SO THIS IS A WEIRD ONE. Ha.
Why oh why am I writing about eye health for digital nomads? Because as travelers and WIFI-chasers, digital nomads put a lot of strain on their eyes. Whether it’s from staring at a computer all day, working late at the screen well into the night, or living in foreign countries at high altitude, we definitely have cause to watch (Ha!) our eye health.
Now the advice you find in this post isn’t going to “make you $5k a month” or “double your productivity” but it is hopefully going to improve the health of your eyes – and I would say that’s a pretty important thing, wouldn’t you?
I’m gonna go over the 3 main challenges we confront in terms of eye health and how we can prevent and/or treat them.
By the way, I’m not a doctor, this is just what my optometrist told me when I asked him a ton of questions. This is not meant to be “medical advice” so ask your doctor if you have concerns about your eye health.
This post may contain affiliate links which means I make a small commission if you buy something through the link. I only recommend products and services I use and LOVE and think you’ll love too.
1. Combatting eye fatigue
Eye fatigue is that “bug-eye” feeling you get after staring at your computer all day. If you’re a freelancer or blogger for a living, you’re probably spending the majority of your waking hours in front of a screen. My optometrist said it’s a challenge for your eyes to have a focal point that’s so close to your face for an extended period of time.
You should practice looking off into the distance (perhaps position your desk so you can look out a window) at least every twenty minutes. The 20-20-20 rule says you should look up every 20 minutes at an object about 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
And don’t forget to blink! This helps keep your eyes moist if you’ve been staring for long periods of time.
2. Preventing consequences of short wavelength light
Computer and phone screens emit a lot of blue, or short wavelength, light that can disrupt your body’s natural rhythms. You’ve probably heard that staring at a computer screen before bed is bad for you. The reason is that the blue light prevents your body from creating melatonin, which is a hormone that triggers sleepiness.
I mean you could just put down the electronics before bed – but we all know that’s probably not gonna happen. You can also get cool yellow glasses you can wear at night that filter out the blue light. (Really curious about these…)
Or – probably the most convenient option – you can install a free program called f.lux that will slowly filter out the blue light on your computer screen as the sun sets outside (it’s synced to your timezone so it knows). If you’re wondering does this really work? they have a research page with links to evidence.
There is a similar setting on the iPhone. Go to Settings > Display and Brightness > Night Shift and you can select the color temperature and schedule. I have a lot of the blue filtered out from 10 pm to 7 am personally.
3. Protecting against UV rays
You’re probably thinking, well this one is easy: I wear sunglasses all the time. But digital nomads face an interesting challenge when it comes to buying sunglasses while they’re abroad.
Sunglasses filter out the UV rays because they have a protective film over the lenses. You’ll commonly see a little sticker that indicates the glasses protect against UVA and UVB. But many sunglasses sold on the streets abroad do not have this protection OR sticker. They’re simply colored plastic lenses.
Yeah they are cheap and cool looking but they are actually more harmful to your eyes than not wearing sunglasses at all.
The cheapo street sunglasses allow your pupils to be more dilated than they would normally be in bright conditions and there’s no filter to block the harmful rays. So you open up a bigger window for the UV rays to enter and make your eyes MORE vulnerable to damage from UV rays as opposed to less.
It’s important to realize that the darkness of the lens color is no indication of how much the sunglasses will or won’t protect you. The glasses must have UV-coating on them to protect your eyes.
There’s also altitude: You may be traveling to regions at high altitudes, like the Alps, Andes, or Himalayas regions.
The higher you go, the thinner the atmosphere that filters out UV rays to protect you is. According to the WHO, “With every 1000 metres increase in altitude, UV levels increase by 10% to 12%.”
Not only do you need to be wearing serious sunscreen to protect your skin, but protective sunglasses as well. I also recommend a really cool-looking sun hat. You are at greater risk for eye damage that, over an extended period of time, may lead to cataracts if you don’t protect your eyes at altitude.
I’ve seen the cataracts thing IRL in Peru so seriously: wear [functional] sunglasses at altitude!!
Now don’t worry! You can get protective sunglasses for cheap still, but you’ll probably have to buy them from an actual store, not a street kiosk. And look for the sticker or tag that says the sunglasses “block 95-100% of UV rays,” or “UV absorption up to 400nm” or CE. You can probably get these at a 7 Eleven or H&M or something. I’m not saying you need designer glasses – they can be cheap! (proof here) – just avoid the sketchy street sunglasses.
You should also be thinking about how much light can leak in from the sides of your sunglasses depending on the shape of your shades. In general, the bigger the better. And the more the frame wraps around your face, the better. #BugEyes for the win.
*For my Myopic Digital Nomad Friends*
Those of us with myopia aka nearsightedness have a whole other issue to deal with: we can’t see without glasses or contacts.
I’m pretty myopic (-5.50) and have been wearing contact lenses since age 9. I wear glasses in the morning and at night, but I can’t see well enough in glasses (slows my reaction time, can’t see peripherally) to wear them in everyday life.
We contacts-wearers have to prepare ahead of time to make sure we have enough contact lenses to last us through our travels. I actually have never had to deal with optometry while living abroad and I wonder what would happen if I did.
As for glasses, if you don’t have top-notch vision insurance, chances are you will have to choose between having your insurance cover your glasses OR contacts in any given year. (This is bullshit. WE NEED BOTH. Just because I buy glasses doesn’t mean I don’t need to buy contacts that same year WTF.)
Anyways, the best solution I found was to get glasses from Warby Parker this past year when my old ones broke. It cost $175, including the eye exam (the prescription is only good for glasses though, not contacts FYI).
Another note on myopia for digital nomads: I’ve heard South Korea is a blazingly cheap place to get LASEK corrective eye surgery. I even know someone who used to teach English there and saved up and got the surgery done. It sounds downright crazy but I’m pretty curious about it if it really is cheaper.
Do you protect your eye health when you travel?
So yeah this is a weird post. But I think about these things a lot so figured I would share what I’ve learned. Do you think about your eye health when you travel or work as a digital nomad?