5 Major challenges to working while traveling (and some solutions)

This series is for the increasingly large group of people who make their livings on their laptops alone, and who realize that many other “digital nomads” are cutting expenses while spending time in cities like Bangkok and Buenos Aires. Honestly, the sky’s the limit, and people who like to travel are roaming the globe paying 2nd or 3rd-World prices while making 1st-World incomes.

I’ve been doing this myself for nearly a year and a half now, almost all of that spent in Asia where US$10 hotel rooms are surprisingly nice and easy to find. I earlier discussed the great things about working while traveling, but of course there are two sides to every coin. Below are five of the “challenging” (rather than bad) things about working while traveling, and tips for overcoming many of them.

General ergonomics of hotel rooms

Those of us who already work primarily from a laptop can easily take for granted that a comfortable chair sitting in front of a proper-height desk will always be easy to find. On the road, they aren’t. Most cheaper hotels in the cheaper parts of the world (Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe) have a reasonably comfortable bed and perhaps a table or nightstand, but none of them have a proper office chair and desk like you’ll find at the Airport Hilton (for US$150 per night).

This is an important consideration when figuring out just how much work you can expect to do. Let’s say an 8-hour day is simple enough when you have a comfortable workspace, and your alternatives are to work while lying on the bed or finding a nearby restaurant with Wi-Fi. In either of those cases you’ll find that 8 productive hours is going to be quite a challenge or impossible.
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5 Tips for Communicating with Partners and Staff While Working Remotely

If you are taking a 2-week holiday then you might actually be doing it to purposely be out of touch with your clients and business partners. And if you do want to stay in touch then email and an international roaming plan for your mobile will do the trick. But for the group of us who are working on the road as a lifestyle, the communication thing can be a bit tricky.

Email will always be a free and easy way of communicating with many people, but there are times when you need a voice call in real time to move forward. These days there are many ways to make and receive a call, and some of them are free or incredibly cheap. If you’ll be working on a laptop most of the time then you’ll have quite a few choices. Also, while timezone differences can also be a problem, they can also be a big help in other ways.

1. Do you even need a phone?

Sometime in the 1990s, pretty much everyone got a mobile phone, and since then millions of people have ditched their landlines so it seemed like the mobile was part of a new 1-to-1 phone-to-person ratio. But when you are traveling, especially many time zones away from the people you’d speak to, it’s very possible that a phone (or at least phone service) won’t be worth the small benefit you’ll receive.
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Cheap countries with good internet for traveling workers

The so-called ‘digital nomad’ is someone who relies only on their laptop, their skills, and an internet connection in order to make a living while spending time wherever they want. This new trend seems to be getting very popular lately as more people have exited full-time jobs and are discovering that freelancing can be an excellent option as long as you can keep your costs down while building up your business.

As someone who’s been doing exactly this for about 16 months now, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and recently I discussed why moving your internet startup to Asia might drastically increase its chances of success. Part of the situation, of course, is to find the right place or places from which to work. I also recently discussed tips for finding good Wi-Fi on the road, but here we’ll look at some specific countries that are cheap and easy to live or travel in, plus provide acceptable qualities of internet connectivity.

For each country I’ll provide a price of a decent and cheap hotel room as well as the price of a basic apartment by the month. There are cheaper places than these, but you probably wouldn’t want to stay or live in them for long.
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5 Important Tips for Freelancing While Traveling

As more and more people are freelancing these days (whether it was their own choice or not), an increasing number are also realizing that doing so from New York City, San Francisco, or any other expensive city doesn’t really make sense. I’m among the group of so-called “digital nomads” who has been location-independent for over a year now, saving money and having a great time by traveling all over Asia instead of a more expensive lifestyle in the States.

It’s definitely true that you can actually live on far less in many parts of the world, even in hotels and short-term apartments, but actually running your own freelance “business” isn’t quite as easy as it might first seem. Getting paid a First World rate while partying on Third World prices really can be a great way to get yourself started as an independent professional, as long as you take things like the following into account.

1. Acquire skills and clients before you leave

I’ve seen many people on travel messageboards who plan to take on this lifestyle, and some of them reckon they can save up a bit of cash, quit their fulltime job, and then head out on the road before picking up freelance work. This is (almost always) a mistake. Not only is the freelance market more crowded than you realize, and wages for services probably lower than you realize, but living on the road will be very disorienting at first, making it a tough time to find new work.

Yes, there are always loads of jobs on offer on eLance, oDesk, and even on Craigslist all over the world, but competition for them is so fierce that you are likely to make very little when you take your “admin time” into account. I recently posted a gig for a logo for a website for US$30 and within 3 hours I’d received 33 applications, including many who tried to undercut their competition by taking a lower price. Add in all that time applying for jobs and learning the specs from ones you get, and it’s a tough life regardless of where you are living.

For these reasons, and some others below, you are far better off establishing yourself as a freelancer long before you put your stuff in storage. Do it for 6 months while you are winding down your job, or work like crazy if you are already unemployed, and then set out once you have some steady clients or regular work.
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Tips for Finding Wi-Fi While Working and Traveling

As more laptop-workers are unshackling themselves from their stationary lives, whether to earn a living while seeing the world, or save money by moving somewhere cheap to start a business, the subject of mobile Wi-Fi becomes crucial. I’ve recently discussed many of the positive things about working while traveling, but if you have crappy internet or no internet at all, none of that matters.

Unfortunately, there are no great resources for determining whether internet is fast or easily obtainable at little or no cost, so it can definitely be hit or miss. However, since I’ve been working while traveling all over Asia for well over a year now, I can offer some advice to help increase the chances of the best possible situation.
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Why Building Your Web Startup in Asia Might be the Difference Between Success and Failure

So you’ve picked a word and dropped its last vowel for your site-name, and now you are faced with building your new website or mobile app. If you are crafty enough to get your hands on some of the overly enthusiastic funding that’s floating around at the moment you can rent offices in San Francisco, New York City, or maybe Austin. But if you are bootstrapping your new operation, perhaps with friends and partners, you’ve got to stretch your money as far as possible in order to maximize your chances at ultimate success.

One way that increasing numbers of entrepreneurs and even solo freelance laptop-workers are stretching out their runways is to move the operation to cities in Asia where the cost of living is half or even less than it is in the US or Europe. Bangkok is certainly the most popular place for this, but there are a variety of other cities in the region that also make this popular, many of which are even cheaper. [Read more...]