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Want to Work From the Road? It Ain’t Easy

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Working while traveling

A year and a half ago I moved from New York to London. I was freelancing at the time and wanted to take advantage of my “location independence” by traveling the world. After six months in London, I moved to New Zealand, and last month I took off on a two-month backpacking trip around Australia.

While the locations have changed, the situation has not: While I travel, I work. And you’d be surprised how much of my day is consumed with trying to find a decent Internet connection, schedule a Skype call or download documents. Travel and work is not all “lifestyle design.”

So if you’re going through a Quarter-Life Crisis, contemplating grad school or not working full-time, here are a few things you should keep in mind before jumping on this particular bandwagon:

Get a smartphone

I used to scoff in the face of smartphones. Snorted at people walking down the street with their eyed glued to a screen.

But in real life? Don’t leave the country without one. Having unlimited access to my work email has proven to be the most useful thing since Twitter. It allows me to be stress-free while traveling as I can quickly answer questions, snuff out fires and network from the road without having to freak out about finding WiFi.

Research free WiFi

Speaking of WiFi, if you need the Internet to work, you need to understand most countries are not like the States. Starbucks WiFi is not free. McDonald’s WiFi is slower than molasses. My best advice on this one is to find a public library (I’m writing this from the State Library of New South Wales), as they usually have plenty of work space, free Internet and power plugs.

You could also get an Internet dongle to ensure you have a connection and/or the Free Wifi Finder, which — wait for it — finds free WiFi in the form of cafes, bars and galleries in your area. And a simple Google of, for example, “free WiFi Sydney” doesn’t hurt either.

Figure out payment methods

I keep a U.S. account for all clients still in the States, and PayPal works wonders, too. I do, however, wish I had found a bank before leaving home that doesn’t charge such horrible fees for taking out international money.

Bank of America has some decent partnerships, though I’d rather light myself on fire than go back to them. I’ve also heard HSBC is a good place to go if you’re a big traveler. I’m kicking myself for not doing the research as right now I spend at least $40 each month just on fees.

Get on MeetUp

The best part about traveling is the people you meet. But just because you’re meting other travelers doesn’t mean you can’t network, too. Even when I’m in a city for just a few weeks, I find an Americans in Melbourne/Auckland/London Meetup group I can join just to a) meet some people and b) network my face off.

Also ask friends or co-workers at home if they know anyone in the city of your choice, and if you’re a social media kinda guy or gal, put the call out there. I spent my first few weeks in Melbourne in coffee shops because I happened to know people who know people there. It’s been surprisingly good in terms of work and pleasure.

Working abroad right now or considering it? I have to say, even with these obstacles, I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s relatively easy to get a working holiday visa to most countries and, especially in places like Australia and NZ, the economy is hugely better than in the States.

Just food for thought, yo.

Marian Schembari is a blogger, traveler and all-around social media thug. She’s based in Auckland, New Zealand, hails from Connecticut and blogs at marianlibrarian.com.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://twenty-somethingtravel.com Steph

    I work abroad from all over the world, and while it’s a lot of fun, it’s a LOT of work too! I actually had the most difficult time in Australia because the internet is incredibly slow and expensive. In comparison it was much easier to get things done in Vietnam or Thailand.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Totally agree. Both about it being a lot of work and about Australia. I was sort of shocked at the horrible internet, though after living in NZ for a year it was beautiful to at least HAVE some decent wifi. Kiwis outside of Auckland barely know what wifi is.

  • Jrandom42

    Also, be aware of personal security. I’ve been robbed of my laptop and smartphone at gunpoint.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Ouch. That’s terrifying. I just spent a month backpacking in Australia and got a horrible crick in my shoulder from carrying my laptop to every place I went because I was too scared to leave it at my hostel. Now I’m scared to bring it with!

  • Anonymous

    So true! I work remotely from time to time and planned a whole afternoon of work aboard a Megabus, only to have the wifi go out after 15 minutes. Luckily I had back up work that I could do offline, but it was really frustrating. My smartphone was my lifesaver that day for checking email, etc.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Oh man, the joys of Megabus. I, too, have often relied on people who promise free wifi (various city centers, McDonald’s, etc) and end up getting screwed over in the process. Basically, when you work remotely you gotta be ready for anything.

  • http://danasitar.com/ Dana Sitar

    Thank you for the tips! The temptation to take advantage of the freedom of freelance work can so easily throw up blinders to the logistics. I’m a freelance writer getting set to go out on the road for the first time with my partner, who is a comic. This article comes at just the right time; I’ll definitely keep these things in mind.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Absolutely amen 100% agree with your comment about blinders. It’s so easy to say, “screw it” and just up and travel. I did it three times. And while it’s definitely an incredible experience, I do wish I had done a few weeks research before heading out into the world.

  • Kay Lorraine

    Seven weeks of working in rural England this summer made me a believer in the internet dongle. Sometimes there is just no regular internet service in rural areas. But the dongle worked pretty much all the time (slower during hours when use is high but better than nothing). And I’ve found McDonald’s to be surprisingly good most places.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      I have yet to try one, but after seeing a few folks in hostels using them with ease while I pay $4/hr to access crappy internet is making me wish I had gotten one when I left on my backpacking trip. Thanks for the vote on that one, will definitely try it next time I head off!

      And I honestly don’t understand the McDonald’s thing. I tried a grand total of FIVE different ones in Australia and not once did it work. Am starting to think it’s my computer as I saw others access the network. Yeah… it’s definitely me.

  • http://www.meditationtechniquesforbeginnersx.com/ meditation techniques review

    thanks for the great tips,
    lately I’ve been tempted to try this

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Seriously, do it. Best decision I’ve ever made.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IANGFEX2XF3K6SDFDBDGWXCIW4 Sheila

    Just wanted to know if you have heard of the new law going into effect Jan 2013 about bank accounts in the US and transfers to any bank or institution outside the US. It is called the HIRE act. It means that any transfer will have 30% deducted and sent to the IRS. This new law is making it extremely hard for people who live in other countries on pensions.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Wow. No, I haven’t heard of that. Not sure how I feel about it either… Actually, I DO know, and I suppose it makes sense but I don’t like it. May have to rethink my banking strategy…

  • Kelsey Morse

    This is hugely helpful. I am prepping for a move from the States to Scotland and your tips –especially about banks — are great.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Yay! I adore Scotland – good luck!

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