You finally found some remote work, renewed your passport, and are ready to hit the road on your first digital-nomad adventure in Europe. That’s all there is to it, right?
While it may seem like all you need is your laptop and passport to successfully work and travel abroad, there’s actually a lot more to it than that. As someone who has been doing this for over 15 years, I can tell you that a little preparation goes a long way.
Whether you’re just starting out or are considering a transition into digital nomad life, here are 19 practical, destination-related, and ethical tips that will come in handy next time you set off to gallivant Europe as a digital nomad.
1. Find a remote job before you go
It’s never been easier to find a remote position. If you don’t have one at the moment, consider whether your current job can be turned into one and then discuss a change with your employer. Maybe you could start remote just a couple days a week, eventually leading up to a fully remote position if it works out.
If that’s not an option, start searching on sites like Indeed or LinkedIn. You can also try freelancing if you have the skills.
Working abroad as a digital nomad usually requires a (non-tourist) visa. These visas have work and income requirements. By having a job before you go, you’ll be better able to qualify for long-term visas. So get setup before you go.
2. Join online groups for the destination you’re considering
Whether you want to know where to stay in Rome as an expat or you have a specific visa question about your digital nomad visa, searching a group full of expats and digital nomads is the best place to find insider information. Chances are your question has been asked before.
Not only that, but these groups are great for networking, as you’ll get to connect with like-minded people already living in your destination. Traveling solo can get lonely. Joining groups like these makes meeting people easy and gives you an established community that’s readily accessible and has no barrier to entry.
To find these groups, try searching “Expats [or digital nomads] in [location you’re interested in]” on Facebook. Every big city will have at least one.
3. Start with short trips
If you’re just starting out as a digital nomad, consider doing a trial run before embarking on a longer trip. Testing out your work and travel life, even for a few days, can give you insight into how to refine your methods for a longer trip. You’ll get an idea of what you should and shouldn’t pack, what kind of environment you require to get work done, and how you may handle any unexpected situations.
Start by doing a 3-7-day trip close to home so you can get used to the process, work out any work-life balance kinks, and prove that you can still get your work done while abroad.
4. Purchase travel insurance
If you travel, you need travel insurance. I cannot stress this enough. Life as a digital nomad means going to lots of new places, taking countless modes of transportation, and trying out new activities, all while carrying your most important items on your back.
While we always hope for the best, eventually a health emergency or travel error is bound to happen, and you’ll be glad you have comprehensive travel insurance when it does. There are a lot of great companies out there, many of which cater specifically to digital nomads (such as SafetyWing’s Nomad Health), so make sure to find a plan that fits your needs. If you’re traveling with expensive gear, you may want to take out supplemental insurance to cover it.
5. Pack lightly
If you can, traveling carry-on only is the way to go. You’ll not only avoid paying exorbitant fees for extra luggage on budget airlines, but you’ll also be able to hit the road as soon as you land, since you won’t have a bag to wait for. Plus, there’s much less of a chance that your belongings will be lost or stolen in transit.
6. Get an eSIM
As a digital nomad, having a reliable connection at all times is a must. A data plan can come in handy when you need to reply to important work emails on the go, research where to spend your afternoon, or call an Uber. Although free Wi-Fi is often available in Europe, you don’t want to rely on it when you’re out and about. Acquiring an international eSIM is the simplest way to stay connected, and it eliminates the need for physical SIM cards in each country you visit. They are much cheaper than keeping your cell provider from back home too.
7. Join a coworking space
Fast Wi-Fi and an adequate workspace are required if you make your money online, but if your accommodation doesn’t offer these or it’s simply too loud to concentrate (I’m looking at you, party hostels), you may want to search out a coworking space nearby.
Coworking spaces have everything you need to work, including private meeting areas to take important calls, as well as tea and coffee. They can also help combat the loneliness that often comes along with solitary remote work. Whether you stop for a chat at the water cooler or join an organized happy hour, you’re likely to meet other digital nomads who are searching for connections.
8. Maintain your work-life balance
One of the trickiest parts of being a digital nomad can be figuring out a sustainable work-life balance. Time zone differences can cause work calls to fall at odd hours, and you may find yourself glued to your computer. Others may be so enamored with new friends and surroundings that it’s difficult to get any work done. Determine where you tend to fall on the spectrum and what your priorities are. Create a schedule that works for you and stick to those boundaries so that you have time to explore while also accomplishing all your work.
I generally like to spend a couple of full days seeing the sights and then a couple working, but you may want to divide things up so you do a bit each day. Either way is fine, as long as it’s balanced.
9. Determine your budget
Europe offers something for everyone, no matter your budget or preferences, but it’s important to take into account what you’re comfortable spending for accommodation, food, activities, and transportation before you leave.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can still visit more expensive bucket-list destinations and do pricier activities. Just do your research beforehand and balance it out with more budget-friendly places and things afterward.
If you’re looking for a culturally rich yet affordable base, Eastern Europe is your best bet. It has everything you’ll find in Western Europe but at much more attractive prices. Consider looking into Poland, Albania, the Balkans, Romania, and Georgia in particular.
If Western Europe is more your cup of tea, Berlin, Lisbon, and Barcelona are all popular digital nomad hubs with large expat communities.
10. Choose well-connected destinations
Although European countries often boast stellar public transportation and cheap flight options, make sure you’re aware of the cost and time it will take to reach other destinations before deciding where to settle down.
Staying in a remote mountain town may sound appealing, but it may not be worth it in the end if you blow your budget on expensive flights or time-consuming buses every time you want to take a weekend trip.
If traveling around Europe is a priority, choose destinations that are well connected so you can easily venture out from time to time.
11. Avoid busy cities in the summer
Many cities in Europe struggle with overtourism. This puts a strain on local resources and communities, and the natural environment. As guests in a destination, it’s important to be aware of our impact and refrain from contributing to situations that negatively impact communities.
It’s especially bad in the busy summer months. For example, if you’re considering where to stay in Barcelona, you may want to factor in the time of year, as it’s overrun during the summer. Prices also tend to be higher, and you’ll probably enjoy your time a lot more if you aren’t waiting in long lines or peering around thousands of other travelers to get a glimpse of the main attractions.
If you are in Europe during the summer, try visiting (or basing yourself in) smaller cities. They usually offer the same quality of life while being less expensive and less crowded. Then you can go back to the larger cities once the main tourist season is over.
12. Study the language
Before you arrive at a new location, do your best to learn at least a few phrases of the local language(s). This will not only help you understand the culture on a deeper level, but residents will also appreciate your effort to communicate.
If you’re just starting, try using an app like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. If you have some experience and want to reach a higher level, schedule some lessons with a language teacher on a website like iTalki.
If you’re planning to stay for a few months or longer, signing up for an in-person language class is a great way to improve your skills, gain knowledge from your teacher about the culture, and even make some friends who are also new to the country. I did this when I was living in Paris and it was super helpful.
Additionally, be sure to download Google Translate for offline use so that, even if you don’t have mobile data or Wi-Fi, you can still ask questions or get assistance.
13. Support local businesses
As a visitor, it’s important to respect the people and culture you’re immersed in. One tangible way to do this is by supporting locally owned businesses as much as possible. While it may be tempting (and easy) to stay in the expat/digital-nomad bubble and only visit expat-owned businesses, supporting local businesses is a vital part of being a responsible traveler.
Whether that means staying in an accommodation owned by locals or frequenting a café run by someone from the neighborhood, you’ll feel a lot better knowing your money is helping the local economy. By doing so, you’re also more likely to have authentic connections and experiences.
14. Take free walking tours
The best way to start feeling comfortable in a new destination is by becoming familiar with your surroundings. Taking a walking tour with a local guide is a great way to learn about a place’s history and culture. You’ll leave with recommendations for restaurants and activities, and learn where to find the best delicacies too. They’re also super budget-friendly. (Just remember to tip your guide!)
Free walking tours are offered in most major cities in Europe and can be easily found through your accommodation or with a quick Google search (many hostels also offer their own free walking tours).
15. Keep community in mind
While working from your laptop can offer a lot of freedom, it can also lead to loneliness if you’re not careful. One way to avoid this issue is by picking a destination with established communities that you can tap into. Joining events at your coworking space or using apps like Meetup.com to find groups of like-minded people will help you feel comfortable in your new temporary home.
If you enjoy being around other entrepreneurs and remote workers, you may want to try a coliving community for a while. These are great places to network and make new friends over shared meals and skill-sharing events.
Many nomad-focused festivals, conferences, and retreats take place in Europe as well. Attending these is a great way to jump-start your community, and you may come out of these with a bunch of new like-minded friends. You’ll also learn from others who have been at this lifestyle a bit longer. Big names include Nomad Fest, Nomad World Fest, and Nomad Island Fest, though there are many other smaller events across the continent too.
16. Be mindful of where you stay
While hostels can be great for quick stays, many digital nomads prefer apartment rentals when residing somewhere for months at a time. However, many short-term rentals have contributed to gentrification and skyrocketing costs in cities around the world, which can force locals, who have lived in these places for generations, to leave their homes.
That’s why it’s important to be mindful of who you rent from to avoid contributing to these harmful systems. Do a quick Google search to learn about the potential housing problems in the city you’re considering. If you’re traveling to a busy destination with small historic centers where housing is limited, do your research beforehand so you know you’ll be staying in ethical accommodations. Whenever possible, opt for something locally owned rather than a residence run by larger companies or corporations.
17. Understand the culture
Whenever you travel somewhere new, it’s important to remember that the country you’re visiting has its own rules, laws, and cultural norms. As a guest, understanding and respecting these is crucial. Spend some time learning about the culture and history before you arrive, and don’t expect everyone to accommodate your cultural norms. Knowing how things are done will also give you a deeper appreciation and understanding of your temporary home base.
If you have questions about the culture or what is appropriate, find someone at your hostel or ask your walking tour guide. These people will be experienced with visitors’ questions and happy to share knowledge of their culture with you.
18. Bring a water bottle and reusable utensils
The tap water is safe to drink in most of Europe, so bringing a reusable water bottle will help you save money and avoid plastic waste. Ideally, bring one with a built-in filter just to be safe (I like LifeStraw myself).
Similarly, reusable utensils will come in handy when you’re out and about and want to pick up a to-go snack but don’t want the unnecessary waste of plastic utensils. They’re also great for picnics, which I love to do in Europe, since so many cities have large parks where the locals relax when the weather is nice.
19. Travel slowly
You may think that a digital nomad bounces between countries every week. However, traveling slowly by spending long periods in each location is more sustainable, not only for your health and productivity but also for the environment.
Taking a train instead of a plane may add time to your trip, but it leads to much less carbon emission and is often a more pleasant and relaxing experience. Additionally, you’ll likely find that traveling slowly will deepen your connection to a place and help you create a sense of “home” in a new city.
When you have more time in a destination, you feel motivated to really dig in. You’ll make new friends, get to know the waiters at your favorite restaurant, and learn to assimilate into the culture little by little.
With its incredible landscapes, vibrant cities, friendly people, and rich cultures, it’s no wonder that so many remote workers want to make Europe their base. It’s an amazing destination, and I visit every year and never tire of its charms.
With the proper planning, and by following the tips above, you’ll be able to make the most of your work and travels, find balance, and enjoy everything the continent has to offer.
Matt Kepnes runs the award-winning travel site nomadicmatt.com, which helps people travel the world on a budget. He’s the author of the NYT best-seller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and the travel memoir Ten Years a Nomad. His writings and advice have been featured in the New York Times, The Guardian, Afar, Budget Travel, Time, and countless other publications, as well as on CNN and the BBC. You can follow him on Instagram at @nomadicmatt.