5 Things I Learned Doing Freelance Work While Travelling Europe

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Some people travel for vacation, others for work while others do it seemingly all the time. What we are seeing now is another group – those who travel while earning their living. Not travelling for work, but as a way of work.

When it comes to freelance and travelling – you can do it one of two ways. You can freelance while travelling. Or travel while freelancing. In both cases, the latter is the emphasis. For me, my freelance of choice is writing and I’ve been doing it for over four years now.

My choice was to write as I travelled as a way of testing to see if I could, eventually, perfect travel while writing. Think of it like building a shed before trying to build a house. Or just start with an Ikea bed or dresser, then you’ll learn what your ceiling is. I knew I had some things on the go I could always work on and some regular contract work but I wasn’t seeking out any new or big projects while on the go. I had never seen Europe before (or anywhere for that matter) so I wasn’t planning to go halfway around the world to stare at a screen the entire trip.

At least this time around.

What I looked for was balance. I found it some days and lost it on others – as it often goes. Here are five things I learned along the way.

Commutes are your friend

Everyone loves to travel. Having said that, I have not yet come across anyone who enjoys sitting on a cramped train or plane for hours on end. So everyone likes reaching their destination and seeing the world. No one really enjoys the “travel” aspect of travel. But for me, I found these 3 or 4-hour (sometimes up to 7) train trips to be the best time to get work done. Sure there was some countryside to see but it all looks the same from a train window after a while.

Some trains offer wifi but if you’re like me then you’re better off not connecting and putting your head down to work. If you need to check something, it’s there for you. Otherwise, try to shut it off. Tune it out. Headphones in, turn on your iTunes/Spotify or 8tracks and get work done.

Once the train, plane or automobile stops you will be taken (not Liam Neeson-style) in by the next city:


So this is the time to hit it hard.

Deadlines are a must

time-train-station-clock-deadlineWhen travelling for an extended period of time you quickly lose track of what day of the week it is. That Monday to Friday and 9 to 5 you have become to accustomed fades away quicker than you’d ever think. What you do know is whether you are commuting on any given day or spending it in your current city. That can be the extent of one’s calendar.

The time change can also be a blessing and a curse. Depending on where you normally reside (i.e. where your deadlines are) and where you travel you could be ahead or behind any number of hours. In my case – I had a 5 or 6-hour head start every day on my clients. So a 5 pm deadline was 10 or 11 pm at night. It was like gaining a whole 5 hours every day because that’s exactly what was happening. Shortly into my journey, however, I realized how easily I could lose track of time while on the road, not just time but days, even.

So I started setting times and hard deadlines for my work. It was the only way I knew I would be able to get my work done. Really, deadlines are the only way for me to get anything done. A tiny bit of compromise from my free-wheeling trip but the compartmentalization of work and play along with deadlines allowed me to get my work done and on time regardless of where I was.

If you want to really get work done – it’s AirBnB or bust

Hostels are great for a solo traveller. They’re relatively cheap – there are tons to choose from and you can meet all kinds of people during your travels. However, they are lacking when it comes to the ones aspiring for productivity.

To get the most out of my time, I took some of my favorite advice from Seneca:

“Retire into yourself as much as you possibly can.”

This can be applied to any part of life: professionalism, productivity, or happiness. The isn’t about being anti-social or dismissive but retiring into oneself is where you will find your sweet spot. Most hostels don’t allow for this kind of thing. While you meet some great people along the way, aside from a few notable exceptions, these aren’t people I was ever going to talk to again. And in that case, were not always worth my time that could otherwise be spent productively.

AirBnBs give you the alone time you need and typically have more amenities, privacy, and faster internet. Depending on demand, it can be easier to negotiate a late checkout, if you need it.  

If it’s your first go around or money is tight – try and switch between hostels and AirBnb or choose AirBnB in cities where it’s a bit more economical.

Or make up for the price difference by getting work done. That’s your best option.

Starbucks reach is never ending and that’s a good thing

I know it’s not the coolest thing to hit up a Starbucks halfway around the world. I believe the kids today would call it “basic” if I’m using the word correctly. I refuse to double check.

However, covering 15 cities in 11 different countries here were the two things that were consistent with any Starbucks I frequented:

– free wifi
– available outlets

Yes, you’re in Europe (or wherever you are) and there’s plenty of good coffee to try out, but if you need basically guaranteed wifi and an outlet, Starbucks is as close to a sure thing as it gets. Whether in Edinburgh, Versailles, Prague or Budapest I could find a Starbucks and knew exactly what I was getting. Plus Starbucks allows you to loiter. Some smaller coffee shops may not be as committed to your deadlines and just want you out of their shop.

Sure it doesn’t exactly scream “world traveller” but if you’re interested in labels then you probably won’t get any work done anyways.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” If that’s true then thank you Starbucks for being so unimaginative and so consistent. You did me a the world of good.

Don’t use 10 tools to complete a job when one will do.  

Part of living off your back for 7-8 weeks is travelling light. Some soccer (football) jerseys were a must, but other than that space is always a premium.

A tablet or a  smartphone is really all you need. You can Skype/FaceTime home or clients you can write using Google Docs and keep files offline for use when you’re out of wifi signal (during a commute). Evernote or other apps are there if you prefer, WPEngine and the accompanying WordPress app is great for hosting content and posting on the go. It’s like a Swiss Army knife for the upwardly mobile but more useful unless you are looking to open a bottle of wine.

There’s no need for a bulky laptop and charger (most laptops aren’t “bulky” nowadays but every inch of space counts) or a smartphone/tablet/laptop combination. Don’t use multiple technologies when one will do. Is it hard typing and researching posts on an iPhone? Try it out first. It didn’t bother me. More typos perhaps or unwanted autocorrects but other than that – I adjusted quickly.

Can your iPhone do everything you need? Possibly not but it’s about making do with what you have and learning to live without.

The sixth thing I learned (really there are about 50 but I need to keep it short) is that it’s very doable. It takes a certain type, you have to turn some things down, but it’s possible. I was not breaking ground or going where no person had gone before but I was testing what I could do.

The gap of working in order to travel or travelling in order to work are narrowing. The world is constantly becoming smaller and more accessible. By staying vigilant, making the most out of your time and using what you can to get your job done, you can have it both ways. You just need to remember these lessons and book a ticket.

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