How to Be Productive When You Work While Traveling.
“You are so lucky you’re always traveling!”
That’s because it’s probably the comment that digital nomads hear the most.
Sometimes it feels as if people still think that us freelancers, especially when we work remotely, don’t work at all. Doesn’t it?
The endless stream of IG photos from around the world, showing people living this amazing traveling lifestyle – working from some tropical beach or swinging on a hammock with jungle view – doesn’t help get the real picture.
Indeed, you don’t even see a glimpse of the “blood, sweat and tears” behind the scenes…
At this point we all know that social media only show the best of of everybody’s life, body, job, etc.
But, often, we still get fooled. In most cases, in fact, especially when you live a traveling lifestyle, you actually work extra hard to get to take those pictures.
Being able to work on your laptop from unconventional spots and spaces, on your own rhythm, often changing country, is a totally achievable goal, but it requires a LOT of work.
Here I’ve put together for you a mini-guide with the 4 strategies that proved most effective to me as a freelancer/entrepreneur who often works while traveling and from a variety of different spaces.
Perks and Hustles of the Freelance/Traveling Lifestyle
Managing your own time.
One of the main reasons I’ve chosen this path in life. But you also have to be highly motivated to put yourself at work everyday on your own and be diligent in meeting your deadlines. This requires setting up goals, defining a schedule and, sometimes, work when everybody is on vacation partying.
Working from anywhere
Sure, but you may end up working longer hours than you would at the office, for a smaller income, and not always in the optimal conditions to be productive. Bad WIFI (or not at all), small hotel rooms, important material you forgot to carry with you, noisy places, and those are the nice ones!
- Living the nomadic lifestyle.
That’s the point of the hustle! And if you are curious, thirsty for experiences, passionate about learning and routine sounds to you like the strident noise of fingernails scratching on a chalkboard, I assure you it’s so worth it. But a traveling lifestyle is rather unpredictable and could bring with it a lot of insecurity and anxiety, especially due to the lack of income predictability, unexpected delays and a roster of other issues you normally don’t encounter when you work in your cubicle from 9 to 5.
That said, the personal and professional freedom that comes with freelancing and working remotely are undeniably awesome.
Yet, not for everybody. It’s a lifestyle choice that, as mentioned above, comes with pros and cons, which you need to evaluate carefully in order to figure out whether this is the right professional path for you or not.
All in all, the demand for remote jobs has been on a steady rise for a couple of years now, and an increasing number of people are switching from a full-time job to freelancing in order to be location independent.
In our efforts to be productive while enjoying and discovering new destinations, how do we balance business and pleasure? How do we make the most out of working remotely?
After over a decade of successfully working freelance, remotely and while traveling , I’d like to share with you the 4 most effective strategies that helped me conquer the challenging task of working while traveling.
1) Be Strategic
Planning is paramount when it comes to working remotely and while traveling.
Whether you’re on a business trip, traveling for a specific gig, relocating, or moving around from location to location, you gotta have a plan.
You don’t want to arrive at destination unprepared, having to face issues that are ten times harder to solve abroad and could have been avoided with a more accurate planning.
There are 4 boxes I make sure to tick before taking off:
- Schedule work in advance
Regardless of your job, organize beforehand your calendar of tasks, meetings, and errands you’ll have to be doing once you get to a new location.
- Create and prepare work and marketing material ahead.
This includes tech gear, business cards, promo brochures, prints, creative tools, samples of your product and anything you know you’ll need and won’t find, or won’t be able to produce, where you’re going.
For example, as a freelance content writer, I find very useful to prepare ahead templates (i.e. CV and cover letter) for job applications, newsletter and blog content, contact lists, graphic work, and so on.
- Know your local resources.
Write a list of all the things, services, people you’ll need once you get settled in a new destination.
Then look them up online or, if possible, ask your fellow digital nomads for tips, ahead of your trip, in order to make sure they’re actually there and have what you need.
- Organize yourself to be mobile-based.
Make sure you have all your apps, contacts and docs installed, updated and easily accessible, from all your devices.
2) Manage Your Finances
Freelancers don’t have a regular, steady income so every expense counts.
Some months it goes well, some even very well, but other times you’re simply fucking dry. And finding yourself dry abroad is not funny.
In general, financial issues undermine creativity and motivation, which are the basics of most freelance work.
Therefore, as a working traveler, budgeting is key.
My best piece of advice is to make sure you have one or more gigs going on, either where you are going to and/or that you can continue working on remotely.
Don’t just drop everything and take off, hoping to find jobs once abroad. It might or might not happen; or just not soon enough, so you’ll be begging your parents to buy you a ticket back home.
A solution? Create your profile on freelance/remote jobs boards and search platforms such as:
and many others that are specific to your industry.
In addition to regular pitching and cold emailing, this is the best way to get your CV on the market and find or be found by clients.
Other opportunities you should check out in order to get your digital nomad lifestyle started are co-working retreats options like:
and many many more.
These are all community-oriented experiences that offer packages for traveling freelancers who work remotely.
Usually, those include relatively affordable co-living and co-working solutions in sought-after travel destinations like Bali.
These organizations take care of the traveling logistics and help you relocating in a new place, so that you have the time and peace of mind to be productive.
There are monthly as well as yearly options and, overall, this could be a safer way to start living a nomadic lifestyle.
3) Make Yourself At Home
In my experience of working while traveling I found that being surrounded by familiar things makes it easier to get set up and be efficient in a new place.
My husband, for example, always carries with him The Art of War by Sun Tzu (a highly recommended read BTW) and you can be sure that’s the first thing he puts on his temporary desk, no matter if it’s in a rental home, a co-working space or a cafe.
Personally, I always carry with me my Moleskine agenda, my journal, a scrapbook, my polaroid camera, my tarot deck, my meditation practice notebook and crystals, and some little other objects I like to have around as inspiring decorations.
Those things are like “talismans” that have an emotional value because they’ve been with me through important moments, or came from special people in my life path.
When you travel they represent stability and provide familiar comfort in context where uncertainty is predominant.
When your temporary home, room or work space don’t look nor feel ideal to put you in productive mode, curate them with items that make the atmosphere cozy and inspiring.
For example, I arrange my work area – be it in my temporary home, in a co-working or in a hotel restaurant – in a way that matches my style: tidy and garnished with my talismans and other objects I find or buy along the way. That helps me concentrate and create.
An environment designed accordingly to your taste and modus operandi will definitely help you feel comfortable and, hence, get work done.
4) Develop a Flexible and Adaptable Mindset
Traveling is about getting out of your comfort zone and finding yourself in new places and situations, dealing with people you don’t know.
This is the game and the reason why we are excited about traveling. Though, on the flip side, this may generate financial, professional and social anxiety.
How do we overcome those negative emotions?
Unfortunately there isn’t one single way to follow because every person is different. But one thing is certain: having a flexible mindset and an adaptable attitude will make things A LOT easier when you work while traveling.
In short: embrace change and don’t get stuck on your usual ways of working and getting things done.
Think about flying, for instance. Airports today funnel the pick of social anxiety and paranoia – or “Permanxiety” – as travel news aggregator Skift reports in a related article, – mainly due to exacerbated geopolitical tensions and to the consequent restrictive security policies now in force.
This increasingly complex scenario is having a massive impact on where and how we travel. Chaotic and overcrowded situations, stricter procedures, worse airplanes conditions, invasive security checks can happen to anybody.
The best thing we can do is to try not to stress about what’s beyond our control, but rather adapt our schedule and state of mind around it.
More often than not, once abroad, and no matter how savvy of a traveler you are, you won’t know what to expect and you’ll have to rely on strangers for help.
Needless to say, traveling (and even working from different spots in the same location) inevitably brings delays, distractions and issues to your work agenda and productive goals
Therefore, being well informed about your destination and planning your travel and work schedule accordingly definitely helps, but can’t possibly cover every unexpected situation.
How do we deal with the stress due to uncertainty?
The trick is to train our minds to be flexible.
We must accept the fact that things won’t necessarily go as planned.
Travel disruptions, medical issues, unforeseen changes, and generally uncomfortable situations are more likely to happen abroad, away from your familiar setting.
Countless times I had to abruptly change accommodation, reschedule meetings because of flight delays or rework a project entirely because of issues with local resources.
You can imagine how much this type of things can affect one’s work.
Freaking out has never done any good, so I had to learn to let go what I couldn’t fix and adapt to alternative ways, trying to find benefits even in negative situations.
Bottom line: learn from and make the best out of unfavorable situations; adapt to different contexts, people and customs, instead of complaining about them.
To conclude, if you start revolving your work around what’s going on (instead of the other way around) you’ll gradually stop getting upset if a certain job takes longer than expected.
Establish a daily routine, but don’t get stuck on it. Rather, be ready to change it if necessary.
I found great help in meditation to develop a flexible and open mind. It improves “mindfulness”, that is: to stay and focus on the present, which is key not to get distracted or anxious.
A flexible mindset and an adaptable attitude are essential to make working remotely successful.