With the public’s growing interest in achieving location independence without sacrificing financial security, it’s important to use tools that will help increase productivity online. If you plan to become a full-fledged digital nomad (i.e. someone who works online and isn’t tied to a physical place), you’ll have to know the tips and tricks of those in the business. The truth is, digital nomads love a digital tool that will make their lives easier and increase overall productivity.
If you’re striving for total location independence, you’re not only going to need some digital tools for your professional life, but you’re also going to need some technology to travel efficiently and effectively.
Whether you’re already living the digital nomad lifestyle, or you’re working to become one, we’ve compiled a list of the best tools to turn your water cooler into a website chatroom, your cubicle into creative software, and your 9 to 5 commute into a thing of the past.
Before You Get Started...
…you’re going to need the sole instrument in the digital nomad’s repertoire: a laptop! That’s right, as you might have guessed, if you plan on living abroad and making money online, you’re going to need a solid laptop. Be sure to define what kind of laptop you will need based on the type of work you plan to be doing.
Some key elements to keep in mind when shopping for a laptop:
- Price point ($$)
- Some people swear by their shiny, high-processing power laptops for online work. Sometimes though, it can be more beneficial to buy a cheaper laptop so you don’t have to worry about it getting stolen or damaged on your travels. We both elected to find options in the middle.
- If you plan on being on the go a lot, be sure to look for a laptop that is lightweight and smaller in size, especially if you want to travel with a minimal amount of luggage. Ideally, your laptop should be able to easily fit into a TSA approved carry-on and under 5 pounds.
- Battery life
- Sometimes you’re going to be at a cafe where there are no accessible outlets, or off-grid for a few days while you hike in the mountains. A laptop with long battery life is also useful for long plane rides when you want to complete some work while in transit, or need to get your movie fix.
- Storage space
- Many affordable lightweight laptops with long battery life lack a large amount of storage space. You’ll either need to pick up an external hard drive, store your files in the cloud, or spend a little more on a laptop with more considerable storage space.
- Processing power
- Depending on the kind of work you’ll be doing, you may need a laptop with quality processing power. If you’re running high-resolution editing programs, or plan on doing some 3D design for work, you’ll need a better CPU so that you don’t slow down the overall performance of your computer.
Digital Nomad Tools
Once you feel confident that you’ve got the right laptop, you’re ready to move on to acquiring some tools to optimize your time spent online. Below, you’ll find some of the top tools in the industry of remote work. The best part is, most of them are free!
Whether you’re just starting out as a digital nomad or you’re already traveling abroad, you’re bound to find something of use on this list. Before going and downloading each of these items, be sure to take on only what you’re going to use for work or travel.
Just like choosing the best laptop is specific to your line of work, sometimes becoming an expert by using only a few digital tools to their full practical value is best.
Best feature: the ability to advertise your brand and services on the digital marketplace.
If you’re willing to put in a little time and effort, it can be especially worthwhile to have your own website. Don’t worry about having knowledge of programming, with WordPress you can easily install your own themes, add plugins for additional features, and set up your very own e-commerce platform. Even if you don’t plan on running a whole blog with multiple posts, pictures and links, it can still be very helpful to have an online portfolio that you can direct potential clients and employers to. Allegedly, WordPress powers 30 percent of the internet, so you’ll be in good company.
Cost: Basic – Free, Personal – $5/month, Premium – $8/month, Business – $25/month
2. Google Suite
Best feature: access to plenty of useful applications quickly.
Regardless of how you feel about Google as a search engine, it’s hard to argue with how useful some of their applications are. Gmail, for example, is one of the best email platforms. By starting up a Google account, you’ll get access to Google Drive for storing and sharing files, Google Docs and Google Slides for multi-platform compatible projects and presentations, Google Maps for finding your way around, and Google Translate for bridging those difficult language barriers.
Best feature: ultimate security without having to scribble down all of your passwords.
If you’re tired of having to invent passwords for every website you sign in to and then having to remember all of them, this program is going to make your life a lot easier. 1Password stores all of your passwords, software licenses, and other sensitive data within an encrypted virtual vault. All you have to do is remember your one master password and you’ll gain hassle-free access to all of your password protected accounts.
Cost: 30 days free – $3/month after trial
Best feature: store all of your important documents in one place.
When is the last time you needed to access your insurance documents, or your high school diploma? You probably don’t have to very often, but if you ever need to look up an important document in a pinch, Evernote should be your go-to program. Designed for note taking, task lists, archiving, and storing important documents, digitize your life by having access to all of it on the go. Synchronize Evernote across multiple platforms and truly never be caught without those important documents again.
Bonus: with their Scannable app, take a picture of a document with your smartphone and instantly receive a scanned copy to send or store.
Cost: Basic – free, Premium – $7.99/month, Business – $14.99/user/month
Best feature: send and receive money internationally, pay bills, and invoice customers.
You’re going to need a way to get paid, and an international banking method is the best solution to make it easier to deposit and withdraw funds from your account. While most people have heard of PayPal, and many companies still use it to pay their workers, a lot of people dislike them for randomly freezing accounts and bullying their clients. If you can, we strongly recommend opting for either Transferwise or Stripe as a reliable international banking method. Get the actual exchange rate with the lowest minimum transfer requirement, and send money across borders with efficiency and security.
For Transferwise: Get started here.
For Stripe: Get started here.
For PayPal: Get started here.
Best feature: access to “nomad-friendly” ratings of over a thousand different locations.
Widely hailed amongst the location independent community as the most comprehensive guide to various cities, Nomadlist boasts hundreds of resources to utilize for thousands of different locations. Whether you’re wondering about the Internet speed, air quality, or cost of living, Nomadlist has a score for it. If you pay for a membership, you’ll gain access to many more locations, search preferences, a customizable profile, and a growing chatroom with other nomads from around the world.
Cost: $49/one month, $149/one year, $199/lifetime
7. Skype/Zoom/Google Hangouts
Best feature: video conferencing with anyone around the world.
When you’re traveling abroad, you’ll probably want a video conferencing program for a few reasons. Sometimes it can be especially comforting to see the faces of those you love back at home. Using a video conferencing program also reduces the amount of those awkward moments talking over one another, and you have the added benefit of seeing the expressions of the people you’re talking to. For these reasons, video conferencing can also be indispensable for business conversations as well. Deciding between one of these programs is mostly up to your personal preference with some of their features.
For Skype: Get started here.
For Zoom: Get started here.
For Google Hangouts: Get started here.
8. Dropbox/OneDrive/Google Drive
Best feature: store all of your files in the cloud to save space and access them from any platform.
Don’t risk losing all the files saved on your laptop if it’s damaged or stolen. Instead, store your files in the cloud and have true peace of mind. As an added bonus, you’ll also free up some memory space on your laptop, making your laptop run smoother and more efficiently. You can also synchronize your files across multiple devices and share files with people around the world. Again, it is up to personal preference which of these programs you might find most useful.
- Dropbox: Basic (2 GB) – free, Plus (1 TB) – $9.99/month or $99.99/year, Premium (2 TB) – $19.99/month or $199.99/year
- OneDrive: Basic (5 GB) – free, Standard (50 GB) – $1.99/month, Personal (1 TB with Office 365 subscription) – $6.99/month or $69.99/year, Premium (6 TB with Office 365 subscription) – $9.99/month or $99.99/year
- Google Drive: Basic (15 GB) – free, Personal (100 GB) – $1.99/month, Premium (1 TB) – $9.99/month, more if you need it (up to 30 TB)
For Dropbox: Get started here.
For OneDrive: Get started here.
For Google Drive: Get started here.
Best feature: offline navigational maps for finding your way in remote settings.
Whether your traveling internationally or domestically, having an offline map is a great idea for those just-in-case situations. Even if you’re not in a off-grid village, you may find that you can’t use cellular data or WiFi in some locations. In these events, having a map will be your best solution for getting around. The provider runs on an open source platform (like Wikipedia) and the maps update through your phone’s built-in GPS.
Best feature: send messages and make calls without racking up international charges.
If you have a standard cell phone plan and you end up trying to make calls outside of your home country, you’ll learn very quickly that you’ve racked up a fortune in charges. Instead, use an application like WhatsApp or Viber. While WhatsApp was primarily used for messaging, and Viber has featured calls for much longer, both programs currently feature calls and messaging. Both applications are nearly the same, and it is up to personal preference which one you’d like to use.
For WhatsApp: Get started here.
For Viber: Get started here.
Best feature: a digital collaborative working space for business teams.
Whether it’s project discussions, sharing important documents, or sending out free food announcements, Slack has your back when it comes to working on projects with multiple team members. Communication happens in real time, making it easy for you and your team to stay connected and keep tabs on progress from multiple fronts. Divide your communication into separate channels, and start threads to prevent lengthy side discussions in the work space.
12. Best Onward Ticket
Best feature: rent legitimate flight tickets for 24 hours.
Planning on flying to another country or crossing the border into a new country? Sometimes you’re just travelling long-term and don’t plan on returning to the last destination you came from. Occasionally, some airlines won’t let you board without a return ticket, and some countries won’t let you enter their country without a return ticket. That’s where Best Onward Ticket comes in. Rent a return flight ticket for 24 hours to get through your checkpoint and then continue on your way. No harm done! While it does sound a bit shady, with plenty of satisfied reviews, Best Onward Ticket simply provides you with a legitimate flight ticket for 24 hours and then they return the ticket a day later.
Cost: $10/24 hours
13. Virtual private networks
Best feature: additional digital security through encrypted virtual connections.
If you’re working in a cafe with an unsecured network, or even in a country with an internet connection that censors data, you’ll want to utilize a VPN. You never know when that sexy person in the corner of the cafe is a hacker, or if you’ll need to check out a website that is restricted in the country you’re in. For extra security, and a way around restrictions, it’s a wise idea to look into virtual private networks. There are many VPNs to choose from, and you’ll have to do your research to find one that suits your needs best. Some that we’ve seen most recommended are: ExpressVPN, Speedify, and Private Internet Access.
Cost: $2 to $10/month
Best feature: learn a new language anywhere, anytime.
Travelling around the world can be a lot of hard work, and communicating with the locals for essential information can be even more difficult. When you want to have a bit more sustenance to your stay in another country, instead of using translation applications, try learning the language on your own with Duolingo. The basic version is all you need to get going and the program is exciting to use. You’ll start off with simple words first, and then slowly advance as you learn more words.
Cost: Basic – free, Plus (ad free) – $6.99/month
15. Every Time Zone/Figure it Out
Best feature: instant insight into every local time around the world.
When you’re working remotely from a different location every couple of months, chances are your team members and your clients are not going to be in the same time zone as you. For quick insight into what time it is in another part of the world, try using the Figure it Out extension for Google Chrome or Every Time Zone. Not everyone will need a feature like this, as the internet already moves fast enough, but for freelancers and project members, knowing what time it is in another part of the world can be indispensable knowledge.
For Every Time Zone: Get started here.
For Figure it Out: Get started here.
Best feature: an established coworking directory with listings in over 150 countries.
Let’s face it, sometimes bumming the free WiFi off of a cafe is not going to cut it. You’re going to need a productive space where other digital nomads are getting their work done in timely fashion as well. If that’s the case, check out coworking spaces. Basically, a coworking space is an environment set up for business professionals who want to get some work done. Some spaces allow you to pay by the day and others require you to pay for a month in advance. Best of all, they usually have free coffee available to help you burn through your work with optimum efficiency.
Best feature: determine your local internet speed in seconds.
Sometimes when you get to a new location, you’ll need to search around for a while to find a place that offers a reliable internet speed. The fastest way of checking your internet speed is to use Speedtest.net for insight on your ping speed, upload speed and download speed. Put simply, ping will determine how fast you can stream videos, upload speed will determine how fast you can send an email with attachments, and download speed will determine how fast you can load a web page.
Best feature: get results on your productivity with time tracking statistics.
Toggl is an application best used in two different scenarios. Either you work for a company that bills for real-time work completed, or you personally want to increase your productivity by observing where most of your internet time is spent. Toggl sends tracking reminders and idle alerts, while also crunching the numbers to show what’s making you money, and what’s holding you back.
Cost: Basic – free, Starter – $9/month, Premium – $18/month, Enterprise – negotiable
19. XE Currency Converter
Best feature: view converted rates of local currency in relation to your home country.
Once you end up in another country, you’ll want to know how much something like a cup of coffee costs. While the local cost might be clearly posted, it can be helpful to know how much the cost is in relation to your own currency. However, XE Currency Converter doesn’t stop there. If you spend enough time as a digital nomad and you end up working with international clients, XE offers the most reasonable rates on international money transfers. XE is absolutely secure and offers real-time tracking on exchange of funds.
20. Antivirus software
Best feature: protection from droves of cybercriminals and malware attacks trying to mess with your information
If truly plan on becoming a full-fledged digital nomad, it would be a shame for you to be hacked, or worse yet, to have all of your hard work deleted from your laptop. It’s not only a very wise decision to install some form of antivirus software on your computer, it’s essentially a necessity with new virus programs being written every day. The best free antivirus software is AVG AntiVirus, but it would also be a good idea to look into paid subscriptions from other providers as well. After all, if your entire platform of work is going to be online, it would be foolish not to invest in a quality antivirus program.
So Where to Next?
Now that you’ve been equipped with some of the best digital tools to get you started on your nomadic journey, you’re almost ready to set out on your way. With each of these programs, extensions, websites, and applications, you’ll be able to conquer the world of remote work in full stride. But before you get too far ahead of yourself…
There are just a few things more to do before you book your first destination:
- Find a source of income
- If you’re setting out to live a life of full time travel, it’s definitely recommended that you find a way to make money before leaving. The struggle is real.
- Settle your debts
- You don’t want to have those old credit card fees or student loan payments holding you back. While it may not be necessary to pay everything off completely, it would at least be beneficial if you saved up enough so that you don’t get charged additional fees for missing payments.
- Get rid of your things
- Unless you want to pay for storage space while you’re out on your nomadic adventure, or you have an aunt who is willing to store your stuff, it might be best to reduce the amount of things you own before leaving.
- Back up important data to the cloud
- You never know what can happen while you’re traveling and you don’t want to be caught without an important document that you may need.
- Do your research
- Some places are better than others and unless you want to find out the hard way, it is always best to do your research ahead of time before traveling to any new location.
Have Additional Suggestions?
Leave a comment below to let others know about additional digital tools that has made your life easier and has increased your overall productivity.
As always, thanks for reading.
See you next time!