I’ve always loved to explore. From jumping in my car after work and go-go-going to hopping a plane at 5pm on Fridays to get away for the weekend, travel has been an important part of my life for a long time.
At some point, perhaps after rolling into work one morning exhausted after a redeye back from a weekend trip to Alaska, I realized as much as I was trying to find a balance, my love for traveling wasn’t meshing with my in-office job. It was around this time I decided to make the switch to freelancing, so I could still do the work I enjoyed but be able to do so from anywhere.
While freelancing and traveling is amazing, literally a dream comes true, as with anything it also brings some unique challenges. From internet connections to client perceptions of your life, it’s not always easy. If you’re ready to take the plunge to become a “digital nomad” I fully recommend going for it, but also think it’s important to understand what you're getting yourself into first.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons while traveling and working over the past two years, which I am sharing in hopes it will help some other intrepid freelancers out.
Photos courtesy of Katie Fishman
Tips For Working Remotely While Traveling
Wi-Fi and Internet Connection
Something we don’t think much about at home is the internet. These days, most of us have fast and stable connections in our homes (and on our phones) and, if for some reason they go out, we can easily pop into a Starbucks, Panera, or whatever spot is nearby to get the connection we need.
When you’re abroad, though, depending where you’re working from finding stable internet isn’t always easy. If you’re stationed in a popular Digital Nomad spot like Bali, or any big, international city, the Internet should be no concern. And there are probably tons of cool co-working spots to use, too.
But if you’re like me and prefer to move around and visit unique and off the beaten path places outside major cities or tourist hotspots, having a stable internet connection—or any internet connection at all—can become a real concern. Stressing about if you will or will not be able to connect is no fun, nor is planning your travel itinerary around unreliable internet reports of which hotels do and don’t have good connections. To succeed as a Digital Nomad it’s essential you’re responsible, arguably more responsible than if you were working from home (more on this later), so it’s essential to mitigate the problem upfront.
1. Go to a Cafe or Co-Working Spot
Sometimes I may want to work from the quiet of my room or a nice common area of a hostel, but the wi-fi is not great. I’ve found the best spots to be dedicated coffee shops or cafes, as well as co-working spaces which are of course specifically designed for this purpose.
2. Get a SIM Card
A SIM card allows you to use the local cell networks, meaning you will have reliable coverage in most areas in any country you visit—likely better than if you’re still relying on your network from home. More importantly it allows you to hotspot, which brings me to my next point.
3. Hotspot Your Phone
Depending on your phone plan and data situation, hotspotting is a great, and I mean great, option when wi-fi doesn’t exist or is spotty. I’ve been using the Google Fi phone and I cannot say enough great things about it; I always have a cell connection, which means I always have an internet connection. With a single click (well, maybe two) I can hotspot my phone, meaning my computer can share the connection and—voila—internet from anywhere even if there is no wi-fi.
4. Dedicate Work Times
Depending on where you are and what the internet is like, sometimes the best option is to simply budget your working time versus travel time in advance. Select a few days per week that you will work, and go to a city or area with the infrastructure to do so, or a place that has dedicated coworking spots. This will eliminate stress on your end, and also allow you to enjoy your “travel days” without worrying constantly about wi-fi. This is the best solution for those who opt not to get a SIM card and stick with wi-fi only. Budgeting your time is hugely important all around when on the go—but I’ll talk more about this later!
Navigating Time Zones
Time zones are tricky. Way tricker than they seem! You need to be sure you’re on top of the differences to meet deadlines, schedule calls, and plan your working hours, but it can get confusing pretty fast. Especially when you move around a lot, or suddenly find yourself in a weird, 30-minute timezone (because apparently, these do exist). Luckily, there are some technological tools that help make things easier and help you avoid any “oops” moments. Or just avoid extreme confusion.
1. Use the Time Zone Calculator
This nifty tool allows you to enter any cities in the world, and shows you in time there so you can easily compare. Better than that, it allows you to change the time in any of the cities, then adjusts it for every place on the list. It’s really useful for figuring out times you are free to meet that aren’t say, at 2:00 am. The tool is free.
2. Save Zones on Your Phone
Having friends in several areas around the country and world, I did this even before I started traveling. It’s super simple, but I save the timezone of all my clients’ cities into my phone under the “world clock” feature (it’s grouped with the alarm). This way, if I’m ever wondering what time to send something or expect a response, it’s easy to see their current time.
3. Change Your Google Calendar
Be sure to change your Google Calendar to your current time zone, and be sure to update it each time you switch time zones, too. Technology is smart enough these days that any meeting invite automatically adjusts for time zones—but only if your calendar is set correctly.
4. Schedule Emails
I spend a lot of time in Asia, which means a pretty big time gap from home and my location. Often, I’m working in the middle of the night USA time, and even though my clients know I’m abroad I still feel weird sending an email at 3:00 am. I make use of Google’s free “schedule send” feature to set my messages to fire off at morning time at home.
1. Get a VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, is used to secure your internet connection by encrypting it. This means if anyone intercepts your connection they cannot see what you are doing online, so your client information stays safe. It’s really important to stay secure when you’re using many different networks and potentially insecure ones. I never, ever conduct work (or even check my personal email) without a VPN when I’m traveling. I even use a VPN at home if I’m working anywhere outside my house (for example, Starbucks). I previously wrote a dedicated post about security, which you can view here.
2. Beware Unsecured Wi-Fi
There are a lot of wi-fi networks out there, and it can be tempting to use them when you’re in a pinch. But the reality is many of them are insecure and you just never know. Never, ever connect to unknown or unsecured networks (I’m talking about Network6h552k8so99 and free_wifiyea! here). Or, if you have that VPN, just connect to it first before you do so.
3. Consider Authentication
Many freelancers have access to client accounts such as email, social media or other logins. These systems often recognize your computer, using your IP address, as part of their backend security procedures. If you are abroad however, your IP address is different from home, so if you login to these sites, you will very likely trigger a security alert. This would go to a client, the owner of the account, and can be a poor or alarming experience for them. It can also block you from working if you’re waiting for them to approve the login or reset a password.
To easily avoid this, simply select a US (or whatever your home country is) server location using your VPN. This way, when you login to any site or tool it will appear you are browsing from your home country and it’s much less likely to trigger an alert.
Time Management & Client Expectations
When you’re sitting beachside, climbing a mountain, going to happy hour with a new friend, it can be very tempting to put your work off a bit. With no one to watch you or really know when you are working, you may think “why not?” Well, for a couple of reasons.
Budgeting your time is absolutely essential when you’re traveling, both so you have time to work and enjoy the sights and experiences you’re out there to see, and so you can be responsible.
You also may encounter some skepticism from prospective clients which those “working from home” do not. Whether this is fair—or accurate—or not doesn’t matter; the fact is when people think of Digital Nomads they often see a millennial sipping beer poolside while kind of, sort of, but not really doing work. This of course is not an accurate perception, but it’s one you must be aware of and adjust your work accordingly.
Set a Schedule
Just because you’re on the go doesn’t mean you can’t make a schedule. Plan working hours into your day just like you’d do at home. It’s essential to do quality work and be responsible, and if you’re freelancing you absolutely must be able to hold yourself accountable since you have no boss looking over your shoulder to do so. I make a schedule each week, planning which days I’ll work, which days I’ll take calls, and which days are all for me. Then I stick to it.
Be Overly Responsible
Obviously, it’s important to be responsible when freelancing. You need to manage your time and ensure you provide good service and meet deadlines. I’d argue this responsibility actually increases substantially when you’re freelancing and traveling. Clients can be wary that you will be unreachable, slow to respond, that time zones may cause confusion, or you may be irresponsible since you’re off exploring. You must show them this is not the case.
Forgetting a call at home is generally no big deal—you’re having a crazy day. But forgetting a call abroad may instead indicate that you aren’t responsible, you don't have a good connection, or simply that it would be easier to work with someone located at home. So, go above and beyond. Put in even more effort than you would if you were at home or in an office. If you’re not willing to do this it’s ok, but it’s important you’re honest with yourself. If you are unable to be disciplined and hold yourself accountable, then working and traveling probably isn’t right for you.
The final thing to do is to set expectations with clients upfront. Be honest about your lifestyle from the get-go, and certainly don't pretend you are working from your apartment an hour away from them. Set expectations about when you will respond to emails, both times of day and what an average turnaround time is when they can expect a response. Set aside days you can do calls, and let them know how much advance notice you require to book meetings. Answer any questions they may have honestly, and share details with them on how you handle things like security and timezones. Being upfront goes a long way, and more often once their questions are answered, people are excited supportive of the fact that you’re “living the dream” and happy to work with you.
So there you have it, tips to success while working and traveling. Do you have any tips to share? Any questions about how to make it work? Share your thoughts with us on social media!
Interested in becoming a freelancer with an exclusive team of the top virtual assistants in the United States? Visit our Careers page: