International Travel Tips For Digital Nomads
Table Of Contents
International Trip Planning And Preparation
Tips For Cheaper International Flights
Book 2 – 8 months in advance
This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but generally speaking – the best time to get the best prices on international flights is booking 2 – 8 months ahead of your trip. Beyond 8 months, you likely won’t find much price variation.
Travel on the cheapest days (Tuesday, Wednesday & Saturday)
Generally speaking, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. This is to fly – not to book. There is no “best day of the week to book a flight” anymore.
Avoid high season and holidays (June through August, Christmas)
Remember to take holiday schedules into account. If you’re flying out of North America or Europe, this is summer break. This is peak season for demand on flights.
Use Google Flights “Explore” Mode
This is a great Google Flights hack to get you a cheaper connecting flight. Google Flights “Explore” will show you the cheapest places on Earth to fly to on any given day, from any given airport.
Say you want to fly from Chicago to Bangkok. Instead of just throwing these two locations into Google Flights, use Google Flights “Explore” from Chicago. You find that Chicago to; Manila is $400 cheaper than Chicago to Bangkok. Then, you see that Manila to Bangkok is only $150, so you book that cheap flight from Manila to Bangkok separately, and boom. Cheap flight.
If you’re flexible on where you’re going, going.com (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) is a good place to nab really good deals on flights. You just set your home airport and they’ll send you the lowest-priced flight deals out of that airport.
^mobile view of Google Flights “Explore”
^desktop view of Google Flights “Explore”
Use A VPN
This one is tricky, and it may not always work. But – it’s worth a shot.
Using a VPN like NordVPN to set your location to different countries may – may – yield cheaper flight results. But, it can also yield more expensive results, so make sure to use this wisely.
You can get a more in-depth walkthrough on how to use VPNs to find cheaper flights here.
Skiplagged is an awesome resource for finding cheap international flights – under certain conditions.
The primary condition is that you are not bringing checked luggage (If you’re going to Asia, it may literally be cheaper to buy clothes there than to pay for a more expensive flight outside of Skiplagged).
How does Skiplagged work?
Let’s take Destination A (your departure city), Destination B (the city you want to fly to) and Destination C (another city).
It is sometimes cheaper to fly from Destination A to Destination C, with a layover in Destination B, than it is to fly directly from Destination A to Destination B.
Follow the math here? Skiplagged finds these “hidden city” connections, with the stipulation that you leave the airport in your connecting city. That means, no checked bags, because they’ll be transferred to your final destination city.
Transfer credit card points to partner airlines
If you’ve racked up reward points on a your credit card, look at who that credit card’s partner airlines are. Transferring points to these partner airlines is often much cheaper than buying the ticket outright.
Plus, it makes it less expensive to treat yourself with business class.
Search for deals on reputable OTA flight aggregators
Reputable OTAs for flights include;
This one usually won’t doesn’t work, but it’s worth a shot. After searching for flights on Google Flights, give these other flight aggregators a shot. You never know – they may turn up something good.
But – 2 things to remember when you're using OTAs;
- These aggregators will give you options for Trip.com, Kiwi.com, etc. Remember - using services like this are a gamble. If the flight goes smooth - you'll save a few bucks. But if the flight is delayed or cancelled, and you use one of these third-party services to book, the airline will tell you to contact this third-party service directly. Which brings us to point #2;
- When booking through these third-party OTAs, be 100% sure that you don’t need to make any changes. Because customer service through these OTAs is nearly non-existent.
Tips For Long International Flights
I flew LAX > Singapore (17 hours, 50 minute flight) – here’s the complete guide with 12 tips for long international flights, But we’ve included a couple quick tips below as well.
- Get a lumbar & neck pillow (inflatable are best, as they pack down)
- Bring noise-canceling headphones
- Bring comfortable wax earplugs (Mack’s silicone earplugs rock)
- Bring an eye mask
- Have your shows, books, podcasts, musics and audiobooks downloaded
- Bring that thing you’ve continually been putting off, and finally do it
- Get up and walk/stretch every 2 – 3 hours
- Drink 1 liter of water every 3 – 4 hours of flying (throw in some electrolyte packets too)
- Bring a change of socks (+ empty bag to put your dirty socks in)
Best Ways Exchange Currency Abroad
You’ll need cash when you travel, so below we cover 4 ways of handling currency exchange while traveling abroad (this is by no means extensive).
If you have a credit card with zero foreign transaction fees, this should be your default way to spend when you can avoid paying cash. This will almost always give you the best, real-time exchange rate on purchases.
The New Way: Revolut
Revolut is hands-down the best way to handle currency exchange while abroad. It allows you to exchange your home country currency into the local currency and withdraw in the local currency. This helps you avoid the terrible exchange rates many ATMs try to charge. Plus, there are many fee-free ATMs you can withdraw from using Revolut’s ATM network.
The Classic Way: Fee Free ATM Withdrawals
Getting a bank that waives foreign ATM withdrawal fees is great, but that ATM can still give you an awful exchange rate, even if your bank covers the ATM fees.
Another Way: Xoom
Xoom is a service I discovered when my ATM card was damaged beyond usability. You can send yourself money, and then go to a local partner bank to withdraw it. The fees to send are usually around $5, and the exchange rate is generally pretty agreeable. But, you need to stand in line at a local bank or other partner store, and it can be challenging if you don’t speak the local language.
The Worst Way: Currency Exchange
You will lose ~5-10% of your money’s total value by using currency exchanges. The most noble function that currency exchanges serve are to convert pocket change into airport beers when departing a country.
How To Check Visa And Vaccination Requirements
How To Check Visa Requirements
A nightmare scenario is arriving in a country only to be rejected by immigration and forced to take the next flight out.
Use passportindex.org’s travel checker to figure out whether you need a visa.
Passport Index is good at keeping up with changes, but visa requirements change regularly. Before applying, give it a quick Google to make sure nothing has changed in the past few days.
How To Check Vaccination Requirements
The most common vaccination requirement you’ll run into is the Yellow Fever vaccine.
To see if you need this, visit the CDC’s list of countries and select your country.
At the bottom, look for Yellow Fever and whether or not it’s required (below is an example of a country you need the Yellow Fever vaccine to enter).
And don’t let this large list of potential diseases scare you. Unless they’re visiting Sub-Saharan Africa, many travelers largely disregard the CDC’s recommendations on these.
But – it’s important you consult a medical professional about proper precautions before traveling.
How To Find Housing As A Digital Nomad
We actually put together a list of 30 digital nomad housing sites here. But below are a couple of our favorites;
AirBnb is tried and true, even with their hefty cleaning fees (make sure to mow the lawn before ya leave too 😉). But it works, and gives you peace of mind.
Usually, I’ll book a couple nights through AirBnb. Then I’ll ask the host if they want to negotiate a longer price off the AirBnb platform. Of course, this is risky, because the place may book up while I’m there. But it’s often a risk I’m willing to take, particularly in the low season.
Agoda Apartments is one of the only true alternatives to AirBnb out there, and it’s great. It’s the same concept as AirBnb, except they only rent out apartments (no homes). The prices are usually a bit more agreeable than AirBnb’s.
^Photo by Elena Rabkina on Unsplash
I’ve used Facebook Marketplace many times when booking mid to longer term (2 weeks to 1+ month) stays. Couple things for any digital nomads looking for housing via Facebook Marketplace;
- Make sure you give yourself a couple days to find a place
- Many places are scams. If it looks to good to be true, it probably is
- Never pay anyone a thing without going to see the place first
Best Travel Medical Insurance For Digital Nomads
Travel insurance is not always travel medical insurance. Travel insurance covers ticky tack stuff. Airline lost my bag. Flight got canceled. Annoying, but as digital nomads – manageable.
Travel medical insurance covers, “I broke both of my legs and had to get airlifted to the nearest hospital”. Travel insurance may not cover emergency medical treatment. Travel medical insurance does.
Atlas Travel Medical Insurance by WorldTrips
I’ve used Atlas Travel Medical Insurance from WorldTrips multiple times while traveling, and my experience has been positive.
I personally haven’t used World Nomads, but i’ve had friends use them, and their reviews were generally positive.
World Nomads has “extreme sports” packages for people who want to whitewater kayak, rock climb and really get after it – activities that are not normally covered by traditional travel medical insurance.
While the costs of other travel medical insurance vary based on how long your trip is, Saftey Wing’s Nomad Insurance is a flat $42/month rate (not including coverage in the USA). If you’re a digital nomad without a set start or end trip date, this is huge.
Best Credit Cards For Digital Nomads
Frequent travelers are going to want to grab a solid travel credit card.
For US citizens, there are basically 3 families of cards out there for digital nomads that are not looking for status on a particular airline (which, as a digital nomad, may not always be the best use of a credit card).
Some could make an argument for other cards, but we’re not talking travel credit cards for a once-a-year splurge to Cancun here. We’re talking credit cards for digital nomads that are consistently on the go.
Each of these cards have their perks, bonuses and drawbacks.
Capital One Travel Credit Cards
Top-Tier Option: Capital One Venture X ($395 annual fee) [This is my go-to travel card. You get $400 in annual flight credits, so the card is essentially free. Plus you get airline lounge access with Priority Pass and tons of other perks]
Mid-Tier Option: Capital One Venture ($95 annual fee)
Free Option: Capital One VentureOne ($0 annual fee)
Chase Travel Credit Cards
American Express Travel Credit Cards
How To Keep Your Phone Number While Traveling Abroad
You can keep your US number abroad in a few different ways (this isn’t an exhaustive list);
Method #1 (pricey): Use Google Fi
With Google Fi, you get unlimited data anywhere in the world. Once you’ve ported your number to Google Fi and have installed your Google Fi SIM card – that’s it. You don’t need to change out your SIM card every time you change countries, and it’s very hassle-free. The only catch is this service will cost you $60 – $70/month and is only guaranteed to work for a maximum of 2 months (check out the guide on keeping your US number abroad for more on that).
Method #2: (if you need to call/text from your US number frequently): Google Voice
Google Voice is good if you need call and text from your US number while you’re abroad (or any old US number, if the number isn’t critical). More companies are beginning to not accept Google Voice numbers for two factor authentication, so we don’t recommend using Voice for 2FA.
Method #3 (cheap & good if you need your number for 2FA but don’t want to make other calls/texts): US Mobile
US Mobile is a good option if you want to keep your US number while you’re abroad, and you need two factor authentication. Once you port your number over, it costs $3/month to keep your line open, and it costs $1.50 for 50 texts – usually enough for all your 2FA needs. So you’re looking at under $5/month to keep your line open.
Plus, if you do briefly go back to the US, you can top up with phone, text and data while you’re home, so you don’t even need to change providers.
Using SIM Card For Data Abroad
Even if you don’t use it for calls or texts, digital nomads need data as a backup source of internet when their local wifi fails (which is inevitable in most places around the world).
Here’s a brief rundown of what you need to do to get a local SIM while traveling;
- Before traveling, make sure to change your phone’s SIM card from a physical SIM to an eSIM (this enables you to keep your US number for 2 factor authentication and get a local SIM without continually switching out the SIM cards).
- Find out where you can purchase a SIM card that has “pay-as-you-go” plans.
- Get the pay-as-you-go plan that offers the most data and that enables hotspotting. Make sure to also check at what data usage threshold these plans throttle your speed (this throttling can make data virtually useless).
Many places, like Latin America and SE Asia, allow you to “top up” (that’s what it’s called in many places, regardless of the language) your plan in local convenience stores like 7/11 and Oxxo.
Device Battery Health Abroad
Before leaving for Peru I bought a cheap MacBook charger off eBay. Guess who got a continuous, low dose of electrical current every time he used his laptop for the next 3 months?
Cheap chargers are made specifically for the most common outlet found in US homes: 120 volt, 60Hz. While higher quality chargers can handle variations from this standard – like Peru’s 220 volt, 60Hz standard, cheap chargers are not.
The battery health of your devices won’t be affected when charging them abroad as long as you have high quality chargers. Don’t skimp. Buying cheap knockoffs will zap your device of battery life fast.
Staying Happy, Healthy & Safe While Traveling
Daily 5 Minutes Of Deep Squats
^via Yoga International
As digital nomads, we sometimes get lucky and get a great chair. But oftentimes, we’re in cafes and hotels that have chairs with little back support, and sometimes zero back support (aka disguising cheap design as “minimalism”) – not to mention all the car, bus and plane rides.
An absolute game changer is spending a few minutes every morning in a low, resting-position squat.
Your 70 year-old self will thank you.
Workouts For Digital Nomads
Sometimes when you’re a digital nomad, all you’ve got to workout with is gravity.
Here are some solid bodyweight exercises digital nomads can use to stay healthy;
Upper Body Bodyweight Workouts For Digital Nomads
- When done correctly both standard and modified pushups should work your arms, shoulders and back
- Pike pushups
- Plank shoulder taps
- Flat I-Y-T raises
Lower Body Bodyweight Workouts For Digital Nomads
- Air squats
- Split squats
- Wall sit
- Glute bridge
- Side lunge
Core Bodyweight Workouts For Digital Nomads
- Starfish planks
- Triangle chair workout
- Hollow holds
You can instantly up the intensity of any bodyweight workout using an elastic band (just like the photo below).
How To Combat Jet Lag
- Drink at least 1 liter of water for every 4 hours you’re in the air.
- Eating light meals helps mitigate the body bloating that flying causes.
- Even if you’re exhausted – make sure to get at least 10 minutes of direct morning sunlight (light through a window is 50x less effective) upon waking, which is one of the most effective ways to reset our circadian clocks.
- Push through it (I personally thoroughly enjoy the onset of delirium at 24+ straight waking hours with a couple beers thrown in). Do your best to stay up until your local time zone’s evening, and do your best to wake up in the morning.
^Photo by Tânia Mousinho on Unsplash
Common Travel Scams & How To Avoid Them
Keep in mind: 99% of scams while you’re abroad are petty theft. And many of them have the cops on their payroll.
I try to view it as a morbid, highly unethical game of cat and mouse. But whether you want to or not, you’re a player on the game board the second you walk through customs.
Don’t let this list deter you: most people in this world aren’t looking to scam you.
But of those who do want to scam you – here are some of the hall of famer scams they employ…
The Taxi Scam
Taxi Scam: What It Is
Many of the scams when you’re visiting a new city are undertaken by taxis. Here’s some of the scams they’ll try to pull;
- “Broken Meter” – the meter on their cab is broken – bummer!! Guess you’ll just have to agree to a price that’s definitely fair market price huh?
- “Hotel Is Full” – when you get in their car, they’ll tell you the hotel you’ve booked is full (quite a pre-internet throwback hey?). But don’t worry – they’ll take you to another hotel they know of. Is it more expensive? Yes. Do the taxi drivers get a cut of that? Yes. Should you avoid this? Yep.
- “City Tour” – you hire a Tuktuk or a taxi to show you the city for the day. However, every single stop centers around buying souvenirs and trinkets, and these vendors give the taxi driver a little kickback.
Taxi Scam: How To Avoid It
- The only way to truly avoid these scams is to use the local rideshare service (Uber, Lyft, Grab, Bolt, DiDi)
- Ask your hotel what the general price of a cab to your destination should be, or open a rideshare app and see what it’s charging. Be prepared to pay 10 – 20% higher than the price you’re supposed to pay (the tourist discount), but no higher.
- You can try asking your hotel or hostel for the name of a reputable, licensed cab driver to take you to your destination or on a city tour, but then again that may be their cousin who gives them a kickback.
^Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash
The Overly Friendly Local Scam
A good rule of thumb here. If anyone approaches you while you’re standing or sitting, and you’re not clearly distressed (i.e. you’re freaking out because you just lost your passport and it’s painted on your face), and they’re overly friendly about showing you around or taking you out (keywords to look out for are, “party party”, “relax”, “cheap”, “my friend”), they’re probably trying to shake you down.
You should always leave room for good people to be good people, and for good people to be curious people. I’ve been stopped in an airport because this Thai family just wanted to take a photo with me and that was all (that photo is below – peep the guy photobombing in the background).
^said picture of family that wanted a photo with me
But on the whole, good people are usually doing their own thing, and if they ask you if you’d like help and you decline, good people will likely move on. The scammers will insist.
The Overly Friendly Local Scam: How To Avoid It
Look – this is not a, “all other people you meet are bad outside your home country”. Truth is, 98 – 99% of people you meet are either indifferent toward you or they want to help, should you need it. But the cost-benefit of implicitly trusting everyone you meet is high.
Here’s how I identify an overly friendly local scammer while traveling:
Eye contact. Scammers who pull the Overly Friendly Local Scam maintain hard, laser-focused, dominant eye contact while they talk to you
- They’ll often approach you while you’re sitting or standing in a public space (restaurants are usually out of bounds for scammers like this, and they’re not welcomed in).
- Their energy level is higher than what it should be based on your current location or setting.
- They insist, at first in a friendly manner, on going to this one bar or restaurant, or taking you to their home.
- If you decline, they insist with increasing fervor. Or, if you’re lucky, they’ll just walk away.
The Spilled Drink/Food Scam
The Spilled Drink Scam: What It Is
Someone will walk by you in a restaurant or a bar and spill sauce, food or a drink on you. As they’re profusely apologizing, they’ll grab a towel and begin to clean you off.
As they put their hands on you to stabilize themselves while they wipe the spill off with a cloth, they pickpocket you.
The Spilled Drink Scam: How To Avoid It
If a stranger ever spills on you, just take care of the stain yourself.
The Ole Bill Switch Scam
The Ole Bill Switch Scam: What It Is
You pay for something and hand someone a bill. They’ll turn around to “make change”, but when they turn back around – what’s this?! They tell you you only handed them a 100. So weird, because 100 peso bills are yellow and 200’s are green, and you definitely remember handing them a green 200 bill.
The Ole Bill Switch Scam: How To Avoid It
- Use a credit card when possible
- Count out the full amount of money in front of the vendor
The Fake Police Scam: What It Is
This is perhaps the most difficult scam to combat. It’s fake police offers coming up to you, often with real machine guns (likely not loaded), asking for your ID.
They’ll make up some trumped up charges and ask you to pay for the fine on the spot. And if you don’t want to pay, they may decide to keep your passport and/or cards.
The Fake Police Scam: How To Avoid It
- At the end of the day, this is perhaps the most difficult scam to avoid. Because if you ask them to take you to the police station, you’re just getting into the car with a criminal. The best way to mitigate this is to;
- Only carry with you the essentials, and leave everything else in your room.
- Keep your cool. Many police around the world carry weapons, sometimes full-on assault rifles. It’s easy to be intimidated, especially when you don’t speak the language. Real police are usually just looking for a small bribe, and aren’t going to put you in danger.
How To Eat Like A Local While Traveling
If you’re not willing to endure a couple bad meals, you don’t deserve the good ones.
If you want to get the most out of your meals while traveling, here’s a couple things to remember;
- Never turn down food when offered. You can always do a “no thank you bite”.
- Look for places that locals pack into. These places aren’t popular because their food makes everyone sick.
- Get the street food.
^Photo by Anh Vy on Unsplash
4. Don’t eat meat from street vendors that cook their food on the spot (i.e. they pull out raw meat and cook it) and that have been there for 5+ hours.
5. That street cart that’s baking in the sun does not have a refrigeration cart underneath. Keep an eye on what time it is, and crunch the numbers on how long they've been out there.
6. Restaurants that have cheap, vinyl tablecloths with plastic, brightly colored chairs are generally a good bet.
7. Treat yourself to upscale local restaurants every now and again.
8. Keep in mind going out to eat while traveling is about more than food. It’s about who you’re with, where you’re at, and observing what’s going on in the world around you.
How To Make Friends While Traveling As A Digital Nomad
Making friends as a digital nomad is both easy and difficult at the same time. It’s easy to make drinking buddies. But deep friendships take time to develop while you’re abroad, and you often move on to the next spot before you’ve been able to do that.
But, here are a couple tips on making friends as a digital nomad;
- Don’t get miffed if locals don’t want to be friends. Most people don’t want to invest time and energy into any relationship they know will only last a couple weeks.
- Try a pub crawl or other group event that local hostels organize. They’ll usually post these events on their Facebook and/or Instagram, or you can just go into the front desk and ask.
- Look for Facebook expat groups in the city you’re in. They’ll post events there, along with links to more niche groups.
^Photo by John Arano on Unsplash
Digital Nomad Work Life Balance
Finding work-life balance in normal life is hard. As a digital nomad? It’s even more challenging. Because you’re in so many new places so frequently, and the “balance” part of work-life balance involves you having a social life, hobbies, etc.
The best way to achieve work-life balance as a digital nomad is to travel slow. Spend at least 2 weeks in a place in order to develop some semblance of a routine. That means less time spent looking for the nearest laundromat and more time enjoying life.
Plan Time Off
As a digital nomad, it can be easy to base your travel around work, instead of your work around travel. Finding this balance is the key to developing a work-life balance as a digital nomad.
^Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash