You sit down at the quaint waterfront café and order a latte. There is a light breeze flowing through the shaded terrace. To your left is a pillar with a power point. You run a speed test on your smartphone. The café’s free wifi speed is scorching. As you pull out your laptop, your coffee arrives. You take a sip and absorb the stunning view. Welcome to digital nomad heaven.
Although every location independent worker may have a slightly different version of ‘work nirvana’, the common advantage that underpins all who have made this lifestyle choice is the ability to utilise digital gadgets to work from any location with an Internet connection.
From marketers to coders, from coaches to designers, many professions are now severing the umbilical cord of a physical office location, and releasing themselves into the world.
Being a Physiotherapist, location independence had never even occurred to me until 2010, when my husband and I were moving back to Australia after 3 years of living in East Timor. While Dan had been contracted to the Australian Army, I had to keep busy too. So we opened the country’s first ever Physiotherapy practice. My patients were the many expats living and working in Timor to rebuild the newly independent nation following years of unrest.
As we were leaving, I felt a huge duty of care to the expat community, and was sad that they would no longer have access to quality injury management. I told Dan that I felt I could convert the injury consultation process to an online format, so with his encouragement, Online Physio was born.
Although my motivation in starting the business had been to reach patients in all corners of the globe, Online Physio came with another unexpected and very welcome benefit. After years of being chained to a treatment cubicle, I was suddenly free to work from wherever I liked, with my trusty laptop by my side.
While the advantages of a location independent lifestyle are numerous, I have realised that is not without it’s challenges. Many of these, ironically, revolve around health and wellness.
Without a set routine or location, many healthy habits fall off the wagon. Volumes of time spent on digital gadgets can stress the body, and isolation can lead to loneliness.
The health risks from a location independent lifestyle tend to fall into 2 main categories:
- Those related to the use of technology
- Those related to the nomadic lifestyle
As I define the risks within each category, make note of which ones may apply to you. Don’t worry; I will be following up with sure-fire ways to combat each one. As a fellow digital nomad, trust me, the healthier we can all stay, the longer we can sustain this incredible lifestyle.
Technology related health challenges for digital nomads:
Our bodies were designed to move. By spending prolonged periods of time in a largely static position gazing at a screen, we can develop overload, tension and ‘rust’ in certain joints, muscles and tendons. Damage can build up gradually over time without you even knowing it, so the time to intervene is before you get pain, or at the very first signs of it.
The laptop trap
Laptops are a game changing piece of equipment due to their portability, however the fact that the screen is small and located so close to the keyboard means that poor postural positions are encouraged. This can lead to injury.
The glare trap
When you have finished your day’s work on your laptop, you spend time Instagramming on your phone, video call your family and then watch a movie on Netflix. The massive volume of time spent in front of the glare of our multiple screens has been shown to damage our eyes due to excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays.
The portability trap
A stand up desk, huge external monitor and fit ball chair may be great solutions for the laptop trap, however these pieces of equipment are not portable. This means they are not viable solutions for the digital nomad.
Lifestyle related health challenges for digital nomads:
The snail trap
Just like a snail, digital nomads tend to travel with their ‘home’ on their back. Depending on the distances travelled, this can mean lifting and carrying heavy loads for prolonged periods of time.
The travel trap
As if 8 hours a day sitting at a computer wasn’t enough, many digital nomads also frequently spend a similar number of hours belted into a plane seat. Noone needs reminding how uncomfortable 5 to 10 hours in an economy plane seat is for their body.
The healthcare trap
If your fixed address is miles away, or you haven’t got one at all, finding a health professional to visit can be challenging. If a health ailment crops up and you are in an unfamiliar place, which may or may not speak your language, it is difficult to know where to turn. This can lead to google treatment, self treatment or no treatment, all of which can end in disaster.
The isolation trap
Although new friends can be made in every location, the nature of an itinerant lifestyle can mean that deep and consistent friendships are missed. Digital nomads ore often surprised to find themselves frequently lonely.
The variability trap
It is easier to keep a healthy routine when you have a membership to the local gym, your favorite farmers market round the corner and your favorite cold pressed juice bar up the street. When you are a digital nomad, your routine is constantly changing. The things you can access may be different in every location, making it harder to maintain healthy routines.
The budget trap
Many digital nomads have traded big corporate bucks for a lower income lifestyle with loads more freedom. This can mean that funds are limited for health interventions and equipment.
Despite these challenges, there are many simple and cost effective solutions to these issues. The first step, however, is identifying where you may be at risk. I have put together a handy quick quiz to help you to work this out.
With a series of questions, this quiz will help you to work out what level of health risk your laptop lifestyle may be causing you.
Take the Laptop Lifestyle Health Quiz now.