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A freelancer with a suitcase: Working on the road

translator at work digital nomad

How to manage work and travel

In the past 2 months I have visited 20+ cities, spent more than 200 hours on public transportation and slept in all kind of places.
When I tell people that 
I’ve been on the road for 12 weeks, they always assume I decided to take a long vacation to wander around happy as a clam. The truth is: I didn’t take more than 5 full days off. Working on the road can be tricky and frustrating, especially if you need a stable internet connection, but also extremely rewarding, for example when you get to work on a bench on the Terrasse Dufferin in Quebec City or on a deserted beach with totem poles in Haida Gwaii.

After this experience I can say that slow travel is definitely a better option for digital nomads, but fast travel is very much possible, with a few tips and tricks.

Get organized. Work efficiently.

You are traveler, not a tourist. If you want to keep working on the road, you have to accept the fact that sometimes you can’t spend the whole day visiting places and wandering around. The time dedicated to work, however, depends only on your efficiency and organizational skills. Decide how much work you want to take on, choose specific time slots dedicated to work and avoid distractions like social media or cat videos. A strategy that works very well for me is the following:

  • Preliminary research. I have an approximate list of attractions I want to see or things I want to do in a given place.
  • Once there, I check the weather, opening hours of museums and shops, free activities, and the amount of work to do. This helps me draft the itinerary for my whole stay in that place.
  • I determine my working hours, usually 3-4 hours in the morning (usually 8-11am) and 4-5 hours at night (7-11pm or 8pm-1am).
  • Days of actual travel, when the Wi-fi is unstable at best, are for offline tasks, like writing proposals and blog posts, fixing my CV or repetitive translation tasks that don’t require too many dictionaries or resources.

A good data plan can save your life.

Unless you set an autoresponder explaining that you are traveling, your clients will expect you to reply during business hours as usual. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be outside exploring new corners of the world, but only that you need to be reachable. If the country I’m travelling to has decent data plans, my go-to choice is a country-specific SIM card for my smartphone, whose tethering feature I can use as a secure mobile hotspot for urgent tasks when there’s no Wi-Fi around. Portable travel routers or unlocked MiFi devices may be good alternatives as well.

Never without a reliable Wi-Fi.

Nowadays, hostels, hotels and co-working spaces have free Wi-fi even in remote areas. The connection, however, sometimes may fail you, if you are on the top of a mountain or if there’s a storm and a blackout in the area. [Yes, both things actually happened.] Find a few “safe points” in town you know you can rely on in case of emergency. My go-to in Canada is Tim Hortons (cheaper than Starbucks, usually open 24/7 and decent wi-fi), but every place has libraries, coffee shops, museums and so on with good connectivity. I usually check reviews online or ask directly to locals for characteristic spots. Otherwise, Hotspot finders are another good option to find free wifi spots in your area.

Left: Tim Hortons in Rimouski, 2 am; Center: St. Viateur Bagel & Café, Montréal; Right: Queen B’s Café, Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii, after the storm

Earplugs and good playlists to isolate yourself

While traveling, you may find yourself working on trains, buses, bunk beds, in hostels, coffee shops, airports…  not exactly quiet places. As weeks go by, you’ll get better and better at isolating yourself from all noise, but for particularly delicate tasks you may want to have with you some earplugs/headphones and a few playlists at hand. On my iPod you’ll always find a relaxing one for editing and proofreading tasks and a “motivation booster” for late night work sessions in empty common rooms or bus stations.


Show up in common areas with something that identifies you

You don’t know where your next client is hiding. Perhaps your Airbnb host with her colorful leggings and yoga mats lying around all over the place? Or the anthropologist next door studying Northern BC First Nations? Or maybe the guy waiting beside you at the Greyhound station? And why not the old man with curious eyes looking for people to practice Japanese with at the hostel? Make yourself visible in common areas and let people know what you do. My Translator at Work sticker does the job for me quite well, at least enough to get a conversation started. The rest is up to your ability to charm others and show them the value of your services… always keeping it casual and with a smile.

Flexible plans

If you are like me, the sooner you accept the fact that things don’t go always as planned, the sooner you’ll stop embarrassing yourself by crying in front of random people when you are stranded on an island because of a storm. [Yes, this happened as well]
Travel is unpredictable, plans change and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. Try to keep flexible plans and a zen mindset, embrace the beauty of the life you’re living regardless of the setbacks, and take everything as an opportunity to see something different, meet someone you wouldn’t have met otherwise, experience kindness you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. Every day on the road is a new discovery, a challenge, a precious gift: don’t waste it.

In the end, it’s all about organization and time management. There’s no better incentive to finishing your work quickly than a new place full of things to discover!

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