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When I semi-spontaneously decided to go on a round-the-world trip in February 2010, such a quick decision was only possible because I was already freelancing and so I was able to pack up and take my projects on the road with me. Why sit idly by at home slaving away when I could be out experiencing the world at the same time, I thought. Combining round-the-world, long-term travel with work means that I have a guaranteed income, but on the other hand it means that I had to plan our travels around our work schedule. So, how is that working out, you ask?
Seven years into a work-travel lifestyle, I can say that ‘digital nomadism’ is definitely a feasible option – but only if you know from the outset that you will be traveling slowly. For those on a fixed schedule who can or want to only spend six months or a year on the road, fitting in a full work schedule with sightseeing and travel will be a difficult balance and probably also very tiring.
It took me a long time to find my rhythm, which involves traveling AND working AND blogging, but I have found that if you follow a few simple rules, you’ll have no problem of combining work and travel:
Keeping clients happy is priority number one, as work means money and money means longer travel. This can be hard with a Caribbean sunset beckoning you on the beach, but no matter how long it takes to finish, work must come first. I work mainly on deadline-focused projects, and so I usually finish up what we’re working on before heading out to explore a place, or take full days in my AirBnb working away when we would rather be sitting on a plaza somewhere watching the world go by.
It helps enormously to schedule your days. List what you want to achieve and make a plan to hit your targets. Plan what time you need to start and finish work in order to keep in perspective how much there is to get done each day. During a heavy travel phase, I prefer to spend whole days working and whole days playing where possible. When I stay somewhere for an extended period of time (two weeks, a month) I can better schedule working mornings and exploring (or beach!) afternoons.
Get up early
For those who have taken a year just to travel, sleeping in or sleeping off a hard night come with the territory. When you have undertaken a work/travel lifestyle, however, starting work on time each day is a must. We found that starting to work as early as 7 am enables us to fit so much more into a day. Because we both work for Europe-based clients and we are located in Latin America at the moment, it is important for us to get up as early as possible in order to be online when our clients are online.
While it’s true that all work and no play makes a dull traveler, adopting a lifestyle as a digital nomad means that you have to be willing to work, and work hard! Sure you would rather be out exploring than sitting in front of a laptop screen. Sure the people in the hostel are partying it up and having a great time while you struggle to meet a deadline for a client thousands of miles away. In order to travel and work, however, you have to stay strong and focus on your need to work to continue your income stream. Some people might just say ‘f!ck it’ and join the party, but if you want be successful in the long-term, you need the discipline to get your work done. Tell yourself that this is a lifestyle, not a gap year. Plus, if you schedule your time right and find your rhythm, you should be able to join the party anyway!
Things to consider for a successful travel-work lifestyle
Laptop & cloud desktops
When purchasing a laptop for your digital nomad life, choose wisely. My main criteria: battery life (because there aren’t always power outlets), weight (I wouldn’t want to drag a heavy MacBook around the globe with me!), operating system (I am a Windows girl), 2-in-1 (laptops that can be turned into tablets – honestly, I prefer having a separate tablet), size (since I only write, I don’t need a huge screen, but I know several people who work with graphics who need larger screens), and then there are of course components like processor, hard drive, RAM and graphics chip.
Another thing to consider: cloud storage. Never rely on external hard drives. I learned this the hard way, when two of my hard drives crashed. Now, I store all my important documents online.
Internet / wi-fi
I would say 99% of all digital nomads rely on the internet, so make sure that the place you’re staying has reliable wi-fi. Nothing is worse than losing internet connection in the middle of a telephone conference via Skype or not being able to attach the documents you’re supposed to send because of a weak connection – ten minutes before deadline. This need does limit your accommodation choices but with some research before heading to the next place you will always find an apartment that has wi-fi.
However, make sure that your connection is safe because for your information, identity theft might happen to anyone and don’t let unsafe connections ruin your important data.
Plan in extra time
Plans are always a nice thing to have, but most of the time, things don’t work out exactly as you thought. The best thing to plan in is extra time. Taking into account things like slow internet connections, broken down buses, noisy neighbors and the fact that maybe you DID just say f!ck it last night and joined the party, your work might take longer than you think to finish. Scheduling more time than might seem initially necessary to complete a project creates a buffer against the factors that are out of your control. That way, should everything go right, you’re far ahead of deadline, thus keeping clients very satisfied, and should just about everything go wrong, you still manage to meet your deadline and your clients are none the wiser.
If you are currently on the road and live the lifestyle of a ‘digital nomad’, feel free to share your tips how to successfully combine travel & work in the comments below!