How to Work and Travel at the Same Time (and Not Go Crazy)

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With laptop computers getting smaller and the internet getting faster, it seems that more people than ever are taking to working while they travel.

While the thought of sitting on a tropical beach all day with the waves gently crashing the background whilst you run you business from your laptop might sound like paradise, if you’re not careful it can quickly turn into a stressful, guilt-ridden nightmare.

Note: This page is aimed at those who run some kind of business or work remotely using their laptop, not at those who look to find temporary jobs on the road (such as working behind a bar or on a farm) to fund their travels.

The Problem with Working While You Travel

The ‘problem’ with working and traveling at the same time is that they both require great deals of attention. If you don’t pay attention to your work, you won’t do it properly, and if you don’t pay attention to the world around you whilst traveling you won’t live the experience as fully as you ought to.

Because both working and traveling require such great attention, you can’t do both at the same time. If you try and do both simultaneously you’ll no-doubt return from your trip feeling like you didn’t fully appreciate or enjoy it – like you were there physically but your mind was still at home in the office.

If you don’t know how to work while you travel (which I’ll teach you later on in this article), when you’re working you’ll be constantly distracted by the environment around you, and when you’re traveling/having fun you’ll be feeling guilty that you’re not working.

So what’s the answer?

There are actually 3:

  • Slow down your travel
  • Separate work/fun days
  • Free up mental energy

The Answer #1: Slow Down Your Travel

When traveling, there are many different ways you can do things.

Beach with laptopYou can zip through a country, taking in its sights and sounds in just a few short whirlwind days. Alternatively, you can slowly drift through a country, taking your time as you go and just letting things happen.

My advice is that you should stay in each place you plan to work in for at least a week.

Why?

Constantly moving from one place to another, although fun, is a large strain on your mind and body and will stop you from getting into any kind of routine (which you need to work effectively).

Slowing down your travel and spending a bit longer in each place will give you the time to enjoy each location as intended AND the time to get your work done without feeling rushed.

The Answer #2: Define and Separate Work/Fun Days

A lot of people I know who run their own businesses or who work remotely via their laptop are workaholics. There’s nothing wrong with being a workaholic (especially if you enjoy your work), but when traveling it’s important to draw firm distinctions between ‘work time’ and ‘play time’, otherwise the two will end up blurring together and you won’t be able to do either properly.

You need to dedicate certain days to work and certain days to fun/travel/adventure.

Let’s say you plan to work every other day (or every 3rd day) while you travel. On those days, focus on getting as much work done as you can.

On your days off from work, however, avoid your computer like the plague. You are banned from doing any work on these days.

This is the hardest part of all of this and requires some real discipline on your part.

Don’t allow yourself to look what’s happening on Twitter or to check your emails for “Just 5 minutes”, as these are tasks that will inevitably end up leading to work.

Many people have said to me: “Why don’t you just work in the morning and then have fun in the afternoon?” This sounds like a good idea, but I’ve often found that by the time the afternoon comes I’m still checking my email and you haven’t done everything I was supposed to do that day. Do carry on working (even though I shouldn’t be) or do I blow off work and go have fun (leaving myself feeling guilty for the rest of the day)?

Work hard and play hard. When you are having fun, make the most of it and go crazy.

The Answer #3: Make Lists to Free Up Your Brain Power

Traveling can be very taxing mentally (as there’s a lot of new stimuli to take in), which can make it difficult if you’re trying to work on something that requires a lot of thought.

Woman lounging in hammockOne way to get around this is by reducing the amount of brain power you spend on remembering menial tasks.

I highly recommend David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity if you want to learn how to do this (although it’s not that hard – as I’ll explain).

The idea is that while most people are using up all their brain power/mental energy trying to remember the things they need to do (“Buy a new shirt, Do laundry, Respond to Larry’s email, etc”), by writing down everything you need to do in a set of simple lists you’re freeing up that space in your mind for more important activities.

In other words, by removing the clutter from your mind you can focus on thinking about HOW you’re going to do things instead of WHAT you need to do.

“I trust the weakest pen more than the strongest memory” – Anon

I follow the teachings of this book pretty closely, and I have a separate list for:

  • Errands I need to do (e.g. ‘buy new jeans’)
  • Things I need to do while at my computer (e.g. ‘download .NET software’)
  • Projects I am working on (that require multiple actions) (e.g. ‘sell guitar’)
  • Projects I will do someday (but not right now) (e.g. ‘plan trip to Europe’)
  • Things I am waiting on other people for (e.g. ‘organize party once I have received confirmation about the dates from Phil’)
  • Books/Articles I need to read

In addition to this, I also have a calendar on my cell phone that I use to note specific things for specific dates (e.g. Jan 21st 2012 – Go to the dentist).

Lastly, I have a set of Notepad files on my computer’s desktop (titled ‘Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday’) that contain a list of tasks that I need to do during my working days.

By using all of these things, I never have to remember to do anything. It’s very liberating, and allows me to spend my time thinking about HOW I’ll do things, what I’ll do next or nothing much at all (allowing my brain to rest).

Phew!


Related posts:

  1. How to Work Full-Time in Your Gap Year (Without Damaging Your Career Prospects)
  2. Finding Work Experience Placements During Your Gap Year
  3. When’s the Best Time to Take a Gap Year?
  4. When’s the Best time to Travel to Europe?




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