How To Freelance While Traveling The World

by Senta Gekeler

Being able to work from all over the world – that’s a dream for many people and one of the most popular reasons for aspiring a freelance job. I got a taste of it as well – for several months I did the digital nomad thing, working from dream locations in Southeast Asia. But staying focussed and actually getting work done while traveling is a big challenge. These are my key learnings regarding productiveness:

Don’t travel too fast

The idea sounds tempting: you work while waiting at the airport or while you’re on the plane, bus or train and once you arrive at the next dream location, your job is done and you can relax at the beach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like this. Means of transport are places full of distractions, sometimes there is no wifi and if there is, it is often very unreliable. So if you want to make sure you finish your assignments on time, you definitely shouldn’t rely on getting your work done while traveling from one location to the other. There are exceptions, but most people are far more productive when staying at the same place for longer – ideally long enough to establish a daily routine.

Choose accommodations wisely

This leads to the next tip: Choose a good location to stay for a while and work. Besides being the pretty dream locations you aimed for by deciding to be a digital nomad, the most important things are access to good wifi and a comfortable place to work. A lonely tropical island or a hut somewhere in the mountains may be beautiful, but very remote place often don’t provide reliable access to the internet – and thus are, unfortunately, not the ideal places for you to work. The same goes for places that are too crowded – how likely is it to get your stuff done when you’re staying in a backpacker hostel in the middle of a touristy party area? It’s definitely better to invest a bit more money in your accommodation – it’ll probably pay out because you get more work done. Therefore, I usually got single rooms in quiet hostels or simple hotels. If you find something nice and affordable, Airbnb rentals are also a great opportunity.

working in Bali

A hidden terrace surrounded by plants: My working place in Ubub, Bali

Go to cafés or coworking spaces

Ok, when you have a terrace with view to the seaside, comfortable chair and desk and good wifi you may not want to leave your accommodation at all. But even then – one of the perks of being a freelancer is that you can change your location now and then, which often helps to increase productivity. In most places, you find lots of cozy coffee shops with wifi. Even better are coworking spaces because they guarantee a productive and creative vibe and the chance to meet like-minded people and extend your network. However, in many coworking spaces you need a membership, which is often quite expensive, even in relatively cheap places like Bali – so this really depends on your budget and the time you’re going to spend in it.

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Structure your day

This applies not only to digital nomads but to all freelancers: You have the advantage of being able to choose your own working hours – but actually getting stuff done requires good planning and time management skills. Listen to your biorhythm to find out about your most productive hours of the day and use them for the more challenging tasks. Use your less productive hours for writing emails or other tasks that don’t need too much focus – or to enjoy yourself and go surfing, hiking or whatever it is that made you choose this lifestyle. The better you plan, the more free time you’ll get out of your day. An effective technique to increase productivity is to structure your day the night before. When you wake up, you already have a list of your to-do’s, so you don’t have to waste energy thinking of what you’re going to work on.

Keep the timezones in mind

Working in a completely different time zone than your freelance employer can sometimes complicate your work – mainly when it requires calls or skype meetings with coworkers or interview partners. Therefore, it’s very important to be aware of the time zone of everyone involved and schedule appointments accordingly. Also, set your own boundaries of what is possible and what isn’t. When I was in Indonesia working for mainly European employers, I simply didn’t take some jobs they offered me because they would have required interviews that would have been in the middle of the night in my time zone. Maybe some people wouldn’t mind, but I knew that I wouldn’t be at my best at those hours and thus preferred to go for other jobs instead.

Stay healthy

Traveling means leaving your comfort zone – also physically. In a new country, you are often not used to the climate and food. Additionally, long flights and the jetlag make it difficult to stay healthy. However, there are some hacks to avoid getting sick. Many people say especially in hot countries with a lower living standard you should avoid eating fresh fruit and salad. My experience showed that’s not true – I spent three months in Asia eating a lot of raw food and I didn’t get sick at all. I believe that getting all your vitamins naturally keeps you healthy more easily than being afraid of germs. But just trust your guts, like literally! When a place doesn’t look appetizing to you, don’t eat there – otherwise go for whatever you feel like. Furthermore, to stay healthy it’s crucial to sleep enough and exercise. And traveling or being busy is not an excuse for not exercising; even in the smallest hotel room, you can do a little workout or some yoga every day.

Reward yourself

You didn’t choose this lifestyle to lock yourself in your hotel room for the whole day – otherwise, you could’ve just kept the 9 to 5 office job in your rainy home country. So make sure you enjoy your dream location after your work is done. Go swimming, surfing, hiking or sightseeing – whatever you love and has made you travel where you are! Thinking of what you’re going to do after your assignments are done will also make you work more effectively – because you know what you’re doing it for!