Man, Laptop And World: How To Travel Efficiently
Over the last seven months, I feel like I’ve spent more time logging in to hotel Wifi systems than I have in my own office. When you make the decision to travel, whilst working on the move, efficiency becomes a major issue. How can you get the most out of your time, while severing many of those hours in pursuit of greater thrills?
I recommend travelling to anybody who has the chance. If your business is self-managed, it makes little sense to constrain your time and freedom to a single city, especially if you already know that city inside out. Many people cite the influence of outside factors for not being able to travel.
“The wife won’t let me…”
“The kids are too much work…”
“I’m tied in to a rental contract…”
Admittedly, those with less ties than myself have more problems to solve before they can take off around the world, but none of the factors are hammer blows to the idea. They just take a greater leap of faith and/or commitment to overcome.
If you’re stuck between indecision and lack of information, here are a few pointers I’ve picked up along the way:
1. Travel as lightly as possible.
If you are a notorious hoarder of junk, traveling is an excellent excuse to throw out the crap that’s being cluttering your garage for so long. When I moved to Thailand, I completely overestimated how many clothes I would need, and indeed what type of clothes I would need. Sticky heat-trapping shirts barely cool enough for the English winter? Definitely not going to be needed in Bangkok. Did I bring them anyway? Of course I did.
It’s tempting to fit a lifetime’s accumulation of crap in to your suitcase, but ask yourself one question. Is this so important that I can’t buy a replacement while I’m away? The answer to most items will be no. Traveling light makes moving around much easier, not to mention saving you many many pesos in excess baggage charges.
2. Hotel Wifi has a recurring tendency to suck balls.
I’ve learnt that if I don’t do research beforehand, fate will typically conspire to hand me a shitty hotel Internet connection. Working from a laptop instead of a dual screen Mac took some adjusting. Working from a laptop on 56K dial-up speeds merited a full blooded sucker punch to the balls. If you’re staying in a hotel, make sure the Wifi is good and included free of charge. Or risk paying £30 for a few hours of patchy usage at somewhere like Novotel Rim Pae. Screw you, Novotel.
3. Don’t stay in flash, rich, luxurious hotels.
Wifi is worth investing in if you’re running a business from your laptop. But I’ve never understood the craze behind booking hotels for $500/night. Ultimately, a bed is a bed. Unless you plan on doing something other than sleeping in it, why pay through the nose for something that rarely gives you a true taste of the place you’re visiting? Overpaying is considered by many to be a macho display of ballin’. Invariably, traveling with set requirements of the pampered existence you need to get to sleep at night defeats the bloody purpose of traveling at all.
4. Learn the language.
My biggest regret as I move on from Thailand. It’s difficult to truly appreciate a culture if the standard conversation leaves you scratching your head and whipping up Rosetta Stone on the smartphone. Learning a few basic phrases is a must, while learning conversational basics will give you a much better understanding of what’s happening around you. Not to mention, a whole new world of local prices become accessible once you display a better grasp of the native vocab than a regular tourist.
Dropbox is the new rage. Okay, to most people, it’s yesterday’s new rage. I was slow to jump on the bandwagon, but I’m glad that I did. By using Dropbox, you can afford to pull a Tim Ferriss. Sod off the face of the Earth completely, leave your laptop behind and restrict work to bursts of activity in an Internet Cafe just outside the Angolan Jungle. Dropbox gives you access to your important files anywhere, synchronizing them across devices and affording you the title of Digital Nomad.
6. Use time differences to your advantage.
Initially, I was concerned about the time difference when I first moved to Asia. Companies and reps based in the UK, Canada and America would still be asleep while I was busy with work. What if I needed to talk to them? It didn’t take long for me to figure that this was a great blessing in disguise. Zero distractions and zero interruptions. By the time those in America had woken up and replied to my emails, I would be happily relaxing and unwinding in the sun.
7. Have back-up support in place.
When you’re traveling, even with laptop in tow, it brings peace of mind to have somebody ready and waiting to act on any emergencies. I hired a Virtual Assistant from EasyOutsource.com, which is by far my favourite place to recruit cheap but talented labour.
You can have all your mundane tasks handled by a full-time VA for as little as $250/month, although I would recommend you invest a little more for quality’s sake. It’s also better to hire a combined workforce rather than a single employee. An individual is just as prone to “sick days” at inconvenient times as you were back in the day job. Hiring a team removes this worry.
8. Reduce any unwanted papermail before leaving.
In the UK, I use the Royal Mail’s redirection service to have my post sent to family while I’m away. If it’s important, I’ll have them send it on for me. This costs £8/month for domestic redirection and up to £30/month to have mail routed overseas. It’s a good idea to deselect paper statements from your online credit and store card accounts. Who needs to be reminded of yesterday’s vanity purchases, anyway?
For tax purposes, I have any important documents from HRMC sent to my Thai based address. This is easy to do by updating your current profile after receiving the Government Gateway ID. For everything else, I don’t stress. If it’s important, I’m sure the sender will find a better way of contacting me.
9. Tell your bank and credit card issuers where you’re traveling.
Very important and the source of much frustration while I’ve been attempting to use ATMs overseas. Fraud detectors are sent in to a frenzy if you withdraw £500 from a Cambodian street market. Your bank will routinely cancel payments and refuse to process ATM withdrawals if you don’t make it clear over the phone that you will be traveling to a particular region on a certain date.
For this reason alone, I chose to open an HSBC Advance account before moving to Asia. They have a strong presence abroad and it’s reassuring to be able to walk in to a branch that knows your name if you have any problems.
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Great tips, Finch. Traveling around the world can be more fun and exciting if we plan accordingly. I also feel…