I’m lucky that my day job at WeddingLovely means I can work pretty much anywhere, as long as I have an internet connection and my laptop. Over the last four years I’ve taken two major trips abroad — in 2010, a two month trip to Rome, Paris, Bruges, and Amsterdam, and in 2013, a three month trip to Brussels, Cologne, Freiburg, Munich, Prague, and Berlin (among other smaller stops.)
The biggest challenge is balancing work and travel — on the second trip, the middle part of the trip my partner and I rented a car and traveled around the Black Forest and the Romantic Road in Southern Germany. Our stops ranged from 2-4 nights, and our work productivity slowed drastically. Changing places all the time takes a ton of time and is rather exhausting — so you’ll generally want to spend your time visiting the area rather than on a computer. When we reached our next major long-term stop (in Prague), we were so behind in work that we pretty much spent a full week without going outside, leading to some friends to exclaim, “You’ve been in Prague for a week and you haven’t seen the castle yet?!”
Here are some tips from experience to make sure you can work and play while traveling abroad:
Alternate days of touristing and working.
I’ve had the most success when I don’t mix being a tourist with working. If I do, I’m usually too distracted and tired to work, not to mention a day out gets cut short since I need to put some working hours in.
Stay in a location long enough that you can schedule full days of working (a week at minimum — which means you’ll probably want to book apartments rather than hotels to save money. Bonus, longer stays are usually cheaper per day for apartments too.) Spend an entire day inside working (with small trips to get lunch, etc.) At the end of the day you’re probably feeling tired and cooped up. The next day, you can spend the entire day being a tourist — walk the cities, visit museums, etc. And at the end of that day, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed and tired — perfect for staying in and working the next day.
I honestly get more work done when I follow this schedule.
Check (and re-check) for internet if you need it.
Even if the Airbnb listing says it has wifi, doesn’t mean it actually exists! We got to our Cologne apartment only to find out that the wifi wasn’t hooked up yet. (“But your listing says it has wifi!” “Well… I’ve ordered it…”) Thankfully a Starbucks was down the street and we were only staying for a long weekend. If I’m staying at any place for over a week, I’ll make sure to ask them directly whether their wifi is both working as well as fast (dialup speed is pretty much just like not having any wifi at all!)
Be aware that working in cafes is rather rare.
Thankfully, there was a Starbucks nearby when we were in Cologne (and “Thankfully there was a Starbucks” is not normally something I would say.) If there wasn’t, I would have been a lot more worried since taking your laptop to a cafe to work isn’t as normal as it is here in California or NYC.
The biggest exception we found to this rule in Europe was in Berlin, where laptops in coffeeshops were plentiful — probably due to the startup culture there.
Be careful about theft.
Here’s the “oh duh” tip, but really, be super careful. My first Europe trip, I considered myself a seasoned traveler. Day 1, we flew into Rome on a red-eye, and that combined with jet-lag, we weren’t thinking 100% straight. Then we decided to save money and take a train to our apartment instead, which had a transfer in the Trastevere station, notorious for petty crime. Long story short (I’ll eventually get the whole story on this blog), I was targeted by a group of thieves and got my backpack with my laptop, phone, passport, wallet, and pretty much everything other than my clothes stolen.
We had no problems on my second Europe trip, but that was pretty much due to us sticking to low petty crime areas (Germany, mainly), and being hyperaware of our belongings.
If you’re traveling, I would recommend reading about current scams (for example, I was targeted using the ol’ thrown disgusting substance trick), keeping your precious items split up between your bags, keep your passport in a money belt, as well as never, ever, putting down your stuff in a public area.
Can you get an assistant?
I run a weddings blog through WeddingLovely, which requires daily work. I was able to hire a remote assistant to help me with the day to day tasks, which meant if I was unable to get online for a few days, things would stay running.
There are tons of virtual assistant sites, a trend started with Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Work Week Book (which I highly recommend, if you haven’t read it already.) If you have daily small tasks that you need to do, it’s completely worth it to hire an assistant before your trip abroad.
I am incredibly lucky to be able to work and travel at the same time. I hope these tips help you as well!