Best Digital Nomad Tools (Also for Travellers & Expats) of 2020

Banks & Debit Cards

As I hold an Australian passport and currently am based in Europe, the banking options that I know about naturally skew towards these two regions. That said, I’ve come to learn about other countries’ banking systems over the past decade or so, simply from seeing what other nomads have been saying. 

Global: The currency exchange service TransferWise has a banking solution called TransferWise Borderless, which allows you to send and receive six currencies with local banking details (British Pound, Euro, US Dollar, Australian Dollar, New Zealand Dollar, Polish Zloty). This, plus its integration with TransferWise’s core service of currency conversion makes this the best solution for people who are location-independent and/or don’t have a fixed location. 

Europe: N26 for Europe and Monzo for the UK. Both are fee free, with a limited number of free ATM withdrawals – although the terms of this differ depending on where the world you are. 

US: Charles Schwab is the top pick. Completely fee free, and they refund all ATM fees from anywhere in the world.

Australia: Citibank, ING or HSBC are all great options. Citibank and HSBC are more nomad-friendly without any specific conditions or catches. ING is a better option overall, although perhaps better for Australia-based travellers as you’ll need to receive a minimum of $1000 per month and make 5 card transactions to qualify for its benefits. That said, I’ve also heard that you can simply transfer $1000 to a different bank account and $1000 back into your ING account to get around this requirement.

Although officially N26 is Europe/USA only, it’s possible to open an account from anywhere in the world. All you need is a delivery address in Europe – just ask a friend. 

Honourable mentions:

  • Monese (UK) also has a good reputation, although Monzo still seems like a better proposition – not to mention, they’re more established.
  • In Germany, DKB is also a good choice, although this is limited to residents.
  • Capital One 360 (US) is an alternative Charles Schwab, although they don’t refund your ATM fees.
  • STACK (CA) is a prepaid Mastercard is the only Canadian option with zero account and ATM fees.
  • For Kiwis, Air NZ OneSmart is a multi-currency prepaid card with 3 free international ATM withdrawals per month. 

Foreign Currency Conversion

One of the most common mistakes that travellers make has to do with how they get their hands on the local currency. There are three ways to do this without getting ripped off: 

  1. Use a debit card from one of the accounts I’ve listed above to use local ATMs. These cards typically use the Visa or Mastercard rate, which is always better than using a broker or agent.
  2. Pay exclusively with debit or credit card, if the country you’re visiting is card-friendly. I never use cash when visiting countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Most Nordic countries are cashless, as are a lot of big cities in Europe.
  3. Open a TransferWise Borderless account and use their currency converter for one of the best exchange rates around. They’ll even give you an estimate of how much money you’ve saved by using their service. 

Never use a physical broker such as Travelex or the currency conversion kiosks you find in airports – they operate on margins and commissions, and you’ll never get a rate that’s even close to fair with any of them them. 

Credit Cards

Like the banks and debit cards mentioned about, credit cards that offer fee-free international transactions are a must-have for any traveller or nomad. Although 2% fees might not sound like much, they add up very quickly and it doesn’t make any sense to give your hard earned money away to the banks.

Some even give you free travel insurance and flight reward points – although I’ve found that the latter often have fees attached that raises questions about whether it’s actually good value for money without spending a fortune. 

Note: Many banks have bonus points on sign-up and waived fees for the first year. Simply sign up, spend on the card to qualify for the points, and cancel it before the end of the year. Get a new one, rinse and repeat. I did this successfully with multiple banks in Australia, and this can be done in many other countries as well. This does not have a negative effect on your credit rating – mine actually went up as a result.

Alternatively, look into your spending habits and see if annual fees can be offset with bonus points and benefits such as travel insurance and airport lounges. If your profession requires high spending (e.g. Google or Facebook Ads), you can also connect your credit card with these services to use you and your clients’ ad spend to get additional points.

Insurance

Nobody needs travel insurance – until they do. Then they really need it. The number of horror stories I’ve heard that were thankfully covered by the travel insurance literally is in the thousands, and I’ve personally also been saved by being insured before my travels. 

Generally speaking, World Nomads is a good choice as they cater for travellers from almost any country around the world. I’ve used them extensively in the past and also recommend them to my friends. 

That said, if you want to focus on medical insurance from an insurer that focuses specifically on people who lead nomadic lives, SafetyWing is also a good choice. They’re also much cheaper than any of the competition and don’t charge you upfront – it’s a monthly fee that can be cancelled at any time.

Note: Check with your home country’s insurer to see if they offer travel or medical insurance while abroad. Though not always the case, it could be cheaper option. If you have a qualifying credit card, their complimentary travel insurance could also be a good choice – just be sure to read the fine print. 

VPN

Whether you spend a lot of time using someone else’s wifi (e.g. in cafes) or simply want to access Netflix in other countries, having a VPN is a must-have in the 21st century. It’s even more important if you’re dealing with sensitive information, such as accessing your bank account or logging into your email accounts – it’s incredibly easy to get your data stolen while using public wifi networks. 

I spent months researching different VPN providers, looking at speeds, security, even where the company itself and its servers are located. Then, I went through a trial and error process for a couple of years before settling on NordVPN as my top pick for the best balance of value (it’s cheap!) while also getting fast speeds and great security. This is what I recommend to everybody, however if money is no object, ExpressVPN is the next step up – at a price.

Honourable mentions: None. After a months or research and personally testing different VPNs, I haven’t found any provider that offers better value than NordVPN, nor have I found one that’s a fully-featured as ExpressVPN. Stick with these two. 

Websites

Websites are no longer something that’s exclusively the domain of nerds and futurists – anybody can make a website in about half an hour. I’ve tried all sorts of things: Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and even manually hand-coding websites – and now, personally rely on WordPress and Elementor Pro to quickly build and edit my portfolio of websites. 

My day job is also in digital strategy, specifically around usability design – which means that fast load speeds are also incredibly important. To demonstrate the importance of fast web hosting, here’s a question: would you prefer a website that loads in 2 seconds, or in 20? It’s that simple. 

Similar to VPNs, I’ve spent years personally testing and building sites on dozens of different hosts and have finally found a winner. If you want the best balance of price, speed and scalability, Cloudways is a no-brainer. If you’re only hosting a small site and want some cheaper but also fast and reliable, choose Siteground. Both also have excellent customer service, which is important if you’re not a developer or sysadmin. 

I personally used Siteground for many years before moving all my websites across to Cloudways (Digital Ocean) in 2020 – simply to get that speed boost and scalability.

*20% discount codes: G Suite Basic (Q7XT7LXCFALJLLX) or G Suite Business (W4AJCNVEXKXA6EP.)

Note: If you search for web hosts in Google, you’ll likely see a lot of websites mentioning companies such as Bluehost, GoDaddy, and Hostgator. Avoid them all. They’re cheap, but with mediocre service and shoddy speeds. Search for “EIG web hosting” and avoid all the companies on that list too.

I’ve also seen a lot of people recommending Hostinger lately, but I’ve also seen accusations that they’ve been paying reviewers huge sums of money to create positive press. This is indicative of a lot of reviewers nowadays: they receive referral fees from these companies, so it’s in their interest to promote them – even if the service actually isn’t that good. 

I personally use Cloudways and Siteground, and can vouch for both. I even use them on my clients’ websites. Not convinced? Click around this website and you’ll see that everything loads super fast.

Accommodation

Finding accommodation is one of my least favourite parts of travel, but Booking, Airbnb and Hostelworld makes this a little easier. I’ve tried a number of other platforms as well, but have always come back to these three as the best combination of price, variety, and a website that’s actually nice to use. 

Some tips: always filter by the maximum number of stars, sort by lowest price, and read all the reviews before booking. The latest reviews are a better indicator of how things are, and also check reviews from around the same season as when you’re travelling to check for common complaints such as aircon or heating. 

I particularly like Hostelworld as they have a “best hostel by…” shortlist, which has never let me down. Even if it’s a little pricier, give it a go – some hostels that I’ve stayed in have been truly, uniquely remarkable. 

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