One of the attractions of the digital nomad lifestyle is that it can help you to create space and opportunities to do the things that you have always wanted to do now. There is no need to wait for “retirement” or some other mythical day in the future when you can take your foot off the professional accelerator.
But, when the world is theoretically your oyster, it can be hard to prioritize. No matter your lifestyle, time and resources are limited. We are always forced to choose the most important things to do, and the most immediate things to do.
This can be challenging when you are a digital nomad. Especially if you fall into the trap of trying to do everything when you arrive in a certain region. It is easy to find yourself rushing through things and not really having the time and space to appreciate experiences that you thought would be important.
You might also find yourself doing what is “nearby” at the expense of doing things that are high priority. Assuming, of course, that you will get around to everything. But, as we all know, tomorrow doesn’t always come, or can be a very long wait. Any digital nomad who has been grounded by COVID can tell you that.
So, while there is a joy to leaving things to chance and following your feet, and you should certainly be open to opportunities rather than sticking rigidly to a plan, if you want to make the most of your time as a digital nomad, you should have a plan.
Alongside setting professional and financial goals, you should have a bucket list of what you want to experience while you are a digital nomad. You can then make sure those things happen and that you get more out of the most important experiences.
How can you make a bucket list of things to experience while living as a digital nomad, and then make those things happen?
Start By Writing It Down
We all have a list of places that we would like to go and things that we would like to do in our heads. But now it is time to write it down!
Start with a brainstorming session and write down all of your top locations and top experiences. At this point there is no need to prioritize them or consider whether they are possible or not. For now, it is just about turning the list in your head into something concrete.
It is not uncommon to feel like your list isn’t “inspired” enough. When the world is your playground, you can become frustrated with yourself if you insist on staying in the sandpit. If you feel this way, start doing research.
The travel writing industry is big for a reason. There is no shortage of resources out there designed specifically to get you inspired.
Put everything down on your list no matter how big or small. Maybe you have always wanted to go to Tibet and spend time learning about the culture there. Perhaps you have always wanted to sleep under the stars. The only location requirement being low artificial light so that the stars are clearly visible. Put everything on your list.
Organize Your List
Once you have given yourself the freedom to put everything on the list, then you can start organizing it.
Start by prioritizing. Imagine that you won’t have the time or money to do everything on your list. You are going to have to choose. Pick the things that are most important to you and put them on a sacred list.
You may find that you have multiple lists. A primary sacred list. A secondary still very important list. A third list of things that you would really like to do. A fourth list that you realize “would be fun” but aren’t fundamentally important.
If you struggle to do this, leave it for a few days and let the list swim around in the back of your mind. When you return, you will probably find that you have more clarity.
Next, we recommend that you colour-code your list items based on their importance, because next you will want to organize them by location.
The most time effective and cost-efficient way to travel as a digital nomad is gradually working your way through a region or the world. You are usually better off making your way from northern Brazil to the southern most tip of Chile than flying from Brazil to Thailand, and then passing back through Europe to hop a flight to Chile.
If you complete this process with something like colour-coded post-it notes, you should end up with a map of the world with certain regions “lighting up” as hotspots for your travel bucket list.
Make A Concrete Plan
While this map gives you a strong basis, but there is still quite a lot of work to do to transform it into a concrete plan.
Start with your travel parameters. How long will you be travelling for, and what restrictions do you have on where you need to be. This could be based on work, needing to be somewhere for a special occasion, or meeting up with someone. If your plan is to travel for an indefinite period of time, you might want to set yourself some artificial limits for your first plan. As you see more of the world, you’ll surely add more things to your list, and it is time to make another plan.
Your map will no doubt let you prioritize regions of the world that you want to explore. You will need to put them in some kind of order. As well as considering how important they are to you and their proximity to one another, there are other things to think about.
Is northern Europe high on your list? Do you want to go in the Summer when the weather is better? Or do some of your experiences require you to chase the snow? Are you keen to avoid North Africa during the hottest months of the year when you might struggle with the heat? Do you want to make sure that you are in Brazil for Carnaval or China for Chinese New Year? These are all additional elements that will help form the bare bones outline of your plan.
Once these big picture questions are answered, you can focus in on the details. How long are you going to spend in different places? How are you going to travel? What kind of accommodation will you need?
You’ve always wanted to visit Israel? How long will you need to explore thoroughly, considering you will also be working? Do you want to the ruins of the Inca and Aztec empires? Where will be the best places to base yourself while working to be able to jump into most of the sites that you want to see.
Have you always wanted to go to Tibet? Can you organize to have holidays from work during this period, since the Wi-Fi in the country is notoriously bad? Do you realize that you will need to pass through Chengdu in China to get a visa? What is the best way to organize the stops on your journey to make that happen?
There is a lot of research, a lot of planning, and a lot of decisions to be made to turn your bucket list into a deliverable digital nomad travel plan.
Pitfalls To Avoid
The biggest mistake that people make when putting together a digital nomad travel plan is trying to do too much.
First, we tend to assume that we will have more time than we imagine. But remember that you are still working, and you will still need to rest and recuperate, and take care of yourself. This, coupled with the fact that humans naturally tend to underestimate the amount of time it takes to do something, and most people probably need twice as long in every location than they imagine.
Trying to squeeze too much in means that we often don’t have the bandwidth to enjoy where we are. Instead of truly appreciating the locations that you’ve been dreaming about for years, you end up just going through the motions.
Planning too much also means that we don’t have the time to enjoy the unexpected when it crops up, because our schedule is just too tight to squeeze it in without cancelling something else. This can leave us with the feeling of missing out, even when we are experiencing incredible places and cultures.
It is important to remember that when you are a digital nomad, you aren’t on holidays. You don’t have to squeeze all the sights in to less than a week before heading home. And it is not true that you have nothing to do but enjoy yourself.
You are not on vacation from day-to-day life, you are just living your life elsewhere. So, you need to give yourself more time. Being realistic about how much time you need, and giving yourself some slack, will make for a significantly better experience.
Having a bucket list as a digital nomad is about living your life with purpose and deliberation. Most people with the desire to travel have at least a few places on their list that they are desperate to see. Having a strategic bucket list lets you make sure that you get to those places. And do it in a way that makes sense with your travel and work plans. You don’t want miss out as you get swept along by life.
A good digital nomad bucket list is specific and prioritized and makes sure that you get to the most important places at the right time. But you don’t want a bucket list that is so full that it doesn’t leave space for anything else. Part of the joy of traveling is the unexpected that you encounter along the way.