I think many people would like the idea of being flexible enough to travel to other places in the world whilst also earning an income. I would say it was certainly a Valhalla moment for me for the brief stint I did. Anyone that travels to other countries for pleasure will know, even with the most tightly controlled daily budgets, money does eventually run out and you’ve gotta come home. It’s just simply not sustainable.
So I thought I would write this post as I’ve had 2+ months experiencing what it would be like to be a nomadic travelling designer whilst in South America, my experiences, challenges and some solutions.
I am fortunate that my wife manages a variety of volunteer projects in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru (shameless plug www.kayavolunteer.com and www.ecuaexplora.org) and as such, when she asked if I wanted to join her whilst visiting them I happily said yes.
In addition to my wife travelling for business, I too was there, not just as a tag-along but to help photograph and document projects as I also do a lot of design work for her businesses. In addition to this I also had my other on-going clients and retainer work to complete.
I thought it would be possible to keep-up with all my work whilst travelling through these countries and to a certain extent it was but it wasn’t without its complications and stresses.
Clients don’t and shouldn’t really care where you are in the world. In the modern age of communication we have the tools and the internet speeds to conduct business regardless of your location (within reason).
As such, maintaining regular levels of communication is expected and a strategy is needed to ensure you can appease.
Planning any major moves across a country should be left to the weekends if possible. To carve your way across Bolivia or Peru, local buses or long haul coaches (9+ hours) are the norm.
I found that a way to minimise down time was taking night coaches when travelling long distances. Not only does this save you the cost of a hotel/hostel but your back online by 9am the next morning in a new location! Not necessarily fresh as a daisy but at least your connected again.
It’s not until you’ve got no internet connection that you fully realise how totally dependent we are of it. I’m not talking about Facebook updates and general web browsing but from a business perspective, all my billing, time tracking, project management, web dev all require an internet connection…pretty crippling if you’re not connected.
Choosing your accommodation wisely is also a factor. Working from a dorm room with crusty travellers all around you isn’t the most ideal working environment. As such, increase your budget to private rooms in hostals or budget hotels. If you are doing client work in these new locations then great, get those bills claimed back against your year-end taxes!
If booking online, include in the comments area a request for desk and chair too. Most hotels and hostels will accommodate.
If you’re sourcing accommodation whilst at location, take a look at some places and ask to see the room. Keep an eye out for the WIFI router and make sure your room is in relative close proximity to it for best results!
You need to approach each day like you are in your studio. Clear goals and objectives, consistent breaks and chill-time.
Alot of work can, in theory, be done whilst travelling, and this is where the fun stuff comes in. So recently I had a branding project…it was early on and we had already agreed on the brief and were at initial conceptualizing stages. You don’t need a computer for this…sketchbook, pencil and somewhere inspirational…tick, tick, tick.
You can also write blog posts or sketch out website wire-frames in a similar way, all whilst feeling like your on holiday. In fact, I am writing this very blog post with sand between my toes and a sea view.
Procrastination is terrible. It affects so many people in so many professions. But its more rampant in all those that work by themselves or from their home. The same can be said about the nomadic designer. When in new countries your mind often is in holiday mode…yay, new sights, sounds and culture, lets explore right? Wrong, be disciplined, save the exploring for the evening and weekends. This is tougher than it sounds, especially when surrounded by people on holiday but if you don’t stay vigilant then your certainly on a slippy slippy slope to missing deadlines and losing clients!
Another tricky aspect is factoring in the time differences but this is also sometimes a bonus, especially if a client briefs in some edits and your completing them while they’re asleep ready in their inbox for the start of their day.
With clients across 3 continents I am lucky in that they are all very aware and patient with time zones as they too deal with associates and customers across the globe.
If you have meeting requests make sure they are sent to you via google calendar or similar. In most cases they will be populated into your calendar with the correct time zone adjustments which is very handy thank you apple!
The amount of tech gear we travel around with is quite ridiculous….Mac book pros, go-pro’s, hardrives, DSLR’s, iphones…the list goes on. The majority of these items are critical to the success of your business and as such should be guarded closely.
I would recommend backing up all of your data to a cloud service at every opportunity you have a solid and strong WIFI signal. Traveling around with your work on your laptop and/or external hard-drive is risky to say the least. Just thinking about losing 1 or both of these items would destroy my business and trust my clients have in me. All it would take is a mugging in lovely Quito perhaps or damage caused by dropping etc and months of work would be lost. Backup, you will only regret it if you don’t do it.
It sounds a little paranoid but if you are in a less than safe part of the world, perhaps economically challenged then I would advise the following simple steps to ensure your gear is looked after. Replacing a laptop or camera in countries like Ecuador will cost you at least 40-50% more than Europe or the states.
- Stash/hide your laptop and external hard-drive in separate locations in your room. Deep under the mattress or behind picture frames work well. Most chamber maids are decent and honest but it only takes 1 opportunist thief to ruin things
- Carry a door stop with you if your room isn’t secure. Place it on the inside under the door to stop entry after hours
- Keep physical contact with your day back and laptop at all times
- Assess your environment before getting out your DSLR or other tech. We met numerous travellers who had their gear stolen in Ecuadorian markets even after being warned.
- On overnight buses, keep your tech bag by your side or at your feet. Tether it to your person in case someone takes it whilst your sleeping or delirious (this happens ALL the time!)
Negatives aside, the benefits of travelling whilst working are huge. New environments can be distracting but they are also inspiring. With a little bit of forward thinking and self-control it is possible to travel the world as an income generating graphic designer. It can be a grind and it’s certainly not for me long-term but this varies from person to person no doubt.