How to Maintain Your Health as a Digital Nomad

For many of us, the adventurous life of a digital nomad can appear like the plot from the movie “The Beach” (at least before they all get stranded and start killing each other).

Working from the road, even intermittently, can be an exciting and adventurous way to make a living. Saying that, there is a dark side to it.

The main challenge with being a digital nomad is that your routine goes completely out the window. What makes it worse is that temptation is awaiting you at every turn, willing you to sacrifice your health for a quick hit of enjoyment.

The only way to win against a system that is rigged against you is to use hacks that allow you to control the game. By controlling the game you can have your cake (or pad thai) and eat it too!

4 ways to stay healthy as a digital nomad

The main areas in which digital nomads face health challenges are fitness, back and neck health, diet, and mental health. Here are the tricks experienced digital nomads use to maintain their health in those areas, so they can stay productive at work while seeing the world, on the clock.

1. Make your fitness routine ‘gym-independent’

It’s no secret that when you’re feeling fit, you feel more confident, you have more energy and life is generally better than when the opposite is true. Fitness ought to remain a priority whether you’re at home or far from it.

The best way to prioritize fitness is to make it the first thing you do each day.

Some hotels have gyms, but most Airbnb rentals don’t. The best way to create a fitness routine you can stick to while you’re traveling is to make it gym-independent.

I like to create a 30-minute program which involves body weight exercises — think push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and other exercises that don’t require equipment. I either do them in my room or go to a park and knock them out first thing in the morning — doing push-ups in the park is a great way to start the day!

If you’d like to try a body weight exercise program, I recommend Mark Lauren’s book You Are Your Own Gym.

2. Practice good back and neck posture

By now we’re all well aware (and appropriately scared) of the fact that sitting kills. Bad posture doesn’t just make you sore — it will actually shorten your lifespan.

When you’re on the road, you’re constantly battling uncomfortable seats on planes and in hotels and cafes. Sit long enough in these nightmarish seats, and it’s only a matter of time before you end up with a bad neck or back.

A few tips for maintaining a healthy neck and back while traveling:

  • Plane hack: When you’re on a plane, sit only to sleep. For the rest of the time, as long as the seatbelt sign is turned off, stand at the back of the plane. Read a book, or listen to an audiobook or podcasts. While standing you can stretch and exercise — a few squats here and there will help you arrive feeling alert and flexible.

  • Flexibility hack: Pack a tennis ball or hard massage ball in your travel bag. Sitting for long periods in taxis and planes can cause your muscles to lock up, which can lead to more serious problems. When you arrive at your destination, lie on the ball where it hits your pressure points to release muscle tension. It’s like bringing a personal massage therapist with you!

  • Work hack: “Poor ergonomics and the resulting back and neck pain affected my sleep, mood and productivity,” says digital nomad and Proxyrack founder Sam Cross. “Life in general became really hard.” His solution is to avoid sitting or working where his ergonomics will be compromised. Instead, he works from hotels or shared office spaces where he can set up a portable standing desk.

3. Don’t eat like you’re on vacation all the time

Eating is one of the greatest joys of a life on the road. It can also be one of the biggest nightmares, when you can’t easily get healthy, fresh food.

A couple tips for maintaining a healthy diet when you’re working abroad:

  • Cook your own food: “I always opt for renting a place that has a kitchen rather than staying in a hotel,” says Kristi Thompson, a digital nomad and support team member at Help Scout. “Enjoying local cuisine is a fun part of travel, but cooking at least some of your own meals saves money and makes it much easier to eat healthy food.”

  • Take your own: Breakfast can be a tricky meal in countries that love to start the day with a thick layer of oil. I like to take my own muesli, which I mix with local fruit. If you’re staying in a hotel that includes complimentary breakfast, load up on protein and fruit to help you last longer throughout the day.

Here is my travel eating reading list:

4. Maintain your mental health

Looking after your body is only half the battle when on the road. Traveling offers a long list of benefits, so it’s easy to forget the toll that its drawbacks — like the stress brought on by changing itineraries, language barriers, unreliable hotel internet connections, and so on — can take.

Even at home it takes strategy and effort to be mentally at your best, so it’s critical to stay mindful of your mental health in less familiar surroundings. A few pointers:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule: According to the Mayo Clinic, you should try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, and get to sleep at a similar time each night. That’s easier said than done when you have jet lag, client dinners, and deadlines to make, but anything you can do to regulate your sleep schedule is worth the effort.

  • Create a restful environment: Some hotel bedrooms can be extremely noisy. I always take a good pair of earplugs to control the noise and ensure I have a consistent sleeping environment — I use Mack’s. It’s also helpful to stop looking at screens an hour or two before bed and draw curtains for a dark sleeping environment. Packing an eye mask can also help provide restful sleep.

  • Manage worries: Meditation is the most simple and cost-effective way to manage stress. I find I can get really wired with all of the stimuli involved in working on the road. To counter this, I usually meditate for 20 minutes in the evenings, which allows me to wind down. I use the Headspace app or listen to “binaural beats” playlists on Spotify (one I use often is “Delta Waves for Deep Healing Sleep”) — the white noise is also great for working in loud environments.

Stay healthy to stay happy

So much in life is out of our control — and that’s especially true on the road. There’s only so much you can do about flight delays, time zone mix-ups, jet lag, and every other given there is with travel. All we can do is accept that, turn up, and be our best self.

Staying in mental and physical shape is the best thing you can do to mitigate the stressors of life on the road — you’ll set yourself up to crush it at work, while enjoying the highs of the adventure.

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