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How to Avoid Burnout As a Digital Nomad

Last updated Aug 27, 2023

 

Living the dream of working remotely while exploring the world is an incredible opportunity. You get to quite literally design your own life and fill it with excitement and adventure, constantly hopping from one tantalizing place to another.

But here’s the deal… constantly being on the move and working from unfamiliar environments can make even the most intrepid of travelers fall victim to exhaustion. Amidst all this excitement, there’s a hidden challenge that many of us face: the ever-daunting burnout.

And that’s why I want to have an open and honest conversation with you today. This is a topic that is very dear to me, and I feel it’s often neglected to make room to talk about the magical wonders of remote-work freedom. So strap on in amigos, take a deep breath, and let me share some of my top tips for how to remain zen and chill.

Will Hatton - Burnout as a Digital Nomad

Meditation is NOT one of my tips. Lol.

Digital nomadism is not all sunshine and rainbows. Everyone who’s done it knows it pretty damn well. It can be tough. It can be a slog. It can be demoralizing, depressing and lonely.

So, in this article, we’ll dive deep into strategies and practical tips to help you maintain balance, sustain your passion, and prevent burnout as a digital nomad. I’ll share insights based on my own experiences and the digital nomad life lessons I’ve learned over 10 years of building businesses while traveling the world.

Together, we’ll explore how to:

  • establish boundaries,
  • prioritize self-care, and
  • create a lifestyle where you can continue living your dreams without sacrificing your well-being.

Find yourself a cozy spot, grab a cup of your favorite brew, and let’s jump right into it.

Understanding Burnout and Digital Nomad Stressors

Amigos, let’s not keep making fools of ourselves: travel burnout IS real. Very real.

As digital nomads, we tend to follow a lifestyle that leads to very specific stressors. These will be different for everyone, depending on the type of work, flexibility, and our own ability to structure routines and maintain balance, but they are certainly very different from those of backpackers and long-term travelers in general.

It’s crucial to be able to spot these signs and symptoms before they take a toll and completely burn us out. So, let’s sharpen our detective skills and identify some common red flags that should immediately tell us it’s time to hit the brakes and take better care of ourselves.

Will Hatton - Burnout as a Digital Nomad

Most days as a digital nomad don’t look like this…

Because sure, it’s incredible to have the freedom to work from anywhere in the world, but the constant change, the absence of a regular routine, and the pressure to juggle work and travel can really pile up, leaving us utterly overwhelmed.

The impact of this constant change and lack of routine on our mental and emotional well-being should not be underestimated. Our minds and bodies thrive on stability and structure, and when that’s disrupted, it can take a toll on our overall happiness and productivity.

But knowledge is power, friends, and by knowing these stressors and their effects in and out, we can take proactive steps to mitigate the risks of burnout. From recognizing when we’re pushing ourselves too hard to implementing self-care practices that nourish our minds and bodies, we hold the keys to maintaining a healthy and fulfilling digital nomad lifestyle.

So, let’s embark on this journey of self-awareness and understanding, as we learn to navigate the ups and downs of travel burnout together. By staying vigilant, being mindful of our limits, and embracing a balanced approach to work and play, we can create a sustainable and joyful life on the road.

Establishing Boundaries, Work-Life Balance, and Time Management

Let’s start with a topic I’m really passionate about: establishing boundaries, finding that elusive work-life balance, and mastering the art of time management.

Discipline and routines are essential to keep this dream going. As digital nomads, it’s easy for work and life to blend together like a swirl of colors in a vibrant painting.

You set up camp in an unknown destination. Your surroundings are beautiful — and so are the new faces you come across with. You’re eager to talk, to explore, to discover. You’ve heard about that wonderful waterfall not far from town, the hot springs… and did I mention there’s an amazing 3-day hike up those hills over there?

Will Hatton - Avoid Burnout as a Digital Nomad

What NOT to do when in front of one of the world’s tallest mountains

Suddenly, you start seeing work slipping away, along with your motivation to even open your laptop. It gets harder and harder.

But fear not, for we have the power to bring order to this beautiful, messy chaos.

First things first: setting clear work hours and finding (or creating) designated workspaces is of the absolute essence. By defining specific hours for work and sticking to them, we reclaim our freedom and prevent work from seeping into every nook and cranny of our adventures.

Will Hatton - Avoid Burnout as a Digital Nomad

To avoid the perilous pitfall of overwork and burnout, we must adopt clever strategies. Remember, work is just one aspect of our digital nomad lifestyle. So it’s essential you keep exploring the world, experience new cultures, and indulge in leisure activities that ignite your passions, too.

Embrace the power of prioritization and efficient work practices. Identify tasks that truly matter and focus your energy on those. Utilize productivity tools, remote work apps (Trello is great — and free), and good old-fashioned to-do lists to keep yourself on track (I’m a mega fan of the whiteboard.)

Remember, we’re in control of our time, and with a sprinkle of discipline, we can conquer mountains of work while still having ample moments for epic exploration and self-discovery.

Prioritizing Self-Care, Well-being, and Rest

Your mind is your strongest weapon and the best piece of travel gear you can take with you, but if you don’t take good care of it, it will fall apart at the seams like a no-frills backpack. And the process of putting everything back together afterward isn’t any fun either.

Managing your well-being on the road is a whole other deep-dive, but I have a triple-threat of strategies I ALWAYS employ when I start slipping:

Will Hatton - Journaling in the mountains

  1. Journal like a mothertrucker: Particularly, gratitude journalling – there’s so much to be grateful for.
  2. EXERCISE: Healthy body, healthy mind. A daily dose of fitness helps a lot. Hiking is incredible: it’s exercise, a timeout, and a chance to catch up with yourself.
  3. Start a regular routine: A consistent sleep schedule helps as much as consistent exercise. If your routine includes the above two plus a dash of introspective chill, you’ll be smiling again within the week!

As you can see, it’s better to pause the travels for a week or two and be still.

Take a break: savor that slightly over-budget comfort food, load up the Netflix, and relax. The digital nomad lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint – after all, you shouldn’t be competing with anyone but your cheeky self anyhow!

Mindful Digital Habits and Managing Technology Use

I had no smartphone when I first started traveling. No Insta, no Tinder, no Candy Crush. Nada. I DID, eventually, embrace the wilds of social media. You see, back then, grandpa here did quite well for himself on this thing called Snapchat. But it also led me to one important conclusion:

Your phone is RUINING your digital nomad life.

Your not-so-smartphone is putting a big, plexiglass barrier between you and a thriving schedule that will put you on the track to entrepreneurial success. It’s also keeping you from authentic offbeat travel and the true POWER it provides.

I shudder to think of how many hours I wasted on my phone at various points in my life. But I turned it around.

And so can you!

Will Hatton - Playing chess up K2

Put the thing down, take a long, deep breath, and appreciate that which is around you.

  • Monitor your screen time: This is a good way to keep track of how much time you’ve given to your phone each day.
  • Get everyone to put down their phones: This is slightly dorky but I swear it works! If you’re at a group dinner or just chillin’, get everyone to put their phones in a pile at the center of the group. Sometimes we really need it.
  • Delete your social media apps: Seriously, you can access them all from the browser anyway.
  • Turn off notifications: You can do it on a per-app basis or just turn your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode.
  • Take a hike: Sometimes if I REALLY need to unplug, I’ll just head out into the mountains where there’s not a lick of service. If you’re still learning phone self-control, let nature take control for you.

And now for my ultimate productivity hack: the two-phone system.

It’s not a super complicated whiz-bang system! It’s just a way to put a barrier between you and the workaholic tendencies you may have. It’s really simple, friend. Our phones can be AMAZING tools.

Unfortunately, it is HARD to use your phone without ending up on social media, Whatsapp, or checking your email. That’s why I decided I would have one phone where I am reachable and a second one where I’m not – this is my ‘disconnect phone’.

On my disconnect phone, I have the following (digital nomads) apps:

  • Music
  • Audiobooks and podcasts
  • My meditation app
  • The occasional cheeky Uber eats
  • Maps.Me

There is no inbox, no social media, none of that. There is Whatsapp, but only a few select people on it (my partner, Mum, and my right-hand man).

Every evening at 5:30 pm, my main phone goes into a box and I switch to my disconnect phone. This way I’m not tempted to check it.

My primary work phone doesn’t leave the box until the morning. I wake up and then, only when I have done my meditation and journaling practice, do I take the primary phone out of the box. While I hold some stretches, I clear my Whatsapp, I then aim to put my phone away again and check it only a couple of times throughout the day.

Building a Supportive Network and Embracing Community

Finding a solid community on the road is often a make or break for wannabe digital nomads, and for a lot of folks, can be the reason (or not) that they succeed. An empowering community of fellow nomads and like-minded individuals can make even the mundane tasks fantastic, and the most far-flung lands feel like home.

While it may be hard to believe these days, I used to be a major introvert – it’s the folks I met along the way that brought me out of my shell, from the Polish granny who picked me up on my very first ever hitchhike to the boatload of characters I met while dirt bagging around India.

Will Hatton - Avoid Burnout as a Digital Nomad - Playing Cards

The fellow digital vagabonds that you’ll meet on the road are bound to shape your journey: choose who you surround yourself with widely, but also wisely. While the majority of people I’ve met on my travels have been absolutely amazing, quitting the 9-5 doesn’t mean you’re leaving behind the 9-5 arseholes.

Because yes, they’re absolutely in the digital nomad world too.

But unlike a desk job, digital nomad life allows you to pick up and leave a toxic environment at any time, and connect with people who share your passions like never before.

So if you’re feeling burned out by people around you, just leave – I promise a better base is out there, just waiting for you to rock up to it. These days, it’s easier to find your tribe than just about ever.

How to Connect with Other Digital Nomads

The digital nomad life is inherently social. (Even though, ironically, a lot of people I’ve met have been self-proclaimed digital nomad introverts.) Since everyone is always on the move, constantly making new friends becomes an essential skill. Wherever there is community, there will be plenty of events, and fun activities to take part in.

And yeah, I was JUST harping on social media but it does have its upsides when used responsibly – Facebook groups and Instagram often bring remote workers together, so do join a group or too. Just leave that for downtime – real-life socialization ALWAYS trumps the world wide web.

Will Hatton - Avoid Burnout as a Digital Nomad - COworking Spaces

Staying at coworking hostels is yet another great option to jumpstart your social life, especially if you’re traveling solo. They’re specifically designed for remote-working travelers and cater perfectly to the nomad crowd. You get to combine work life, and social life, and maybe even build your own little network without having to leave the place.

It’s easy to meet like-minded people here: hustlers by day, but travelers at heart. It helps when you stay in said digital nomad hotspots but, in general, you never have to be alone.

These days you can even find hostels built with the digital nomad lifestyle in mind, places that exemplify the work hard, play hard motto that many digital nomads thrive on. It was with that in mind that I got Tribal Bali off the ground, and the feedback has been AMAZING so far.

Embracing the Journey, Finding Purpose, and Thriving as a Digital Nomad

Establishing good habits doesn’t need to be all that hard. I’ve been journaling for years and I know most Broke Backpacker team members would recommend it, too. You can also add some goal-setting into the mix (professional or personal), yoga, and/or weekly phone calls to your friends and family. That helps to keep home close.

Your physical health is also important. Hiking, jogging, boxing – pick your favorite exercise and stay fit while traveling. Even the tiniest towns will have some sort of gym facility where you can get your routines going. Traveling should not be an excuse to skip leg day, though!

Will Hatton - Avoid Burnout as a Digital Nomad - Socializing

But really, it’s all about cultivating meaningful experiences BEYOND work – just because we don’t have offices doesn’t mean we can’t fall into the all too common toxic grind culture.

Building up your outside hobbies is just as important as building up your digital nomad community – and there aren’t quite better places to pick up some wicked pastimes like surfing, diving, or photography like the infamous digital nomad hotspots.

Final Words of Wisdom

When burnout and exhaustion come, I try to stop somewhere for a week or two with plenty of personal space to build myself up through a healthy routine.

And this routine involves at least a few of the following tricks for managing my mental health:

  • A monster journalling sesh (ideally, daily).
  • Mixed with practicing and journalling gratitude.
  • A legitimate routine (with a solid sleep schedule).
  • Icebath!
  • A review/switch up of my daily work schedule
  • Daily exercise!
  • Mixed with a daily dose of Vitamin D
  • Or a solo hiking sesh with a little chat with myself.

Digital nomad burnout will get you if you keep constantly pushing past too hard and too far past your breaking point. It’s good to keep going at it – there are great rewards for those who push hard – but balance is of the essence. Be mindful and listen to your internal world; It can smell the burnout coming a light-year off.

If you really can’t shake the Moody Blues, then look into getting counseling remotely. A lot of veteran vagabonds have an allergic reaction to the idea of getting therapy, but there’s nothing wrong with seeking external help, and there are heaps of ways to get counseling online.

I was stubborn for years until I bit the bullet. Past that, try returning to one of your blessed and sticky home-away-from-homes. Old friends and old sights can really help you recharge. Sometimes, all you needed was a long-overdue hug.

And if all of that fails: take some time off, or don’t, and just go work from home for a bit. Fuck it – who cares? Nothing takes the edge off travel and remote work like time spent with those who know you best.

And the digital nomad life…?

It’ll be right there waiting for ya’ :)

Will Hatton - Avoid Burnout as a Digital Nomad - Dogs

Will Hatton

Will Hatton

Guest Contributor

For many years, Will Hatton traveled the world as the original Broke Backpacker, journeying to far flung lands on just $10 a day. Today, his blog The Broke Backpacker is the ultimate budget travel resource for aspiring adventurers looking to ditch their desks and hit the road in search of raw, real and meaningful adventures.

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