I’m a writer, and I often work freelance (which is, ahem, why you’re reading this). That means that I can work from anywhere in the world — and, whenever possible, I try to take advantage of that.
I spent a few hours on my laptop during my trip to Japan, and I sent more than a few emails to my editors while traveling to Mexico to see family. Over the years, I’ve visited the Grand Canyon, Beale Street, and the Las Vegas Strip while logging hours with my various employers.
Working remotely can be fun and engaging, but I’ve also learned that it can be a nightmare. After all, nobody wants to fight deadlines when they could be spending time at breathtaking landmarks during a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Still, with proper time management skills and a clear work process, remote work can open up some wonderful possibilities.
If you’re planning on a working vacation to some far-off destination, here’s everything you need to know.
1. Make Sure You’ll Actually Have Internet Access
These days, most hotels will offer you a somewhat steady internet connection, but to work consistently, you’ll also need a decent mobile connection. That’s not always possible — or economically feasible, since most standard cellular data plans have hefty roaming fees.
Before heading out on your trip, contact your cellular provider. Many offer inexpensive monthlong coverage extensions that will keep you connected.
Of course, while these plans can be a good value, you’ll need to check coverage maps to make sure that they’re worthwhile. My provider offered a simple $20 fee to extend my data plan to Mexico for a month, but they didn’t actually have coverage for the part of Mexico I was visiting.
2. Consider Buying A Local SIM Card
Instead of paying $20 for… well, nothing, I purchased a cheap SIM card from Telcel, Mexico’s largest wireless telecommunications company. I had several gigabytes of data, which was more than I needed, and I never had any issues connecting. I did something similar in Japan, paying about $20 for a month’s worth of wireless data.
If you go this route, be sure to keep your old SIM card in a safe place (along with any tools you need to eject the SIM card tray), since you’ll need to reinstall it as soon as you return to the United States.
3. Use Layovers To Your Advantage
I try to travel inexpensively, which usually means long layovers. I don’t mind, since layovers are a great opportunity to get some work done provided that you’ve got a nice, quiet place to hunker down.
Many airports charge for Wi-Fi access, so if you’re headed for a long layover, research the airport to determine whether or not you’ll need to pay for access. If that’s the case, consider paying for a one-day pass to an airport lounge. Lounges typically have free Wi-Fi along with comfortable seating, quiet work areas, and free food. Day passes typically cost between $29 and $75, which can be well worth the expenditure.
I wrote a more detailed piece about the various ways you can get into lounges without a membership, so if you’re headed for a long layover, check it out.
4. “Working Remotely” Doesn’t Mean “Working In The Hotel”
If you’re spending your working hours cooped up in your room, you’re probably missing out. Consider local coffee shops, parks, and other quiet areas where you can take in your surroundings while getting your work done.
If you’re prone to distractions, invest in some noise-cancelling headphones, and if you’re traveling internationally, make sure that you’re not breaking local rules of etiquette by opening up your laptop. In some parts of Japan, for instance, spending hours working or studying at a business is considered slightly rude, but in Tokyo, it’s perfectly acceptable (and you’ll see plenty of businesspeople and students doing the same).
When in doubt, head to a park or other public area. Double-check your internet connection before you hunker down, and make sure you’ve got extra power sources handy if you’re planning on spending a lot of time on your work.
5. Know When To Stop For The Day (And Set Your Boundaries)
Generally, when you’re working remotely, you’re less available to your clients or employer, especially if there’s a large time zone difference. You might find yourself working more productively than usual, since you’re not being bombarded with emails — or you might have trouble concentrating, since you’re working in a totally new environment. You won’t really know until you’re actually working.
Setting clear boundaries will help you manage the stress that comes with remote work. Schedule a few hours for work, sit down, and do what you can — but have a clear stopping point in mind before you get started. Keep notes about what you’re doing and resist the urge to overwork.
If I’m on an international trip, I set a strict limit of 2 work hours per day, and I keep detailed logs of what I’m able to do in that time. That helps me avoid feeling like I haven’t done enough, and it allows me to enjoy my vacation when I’m not on the clock. If I feel like I haven’t done enough, I can look at my log and see exactly what I’ve accomplished. If I feel like I’m in the zone and could get more done, I let the clock tell me when it’s time to quit.
The toughest part of working remotely is managing your psychology. By setting limits — and sticking to them — you can keep your career moving forward without limiting the enjoyment of the trip.