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Digital nomad survival tips you can use anywhere

Mike Elgan | Oct. 14, 2013
Living in Europe, the Middle East and Africa taught me that the conventional wisdom about mobility is all wrong

I'm a digital nomad. You're a digital nomad. According to my own definition, anyone who is able to work in various environments because of digital and mobile technology (home, office, Starbucks, plastic lounge chair by the pool while on vacation) is a digital nomad.

However, for the last year and a half I have lived truly nomadically. My wife and I put all our possessions into storage (except for two backpacks and two large dufflebags) and now live internationally, choosing countries to stay based on, well, whim more than anything else, and working from wherever we go.

During that time I've lived in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I've been robbed, stranded, and, worst of all, disconnected from Internet connectivity and reliable electricity.

While living this lifestyle, I've learned a lot about being a digital nomad — mostly the hard way — and gained insights useful for anyone who can work with mobile technology or who travels abroad for any length of time.

So I thought I would share my hard-won knowledge with you. Let's start with the basics.

How to choose and use a backpack

The most important feature of a backpack is security. But the best way to achieve backpack security is different than nearly everyone imagines.

There's a whole sub-industry of backpack security that treats the problem as one of fortification. A company called Pacsafe is the leading brand in this space. Wire mesh backpack linings or covers are designed to prevent crooks from cutting into your bag. Zipper locks and hidden pockets prevent easy theft.

The marketing around these bags suggests that you're going to leave your backpack behind in some hotel room or hostel and you'll want to lock it down to prevent theft.

The belief that locking a backpack to, say, a pipe or desk and fortifying it will prevent theft is false. A determined thief will cut through the cables, rip out the pipe or figure out some other way to steal your stuff.

The best protection is social engineering and also following some basic guidelines. It starts with the backpack selection.

There are high-quality backpacks on the market, fortified or not fortified. If you have a conspicuously high-quality backpack, you'll make yourself a target for theft. For example, the SOOT Electropack project looks promising. And I've been tempted by the Pelican ProGear S130 Sport Elite Laptop Backpack. These are great products if you never leave the safety and comfort of safe and wealthy places.

But carry these packs into most countries and you might as well tape a sign to it in the local language that says: "Very expensive gear inside: Please steal me!" And a determined thief will do so.

 

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