Work and Travel: A New Tool for Freelancers and Digital Nomads

work and travel
Steven Zwerink under Creative Commons

Telling people you’re a freelancer means you’re going to hear the same statement over and over: “You can work from anywhere!”

It’s both a promise and a threat. If you only need a laptop and smartphone to get your work done, it can be liberating to know that you can take your work on the road for weeks or months at a time. But that dream life of working while traveling sometimes doesn’t work so well. Until recently, the only way to know if it was feasible to work in Belgium, Burundi or anywhere in between was to ask your personal network, or track down someone’s blog for tips.

Nomad List could be a game-changer for freelancers. The site’s tailor-made for digital nomads: writers, bloggers, designers and other freelancers who need minimal equipment. If you’re as comfortable working at your local coffee shop as you are at your desk at home, you’re probably a digital nomad.

The Ultimate Work-Meets-Travel Site?

Nomad List ranks cities not based on hotels or sightseeing, but on factors that matter for digital nomads. Want to know how good your WiFi connection might be? How about cost of staying in, say, Knoxville, Tennessee? Nomad List can help you figure it out.

The site is especially helpful for far-flung places you’ve only dreamed of visiting. Take, for example, Ubud, Indonesia. It’s beautiful! It’s tropical! It’s a great place to vacation — but is it a great place to get work done?

Ubud gets high marks for safety, quality of life and friendliness to foreigners; its scores also indicate that there are plenty of coffee shops with WiFi — although, that WiFi might be mediocre. As for costs, NomadList indicates the cost of short-term living at about $1,800 per month, and includes a breakdown of rent and meal cost estimates.

Still thinking about Ubud? There’s a tab that lists coworking spaces, and a Slack chat room with almost 300 participants. You can also ask questions and get feedback from some of Nomad List’s 3,000-plus members.

Nomad List ranks Chiang Mai and Bangkok in Thailand; Las Vegas; Phuket, Thailand; and Budapest, Hungary as its top five places to live and work. Ubud comes in at number 11, if you’re thinking of booking your plane tickets.

Need to pick up more work before you can touch down in a new city? There’s a “remote jobs” tab for that, featuring startup jobs for everyone from engineers to content marketers.

What’s the Catch?

Access to the Nomad List community will cost you $35, which may be a drawback for living-on-a-shoestring working travelers. On the plus side, it’s a one-time fee, so you’ll always have access, and it’s basically a contribution to future improvements to the site.

“Your money helps me not get distracted trying to raise VC hype money […] and bootstrap all of this in a more healthy sustainable manner,” founder Pieter Levels writes on the signup page. Next up for the site: enhanced city data, ability share trip information to see where you overlap with other nomads and an option to organize places you might want to visit.

If your pockets are a little deeper, you can also grab one of new PDF guides before you head to a new country or city. Each one is a comprehensive rap sheet that goes beyond Nomad List’s rankings, and you can read it en route long after the flight attendant has told you to put your phone in airplane mode. Each guide will set you back $19.99.

The Legalese of Nomad Life

Working on the road comes with other confusing aspects — namely, for Americans, dealing with taxes and visas. Thai authorities have even raided a coworking space, suspicious that a group of foreigners had banded together to form an illegal business in the country. The confusion was settled in a matter of hours, but raised questions about how to manage nomad life — legally.

You’ll still have to do some research before you begin your worldwide journey, and think long and hard about how to manage your work while dealing with travel logistics.

“Nomading around with your laptop won’t get the average person in any trouble if you keep it discreet, respect the visa process by acquiring double or triple-entry visas, and stay out of trouble,” writes Mike Hulleman on the awesomely named blog Hobo with a Laptop.

But NomadList simplifies enough of a working traveler’s other concerns to free up headspace to deal with issues that can crop up on the road.

Your Turn: Have you used Nomad List to plan a trip? What’s your favorite city to work in, and what other resources do you use to check whether you’ll be able to work while you’re there?

Lisa Rowan is a writer, editor and podcaster living in Washington, D.C. Her top dream spot to travel and work is Japan.