Staying Healthy as a Digital Nomad: Hidden Costs of Going Remote, Part 2

[This is the second post of the hidden costs of going remote series. For the first one, go here and for the third one here.]

Holidays are about having a good time—good food, one-too-many drinks, too much sun, late nights and lazy days are all too common when we’re on vacation. Most of us can survive a week or two of living dangerously. Digital nomads may travel fulltime, but it’s important to remember that we’re not on permanent holiday (even if it can feel that way). So, unlike those in vacation mode, we must make an effort to stay healthy, and staying healthy comes with some costs.

1. Travel Medical Insurance

First things first, you need to buy insurance. If you are from a country or region with government-funded health insurance, it may not occur to you that you need extra insurance when you travel. And if you’re American, you may be accustomed to going without insurance. But even if you have health insurance at home, it may be limited to treatment at home, or it may only offer limited out-of-country coverage. And you may lose your government coverage after an extended absence.

Now, you don’t necessarily need travel medical insurance to cover doctor visits, or deal with an infected bug bite, or even treat a broken arm. You could probably cover these types of costs out of pocket, if you had to. But you will need travel medical insurance in the event of catastrophic accidents or horrid diseases. Insurance will help pay the costs of in-country treatment (and necessary changes in your travel plans). Travel Insurance will also cover the cost of medical transport to your home country (or a better facility) for further treatment. If you didn’t  have insurance, you’d need a gofundme campaign or a black AmEx to cover these costs. This is not recommended!

2. Upfront Costs and Recovery Time

Even if you purchase insurance that covers costs such as ambulances, hospital stays, doctor visits, medication, or changes in travel plans, you usually need to pay up front for these costs and then wait for reimbursement. That reimbursement can take time and it may not cover everything. You may also decide to just pay out of pocket because it’s easier than making an insurance claim. But more importantly, if you fall ill or must spend time recovering from an accident, you may not be able to work. Not working means not earning, which makes your remote lifestyle much harder to maintain. This is where emergency funds come in very handy.

3. Doctor Visits

You should plan to visit a doctor now and then to keep on top of your health. Blood tests and other screenings are a good idea, especially as you get older. Women should have regular pap smears and anyone who is sexually active should be checked regularly for STIs. If you take a regular medication, you may need to replenish your supply while on the road. While medication may be cheaper in other parts of the world, you generally cannot get prescriptions from your own country refilled in different countries. Instead, you’ll need to visit a local doctor. And visiting a dentist once and a while isn’t a bad idea either!

Emergency travel insurance rarely covers these costs, so you’ll need to pay out of pocket. There are worldwide health insurance schemes for expats and nomads that go beyond basic emergency medical; those with dependent children or extra health concerns may find these plans more cost effective than paying out of pocket.

4. Self-Care

Many long-term travellers forget to budget for the cost of self-care on the go. Sunburns, insect bites, allergies, and minor scrapes need treatment, especially while travelling in tropical climates and developing countries. And don’t forget the common cold and gastrointestinal issues. Many nomads like to carry a supply of their preferred remedies, but this supply will eventually run out. This means seeking out local remedies and first aid supplies from the local pharmacy or doctor. We face a similar cost at home, but sometimes forget to add it into our budget when we plan to go remote.

5. Fitness

Women doing leg exercises in Pilates studio

You may get plenty of exercise when you’re on holiday because you spend your days exploring or in outdoor activities. But like regular 9 to 5 workers, remote workers usually sit around all day working. When you’re remote and moving from destination to destination, developing a fitness routine can be a challenge. One option is to buy or rent a bicycle when you arrive in a new place and use it for transportation and recreation, but that option is not always safe or practical.

So, unless you are a runner, or very committed to your solo yoga practice, you may want to consider joining a gym or finding local CrossFit, Pilates, or yoga classes, just as you would at home. Month-to-month gym memberships can be expensive and may come with the added cost of the start-up fee. Day rates at gyms, hotels, and local swimming pools can also add up quickly, as do drop-in dance, fitness, or yoga classes.

Some countries have national chains, such as 24-Hour Fitness in the U.S. and Goodlife  in Canada. The Global Workout Program at U.S.-based Gold’s Gym gives members 14 free visits to locations all over the world. And Spain’s Gym by Hours offers a vast network of gyms and lets members by time literally by the hour. But these options are limited. Of course, There are many free ways to keep fit, but if you need structure and routine, the added expense a gym membership or drop-in class may be your best option.

All of these costs may seem minor, but when you add them up, they can make a serious dent in your budget. If you’re estimating your start up runway, or focusing on building a new client base, every dollar, euro, or baht counts! Please don’t sacrifice your health to stretch your budget—plan ahead and avoid surprises!

How do you make your health a priority when you’re on the road?

[This is the second post of the hidden costs of going remote series. For the first one, go here and for the third one here.]

Comments (2)

  1. Very interesting/ but I’d say doing an at home yoga or fitness class online is even better!

    30 August, 2017 Reply
    • Yes! Free online courses and apps are the best, if you are disciplined AND you have the right environment.

      30 August, 2017 Reply

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