After six nomadic arrivals, three international house moves, and countless weekend jaunts to new places, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our routine for settling in. We’re constantly trying to hone the arrival routine that allows us to settle into a new place quickly. Speed matters–the faster you can get your mental, emotional, and practical houses in order, the sooner you can get back to the work that’s funding this crazy life of yours. Interestingly enough, though we’ve experienced travel grief with every move, we’ve found that we process the grief more thoroughly if we’re actively settling into our new lives. If you don’t have a landing plan down, you’re looking at losing several weeks of productivity over the course of a year. As in everything, (and nomads should know this in a more visceral way than most), Time is Money.
Here’s what works for us.
Pre-Arrival Nomad Landing Plan
- Nomad/Expats Forums – A few weeks before we move, we join the expat and digital nomad forums for our new location. These forums are the single most helpful tools we’ve found for connecting with other nomads before arriving, finding locally priced accommodations, daycare, used gear or scooters, local events and news that is pertinent to expats. Moreover, being a part of these forums makes the move real, and gets us mentally and emotionally involved in our new location.
Example: Our next location is Playa del Carmen, Mexico, so we’ve subscribed to Rentas En Playa del Carmen, Q Roo to research local accommodations, Digital Nomads Playa del Carmen and Locals and Expats of Playa del Carmen to connect with other nomads and ask about daycare, Worldschooling Playa del Carmen to learn about educational opportunities for Spencer, Playa del Carmen Locals News to keep up to date on news and events.
2. Anticipate Your New Schedule – In your new location will you be able to keep your existing schedule, or do you have time-zone specific obligations that will change? Clients you meet with over Skype, or stock trading opening and closing hours? If you plan to continue business as usual, great, but if you or your partner’s schedule (and therefore any childcare plans) will be impacted, it’s helpful to start planning for this before arrival, so that you lose as little time as possible creating a routine in your new location.
3. De-clutter and say goodbye. We accumulate new belongings in every stop, so we make a point to go through all of our possessions a week before we leave, and bring anything that’s worn out or unneeded to the local donation drop-off or thrift shop. If you’ve made friends, make your meet-up plans to say goodbye. Start telling your children about your upcoming move to help them prepare mentally. Creating a solid, unhurried sense of closure with each departure is important for your mental and emotional stability, and if you have children it’s even more critical, at least it has been for our son.
4. Childcare and Accommodations. By the time we’re departing, we’ve secured accommodations for at least three days after arrival, and have inquired about a few longer terms rentals as well. For kids of preschool age, we’ve written to a few local daycares or preschools to start gathering information.
5. Eat Healthily, Get Sleep! The upcoming trip and its stress on your body and mind will take a toll. You may not get enough sleep for a few days while you’re traveling, and if you’re not in good shape beforehand you may fall sick once you arrive. This has happened to us too many times, and we’ve vowed to learn from our mistakes. We are now preparing for our upcoming trip by going to bed on time, eating well-balanced meals, and taking some time every day to relax as a family without pushing ourselves too hard.
Nomad Landing Plan, Day 1: Arrival
- Grocery store! This is always our first priority. Having a fridge full of food will prevent us from eating out when our defenses are low (we’re tired, we want to treat ourselves, we don’t want to do any work). Here are a few of the things we buy on the first night, things that tend to be available in every country (usually), and can be prepared with low stress.
- Milk: even in Southeast Asian countries that consume less milk, there’s usually some long term UHT milk available. We use this in our coffee, and a warm glass of it always comforts Spencer.
- Instant coffee, (or tea, if you’re a tea drinker). The cheap stimulant. It would be great to have good coffee all the time, but when soda will be more expensive and higher in calories, a jar of coffee gives us something hot to drink and feels like a treat.
- Eggs. There are so many ways you can cook an egg.
- Sandwich makings
- Granola bars
- Local fruit and veg
- (Salt, if there is none in the apartment, also vegetable and/or olive oil, sugar, pepper, and depending on the local price, balsamic vinegar and/or chili powder to spice up vegetables.)
- A kitchen sponge
- Trash bags/toilet paper if the apartment is low
- Toiletries (if we’re out of anything)
- Some kind of treat, like granola bars, peanuts, or a bag of chips.
- A play tent–we’ve ended up getting one of these or something like it for our toddler in most locations–it’s small, it can store his toys, it gives him a place to hide from the world, and it’s a treat that brightens him up after a stressful trip.
- Internet! After a long day of travel, almost everything can wait until you’ve had a full night’s sleep. Internet and food are two things we always need to handle right away. Especially if a host is checking us in, testing the wifi while she’s there has prevented a couple of hairy situations for us. Where’s the router, is this the right password, etc? Now at least we know that if we have any other problems, we’ll have a way to fix them.
Day 2 (Settling In, No Work)
We don’t have too many of these days because we find that the sooner we settle in, the better we feel. A lot of days spent hiding in our apartment and doing nothing make us feel better, though that’s just us. We usually take some time off from work, but we spend the time out in the city, taking care of errands that will make the rest of our stay go smoothly. On the second day, it helps that both David and I know that neither of us are working, so we can take care of things together.
- Phone/SIM card. In the past we’ve rented apartments close to a mall, so we stop there to set up the SIM card. We’ve waited to do this in the past, and we’ve even tried to get by without a SIM card, but it’s always been best when we got one, and got one early. It’s necessary in case of emergency, and we almost always end up needing to call a local phone number for one reason or another.
- Play gym or playground. Both to reward Spencer for being patient during the big trip that he’s just completed, to ensure that we have a solution for future crying jags, and just to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, we almost always hit a park, playground, or play gym on the second day. David and I can talk business, or just look around and relax while Spencer expends some energy. Everywhere we’ve stayed so far, we’ve stayed within walking distance of a mall and/or park, and we had to plan to do this. In the cases when we didn’t, we took care of transportation on the second day instead.
- Transportation: If you’re going to have transportation, especially if it’s going to be a motorbike, we do this either on the first or second day. So much nicer to have your own wheels, unless you’re staying in an urban center and don’t need them. In Budapest, we didn’t need or miss having a car given the great metro and tram systems, but in rural Koh Phangan, our little motorcycle was our savior.
- Copy/Printing Shop: for boarding passes, etc.
Day 3 (Settling In, Some Work)
Depending on your business needs, we’re usually back to working for at least a few hours on Day 3. In our family, David is working from home while Sarah researches and schedules interviews or visits for childcare options. We’re still taking it easy on Day 3, with a goal of being in a routine on Day 5. Believe or not, our son appreciates this.
Day 4-7 (Eyes on the Prize)
It can take a few days to get up to speed, but if we’re taking care of a routine-critical task every day (finding a coffeeshop or coworking space, for example), and making sure to get enough work in every day so that we don’t feel like we’re falling too far behind, we can usually feel like we’re really up and running by Day 7.
This is usually when our travel grief sets in, and we feel like we finally have the time to feel mournful, afraid, and irritable, without letting everything go to hell.
Day 7 (Looking Around)
Now that we’re in a routine, we start to realize at Day 7 that we’ve hardly seen anything of the city. This is a great time to look up other local nomads or nomad families and arrange a meet-up for some needed social interaction, fun, and usually some great veteran tips from other nomads about your new city.