Normally it would take me at least 4 months to travel such a distance. This fast travel worked out okay for the short-term but I wouldn’t want to travel so fast all the time. Too much time was spent on driving, while I do enjoy a scenic drive, 5 days of driving in 30 days is a bit much.
I spent $1,597 total in accommodation with stops in:
- Bozeman Montana – 3 nights FREE at Country Inns & Suites
- Fort Collins Colorado – 10 nights private room in a home $280
- Santa Fe New Mexico – 9 nights entire home $686
- Alpine Texas – 8 nights entire home $631
As a result of mixing in a few free nights from reward travel (Club Carlson), and experimenting with shared accommodation via Airbnb for 10 days, I was able to keep my costs close to budget. Note that I usually obtain a reduced rated on Airbnb by booking for a month at a time. I have seen discounts of 60% for monthly rentals on Airbnb (click here for $35 towards yours first stay!)
How do you choose your digital nomad location?
Several factors influence how I choose each city or town for my digital nomad life. Since I want to spend time outdoors, and I am not a winter person, I stay north in the summer and south in the winter.
Ideally I would like to spend no more than 6 hours driving but sometime I spend up to 8 hours. And after 8 hours of driving I am usually tired, all I want is to get out of the car and walk around. In addition, I do not want to drive after dark since there is nothing to see I would find it too boring.
Preferably there is good hiking close to where I am staying. I enjoy visiting National Parks or State Parks, so that is sometimes a factor in choosing my nomad home each month. Both Tucson and Palm Springs were great locations for hiking nearby.
Google Maps is the only trip planning app that I use, printing each leg of the road trip on my Brother HL-L2300D monochrome laser printer. It’s the best small size laser printer for travel. In addition, I visit AAA to pick up free maps. Members receive free maps. Other benefits, depending on your membership level, include free towing, flat tire repair, free emergency fuel, vehicle lock-out service, discounts on hotels, etc.
On the Google Maps print out I highlight the key highway intersections and miles per segment for the longer sections. Occasionally I miss a turn. So far I have noticed my error immediately, but it could be time-consuming to get off-course. It would be a bummer to spend extra hours driving only to wind up in the wrong place!
At the start of my trip I was more careful with reviewing the driving instructions before leaving a location. After a year on the road I slacked off, printing the map the night before and forgetting to highlight the key interchanges.
Alternatively, you could use a GPS system to find your way. Although I prefer paper maps I do wish Google Maps had an option for “scenic route” in addition to the “avoid highways” option. You can do an internet search for “scenic route from Place A to Place B” and usually there is good advice in some local travel forum.
Sometimes I know the exact location that I want to stay. For instance, I knew I wanted to spend time in Big Bend National Park to do some hiking. So I booked my first stop in Alpine Texas, a 6-hour drive from Austin and 1.5-hour drive to Big Bend. There is only one hotel style accommodation in Big Bend and that is Chisos Mountain Lodge, and it is expensive – like $150/night for a cheaper room. Big Bend is pricey unless you are camping or staying in an RV. I only stayed 4 nights in Big Bend, and that was plenty of time as I was not working during my stay. Internet is spotty in such a remote area.
From Big Bend National Park, I wanted to get to Tucson Arizona for November, but it is a 10-hour drive. So I looked on Google Maps for something on the way and found Las Cruces New Mexico. White Sounds National Monument is close to Las Cruces so I booked a couple of nights, to have a day at the surreal White Sands.
Recently I booked my nomad home in Oxford Mississippi due to a recommendation from Kent, my bar stool neighbor at Century Bar & Grill in Alpine TX. Oxford is a college town, home to Ole Miss, and Square Books, one of the best independent bookstores in the USA. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes, it is how I choose to end each day, it is my escape from reality. I consider great bookstores a good omen for choosing a nomad home.
After a year on the road I have noticed that I enjoy smaller towns more so than big cities. For my first year of nomad life I chose to mix it up a bit by choosing big cities and small towns, now I am choosing small cities and towns. Colleges often have excellent music and theater programs.
What to do for fun when you travel alone?
Performing arts or community events also play a role in my location planning for nomad life and travel in general. Since beginning my road trip I have attended:
- The Love Song of J Robert Oppenheimer – theatrical performance at Sul Ross University in Alpine TX
- Ozomatli concert at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson AZ
- All Souls Procession in Tucson AZ and Tubac AZ
- Tour of the Inns walking tour in Palm Springs CA
- Rincon Classic Surfing Contest at Carpinteria CA
- Cool Plants and Their Fungal Friends – lecture by Andy MacKinnon in Port Townsend WA
- Our Indigenous Legacy: Struggle, Survival, Moving Forward an interactive theatre performance & community dialogue with Poetic Justice Theatre Ensemble in Port Townsend WA
- Jesse RS concert at Cellar Door in Port Townsend WA
- Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas concert at Wheeler Theater in Port Townsend WA
- James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong concert at The Orpheum in Vancouver BC
- Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Tchaikovsky celebration at The Orpheum in Vancouver BC
- Milky Chance concert at Wildhorse Saloon in Calgary AB
- Calgary Fringe Festival – attended 3 plays in Calgary AB
- da Kink in My Hair theatrical performance in Calgary AB
- Story Swap at Lyric Cinema Cafe in Fort Collins CO
- Sh*t-faced Shakespeare performance at Spider House Ballroom in Austin TX
- Javier Chaparro house concert in Austin TX
How do you stay healthy & in shape while traveling?
Sitting around doing bookkeeping all day could be detrimental to both my physical and mental health. My lifestyle choices for staying in shape while traveling are:
- Free weights
Every morning I start the day with yoga, as I have for the past 15 years. Yoga sets the tone of my day, through meditation to quiet my mind, and stretching to keep my body limber and happy. Additionally, I do some stomach crunches, push-ups, planks, and use free weights to stay in shape while traveling.
Swimming has been sporadic for me since I started my nomad life. Sometimes I book accommodation with swimming pools. Occasionally there is an exceptional local pool to use, such as Carpinteria outdoor community swimming pool. In Calgary, I visited 5 different public swimming pools, all were clean and enjoyable to use but Glenmore Aquatic Center was my favorite due to easy access, lots of parking, and plenty of lap swim times in the summer months.
Walking is great exercise and a nature walk helps calm the mind. Watching the sunset while walking on the beach became my habit each evening while staying in Carpinteria California.
Now that I am back in Austin for a few weeks I am visiting some of my clients on-site. Occasionally they will find me practicing a yoga pose rather than sitting at my desk.