Hey, thanks for checking out stories from my trip! Feel free to use the table of contents below to navigate through this insanely long post.
- An experiment in remote work and travel
- Pre-Flight Checklist
- I love airports
- Producntivity and ergonomics on the go
- The Lure of Adventure
- A week in transit
- Would you like some coffee with your WiFi?
- My digital nomad horror story
- No company is better than constant company
- Floating pods, productivity and a creeper in Seattle
- To work in the morning or at night?
An Experiment in Remote Work and Travel
Wanderlust — An irresistibly strong desire to travel.
In a few days I’m saying goodbye to the Philippines and flying to Seattle, USA to begin a two-month journey across the Pacific Northwest.
Don’t misunderstand; I won’t be hiking across the country to find myself. I’ll be catching up with friends and family, drinking Oregon Pinot Noir, enjoying some tax-free shopping and, yes, hiking and camping.
Most importantly, I’ll be doing all of this adventuring while I work.
I’m a remote worker, which means I can work virtually from anywhere I want. In theory.
A tiny origin story
My love story with virtual work began in 2013 with a company called 237 Marketing + Web. We built and managed WordPress websites and marketing efforts (everything from email newsletters to print brochures). My official title was Virtual Content Coordinator, which is still my favorite one even though I’ve been a “Marketing Director” once upon a time.
I’m productive in my home office, but how feasible would it be to make the world my office? Would my work suffer or benefit? Would working habits improve under pressure or completely bust into spastic pieces of panic?
The beginning of the experiment
Digital nomads — Individuals who leverage technology to perform their jobs while conducting a nomadic lifestyle.
Remote work isn’t a new thing. There are completely virtual companies out there who are kicking butt and taking names. Digital nomads aren’t completely new either; there are whole communities of them all over the world — including online.
So, how do they do it? And can I do it, too?
Stay tuned to find out as I document my travels, working habits, important lessons and what works best for me as a digital nomad.
My personal and professional to-do list before I take off for 2 months
I have less than a week before I fly to the West Coast for 60 glorious days.
BUT, here are some of the things I took care of first. If you’re traveling out of the country for a long time, maybe you’ll find the list useful to prep for your trip as well.
- Informed all my clients I’ll be on the road for two months, but I will still be working and they can reach me virtually (no big change there).
- Automated everything I could. I’m talking social media posts, email reports (check out Thunderbird’s send later add-on) and blog posts.
- Wrote and pre-scheduled blog posts into September to give myself some cushion in case I can’t write an article every week while I’m traveling.
- Researched the best places for digital nomads to work in the cities I’m staying.
- Warned the friends I’m visiting that I’ll need a few hours every day to work.
For Fun (and because I’m a grown up)
- Saw as many friends as I could the week before departure.
- Deep-cleaned the entire apartment.
- Unplugged everything and cut electricity to the unit.
- Cleaned my fridge and put in a box of baking soda to deodorize it while I’m away (it’s empty. I don’t cook. Things happen).
- Informed my banks I’ll be traveling for the next two months.
- Automated everything I could. This time I’m talking utility bills, rent, any other recurring payments.
- Suspended my phone service (I won’t be using it, so I don’t want to be paying for it).
- Went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. All the routine health checks and assurances.
- Took a photo of my travel documents and emailed it to myself and my mom. Just in case.
Is it just me or does that list seem kind of short?
Tell me what I missed in the comments below!
I love airports
Airports hold the promise of something new, signify the beginnings of a journey, and are a great place to work.
Airports make great offices for digital nomads.
Hello from Taipei! I didn’t look that closely at my itinerary so this 8 hour stopover was a nice little surprise. I’m not even being sarcastic. The airport has wonderful free WiFi and I am going to get so much work done.
I’m about to hyperventilate over how fast the Internet is here. I’m physically excited to get to work.
Productivity and ergonomics on the go
Musings of a digital nomad on her journey
The first leg of my two-month journey took me to Spokane, Washington, where I’m staying with a friend from college. Here’s what I’d tell my pre-trip self;
1. Pack your tools
“I won’t bring my USB mouse, the cord will get tangled and it’s just another thing to drag around with me.” -me, one week ago while packing
I miss my mouse. I realized it when I was trying to work during my eight-hour stopover in Taipei, and miss it even more now that I have a desk to work from.
My laptop has a nifty touch pad that allows me to work pretty well, but my productivity levels are relatively low compared to when I had a mouse. I track my time using Hubstaff, which shows me how active I am while I work so I can gauge my productivity. Check out the difference.
I customized my reports in Hubstaff to filter by project for the past two weeks. As you can see, the week before I left (with mouse) I was consistently hitting high 90s. The week I’ve been in Spokane (no mouse) I was in the 80s.
I would also appreciate a lap table pillow, so I can work on a bed without my laptop overheating on my legs.
2. Find a good working spot
Ergonomics help you work well, but find the position you’re comfortable in.
When I was growing up I always worked on my bed, instead of at a desk. All the posture/ergonomics articles I’ve read say you should have a nice chair, screen should be eye-level, your desk should be at a certain level, etc.
I alternated working at my friend’s kitchen counter and on the air mattress they set up for me. I found I worked for longer periods of time when I was sitting on the bed.
3. Sleep on the plane
Sleeping on the plane helped me adjust to the timezone change. In my previous trips, I always tried to stay awake for the entire 16-hour flight and ended up passing out at 3 p.m.
Here’s what my ridiculous sleeping schedule was so far;
- Sept 1: Slept from 2:30 a.m. and woke up at 7 a.m. (I was still insanely sleepy, but had something to do for work at 6 a.m.)
- Sept 2: Slept at 1 a.m. and woke up around 4 a.m.
- Sept 3: Passed out 7 to 8 p.m., slept at 10:30 and woke up at 4 a.m.
- Sept 4: Tonight we plan to go out, so fingers crossed I don’t fall asleep at the bar.
- Sept 5: Slept around midnight and woke up 8:30 a.m. (yay! Normalized!)
4. Bring an unlocked phone
The awesome Samsung Galaxy S5 that I use for work in the Philippines is locked to a local provider, so I can’t use it with any other data networks. I knew this coming over, yet I still didn’t bring an unlocked phone.
Next time, I will bring an unlocked phone, get a sim card and make sure I have data.
The Lure of Adventure
Being a digital nomad on the Oregon countryside
This leg of my journey took me to Walterville, Oregon for eight days of productive adventures and a quick stint to Portland for a bachelorette party.
I stayed with a woman named Lee, whom I lived with for a year in 2013. I fell in love with her dog and her exciting stories.
The most interesting difference between this friend and the last is the change of schedule. When I stayed with Sam in Spokane I was jet lagged and the days didn’t follow any particular pattern. Lee, a new retiree (she was the Director of YCAP when I lived with her), goes to bed and wakes up at roughly the same time everyday. I’ve adopted her schedule of sleeping between 9 and 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m.
It’s been way more productive in terms of getting into a comfortable routine and not having to worry about when I can work. I’ll get a few hours in during the early morning, we will go do things during the day, then I’ll work more before bed. We take advantage of the daylight.
Because I knew we were going to be busy during the day, I had to be more responsible and wrap up all my work every time I left the house instead of putting it off to the next hour.
And wow we’re we busy. I was able to do things I never imagined. I fed a mule! I helped harvest honey, picked plums, gorged on vine-ripened tomatoes and kayaked down a canal. We also went on beautiful hikes along the McKenzie River and wine tasting in Central Oregon.
Not having data has helped me focus. I don’t have a phone plan in America, which is alright because almost every place I visited had WiFi. However, not seeing all my emails come in in real time has been helping me work better when I do sit down to work seriously. I don’t have to check my inbox multiple times worried that something slipped through the cracks.
Here’s what September 7 to 11 looked like for one of my clients.
I typically like to put in at least 10 hours a week for this client, so it wasn’t too bad considering all the other things I did!
A week in transit
Why digital nomads shouldn’t travel mid-week
This week was tough! It was awesome in many ways, including relaxing by the McKenzie River, exploring Portland and wine tasting in the Willamette Valley. However, for work it was tough.
I would not recommend traveling on days you have to work. I had to write transit days off for the most part, but sometimes I could get a few minutes of low-level tasks finished.
My work week was broken in half for this leg of my trip, traveling from Central Oregon to the Portland area on Thursday. When I look at my hours, I spent roughly the same amount of time working as I usually do, but that was only accomplished with a lot of scramble and stress. I always felt like I was behind on something at work, even if I wasn’t (you’d be surprised how much you can do in an hour).
My takeaway from this week
Pack and prep on Saturday, travel on Sunday, begin work on Monday. Even if you work virtually.
Would you like some coffee with your WiFi?
You can work in America with just a laptop and a love for coffee
This morning I got up in a tent in the middle of the woods, set up a mobile hotspot, opened my laptop and connected to work. It was a pretty productive morning until my laptop ran out of battery. I thought the theme of this trip might be “where there’s a will there’s a way,” but I think it’s shaping up to be “where there’s a need there will be tools.”
As I type this blog post I am in the middle of a camping trip and am wearing the same sweatpants I had on yesterday and last night. We’re staying at a hike-in spot in LL Stub Stewart State Park and are on our way to see the Tillamook Cheese Factory to get my ice cream fix for the week.
We’re in Banks, Oregon at The Trailhead Cafe grabbing coffee on our way. Banks has one stoplight in their entire town, yet their coffee shops (I saw two) have WiFi and outlets.
Earlier this week I sat in three coffee shops, some in metropolitan areas and others in tiny towns, but all of them had free (and fast!) WiFi.
Throughout my entire trip so far (approximately 25 days) I’ve worked in about 10 coffee shops, a bookstore, seven restaurants and three airports with free WiFi. It’s absolutely great.
Want to find a space to work from? Start here.
Moral of the story: Oregon is pretty remote-work friendly. Yay!
My digital nomad horror story
The importance of having your own space
I was kind of waiting for this, because almost every trip has at least one awful-at-the-time, hilarious-in-retrospect story. This two-month trip across the West Coast is no exception.
This is my tale of bug bites, camping with lady problems, getting caught up in a drunken breakup and trying to get my work done along the way.
Itchy bug bites are bad for productivity
Have you ever tried to work while being eaten alive by cat fleas? I HAVE! The friend I’m staying with right now either has a spider infestation, or her outdoor cat has fleas that love me. Here is the situation on these infernal bug bites.
The flea scenario: My friend says flea medicine is too expensive, so she’s been routinely checking her cat herself, instead. This cat is allowed outdoors.
The spider scenario: There is a tree on their back porch that’s infested with spiders. We opened the door to step outside, screamed and locked it forever. I thought about getting a photo, but no blog post is worth that risk.
I don’t know which one I would prefer, honestly. Either there have been spiders all over me while I was asleep, or there are fleas hopping around me as I type.
Whatever is biting me needs to stop, because it’s incredibly hard to concentrate on work while trying not to scratch your skin off.
Don’t go camping when you’re on your period
Too much information? Too bad, you’re in my horror story.
I love hiking, and I still love hiking, but I don’t think I like camping anymore.
This point needs no further explanation.
Always have an escape plan
I didn’t know I needed one until I got caught up in an emotional breakup. The friend I’m staying with now lives with her long-term boyfriend, who got drunk and made some mistakes, which ended up in an angry alcohol-induced breakup. They are never the prettiest scenarios, and it’s worse when you’re in the way of it all.
They are still in a state of limbo as I type this blog post. Tomorrow, I check into a hotel in McMinnville and can hopefully get caught up on some work. Ideally, they’ll figure everything out once they have some time to talk privately, without me trying to disappear into their couch.
Moral of the story
Always have your own space when you travel, or at least have a contingency plan for unexpected horror stories.
If I had been more prepared, I would have checked into a hotel the day I realized where the bites were coming from, or the night of the breakup. I would have also avoided the camping trip a little better.
I haven’t tried booking with this website yet, but resources like HotelTonight can help you find good deals on last-minute hotel bookings in a pinch.
No company is better than constant company
The importance of alone time
In my fear of being alone for any leg of my journey, I made the mistake of spending a little too much time with people.
Part of the problem I have now is that I haven’t been truly alone for a month and it’s starting to grate on me. My first two stops were 100 percent wonderful, and I suspect my last two stops will be great too, but this strange in-between where I am constantly with someone is taking its toll.
When you’re traveling, especially if you need to work, it’s hard to have consistent company with you for an extended period of time.
There’s something precious about being able to explore a town alone and selfishly selecting the cafe that you want to work in. I’m beginning to miss my little studio apartment that’s just mine.
Working in all these places and grabbing my precious alone time has been a life saver on this leg of the trip, when I’m more comfortable surrounded by strangers than people I know.
The fault for this weird funk lies with me. I was so excited to be traveling I forgot to schedule in lonely parts of my trip.
Last week was the least productive week of my trip so far. My working times were broken up and I spent less than 15 hours working. This week is shaping up to be similarly unproductive, so I think I’m going to sacrifice some of my weekend to get caught up.
The biggest issue that I’m dealing with is my stress level. I’m in one of my favorite places in the world and the weather is beautiful. I should be living it up, not trying to sneak away without offending anyone (not that that’s working).
Floating pods, productivity and a creeper in Seattle
The next leg of my trip took me to Newcastle and downtown Seattle. I split the past week or so between two old friends and have some stories for you!
First off, my Mondays have been great. I’m surprised at how productive I was in a nice quiet house with a clean desk and ergonomic chair. I stayed with a friend who works at a hotel, so I timed much of my work to coincide with her time out of the house. Productivity-wise, I would definitely do this again.
I got 6 hours of solid work in and my activity levels were in the 80s — 90s, which means I was pretty much doing work consistently during the time that I logged. I’ve been unintentionally front-loading my weeks, but that’s been working out well. I was in transit today (a Thursday) so I wasn’t able to get that much done.
I stayed in Newcastle with one of my best friends from college and we tried out floating therapy at Urban Float.
Here’s a tip if you every try it — do not touch your face! The first time I got in I made the mistake of wiping my eyes, and it burned. So I was spray-bottling my face with fresh water, which did nothing but drench my face and get water in my mouth (those salts taste disgusting and the flavor was burned into my tongue for the rest of the day). I tried to just ignore it, laid back down and it got into my nose and burned even more! Once I took a second shower and dried off my face it was wonderful.
I also spent one weekend with an old friend from high school and we went dancing in downtown Seattle. There was one creeper who would not leave our friend alone, even though she was running around our circle of friends to get away from him. I finally just told him she doesn’t want to talk to him and he said three things; I have a girlfriend, I work for Microsoft (who doesn’t in Seattle?) and I just wanted to talk to her about video games. #creepycreeper #eww
Fun times in Seattle.
To work in the morning or at night?
Did I mention I’m not a morning person?
The past few weeks I’ve found myself waking up at 6 a.m., struggling to keep my eyes open and then passing out at 7 a.m. after doing all my time-sensitive tasks.
However, when I wake up again around 10 or 11 a.m. I have a nice chunk of work done that I don’t have to worry about anymore. In the Philippines I’m awake and caffeinated by the time the sun rises on the East Coast. However, sometimes I stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. getting work done.
I can’t figure out which scenario I like better, so I put together this list. Help me add to it if you have some time to comment 🙂
Working early in the morning
- I get a lot of stuff done
- I don’t have to rush at the end of the day
- More time in the afternoon and evening to explore and hang out
- Sunlight makes me more productive
- I seem to be generally the most productive 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- I am SO not a morning person
- I have to put ice on my eye lids to make myself wake up (pro tip)
- I drink two extra cups of coffee a day
Working in the evenings
- I can sleep in
- I’m not working while groggy
- In Manila, the Internet is typically faster in the middle of the night
- I’m used to staying up late, so on weekends out with friends I don’t pass out by 2 a.m.
- I’m thinking about work all day
- My sleeping schedule gets flipped occasionally
- It’s less healthy
What do you think?