My Early Experience as a Digital Nomad: Part One, Technology

My early experience as a digital nomad has been enjoyable. It has also been filled with a series of small missteps and some small things that have worked out well that I haven’t read about from others (several might just be so simple that no-one bothers to mention them, but they may give you something to think about if you are planning to try the nomadic lifestyle.

Choosing to start in Chiang Mai, Thailand was fortuitous. It really is very convenient for digital nomads. Monthly renting is easy. Lots of great food and co-work spaces options. Good internet all over. It is an easy and enjoyable place to live.

In this post I will explore my experience with technology and in part two I will discuss other topics.

Getting a large data plan has been great (10 Gb+). That is the biggest tip I have for digital nomads. If you only work in a cafe or co-working space I guess it doesn’t matter. But I like to work when I wake up and late at night in my room. And making video calls, uploading photos and videos or streaming video also required a good connection. Sometimes the place I am staying has good or great wifi and things are good. But it is very nice not to have to worry about connectivity.

photo of Lizard on golden Buddha statue

Lizard on golden Buddha statue in Luang Prabang, Laos (see more of my photos from Laos)

My first 3 destinations (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia) has had 10 Gb plus high speed data plans for about $10 (for a month). My 4th, Vietnam only offers 3 Gb for about $10 and Viettel blocks a personal hotspot, I thought only the USA was that lame). I think I will try another that offers 5Gb (I still need to find the price – a hotspot will let you tether your laptop for them).

I went to 3 Viettel stores and none were able to help or really seem to know what personal hotspot or tethering was. An authorized Apple reseller understood but was unable to get Viettel to work and could see Mobifone worked fine so suggested I just use that.

I went to a mobiphone store in Hoi An (location marked on our Hoi An map) and with trouble got the new sim card. They eventually went to the back and got a supervisor (I suppose) and then things went fine. It still didn’t work so the supervisor took me to a nearby mobile phone store where their tech person was able to get it to work quickly. You need to update the APN listing for cellular data and personal hotspot (she forgot the 2nd one).

The first APN field is m-wap with username mms and password mms (I think). There is lots of stuff online about editing APN to get Viettel to work, none of that worked for me or the various people that tried it (1 Viettel employee did and the authorized Apple store did).

In Luang Prabag, Laos I was 95% on my data plan as the great place I stayed didn’t have wifi essentially at all (much worse than ancient dial up). By using a data plan I could stay there.

I actually brought an extension cord (again I probably wouldn’t have but I had the room so…). It has been very helpful: I only need one converter (though I have 3) and can attach lots of devices with them all sharing the right type of connector (laptop, dumb cell phone, razor, battery charger (for my camera). It is also helpful in stretching from the power outlet to a convenient place.

I keep a dumb cell phone because some places require 2 factor authentication (credit card for making a payment online and I have some sites setup to require 2 factor authentication also). I get sim cards in whatever country I am in and only have an iPad mini (data but no cell phone capability). So even if I could get the phone number updated in each country (probably could for sensible places like Google) I don’t have one to update too. But even more critical to keeping the dumb phone is I can’t image getting the bank to make something work. Getting normally stuff is like pulling teeth. Changing my phone number all the time seems like it would be a recipe for trouble. I added money to my long life mobile phone plan in Malaysia (it lasts a year for something like US$10 and you just pay per call – I figure it is also an emergency phone in case something happens) and I have gotten text messages (for those 2-factor authentication needs) everywhere I have been, for no charge as far as I can tell.

Not having a local number is actually a bit annoying, but not critical. I wanted a larger screen to view maps while walking around (so didn’t want an iPhone – and I didn’t want Android). I would likely get the new iPhone 6+ instead of an iPad mini if making a decision now.

Continued in: Part Two

Related: Online Plane Reservations (also on my trip I have found online is not always the cheapest airline fares) – Extending Your Visa in Chiang Mai, ThailandCurious Cat Gadgets Blog

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