Tips for Working While Travelling as Freelancer (aka 'Digital Nomad' life)
One of the best things about freelancing and running your own business is the flexibility to work when and where you want.
In fact, it’s my absolute favourite thing about working for myself, and it’s something I’d find pretty impossible to give up. Being in charge of your own working hours, and (if you’re an online-based business like I am) being able to work from anywhere in the world with your laptop is invaluable to me.
It’s meant I’ve been able to travel to some amazing places over the past few years, all whilst still working and making money.
However, I’m definitely not saying that travelling whilst working is easy. There are some challenges I’ve faced while trying to do it, and lessons I’ve learned along the way. The ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle isn’t as simple or as glamorous as it may seem from the outside. It’s not all sipping cocktails on a sun lounger with your laptop out, staring whimsically out to sea (although I have done that before and it felt brilliant!) - a lot of it is learning from mistakes and stressing that things aren’t going quite as they planned…
But below are some tips I want to share so you can avoid those pitfalls!
1. Back up everything before you leave
I personally haven’t made the mistake of not doing this, BUT I have had my laptop die while away. Luckily, I am pretty rigorous in my back-up process - all my files are backed up to Dropbox and an external hard drive every day. Can you imagine if I hadn’t done a back-up before I went away, and I lost everything?
If you use an external hard drive in day-to-day work, and you’re planning on taking it away with you, I’d recommend buying a second one to keep safe at home. Yes, it may seem like overkill and it can get expensive, but external hard drives can die too! They’re actually pretty fragile and being knocked around in transportation could be very risky.
I personally use the LaCie external drives, which are super fast and very robust; you can pick them up for around £70 on Amazon.*
2. Double check your Insured items
So earlier this year, as I mentioned, my laptop died while I was away. It was pretty old but functioning fine before we left, and it decided to give up on me for good, potentially because of being knocked around too much in transit.
Luckily it was towards the end of the trip, but it was still a huge cost outlay for me when I returned home, and guess what - my insurance didn’t cover it. Even though I thought I’d purchased travel insurance that would cover me for an individual item up to a certain amount being damaged during travel, when I got home and checked the small print, there were several sneaky clauses that meant I wasn’t eligible - one of which being that they didn’t cover items used for Business.
So please, when you’re going away, always triple check your insurance policy in detail to make sure you’re covered if your business items get damaged, get lost or stolen.
3. Protect your laptop
On that note, I wish I had taken better care of my laptop while travelling. It had a case, of course, but it wasn’t super durable - just a cheap £8 one I bought from Primark years ago. Other than that, it had no protection and was sitting at the bottom of my duffle carry-on bag, thus getting plopped (probably not so gently) on the hard floor of airports and apartments every 5 minutes.
I’ve been much more careful with my laptop on recent trips, and while I haven’t yet upgraded my case, I’ve taken to wrapping the laptop itself in various items of my clothing before putting it in the case! A money and space-saving trick 😂 - however I will be upgrading my case to something more durable in the New Year. Below are some great options:
4. Double check the wifi availability
Okay so my most recent trip was a bit of a disaster; we booked the hotel specifically because it claimed to have wifi available throughout. However, when we arrived, we discovered it truly wasn’t fit for purpose. It didn’t work most of the time, and when our devices finally connected it was slower than dial-up and pretty useful for anything beyond downloading a couple of emails. We tried changing rooms, and the hotel even put a booster in our rooms after we complained again, but it was so sporadic it was very difficult to get any work done.
The moral of the story is, don’t take the hotel website’s word for there being decent wifi! If they have even a smidge of internet connection, of course they are going to slap that on their website as a marketing tactic to suck you in. I wish I had done more research and read more reviews specifically looking at how well the wifi worked, and even rang up the hotel to quiz them!
5. Give clients the low-down on time zones & calls
Now that I’ve had all this experience in the last year, seeing that things can (and likely will) go wrong while you’re away, I plan to now always de-brief clients before I go away. Sometimes I have in the past, sometimes I haven’t - assuming that work would be ‘as usual’ when actually it can be much trickier to manage.
Even if it’s just to let them know that I may be working and answering emails at funny times due to time zones or working in the evenings instead of day time, it’s important to keep them in the loop in case things do go wrong.
6. Project management in the cloud is *The One*
I have always run my business ‘in the cloud’, and this makes it much easier when I go away. Rather than having physical planners, calendars, notebooks, folders and whiteboards, I keep everything digital so I can access it from anywhere.
7. Schedule all non-client work before you leave
The reason you’re going away is probably because you want to spend time exploring, so don’t assume that you’re going to fit the same amount of work into each day as you did when you were home. I like to try and fit in an hour early in the morning, and then do a solid few hours after I’ve been out for the day but before dinner (eg. 4pm - 8pm), but that’s still only really a small amount of time to fit everything in. So therefore - don’t try and fit everything in!
When I’m away I keep it to the necessities. Obviously client work is a necessity, and answering *some* emails. My own business admin, blogging and marketing? Not a necessity. So I will get all these scheduled in advance before I leave.
Of course, I’m speaking from the experience of only going away for a week or maximum 2 weeks at a time; if you’re away for longer than a month then this may not be possible and you may just need to dedicate a full day or two to staying in and batching these tasks.
8. Have a back-up plan
In the worst case scenario (no wifi/dead laptop), there are always internet cafes and co-working spaces that you can seek out and head to when all else fails. If you are seriously unable to work properly while you are away, and you’ve got yourself in a pickle, the best thing to do is to explain this to clients.
One thing you could try as a seriously prepared back-up plan is have a ‘business emergency assistant’ - aka, a trusted friend or family member you can call and tell to ‘initiate emergency mode’. Ie. Give them access to your emails & files and allow them to email people on your behalf explaining the situation. It sounds extreme, but I’ve heard of people doing this! I mean, have you ever wondered what would happen if you suddenly fell ill and couldn’t work at all? What would happen to your clients and business reputation? A ‘business emergency assistant’ is a thing, that could be your travel back-up plan too.
Have you ever tried taking your work away with you while you travel?
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