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Ergonomics For Digital Nomads

01 March 2022

For working wanderers, a laptop and smartphone are all they need for a fully functional portable office.

However, very few digital nomads begin their travels understanding the consequences of becoming a full-time laptop user, and how it can affect their health.

Working from a different location every day, week or month means that creating your perfect office set up with the right equipment that supports your posture is next to impossible. Ergonomic chairs and desks are difficult to take with you on long-haul flights and overnight trains.

Thankfully there are small things you can do while on the road to help protect your posture.

Laptop Ergonomics: Tips for Travellers

Do not let the name fool you, just because it is called a laptop does not mean that it belongs on your lap.

Using your laptop on your lap is fine for very quick use, but if you have to fill a whole workday, working from your lap can have long-lasting consequences for your back and shoulders.

Find a Table

If you do not have access to a desk then at the very least work from a table. Avoid placing additional pressure on your spine and shoulders by finding a table high enough so you do not need to slouch to reach your keyboard.

If you do not have a table at your temporary accommodation then consider working from a coffee shop or find a local shared workspace to work from.

Use an External Keyboard and Mouse

You can make a travel-friendly computer set up by also travelling with an external keyboard and mouse.

Doing so will allow you to do 2 things:

  • Raise your screen to eye level
  • Adjust your keyboard into a position that allows your arms to relax at a 90-degree angle

Not many people realise is that computers and laptops force us to sit in completely different positions and mimicking a desktop computer setup as closely as possible is ideal for corrective posture.

Support Your Feet

If you have to raise your seating so that your arms are at a 90-degree angle and that your head is upright to see the screen, then you also need to ensure that your feet are properly supported.

For knee, ankle and hip support, you need to be seated so that your feet are firmly on the ground and your knees are in line with your hips.

If you hips are too high, then rise your feet by finding a block or step for support. This position helps you to keep a neutral lumbar spine and reduces strain and aches in the lower back.

Ergonomics For Travellers

Considering how many miles they rack up over the year, Digital Nomads spend a lot of time sitting.

Whether working or on the road, spending a lot of time in a chair is no good for your posture over time, thankfully there are things you can do throughout the day to stretch out and support your posture.

Take Walking Breaks

Getting up and moving about regularly throughout the day is as important for Digital Nomads as it is for static office workers.

A few times a day, get up and walk around, or incorporate a longer walk in your lunch break.

Stand up and stretch out your arms, legs and chest every few hours, and you can even stretch out your neck and chest by doing head-rolling exercises while sitting at your desk.

Repeating these movements throughout the day keeps your muscles moving, and taking breaks from looking at your screen to look at distant objects helps to protect your eye health.

Neck Pillows

Neck pillows are an essential accessory for frequent travel on planes, trains and automobiles.

A good quality supportive neck pillow helps you maintain good posture in situations when physical movement is limited.

Neck pillows protect you from developing a stiff neck if you plan to sleep on an aeroplane, and protect you from sudden bumps in the road when travelling by car (but do not wear them if you are the driver!).

Butterfly Pillows

Butterfly pillows are like large neck pillows. They are designed to encompass the top half of the body, and come in a variety of sizes with lightweight options that are easy to travel with.

If you are travelling from place to place and sleeping in a different bed every other night, you may want to consider investing in a butterfly pillow for consistent support.

Hotels, motels and guest houses will have pillows that vary in thickness and height. This constant change in your sleep ergonomics can cause problems over time.

Therefore butterfly pillows are a wise investment, you can use them while travelling for additional support no matter your seating position, and for a comfortable nights sleep no matter where you are.

Suitcases and Backpacks

Perhaps the most important piece of equipment a Digital Nomad will buy is a backpack or suitcase (or both!) choosing a good quality item that is right for you is the cornerstone of comfortable travel.

Backpacks

The first thing you should do with any backpack you choose is not to overfill it. If your backpack is splitting at the seams it means that there is not enough material to support the weight - and the excess weight is transferred over to you.

Let your backpack do most of the hard work and opt for one with a larger storage capacity if you need it. Backpacks are only designed to carry the weight as advertised, anything over this limit will cause extra strain on your back muscles and shoulders.

Suitcase

The height of your suitcase is really what you need to pay attention too. If your suitcase is too short or too tall it means you will have to do more bending and twisting in order to move it.

Cheap suitcases that are poorly constructed will also strain your hands and wrists.

Favour practicality over style when it comes to your suitcase, and opt for a good quality case with extra handles and shoulder straps that are thick and well-made. A suitcase like this will last longer too.

It is possible to travel and support your posture by choosing ergonomically supportive items and moving as much as possible while on the road.

From time to time you may need to get creative with your workspace, but that's all part of the fun of working away.

While you’re out and about exploring your new city or town, always be on the lookout for ergonomically friendly places to work and seek out travel accessories that will make your working life more comfortable and consistent.