As attractive and easy as working on that beach in Colombia might appear on Instagram, anyone doing the digital nomad thing quickly realises that, as incredibly lucky as we are to be able to work and travel, keeping a business afloat when you’re on the road isn’t exactly a stroll on the beach.
Now, I have to hold my hands up and say that I’m not what you could call a fully-fledged digital nomad. I like to go with the term location independent.
I’m based in the south of Spain, where I live and work in a cave house, and I’ve realised over the years that I really do need somewhere to call home for the sake of my mental health.
But I can, and do, work from anywhere. I’m fresh off the plane from a month-long stint in the USA and have a fairly nomadic summer ahead of me, so I’m only too familiar with the highly #firstworldproblems of keeping on top of remote translation work when travelling.
Here are a few ways I’ve found useful for keeping my ducks firmly in a row when I’m off exploring the big, wide world.
F.Y.I: I work as a copywriter too. Most of these tips apply to people doing both, and to remote workers in general, but some are specific to the very quirky translation industry.
1. Let people know what your deal is
First things first. Your clients need to know the deal, however long your trip is.
Whether it’s just a few weeks or travel is your new reality, if it’s going to involve you being less accessible or available due to different time zones, dodgy wi-fi or a busy sight-seeing schedule, then it’s only fair to warn them in advance with a friendly email.
You might want to put an out-of-office on for the whole time you’re away letting people know you’re on a different time zone and when to expect a response.
Or, you might choose to just activate it on certain days when you know you’ll be out of touch, in the middle of the jungle or on a plane.
2. Make a plan
When it comes to keeping up with work, everyone’s different. Some people like to work every morning, and some every afternoon. Some will cram a full-time week into three days, then take four days off.
Whatever your style, just make sure you have some kind of plan in place and keep those ducks corralled.
It’s very easy to fall behind with work and admin when you’re travelling, and having a schedule of sorts can help you keep calm and keep things under control.
3. But be prepared to abandon it
Work plans are great, but they should never be sacred. You’re on the road, and many opportunities don’t present themselves twice.
If you don’t grab them with both hands, then there’s not much point in you ever having left home in the first place.
Say yes to things (provided you don’t have a big deadline within the next 24 hours). YOLO, and all that.
4. Be ready to work early mornings and/or late nights
As we all know, the translation industry is more than a bit quirky, and PMs will often want very large projects turned around in the blink of an eye.
That can be tricky enough in the comfort of your own home office, but when you’ve got touristing and travelling to work around, it’s probably going to involve some fairly unsociable hours.
It’s best just to accept the reality of the fact that you will be working crazy hours at times, and then always reward yourself with a delicious meal or an exciting day trip when you reemerge from the translation haze.
5. Just say no
I know, I know, this one’s easier said than done. But it’s really rather important.
Are you going to have to stay up until 5 am to get a project done? Will you have to miss an activity you’ve had your heart set on?
Are you that desperate for the money? Is it really a good enough rate to make it worth your while? Can you afford not to take the job?
Don’t be afraid to say no to clients and PMs, promptly, politely and truthfully.
They’ll appreciate your honesty, and they will come back to you with other jobs down the line. And if they don’t, there are plenty more fish in the translation sea.
I know saying no can be scary and your brain will try and convince you that you’ll never work again, but it’s important for you to take the reigns now and again, and have a bit of faith.
6. Set aside admin days
As part of that plan you’re making, set aside some time regularly (preferably in a nice bar with a glass of wine, or your poison of choice, in hand) to get that email inbox cleared, get all those invoices sent off, and get that excel spreadsheet colour-coded.
Personally, I find that a bright, multi-coloured spreadsheet makes it a lot easier to face the numbers.
Don’t let the pile admin build up too high, as it will soon start to feel like it’s towering over you.
7. Go for independent cafes
Don’t be too snobby about working in Starbucks if it’s your only option (I took refuge in one for a few hours in Austin, Texas, when I was caught in the thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms), but don’t make a habit of it.
Migrating from local quirky cafe to local quirky cafe is a great way of getting a bit of insight into life in the city and people watching. And there’s cake.
8. Choose work-friendly hostels
All those cups of coffee can soon add up, so make sure you give yourself options. More and more hostels these days are creating spaces that are perfect for remote workers, and will often advertise the fact.
Look through the photos and see if you can spot any likely-looking working spots.
Oh, and avoid any hostels that actively advertise themselves as party hostels, unless you’re looking to let your hair down and have a crazy weekend.
9. Work from local libraries
Local public libraries or university libraries are often open to all, free of charge, and can be a great environment for knuckling down in.
10. Hot desk at a co-working space
Most co-working spaces offer reasonable day-rates. This can be a great option if you’re staying somewhere for a while and have a big project to power through, as there will be fewer distractions than in a cafe or hostel, but you’ll still probably meet like-minded people.
11. Or pick the perfect Airbnb
Of course, you can always work from a home from home. Just as you would with a hostel, pick your Airbnb carefully, making sure there’s a good work space, so you won’t be stuck working on the bed.
If you’re planning on staying somewhere for a decent length of time, short-term rents are often your best bet.
It’s also worth posting in local Facebook digital nomad groups to see if anyone’s going away and would like someone to cover their rent, and in local room-for-rent groups, as those options are almost certainly bound to work out cheaper than Airbnb.
12. Be present
Whether you’re working or touristing, make sure you’re fully in the relevant mode.
When you’re playing the tourist, deactivate your notifications or turn on airplane-mode. Make sure you’re truly experiencing your surroundings, not dwelling on anything work-related.
And the reverse is true. When you’re working, close that Airbnb tab. Focus on work. You’ll be much more productive, and end up with more time for exploring.
13. And don’t forget to take proper time off
This post has been all about how to work whilst travelling, but whatever you do, make sure you don’t work non-stop. Proper time off is really important for well-being.
Take long weekends off. Go on mini side-trips with just a day pack, and leave your laptop behind, if you can do so safely.
If you’re spending time with friends or family, make it proper time off.
Of course, everyone has a different style of working and travelling, and discovering the right way of doing things for you is always going to be a matter of trial and error.
But, hopefully, these tips will serve as a great starting point for you to figure out how to blend work and travel together perfectly, your way.
If you have any tips about keeping the translation or general freelancing show on the road when travelling, I’d love to hear them!
And, of course, if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to answer them if I can. Just pop a comment in the box below.