7 Health Tips for Working on the Road
By Molly Barnes
Learn more about Ochsner's travel and tropical disease services.
The digital nomad lifestyle, in which travelers work (often via laptop) from wherever in the world they find themselves, can be unkind to overall health at times. When you walk into an internet café or a co-working spot, you see rows of people hunched over laptops, drinking nothing but caffeinated or alcoholic beverages. Frequent travelers may feel like they're in a constant state of jet lag or exhaustion, and they eat out often, sometimes to the detriment of their health. But there are steps you can take to avoid these pitfalls and stay healthy throughout your journeys.
The Importance of Posture
Poor posture can cause all sorts of health problems down the road. You might not feel the impact to start with, but over time, your back, neck, wrists, and hands will all start to show symptoms of repetitive stress. Ergonomic equipment can help minimize or stave off these symptoms. It’s a great investment in your health, especially when you work from cafés, co-working spaces, or an ever-changing mix of desks.
A laptop stand moves the laptop so that the screen is at the proper eye level, and a wireless keyboard allows you to type from anywhere. (You'll need the extra keyboard since the one built into your laptop probably won't be accessible from this position.) Wireless versions of these make it simple to position it wherever you need it. Also consider a vertical mouse, which is designed to reduce wrist strain by returning your wrist to a natural position.
If you have a semi-permanent desk setup, consider investing in a quality desk chair, as well. Get up frequently to reset your brain and your body. You don't want to stay seated at your computer all day long, especially if you haven't resolved your posture problems yet.
Fuel Yourself With Healthy Foods
Eating out all the time is tempting, especially if you're in a location that offers street food around every corner. However, you need to consider the health factor of your meals. Some parts of the world offer healthy cuisine, while others may contribute to poor health and illnesses. Pay close attention to what you put in your body and make adjustments if need be. If the temptation of unhealthy food is too much, consider taking your operations to a country that boasts a healthier cuisine.
Keep an Eye on Your Mental Health
The digital nomad lifestyle can put a lot of wear and tear on your mental health. Working on the road can be stressful, and it’s easy to become isolated, depressed, or anxious, or experience negative moods. Your lifestyle can have a significant impact on your mental health, too, so evaluate whether your environment is supportive for your mental state at all times.
Travel is unpredictable, accidents happen, and many places in the world are unsafe. In some cases, you may need to travel to a different country or address related health concerns that could lead to mental illnesses. Look for opportunities to reduce stress in your life. If moving every few months is too much for you, consider moving to a twice-a-year schedule instead.
Improve Your Sleep Quality and Quantity
After the initial period of getting adjusted to a new time zone, dial in on the amount of sleep you need so that you're not perpetually exhausted. Caffeine can only do so much, and becoming dependent on it leads to other health concerns. Once you get the right number of hours, look for ways to improve the quality of your sleep. Remove lights from your room when it's time to go to bed, especially on the blue-light spectrum (which has been shown to impose a negative impact on sleep), or carry a sleep mask with you. Invest in quality bedding or choose accommodations that are known for it. Use earplugs, an electric fan, or a white noise machine to drown out any disruptive sounds at your rental, hostel or hotel.
Get Some Sun
Vitamin D is important for your health, especially for avoiding seasonal depression, so take some time in the great outdoors. Try to plan your travels around the sunny times of year in your destination countries. You might not want to head to a place that's in the dark for months on end when you have the option to go elsewhere.
Look for Fitness Opportunities
Are you traveling across the United States? Aim for cities with lots of green spaces for hikes, walks or biking. This way you can get your exercise in while also seeing more of the places you’re visiting. Getting out into nature can also be good for your mental health, especially when you're frequently getting fresh forest air.
Stop by the Doctor for Checkups
Wherever you travel, you should research where and how to access the local healthcare services. Healthcare in many parts of the world is affordable and accessible, and health insurance products for frequent travelers are available. There’s no need to wait until you've developed a serious condition to go to the doctor.
A side note: Are you itemizing your taxes? Don't forget to deduct health-related expenses from your income. Doctor's visits, medication and many other types of health care fall under deductible expenses. Everything from the cost of your glasses to nutrition supplements can end up on this list. Use an easy online calculator to figure out your tax burden more efficiently.
The digital nomad lifestyle is a unique way to live life. Although it can be liberating and thrilling, it also comes with plenty of unique health challenges. The good news is, if you can learn to monitor and take care of your own health while you’re on the road, not even illness, stress or injury can keep you from living your dream.