In March 2015 I took-off from Heathrow airport with sweat on my brow and quivering with uncertainty. I was on my way to Bangkok for the first time, and more significantly, about to try and work remotely from abroad for the first time in my life. I was fortunate to have Bangkok as a first choice, as I had good friends who lived there and with decent infrastructure the city is quite well set up for remote working. However in the months to come, as I travelled around more things were to get a lot more challenging.
In almost four years that I’ve now been travelling and working remotely, I’ve made a whole array of mistakes and learnings in that time. I had a stressful start, as I simply lacked the knowledge and experience to prevent my travels from ever interfering with my work schedule.
Over the years I’ve accumulated enough experience to travel frequently, with customers and colleagues unable to really discern the difference between whether I’m on the road or at home. I have by no means perfected it; every town and city has it’s own challenges and quirks, let alone each different country, but there are some common truths that you learn to work around and give the best chance for things to run smoothly.
Before I jump into things I should just raise some important points. First is to note that this guide is primarily aimed at those who travel and work, but also have direct accountability to a team or clients on a daily basis. That is, you are available to them during your expected hours and are likely to have regular video calls throughout the day. If you work more independently, you should still find value from this post; but much of it may be overkill for you.
Secondly is to point out that there’s no hidden tricks here; I do all of my planning and travel organisation myself. I don’t have the budget to outsource the process and over the years, the planning itself has become a routine that I enjoy and do efficiently.
The internet has completely and fundamentally changed the dynamic of travel, and I’m not just talking about the fact people can now work remotely. I mean that, what was previously obscured as the sacred knowledge of locals and travel agents, is now widely available and instantly accessible to anyone. It’s possible to book yourself a ticket for a train online almost anywhere in the world; and even if their website isn’t in your native language, Google will go ahead and translate it for you in realtime. It’s possible to find incredible deals on flights whilst flights themselves continue to fall in price as economies-of-scale are hit, and planes continue to become more efficient. It’s now possible to stay in someone’s spare room at a tiny fraction of the cost of hotels. We’re lucky to be living in such a time!
My final advice, is to remember every single day that to be able to travel and work is a privilege of unquantifiable proportions. Most importantly, understand that you are working, like anyone else, each day - and happen to be travelling. It is not the other way around. Incidents that occur to you are the result of your own decisions and your responsibility and not that of your employer, team or clients. The moment that you allow the fact you are travelling to negatively impact your work; you are doing a dis-service to the entire remote-work movement. Expect that flight to be heavily delayed. Expect someone in the cafe to try and steal your laptop. Expect the WiFi to be too slow for video calls in the hotel. Setting yourself these expectations for anything that could impact your work, should not cause paralysis, rather it allows you to make better decisions, communicate to your team / clients in the right way, set the right expectations and have an appropriate fallback plan.
You might be wondering then, what’s the point? What’s the point in travelling around if there’s still so much work and responsibility involved? Well, different people will answer this differently - but for me it’s three things. First, it’s my direct working environment - I am measurably more productive in a nice working environment than one that I do not enjoy. Secondly, it is about the people I meet, whether in a co-working space or a cafe after work. Finally, and probably most key - it’s what is immediately available to me on my time off, like weekends. After a solid and productive working day or week, I can reward myself exploring a new part of the world that’s now right on my doorstep. A total contrast to my past routine of hitting up the same bars in town or slumping in front of the TV all weekend.